I’ve sat through many advisory board and sales meetings with customers who have just been wined and dined. Then, during the formal part of the meeting, a product manager presents a new roadmap presentation and wraps up by asking, “what do you think?” with a face that clearly shows how proud they are of their work.
You are very, very fortunate if you have customers that will actually give real, honest feedback in a scenario like that. They want to keep things positive and upbeat – they just saw pictures of that product manager’s kids or heard about their latest adventure trip. They don’t want to get all negative, even if that is what they really think.
One of the things that market research does really well is to intentionally CREATE an environment for honest feedback and for uncovering information you haven’t anticipated. To create such an environment, you need to:
1) Make sure the conversation is not about the personal relationship. Of course you want the relationship, and you want to leverage that. But the feedback can’t be influenced by whether someone likes you or not. Of course they like you – you’re a tremendously likable person! But the feedback must be about the topic, the market, and the pain points, not about what they think about you.
You need to use verbal and non-verbal cues to set up the discussion so that it is open, non-judgmental, and the client is never aware that what they’re saying is bad news for you. You need to get the bad news now – not after you’ve been through a long, involved sales cycle that ends because there is “no budget,” which really means “not enough pain.”
2) Dig for negative feedback. Don’t just ask, “what do you think?” Encourage people to talk about what they DON’T like. You can’t make it better if you don’t know what’s wrong. Ask, “What do you LIKE about what I just showed you?” then ask “What DON’T you like about what I showed you?”
3) Put feedback in context. It’s not enough for a user to connect with the pain you solve – it has to be a priority! I recently was in a focus group where a participant described a situation troubleshooting a particularly elusive problem in a complex application. It was a dramatic story with dozens of IT staff from different technology groups getting on bridge calls, pointing fingers, escalating issues, and finally getting the CIO involved in a 48-hour saga that ended up to be a rather minor configuration issue. I could feel the client behind the glass get excited because this was exactly the type of problem they envisioned their solution solving.
But then we asked how important it was to solve this kind of issue so it didn’t happen again. The participant explained that it wasn’t important at all. It was the first time in 15 years it had happened and they had solved it. They had moved on. The pain wasn’t a priority. Fortunately that group did express other pains that the client could solve, and they learned important lessons on ways of positioning their product that matched the most important pains.
Employing these techniques a great way to encourage your customers to give you real, honest feedback and to help you uncover pains you were unaware of.