Follow up on requests to learn more

If you want to be a bad product manager, ask for others to follow up and get more information for you. When customer service tells you about an enhancement that a customer suggested, ask them to follow up to get more information for you. If a salesperson forwards an email from a customer with a bug they’ve reported, make the salesperson track down the details for you. If you hear through the grapevine that a stakeholder within your company had a suggestion for a new feature, tell your source that you’ll consider the request when the send it to you directly. You’re a product manager, not a hunter — you don’t have time to chase down information like this. Plus, that’s the job of customer service or sales — to talk with customers — and if a stakeholder really thinks something should be added to the product, they should tell you directly. What do they think you are, a mind reader?

If you want to be a good product manager, follow up on requests yourself in an effort to learn more. When customer service tells you about an complaint that a customer had, or if a salesperson forwards an email with an enhancement request from a prospect, or if an internal stakeholder has a suggestion, there are actually three important points to keep in mind.

  1. Obtain more information. The information provided is just the tip of the iceberg. Rather than just filing the request for a future release, dig in to the issue more. Why is the customer asking for this? What is the underlying problem they are trying to solve? Why is it important that they solve this problem? What would happen if they could not solve this problem? Are there other products that can solve this problem for them? What is the value they place on solving this problem? To answer these questions, you must dig deeper than what is in the email that a customer sent or the information that is recorded in customer service logs.
  2. It is the job of the product manager to obtain more information and they need to take the lead and contact customers directly. Do not expect salespeople or customer service or others with customer contact to do requirements gathering for you. It is not a good use of their time nor is it one of their defined responsibilities. Plus, why would you want to go through a middleman? Rather than passing an email chain through several different parties, go right to the source to learn more.
  3. In addition to just obtaining more information about the specific complaint or request, use this as an opportunity to learn more. Every time a customer contacts your company, they are giving you the chance to learn more about their needs, how they use your product, and what you can do to create a more valuable and compelling offering for them. Good product development involves being proactive and searching for more information than what is initially presented. If they were inquiring about a new feature, once you have answers related to their inquiry (see questions listed under #1 above), ask more questions. Ask about other aspects of your product, or other unmet needs they have. Ask about competition or budgets or pricing or the sales process. Ask about anything that could help you as a product manager. Once you are already having a conversation with a customer or a prospect, there is no reason to keep the entire discussion related to their initial inquiry.

These points apply for internal stakeholders as well. The questions would certainly differ, though the idea is the same — probe on their request, use it as an opportunity to learn more, and do not expect others to do this work for you.

This may seem like a minor aspect of product management; however, how a product manager handles a situation like this can often be indicative of their overall approach to product management. Product managers who push back on others to get more details or just store the requests for later probably take this same reactive approach with other areas of product management. Good product managers who dig deeper, seek out more information, and do the work themselves probably are just as proactive about all aspects of their product.

5 thoughts on “Follow up on requests to learn more

  1. Jeff- thanks for all the useful tips that you keep giving.
    I am a product manager based in Bangalore- I have faced a very peculiar situation when I manage the product from here (incidentally there are many firms that do product management from India). In many cases, I am far away from the actual customer base (typically the US and Europe) – in that case, how would product management work especially on the aspect of followups.
    As a passionate product manager, I would love to make those regular trips to the US and keep customer contact -but then why did they set up a unit here.
    Right now, I am forced to depend on my Sales/Pre Sales teams for all sorts of feedback and customer needs.

    Hoping to hear from you and the community.


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