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The Role of Online Customer Communities in Product Management [Transcript]

Written by Joshua Paul | on August 6, 2012 at 8:11 AM

In episode #4 of our podcast, ProCommunity, I spoke with Steve Johnson, Chief Marketing Officer at Primary Intelligence. We discussed the state of product management and how companies are using online customer communities to innovate products and services.

The conversation also included why businesses should care about product management more than they do, the importance of win/loss analysis, and how to get started listening to your customer community.

ProCommunity #4 Transcript: Listening to Your Customer Community to Improve Products

Josh: Welcome to Episode 4 of ProCommunity, the show where online community meets business performance. I'm Josh Paul.  I'm very pleased to have with me today Steve Johnson, Chief Marketing Officer at Primary Intelligence, a company dedicated to using primary sourced market data to optimize sales marketing and product strategies. Welcome, Steve.

Steve: Thank you. Good introduction.

Josh: Prior to joining Primary Intelligence, you spent a number of years training product managers and executives, probably thousands of them, on how to align their companies with what the market really wants. It seems that we can't have a conversation about how to use online customer communities and social channels to improve your product management strategy without first talking about product management and what it is and why companies should care.

Steve: Good question. Well, golly. My first job as a product manager is typical

I think of most people's first jobs and that is, "Hey, you're the product manager, whatever that means. Go do product management stuff." And so you go to where the fires are and sales people are screaming they need a new demo and marketing says gosh, we need some content and then now with Agile, we've got developers saying, "Hey, come sit next to me every day, all day, and answer my questions in real time."

And so we've got a lot of different people defining what product management is, and the folks are Pragmatic Marketing get a really good job of saying here's this framework of 37 different activities we find product managers involved in, from the strategic to the tactical. And you can learn more about that at the Pragmatic Marketing website.

And for the last 15 years, I've been working with Pragmatic Marketing and working with product teams, and helping them refine what the role of product management is and there are some organizations, the role is quite strategic. It's the business side of the product. And in other companies, it's much more tactical if you will. And one thing I have seen in particular is the closer you get to California, the more product management is imbedded with the product development team. And the closer you get to Boston, the more likely the product managers are aligned more closely with sales and marketing...

Josh: That's interesting. The geographic trend of [product] management.

Steve: I think it maybe, age of the industry or something. That the firms back East are more traditional, if you will. And the firms out West are younger, well, certainly more focused on building great products as opposed to back East where I live. It's more about, it's not that the products aren't great but it's more about enabling and empowering the sales teams and the marketing teams.

Josh: I've always thought of product management as the best kept secret in business. It's really that product management and your product strategy will have more impact on your business's success or your organization's success than sales and marketing and development combined.

Steve: I think there's some truth to that. It certainly is a best kept secret as you've said. But you know what, what I've been seeing lately is a pretty subtle but really relevant shift. And that product management is now more about refining ideas rather than creating them. In many organizations, I guess you go backwards in time, right, to the 1940's when Proctor and Gamble invented brand management. They said, "Okay. The product manager or the brand manager is the CEO of the product." And we tried to adapt that idea here in technology businesses. That's a good metaphor, product managers, CEO of the product. And I found in real life it's more like the CEO is still the CEO of the product or maybe there's a VP of strategy of VP of product or a CTO who is really the CEO.

But product management's job is then to convert the idea into action, by trying to build feature X or product X. "Hey, product manager. Can you find some research that supports that decision?" Are we just smoking around brochures here or we really on to something. And so go look in Hoovers and go look in LinkedIn and go look in, check with Gartner and go talk to the folks at Forrester and get some information to validate the decision that we've made, rather than product management being the big idea guy. It's the guy who converts the idea into action.

Josh: Is that a healthy trend? Is that.

