Building the Voice of the Customer Toolset
To be a great market researcher, it takes training, experience, and tools. However, when a person initially becomes a product manager, they will typically have none of these. Good companies should waste no time in providing new product managers with the training they need for market research and otherwise. Further, product managers should immediately “get out there,” interviewing customers, gathering and analyzing data.
However, the best way to expedite the new product manager’s trip along the learning curve is to ensure they have the tools they need. We can organize these by the purpose of each: 1) Selecting a market to study, 2) Gathering customer needs with qualitative research, 3) Prioritizing customer needs with quantitative research, and 4) Analyzing Data.
For selecting a market to study, virtual whiteboards, such as the popular Mural platform, work great to organize lots of information while also facilitating group decision-making. Of course, there’s also the low-tech “sticky notes on the wall” that actually works quite well as long as you can get your stakeholders in the same room easily.
When gathering customer needs, yellow pad and pen has been the standard for decades. However, the previously mentioned Mural platform can also be used to capture notes virtually. It’s certainly been the standard for many to take notes in MS Word or similar. Or, you can look to specialized platforms such as B2B-focused Blueprinter software™.
For quantitative research, we generally think of executing surveys. There are high-end systems such as Qualtrics or more consumer-friendly ones such as Survey Monkey.
When the time comes for data analysis, most survey tools, such as the previously mentioned Qualtrics, Survey Monkey, etc., will usually have sufficient capabilities to do the analysis right within the platform. Beyond that, Excel actually has a decent statistical package that most of us already have on our desktop. For anything beyond the basics, there are high-powered solutions such as SPSS, SAS/STAT or Minitab. But, what about the product managers who don’t have the statistical background for these analyses? One option would be to hire an outside analyst. Another would be to adopt software with visual statistical analysis, not requiring a deep technical background, such as Blueprinter software™.
For those in innovation or product management leadership, it’s imperative that you not only provide your teams with everything they need to be successful. More than most roles, a new product manager will have to become competent in many new skill areas. Make sure they have the training they need first. And there’s no better beginning point than PDMA’s own NPDP certification program. Next, ensure that they have a working set of tools as described here. Finally, be patient with them as they develop expertise. It takes time and experience to be good at anything. With proper investment in training, experience and tools, rest assured that future product successes are certain to follow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
He has a diverse professional background within manufacturing engineering, product management, voice-of-the-customer training and SaaS development. Notable career stops include product manager for John Deere’s compact tractors, innovation leader for Actuant corporation, and Director of the Strategyn Institute. At Strategyn, he worked alongside the world's best jobs-to-be-done practitioners. Strategyn, founded by pioneer Tony Ulwick, is ground zero for Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI).
Today, as Senior Vice President for The AIM Institute, Burleson leads product development for Blueprinter® software, teaches workshops on innovation using the New Product Blueprinting process, and advises corporate leaders and practitioners on growth via JTBD principles.
He has a MS in Management and a BS in Electrical Engineering from North Carolina State University.