Build Your Own Customer Relationships

To do great positioning, you must talk to customers. 
Because the best positioning ideas come from your customers.
But real conversations only happen when you have a relationship.
To be the best PMM, you need to build your own customer relationships.

Outside → In Positioning

A year after I joined the PMM team for Salesforce’s Service Cloud, I spent a morning in the Caesar’s Entertainment call center.

I learned more positioning ideas in 3 hours sitting with agents, than I had in 3 months inside the Salesforce ivory tower. (narrator: it was a brick tower).

Inside the tower, I’d heard marketers and product managers telling me all the amazing value of the new inverse sling psychrometer feature.

But sitting with Terry, one of the agents in the call center, I learned that the notepad widget in our product had replaced her 30 post-it note system. A system that the cleaners would occasionally throw away. She said “it makes it all a little less stressful.”

This un-sexiest feature, a text notepad widget, was saving her 30-45 seconds per call.
Terry handled 80 calls a day.

At lunch, Terry’s manager Jeanine said the notepad had saved her hiring 5 more agents. 
At $85,000 per agent, That was $425,000 a year in savings.

Standing on stage a month later, talking to an audience of call center managers, when I told that story about Terry’s post-its, most of the people in the room nodded their heads, smiled, laughed. And 12 people waited in line to talk to me after, most of them to share their own post-it note nightmares.

But when I had presented the slide about the inverse psychrometer, people had stared politely and waited for me to move on.

The real life story created connection and proved empathy, which built trust. That trust let us position value more credibly.

The Relationship Key

But I didn’t get that call center visit to happen by walking in.

I first spoke to Jeanine in my first month, when we were looking for a speaker for some event.

She declined, but a few weeks later when we were putting out a new best practice guide, I sent her a copy, to make sure she knew the resource existed, and to ask for her feedback. We wound up chatting on the phone for 15 minutes that week.

Two months later, I invited her to a customer dinner that a local sales team was putting on, just to thank her for being a customer.

A month after that, she reached out to me and asked if I could present the roadmap and do Q&A with her team, who were planning for their next release of Salesforce.

Two months after that, her account executive pinged me and asked if I could reach out to a BI/Analytics person on the buying committee we’d been unable to get to – and didn’t I have some experience with that? 

I did. And when I emailed Mr. BI/Analytics with an offer to help, we got on the phone, and spent the first 10 minutes talking about how great Jeanine is. We also talked about reporting and data. The account exec was able to get a meeting with him two weeks later.

It was all these steps, feeding the relationship. Helping. Reaching out consistently over time, that built a relationship with Jeanine where I could ask to come do ride-alongs with the team in her call center. And get that great idea.

How to Start

  1. Build a list of companies (in an industry you care about, or where you’re a customer)
  2. Build a list of people at those companies (from your CRM, from LinkedIn)
  3. Start creating excuses to reach out to them (asking for product feedback is a good one)
  4. Build a schedule in your calendar for how you’ll make contact, how often
  5. Do it.

The best product marketers build their own customer relationships. Be the best.

From the front porch in Moss Beach,

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