Steve: I think it is. I think if nothing else, it should be, less frustrating, I guess, for the product managers. I think it's so often the product managers look at this job particularly looking at the Pragmatic Marketing framework and they go "Holy moly, this thing is huge." And yet, if you, I think if you give yourself the freedom to say my job is to refine, my job is to support, my job is to analyze more after the fact. It's a less daunting task to check on product management. And so, I think the traditional view is we start with strategy and go to tactics. And the last few months is I've been talking with product managers and product leaders around the world. I've found an inclination to the other way that says, let's look at the tactics and reverse engineer the strategy. Let's look at what's working and do more of that and let's look at what's not working and do less of that.

Josh: I think that's a good way to look at any element of an organization.

Steve: And that's what Eric Ries is talking about in the Lean Startup. He's like we have this grand vision of building this thing that was a unifier of all of your social networks and then the customer said, "You know what, that's not really what we want but we really love this thing over here."

And so based on market reality, based on their minimum viable product, they said, "Well, let's rethink our strategy."

Josh: That makes a lot of sense. And in the, so one of the most widely talked about examples of product management is Apple. When you think about Apple, you don't think of sales, you don't think of marketing. You think of great products. And, but many organizations miss the take away from Apple's products success. They saw or read about, or read about Steve Jobs and think, I need to, we need to identify that brilliant person to make all the decisions and make our products successful. But that's, that misses the mark a lot of times because not everybody, first of all, not everybody has a Steve Jobs.

Second of all, there are a lot of things that Apple does in terms of listening to their community that you don't read about. They've kind of pulled a great switch on people and great switch on the business community where they, it's a competitor advantage. You don't have a Steve Jobs, so you're not going to be as good us when in fact they use a lot of processes that other organizations can implement. So what are some of the realities and lessons from Apple's product success?

Steve: Good point. Well, in fact, that supports the last point as well, doesn't it. The CEO of the product was the CEO. And Steve Jobs had a vision about what products he wanted to buy and what his teams wanted to buy and certainly, if you have read his books, I mean he was pretty firm about what he believed, but then he had this incredible team. Tim Cook, understanding the operations side and a brilliant designer, and Jonathan Ive, and great product marketing people and great organization around him that turned the big idea in the feasibility.

And a friend recent-, I don't know how recent, a few months ago. A friend of mine bought a Mac Book Air at the Apple Store and she shopped and she picked and whatever and she went back and got her machine and brought it out and made sure she got Apple Care and all that stuff. And then he said, the sales rep said, "Can you wait just a moment? I'd like you to meet somebody." And he went in the back and brought out the product manager for the Mac Book Air. And on the spot, he did a win-loss interview. He did we win your business, what decisions did you go through, and she said, I'll tell you. Price was not an issue. The number one thing I was concerned about was weight. I carry all the stuff on my back, right.

And, the second thing was I was going to make this decision 6 months ago but I waited this long because there's no security lock on the Mac Book Air. And I'm doing presentations in public places and I don't want anybody ripping off my Mac Book. And I think it was a real eye opener for the product manager but hey, that's the hidden part of Apple's innovation...not only do they have this brilliant CEO coming up with great ideas, they've also got an incredible team of project managers, project marketing managers, designers, developers, who are turning the big ideas that are like, "Here's a post-it note idea," and turning that into the hundreds and hundreds of feasibility exercises, the details to make it come true.

Josh: And those are the type of exercises in the win-loss analysis. Those are the things that any company can do. It's often said that the company who's closest to the market wins. Who is closest and can be more responsive to the market wins. How has product management always engaged their community? What are some of the ways that organizations have always stayed close to the market through their product management teams?

Steve: Well, I'm not sure how well across the board product managers do stay engaged with their teams. Certainly, when I sit down with product managers and ask them what they're doing in terms of ongoing research, whenever I say the word research, everybody envisions lab coats and clip boards and one-way mirrors or two-way mirrors or whatever those mirrors are. And focus groups and lab environments.

And the best product management insights come from discussions. Go on site, visit a customer, see how they use our product, see how they do their work-flow, and what we found at Primary Intelligence is you can get almost that same level on information through a phone call. We've been, in fact, we found that people are a tad more honest on the phone because they're not seeing your face. And so they kind of forget who they're talking to maybe. And after 10 minutes, they're just doing the whole thing.

