Use customer visits to understand, not to sell

If you want to be a bad product manager, use customer visits as an opportunity to sell your product. You’ve got the attention of key decision makers for an extended period of time, so why wouldn’t you want to promote your product? If they’re current customers, try to up-sell them or plug other products from your company. You need to do all you can to drive revenue since it’s one of your key objectives. Salespeople will appreciate your help in closing sales and customers will value your in-depth knowledge of your product. What better use of time with customers could there be?

If you want to be a good product manager, use customer visits as an opportunity to conduct voice of the customer research. Selling product when you visit customers may have some short-term benefit, but understanding customer needs and market problems will provide much more value in the long term.

Customers are constantly being sold to, by your sales staff and others. They do not need someone else coming in and trying to sell to them. In fact, they likely will appreciate talking with a vendor who is not trying to sell anything but instead interested in hearing about their needs, problems, and preferences.

Conducting a customer visit is different than accompanying a salesperson on a sales call. With sales calls, the purpose is to sell, and you are along to observe the sales process. With customer visits, the purpose is to understand the voice of the customer. Sales staff should not attend customer visits, since their natural inclination is to counter every objection and explain why your product is better than the competition. The Product Strategy Network offers additional advice on Tuning up your Voice-of-Customer research:

The purpose of a VOC visit is to gather information and advice from the customer, not to sell them anything. So don’t bring your sales people along on research visits; they tend to view their time with customers as an opportunity to sell, which ends up distorting the study’s learning objectives.

Additionally, having sales representatives with you during customer visits may inhibit the customer from engaging in open and honest discussion. Get the buy-in of your sales staff and work with them to arrange customer visits, but in most cases it is not appropriate to have salespeople accompany you when you visit customers.

While a salesperson is trained to counter every objection, product managers should approach a customer visit as an opportunity to understand the objections and what aspects of the competition’s products that customers find appealing. Learn about underlying problems and places where current products do not satisfy needs. Discover how your product and others are actually being used. While you may get a rush of satisfaction from helping close a sale, you will get much more benefit from learning about root problems that can be solved in the future.