Customers and users are both important

If you want to be a bad product manager, just focus on the customer of your product. If your customer isn’t the person who will actually be using the product, that doesn’t matter. Your goal is to drive revenue and profit, and you need to focus on creating a product that can close a sale. The decision maker should be your only focus. Add in features that they want, even if you know no one will ever actually use them. Don’t tailor the product to the people actually using it, since their needs are likely very different from the person who actually signs the check. Any effort you put in to making the product work better for end users is wasted, since that’s effort that could have been spent adding more features specific to the person making the buying decision.

If you want to be a good product manager, create a product that will meet the needs of your customers and your users. While there are many products for which users and customers are the same, more and more products are being used by people who did not make the purchase decision. Focusing only on the decision maker ignores the fact that there are almost always decision drivers who can influence not only the initial purchase but any additional or supplementary purchases as well as contribute to word-of-mouth marketing.

The classic example is with children’s toys. A product that parents love may get you some sales, but if kids are not interested it will never catch on. A product that kids love but parents are reluctant to buy for their kids (because it is too violent, inappropriate, unsafe, etc.) is unlikely to be a big seller either. The most successful toys are ones that parents want to buy for their children and the kids will enjoy them too, and toys with which kids are enamored and the parents are willing to buy.

A naive product manager could jump to bad conclusions by just looking at customer information. For example, knowing that most of a company’s digital cameras were bought by men, a product manager could suggest features specific to men (not sure what: ergonomically designed for larger hands; include a memory card filled with pictures of women in bikinis?) without realizing that in many cases it could be women (wives, girlfriends, daughters, mothers) who are actually using the cameras that the men purchase.

The non-customer can often be very influential, more so than the person signing the check. A product manager for software sold to colleges and universities would be well-advised to understand the needs of the administrators making the purchasing decision as well as the needs of the faculty and students. Yes, you may get some sales by targeting your product at the decision-maker, but if you have not accounted for the needs of faculty and students, those influential groups will surely voice their discontent and hamper sales.

Focusing on users first and then buyers can also be a successful strategy. Without knowing the numbers for sure, it seems reasonable to guess that most Blackberry devices are not purchased by individuals, but by companies who provide them to employees. Blackberry did not focus on purchasing departments as they were building their product. They created an innovative product that captured the hearts of the end users, even though most of them would never actually pay for it themselves. By creating that demand among the decision drivers, and adding in some key features that are important to decision makers (e.g. integration with corporate email systems), they were able to satisfy both their customers and users.

Make sure to identify your customers and end users and understand each player’s role in the purchase process and the post-purchase use. For products that involve subscriptions or repurchasing, you need to know what will influence that subsequent purchase and design your product accordingly. Focusing on both your customers and users will increase sales and serve as a great viral marketing tool.