In fact, I talked yesterday to a wonderful person at Hub Spot about my marketing automation needs and I started the phone call with I don't know have any marketing automation needs. And 15 minutes in, I'm just railing about all sorts of situation inside the company and it's just like if I played this thing back, I'm sure I would be appalled at what I said. There's so many opportunities that I shared with the sales rep in this case. But I found that to be true as I talked to anybody on the phone. After about 5 or 10 minutes, they kind of forget they're not, they forget they're talking to a research firm or a product manager and they feel like they're talking to a friend. And they can reveal an awful lot.

But whenever we talk about research, seems like everybody goes straight away to, "Oh, I need to hire a firm to do a survey," or I need to talk to the industry analyst to have them put together a study and gosh, just pick up the phone and talk to somebody.

Josh: I found that too on my last company wherein on product strategy, reaching out to somebody, saying do you have time for a 10 minute phone call? And whether it's a win-loss or just doing routine conversations with the customers or non-customers, the 10 minutes inevitably turns into 25 or 30 minutes and the data you collect is invaluable to the sales strategy, the marketing strategy, the product strategy, the support strategy. You learn so much more. Now, go ahead.

Steve: Mine's primary intelligence. I mean the first thing I did is I got on the phone with a dozen of customers, and it was really interesting to me. Universally, the customers talked about the power of our industry consultants. And yet, then I sat in on some of our sales calls, and we talked about our software delivery mechanism. And within just a few phone calls, I was able to turn to my sales team and say every conversation has to involve these three things, our industry expertise, our buyer voice methodology, and our True Voice software. And pretty much overnight, the sales team shifted over to this messaging and we're seeing stellar results.

Josh: So if staying engaged with your community and staying close to the market, really revolves around discussions, how have social media and social networks changed product management? Have they?

Steve: Well, I think that the methods, is that the right word? The methods of research are still the same. There's quantitative and qualitative. There's the stuff you see from, you hear in a phone discussion. There's the stuff you see in an onsite visit. On the other

side, there's surveys. In the old days, we did clip board surveys. We go to the mall and ask people questions or, and then the web came along and we moved all those things on to the web. So the methods are still the same. What's different is the medium. It's now so easy to do a web survey. You can use Survey Monkey, you can use the [Vohesi] product. They have a new name which I've forgotten. It's so easy to put together a web survey. But the challenge of a survey is you don't know what you don't know until you have the discussion to go with it. So you always need to balance the discussion which is where you learn new things, with the survey where you learn, where you can quantify what you've learned.

And one of the best new things that the social media world or the internet world makes possible, is we can have around-the-world customer advisory boards in our common online community that we just flat couldn't do 20 years ago. I remember vividly, I had a customer meeting in Virginia here where I lived, and I brought in probably 10, 11, 12 pretty high ranking people in financial services industry and they all came together and everybody in the company was like, "Oh, I really want to go, a few minutes talk into these folks. I want to present this and I want to present that." And of course, my sales guy standing in the hallway, going, "Oh, I need to take them out to dinner."

And the client said, "You know, we're not here for you to talk to us. We're here for you to listen to us." And it was so amazing. It was just a funny one. Had a quick break. The sales guy came pouring in and like, "Hey, when are you guys going to be done here so I can you out?" And the customer is like, "You know what, I'm not here to be taken out. If I want to go out, I'll go out with my wife. I can afford it, right. I'm not here to be social. I'm here to give you my insights so that your product gets better." And that was a really expensive proposition for us, to take people out of the field for that period of time and get all the mechanics of it. Now I can do that online. And the key is focus groups or online communities are more for discovery and less for validation.

