If you want to be a bad product manager, focus on solving problems for one customer. Being “customer focused” means giving a single customer your attention, solving their problems and addressing their needs. Customize your product and service to their situation. Spend time resolving their specific questions. Give them “personal attention.”
If you want to be a good product manager, focus on solving issues and creating solutions for a large number of customers. Working directly with specific customers is productive and something all product managers should spend a bit of time on, but there are plenty of other roles dedicated to serving individual customers specifically. Sales representatives, sales engineers, and customer service are usually available to solve individual customers’ problems and concerns.
Product managers who focus on single customers are essentially neglecting everyone else. Every minute spent solving an issue for a single customer is a minute that could have been spent solving an issue for all customers.
In an ideal world, you would be able to work with each customer individually to give them a very high level of service, addressing their concerns, complaints, and questions. This is not an ideal world. You need to be conscious about when it is appropriate to spend your time resolving issues for specific customers, and when it is appropriate to let other roles provide the necessary personal attention while you tackle bigger issues.
Rather than responding to a customer question with a personalized answer, ask yourself whether other customers may have this question. Is there a way you can be more proactive and address this issue for everyone rather than one customer at a time?
To paraphrase what Pragmatic Marketing teaches, “How can I never have to answer this question again?” (I believe they explain it as focusing on n=many rather than n=1.)
You should still talk with individual customers and spend time understanding their specific issues. This is helpful to keep you close to what’s going on day-to-day with your product. Doing this regularly with many different customers will allow you to identify questions and concerns that are coming from multiple customers. When you see repeating patters, ask yourself what you can do to resolve them on a global level. How can I make sure no customer ever has to ask this question again? How can I address this concern for everyone at once, rather than one by one?
Creating solutions for multiple customers rather than just one will save you time, which will allow you to spend more time understanding customer needs, which will allow you to identify patterns and address them, which will save you more time, which will– well, you get the idea.
One thought on “Create solutions for many customers, not just one”
Jeff, I agree with your sentiments, but of perhaps equal concern is the opposite problem: product organizations so focused on the universal concerns that they fail to deliver a solution for any particular customer. These problems admit of no easy answer.
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