February 14, 2023

Customer research: Where do product teams fit?

Lindsay Johnson

Customer research: Where do product teams fit?

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Product managers have a lot on their plates. From prioritizing features to managing stakeholders to coordinating with cross-functional teams, their days are often packed with various tasks. However, one crucial responsibility that should never be neglected is customer research. In this blog post, we will explore why product managers should be doing customer research and what benefits it can bring to the table.

Who is responsible for customer research? 

While it is true that UX researchers are experts in conducting this type of research, product teams need to have quick and rapid-fire insights and evidence, especially when making product decisions. Therefore, product managers should regularly speak to customers to gather context, insights, and evidence. The important point is not about the skills or expertise of a product manager or UX researcher, but rather about who is accountable for the success of the product. If there is a UX researcher embedded in the product team and is conducting research, that is perfectly fine. The key point is that the product team should drive interviews and research since they are ultimately responsible for the success of the product. UX research teams are important, and can be valuable for longer-term, project-based research. But this should not be a substitute for product teams talking to customers. 

Engagement with customers is about both solving problems as they arise, and discovering new opportunities.  Both come from a deep understanding of customer behavior.

Product feedback is reactive, customer interviews are proactive

Product feedback is undoubtedly important, but it is primarily reactive. Regularly speaking with customers and discovering new opportunities, is proactive. By regularly interviewing customers, product managers can discover new product opportunities that drive business outcomes, which is an essential aspect of their role. Both interviewing customers and collecting product feedback helps product teams develop a deeper understanding of customer needs and pain points. Engagement with customers is about both solving problems as they arise, and discovering new opportunities.  Both come from a deep understanding of customer behavior.

Discovery is a primary responsibility of product managers

Discovery is one of the primary responsibilities of a product manager.  It involves identifying new opportunities and gathering insights to deliver a product that drives the business forward and delights customers. To do this, product managers need to regularly speak to customers and conduct research. By sharing and justifying decisions based on research, product teams build credibility and support from stakeholders, which ultimately leads to better outcomes.

Be an expert on customers, not just the product

As a product manager, it's essential to know your product inside out, but it's equally important to know your customers as well. Regularly speaking to customers and conducting research helps product managers gain a deep understanding of customer needs, behaviors, pain points, desires, and challenges. This context is crucial for the product team to make informed decisions that meet customers' needs and drive business outcomes.

By regularly speaking to customers and conducting primary research, product managers can gain valuable insights that help them make informed decisions, discover new product opportunities, and ultimately create products that meet customers' needs and drive business outcomes. So, if you're a product manager, make sure to prioritize customer research in your product development process.

What about the sales team? 

Customer facing teams are in direct contact with customers and have valuable insights into their needs and pain points.  However, they may also have their own biases, perspectives and priorities. Product managers should work closely with sales teams to ensure that they can conduct accurate and unbiased research directly with customers. Doing this collaboratively with sales or other customer facing teams can also help them feel invested in the product development process, which can lead to increased buy-in and support for new features or changes. Managing this relationship is particularly important where sales teams have very close, protective relationships with high value customers. Educating customer facing teams on the benefits, goals and outcomes of research is crucial. Doing this with a strong foundation of customer knowledge builds the credibility needed to manage this successfully.