Josh: So, is that to say that you, so the way that we usually lay it out is you can have those discussions in an online community or online customer community. A lot of the online community software have survey tools built in to confirm or validate those results. And then one of the methodologies that I like that I don't see very often is you have a small advisory group of customers on it for a specific product or the company overall. Using the file and video libraries built into an online community to do a 2 minute explanation of an idea. Here's what we've heard, here's what we're thinking. And then using the social threads attached to that to promote discussion within that small advisory group. Is that something that would help with the validation?

Steve: That's sounds brilliant. I mean, the key is, you need to be listening more than you're talking. And I remember a long time ago, I was involved in a face-to-face customer advisory board situation. And I sat there for 6 or 7 hours being talked at by the CTO and the CEO and the product manager.

And I didn't come here for training. You guys asked me to come here for advise and insights on how I use the product and the challenges that I have. But you're not listening.

Josh: It does wonders for the relationship when you have the discipline and let them know that they're heard and hopefully, eventually acted on what you've heard from them. But it does wonders beyond helping you with your product strategy.

Steve: Agreed. So, If doing this kind of concern, in this kind of research, well, pretty much any kind of research. You want to set up an opportunity to have discussions to weigh. Pick a side. One of the fairly common things I hear from product managers is the sales team wants to have me deliver the road map presentation for big customer X. And in variably, what I say is, well, I'll show you yours if you'll show me mine, the other way. That is, if we're going to show our road map to a client, I'm going to want the client to show me their road map. Where are they planning on being 3 years from now?

And there's some danger in that. They're saying we're completely going over here. We hate the cloud. We're going to do everything on our own premises and we come out with our road map that says by 3 years from now, we're going to be completely in the cloud, then there's a problem, right. But the point is, a presentation is one way. But discussion is two way. And then from that, the insights that you get, then you can back it up with at survey tool, or say, in that discussion, "Gosh. That's a really interesting thing you just said. We're working on something in that area. Let me show you a three-slide presentation or a prototype screening or a little video that we put together." And then we can use the same forum to validate.

Josh: I think that's a really good point. And in at Primary Intelligence, you're often brought into to manage, as we said, one of the most important tools in an organization's product strategy toolbox which is win-loss analysis. And from that engagement, you're able to see an organization's entire product management operation. Are businesses, using social channels, whether it's public social networks or private customer communities? Are they using them effectively to develop market driven product strategies?

Steve: Well, I want to say yes to that.

Josh: We'll generalize on that.

Steve: Well, speaking specifically to win-lose analysis. The reason I joined Primary Intelligence is I'm just fascinated with this win-loss analysis as a, just a key way of getting really insightful data at a comparatively low cost. I mean, if I can only do one kind of research, I would definitely want to be doing win-loss. And it's that whole tactics determining the strategy thing that we find out that our message doesn't resonate or whatever. But anyway, the surprising part is only 15% of product managers think that win-loss analysis is something they should be involved in. The vast majority of the people we talk... before they become our clients, is they're thinking this is something that belongs in sales operations and that's how we can find out who our bad sales people are so we can shoot them.

And certainly, that's not what we're trying to do here. We find, there are cases where certainly the sales team wasn't clear in what they communicated, or they didn't respond to customer request or whatever, but more often what we're finding is the presentation, the sales tools, the ROI calculator, the website, I mean the marketing campaigns didn't support the sale or the product had deficiencies competitively. And the other one we find which is terribly amusing is only about 10% of the time is price is an issue. And yet, if you ask sales people, between 80% and 90% of them will say it's always price. But anyway, I went off on that. But I think win-loss analysis such a really powerful tool and I'm surprised that more product managers are not taking advantage of it.

Josh: Is there a way to do win-loss analysis through social channels? I'm thinking it's best kept on the phone. Maybe you can use your customer community to inform some of the questions that you ask. But the traditional in person or on-the-phone win-loss analysis really seems like it should be kept traditional.

Steve: Yeah. I think so. I think there are a number of questions that you could ask in a web survey format. Was our price 10% higher or 10% lower than our competitor, or what products did you look at? I mean, some fairly binary sort of things. But the discussions want to be some form of live. Either a phone discussion or a face-to-face discussion. And the thing that we found as we develop our products is having somebody on the other end of the phone who understands products and industry.

