Five ways that qualitative feedback makes better Product Managers

by 

Josh Lowy

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Product Managers are like the "CEO of the product" as Ben Horowitz put it. While the web is out fighting about the validity of this analogy, we're here to help you deal with two issues that CEOs and PMs alike struggle with - navigating uncertainty and doing so when there is no finish line!

Qualitative customer interviews are a really easy way to help diffuse uncertainty into definable problems and rank solutions to those problems for your team. Running customer interviews on a constant loop mean you're always solving the right problems for your customer and finding ways to serve new customers too!

Most importantly, it makes you a better PM because:

1. You create easy wins

A surprisingly low number of conversations are needed before you start hearing the same things over and over again. In fact, Jakob Nielsen claims that 5 interviews are enough to identify patterns and themes before there are diminishing returns. Five conversations a month is a small investment for producing easy wins on a regular basis!

2. You run better simulations when making decisions

We've all taken customer surveys where none of the four multiple choice options are correct. That's because the person who wrote the questionnaire doesn't know you like they should. Talking to customers helps you use the words they are using, know the people they are talking to, understand the job they are trying to do and appreciate the frustrations that make their lives harder. When you are in the customer's shoes everyday, you are their proxy vote when brainstorming with the team or defending a feature on the roadmap.

3. You learn about customer frustrations separate from your product

It's easy to build a great product that nobody wants to buy. Analytics and dashboards help with answering "do you have this problem?", but only with conversations can you uncover answers to the "what problems do you have?" question. These conversations will give you appreciation for what your customers are trying to accomplish every day and what gets in the way of these tasks before you start talking about your product.

4. You increase investment and advocacy

Feedback sessions also include your customers in the product development process. Giving your best customers agency in the future of your product is a great way to increase engagement and to get them championing your product in their company.

5. You act like a coordinator

The better your company is at coordinating around the same set of problems and solutions, the faster it ships to your customers. Product Management is a coordinating role, but it's hard to embrace this when you often don't have official authority within the organization. Qualitative feedback on the other hand is gathered everyday by other people - Sales, Account Management, Customer Success, Customer Support etc. When you interface with these teams regularly to hear what they're hearing, you naturally coordinate different departments to organize around what patterns you see emerging from your customers.

So while the web worries about deciding if you're a mini-CEO or not, focus on the stuff that matters - change your mental model on how to best understand your customer. If you're building a product for humans, getting access to their thoughts and feelings might be just what you need to find differentiation while everyone else is staring at their dashboards!