It’s Not What You Think
I’m not suggesting PMMs should switch careers. You’d probably struggle at customer support. I remember the hour I spent with Tammy at a big hotel chain’s call center – and couldn’t believe my eyes as she took calls across 115 properties, restaurants, shopping arcades, golf courses and gracefully handled over 20 calls in that hour, with grace, aplomb, and happier customers. NB: you will, however, learn things about your product and customers if you build relationships with *your* customer support and ask to spend time sitting with them to learn about their lives and hear what your customers ask and how they answer.
3 reasons to See Yourself as Customer Support
It’s vital that PMMs see part of their role as customer support. It’s a secret weapon in your goal of understanding the business, the customer, and what’s working or not in your company’s go-to-market. Also, I’ve had tons of PMMs ask how they can master their products – nothing better than helping real customers to advance your product savvy.
What & Who to Aim For
If we start with the end in mind (best of the 7 habits), you want to make the customer and your company more successful. You can best do this by finding out what your company doesn’t already know. This means getting to the operational users and casual users that don’t get much TLC from your account team or even from their own managers — so start with the people doing the work, often individual contributors.
How to Engage
“But, but, but how do I get invited to talk to customers!?!?” Somebody call the waaahmbulance – no one is going to drop this in your lap. My go-to move is to partner up with user experience. Your company’s UX team is often talking to users and learning/observing their everyday workflow. Make friends with UX. Ask if you can listen in silently when they’re talking to customers.
You can also meet people at trade shows, hang out at the demo booth and listen in – introduce yourself to customers and prospects, trade business cards and ask if you could talk to them once they’re back home. Asking for thirty minutes to understand what their days are like is really flattering. I always hear “this was fun. No one ever asks me about my day.”
Third, partner with sales. Make friends with the sales engineers / demo folks. Ask them how you can help, not just with the product pitch and customer stories, but even humble stuff: bring coffee, help pull together the slide deck, research the attendees. As long as you’re not hijacking their meeting, most sales teams appreciate getting help with the work.
Be Curious – And Don’t Pitch
Don’t pitch your products. Take off your marketing hat. Your job is NOT to be a wannabe sales person or customer success manager. We’ve already got them. Your job is to help out – and where you think it would clarify something, ask a question. Build a list of potential questions in advance. Keep it simple, stupid: my number one question is “What do you wish were different about how [whatever they were just talking about] works today?” Pro tip: their answers may reveal something the sales team has not yet uncovered.
Share Your Experience Internally
Since you’ve taken diligent notes on the whole conversation, share what you’ve learned internally: with product managers, UX, your team. You don’t need some earthshaking eureka conclusion, just a concise write-up. Your hour editing down to a 3 paragraph, scannable note will pay off in terms of making your company smarter, and in how you are perceived.
Do you see PMMs and customer support differently? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section below.
The Front Porch
Moss Beach, California