Many of our, many of the stories I've heard are about companies that tried to do win-loss with only a survey or they do through some college kids they hire to ask a bunch of questions. And the client says, "Well, my issue was X, Y, and zed." And the sales, the college kid says, "Oh, it must be really interesting." And they write that down and they go to the next without saying, "Oh, wow. I've never heard that before. Let's drill down on that particular point."

Likewise, a lot of people say, "Well, gosh. I'm on Twitter all the time. I should totally be able to use Twitter to as a research tool." And, you know what, I can, because my customers are on Twitter. That is product managers and product marketing people. I don't know if anybody else can because the real question is not are you on Twitter, but are your customers on Twitter.

Josh: That's a good point in terms of whether you're using a public social network or a private online community, where you're going to get the most adoption, most engagement with your community. So there is no, like a lot of enterprise social initiatives. There is no one way to do it.

I think one of the big take-aways that I heard you say earlier and that should be exciting for organizations is that this isn't a new way of doing business and creating product strategies. This is a, sometimes a more effective and efficient way to use traditional, or I keep using the word traditional. But existing product management methodologies. And that's important. They don't have . . . because a lot of times, the online community, well, can be intimidating for people who are used to working offline or building relationships face-to-face, to know that they can continue to do what they know just in an online environment. Is that...

Steve: I think so many younger people are saying, "Well, I'm going to do everything through my computer window," right? My Twitter, my LinkedIn, my Google Reader, my whatever is, my monitor is my window into the world. And these are the folks seeing to get out of the office once in a while and sit down with a real client, or at least hop on the phone. It's so not hard to do. And depending on what your phone system is, you can call around the world as easily as you can call the town. And it's just amazing how easy it is that we get people on the phone and they're like, I'm so glad to talk to you as supposed to what do you want and how quickly can I get off this call.

Josh: Right. Right. So sounds like when we're talking about online communities and product management, it's more a way to keep the market more engaged with traditional research methods than it is new methodologies being born out of social platforms. Is that what you're saying?

Steve: I think that's very true. Yes. The old ways are good ways. The good news is there's, it's so much easier to do nowadays because we've got new media to get there. But it's fundamentally . . . I've been thinking about it is there's a lot. I wrote an article about Agile methods. And, for some reason, my dad said, "Oh. I'd be interested in reading that." And I'm like okay. I mean what would an old guy understand about Agile, right. So I sent it to him and he writes me back and he said, "I was pretty much doing this kind of stuff in the '60s. I mean this is good rudimentary planning. You listen to the market, you decide what you're going to do, you do it, you review how you did and then you tell people." And I went, "Oh, yeah. That basically is every process diagrammed throughout history." And I think so often, people come along and say, "but what we're doing is new."

Josh: And it's true. It's true. And that's a great news for companies and associations and other organizations, that they don't have to start a revolution to take advantage of online communities and social channels. And it's not going to replace traditional product management methodology. Whether it's phone, whether it's in person, whether it's focused groups. It just enhances them and sometimes lets you do it better and faster and more efficiently.

One of the new things that I see or one or the things that I could ask a lot about in the product management world is how do you collect data across the company when everybody's listening now? That's one of the differences, it may be different. I mean the past, your support team and your sales team are always out in the market. But if everybody has a social dashboard on their desktop and they're seeing something that's going on the market, how do product managers aggregate that information or should they care about what everyone else is seeing?

Steve: I think they should care. I don't know how they're doing it. There's so much unstructured data available to us know. We can go into Twitter and search on hash tags, or we get an e-mail from our favorite sales guy. We get a support a support ticket. We get an issue in JIRA. We have lots of inputs. But the part that really is scary as you said is there's input happening around the company that product managers don't even know about and how do we centralize that, and my sad answer is I don't know how we do. Unless we can use some sort of unstructured wiki controller thingy dingy like. Say Confluence from Atlassian. And say, if we could get all this unstructured data in one place, then from that, we can discern the patterns and identify what features need to be turned into issues. And I think that's an opportunity that has not yet been fulfilled in some of the tools that are available today. I do know that as a general rule, if you put it in SharePoint, no one will ever find it again.

Josh: That's kind of a...

Steve: idea graveyard.

Josh: That's good. So it's a good rule of thumb. But I think you really make a really good point. That if your processes aren't sound getting more data from you community and more market data in general, it's going to cause problems. And product managers need to, and this is one of those things that's going to be specific to each organizations. Product managers need to, with the opportunity that online communities present, product managers need to find ways to better manage the data that's being fire hosed in their direction.

Steve: True. And sadly today, we're still using Excel and PowerPoint and Word as our primary productivity tools. I am seeing a fair number of people embrace some new things like Accept360 and the product from Atlassian like JIRA and Confluence. I'm still not sure there's a solution there for product management to take ideas through, all the way through to a user's story. And unfortunately, many of the teams that I worked in, the user's story is the basic building block. But unfortunately, that's too atomic to do, I mean a roadmap is not merely a chronology of user stories. We need something, a bigger container than that. So it's quite a challenge. But I do think that product managers and product owners need to have personal experience in the market place. I know the guys at Pragmatic Marketing suggest that you do win-loss visits and customer interview fairly frequently. What I found is product managers should do some, and then send the rest to us at Primary Intelligence.

Josh: I like the plug. Now, you talked about Agile product development methodologies and how they've, they're popular, they've changed the way organizations can respond to the market and get products to market. But one of the things I've heard you say is that the terrible thing about Agile is that you can ship the wrong things faster than ever. What are some of the pitfalls that companies should look out for when they're listening to their community?

Steve: Well, I think you kind of answered the question in your question. The key is to listen to your community. I think what happened is we get, I'm sorry. Let me back up. Agile is wonderful. You're able take some input, make a decision, spend 2 weeks working on it. See that you've achieved what you set out to achieve. Everybody gets a high five and we do it all over again. It's a wonderful method for, Scrum, in particular, that's a wonderful method for planning. Extreme Programming is a wonderful approach to building better technology. There's a lot of goodness in Agile.

The scary part of Agile is, as you've said, is we can now build the wrong thing faster than ever. And if the ideas coming in to the team are merely ideas from the inside the company, then you could easily find yourself building the wrong thing unless you can validate it with market insight. There's a general rule that anybody can add to the backlog. But the problem is, we use the term backlog in many ways. There's a release backlog, I'm sorry, there's a product backlog, there's a release backlog and there's a sprint backlog.

And, so when we say anybody can add to the backlog that introduces some confusion. Development says, "Oh, I think it'd be really cool if we did this. Let's add it to the back log." The question is which backlog? And the answer is I feel really good. Anybody can add things to the big pocket list of things we want to do to the product. But only the product manager or the product owner can add things to the sprint backlog, what we're building right now. Otherwise, you find yourself building a whole bunch of stuff that nobody has [vet] in the market.

Josh:  So, I want to, a couple more questions. So bringing it down to a tactical level. Supposed the company has an online customer community where they're engaging their customers around support topics and the technology, we'll just see a lot of online communities that stem from a support need. How can they start using that community and that platform to innovate and plan more profitable products? What are some of the first steps that they can take to transition an engaged community to one that where they're listening to the community for, to improve product management?

Steve:  Well, from the starting place, there are abilities within an online community for you to at least validate some of the decisions or some of the, yeah, some of the ideas that we have. So we say, "You know what, we've got these 14 things that we want to work on. Let's vote on those 14, and just let the votes determine." It was kind of funny. As I'm telling this, I'm reminded of, I did a user group thing many years ago. And they wanted the adviser, the, whoever you call the leaders of the customer, the executive team of the customer advisory board, said that they wanted to have, they wanted to participate in prioritization. And so this is before we had online community. So we're doing this live, and I brought, I got a bunch of candy containers. They're like things that nuts come in or gummy bears come in, and I ripped off the label from Costco and then I taped on an index card that was the name of something we wanted to work on.

And then I handed everybody in the meeting a bag of jelly bellies, jelly beans. And I said, "Okay. These are your votes."  And already the guy from JP Morgan is like, "Oh, I need another bag because I've already eaten about 10 of my jelly beans, right." So I handed him another bag. And then I'm like, "Okay. Here you go. Everybody gets 50 votes. Throw them in the various containers until you're out of jelly beans." And there was one guy, I remember vividly, took his entire bag, didn't look at anything. Took his entire bag over to the first one which was our technology direction, and just flung the whole bag into the big jar.

And we can use that same technique today without the jelly beans although they are kind of fun. So we can use the online community as a way of validating the things that we've decided to. But I think the other thing that we can do, because we don't have to have everyone co-located, is we can say, "Okay. I'd like to hear some stories about these problems. So, the development team came up with this really cool idea to do a widget that  does a thing with the weather and the zip code and your LinkedIn profile,

and have it go swirly, swirly, like this.  And everybody goes, "Ooh. Swirly, swirly, that looks really good." And now, how would this help you? Tell me a story about this feature. If you had this feature, what could you do differently?

And now, I mean you immediately get, somebody goes, "That's just freaking brilliant." Or somebody goes, "Well, that's the dumbest thing I ever thought of. What drugs were you taking when you came up with that one?" But probably, you'll hear, here's a story about how I could use that. That story becomes your marketing message. It becomes the thing you tell your sales team, and it becomes that thing you tell your developers. It's that like I'm not sure if I should do this or this. Should I in addition to LinkedIn, should I do Hoovers and Facebook and 16 other things and you like hang. This is just sizzle. That doesn't have to be in a stake. Just do LinkedIn and we'll be done with it 1 day. And so you've got the context necessary to answer further questions.

Josh:  I think when it comes to those discussions and just unstructured discussions, that's one of the most powerful elements of a private online customer community, is that you have the security and segmentation of be able to have this discussion with an entire customer base, with a small segment, with a very small advisory group. So you can not only get the initial data but validate that data pretty quickly and pretty efficiently without confusing customers with the other messages they're getting from other parts of your company.

Steve:  Very true. In a similar way, I've never felt that you should share your secrets with people you cannot trust. And so many teams have to go through so much baggage because they're like, "Okay. I want to show this prototype to a customer. But I have to first get clearance from the sales guy." And then when I have that, I have to go to legal and get a 400 page non-disclosure agreement. Then I can sit down with the legal team of the buyer's side to fill out the NDA. And then I have to send 47 copies to everybody who has ever worked here. And it just gets too hard.

And the idea of like a pre-approved online community says these guys have already signed the paperwork. I don't have to get permission from everybody in the company to have a conversation with somebody. And I think that's the truly brilliant part. In my past, I've always have a couple of customers that I can reach out to on the sly and say, "Hey. Here's something I want to do." And I know it's not going to end up on the Internet. I know it's not going to end up in a contract. I know it's not going to get revealed to my competitor because I trust those people. And likewise, the people that you have in your online customer community, maybe not all of them, but the ones that you share ideas with, that should be that ones that you truly trust. And you know it's not going to go leaking out into the community.

Josh:  Right. And that's one of the big differences between using public social networks and private social networks for product management.

Steve:  Yeah. Go out on Twitter and I say, "We're thinking about this flim flam gadget gidget." And my competitor goes, "Damn. That's a good idea." And nowwe're on a race on who's got the better development team to get it out.

Josh:  Right. Right. I ran across an organization. It was a small technology company recently who set up a dedicated Twitter feed for their product management team. And I just thought to myself, this is where people, customers, and people from the market can submit ideas and have a conversation there. If I were one of their competitors, I would just sit on that Twitter feed all day, and collect that information.

Steve:  Yeah. I mean the presumpt-, yeah. Absolutely.

Josh:  So...

Steve:  A closed, a closed community means you can also select very carefully the members of it.

Josh:  Absolutely.

Steve:  Here's one fellow who follows me on Twitter, responds to me all the time, and he's just Mr. negative,. Every time he says anything like, "Steve, you're an idiot," or, "I disagree with everything you stand for and wow, you're unattractive as well." And it's just like, "Yah." He's not adding any value to the conversation. But in a public network, you cannot have those experiences. In a private network, you can say let me carefully choose who I want to be here. The only caution being, you don't want to just use your friends.

Josh:  Right. Right. Now, in your past life at Pragmatic Marketing, you gave hundreds, maybe thousands of talks to people at all levels of an organization about product management and how that informs support and sales and marketing. So if you were standing up in front of a room full of executives, talking about listening to the community and how that can improve product management and how that helps with innovation and profitability and what is the one take-away that you'd want them to walk out of the room with?

Steve:  Well, gosh. I do have to quote Pragmatic Marketing here. One of our favorite quotes, well, this is my favorite quote. This is, I don't know if it's coming out clearly but for me, a lot of product managers are living in a place called, "I'm just here to participate in your dysfunction." But the Pragmatic Marketing message is probably the right message for what you're asking. Your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant.

Josh:  I love that cup. I have that cup, I give that cup to people when I join new companies.

Steve:  I've had so many events over the last few years where as part of the event, the organizer has gotten mugs of that quote for everybody in the room. But it's been interesting in some of the conversations I have had lately. I accept that as a mantra, and I get into a conversation and it's just amazing that bringing the market into your conversation has never even occur to the people I'm talking to. And yet, it depends on how to put it. I mean, I have found, oh, wait. Here you go.

The famous Henry Ford quote that Henry Ford never said, but Steve Jobs quoted, "You know, if I'd ask customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse." This seems to permeate a string. That customers are stupid and don't know what they need. The reality is that customers do know what problems they have. And Henry Ford, if he'd ask the question right, if you ask what features do people want, customers would have said I want a faster horse. If you ask him what problems they have, they would have said I want to go faster.

So if I had one sentence to share with an executive team, well, actually, the one I do today. I ask the executives, can you tell me why you win and lose deals? I mean, when everything else is set aside, that's really the issue. We've built a great product but we can't sell it or we've built a terrible product and we can't sell it. When we ask win-loss questions, we find out about our product and marketing and sales and support. But nonetheless. Can you tell me why you win and lose deals, and here's what I hear almost every time. The executive team says I know what people are telling, believe it. And we can tell you why you win and lose deals in the voice of your buyer, would you like to hear more? And then like, I'm totally there.

Josh:  Right. It's a very foundational concept. And so, Steve, I want to thank you for sharing your insight and experience today. I hope we can do this again sometime. And before we go, where can people find you on the web?

Steve:  Oh, gosh. I'm just, I'm just everywhere on the web. Maybe too many places. But let me send you a couple of places. I'm on Twitter at @sjohnson717. 717 is my birthday. I'm online at my website is blog.sjohnson717.com. And I also blog of course with Primary Intelligence. So you can go to the primary-intel.com, and find my blog there. So I've got a business blog at Primary Intel, I've got a personal blogwhich covers products as well as Star Trek and Star Wars, you know, important stuff, and silly cat videos from YouTube sometimes caught up there.

Josh:  Yeah. It's the future. It is. So, it's really great information that you put out via Twitter and via your blog and a lot of times it's not the nuts and bolts of product management because a lot of companies get tied up in understanding what product management is and the role it should have in the company. I think one of your most popular e-books that you've ever produced is kind of the role of product management, and companies can get paralyzed in that before they ever get to solving market problems. So a lot of times, what you put out is education on product management, how it can, why it's important to a company.

Steve:  Thank you.

Josh:  So, Steve. I want to thank you once again for joining us.

Steve:  Glad to be here.

Tips for developing a great online customer community strategy.

Topics: Customer Communities, Online Community

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