Measuring Customer Interactions to Unlock Product Discovery

BY MICHAEL MORRIS ON JULY 16, 2018

I’ve been in product for some time now and I’ve seen lots of different frameworks and methodologies, from Pragmatic Marketing to the concepts of Lean, and lots in between. I’ve seen enough to be a little bit jaded towards any one methodology, but I also know that methodology is important.

When looking at the different methodologies, if there is one commonality between them, it is the ask that product managers (and ideally product marketers, designers, and engineers) get real face time with real customers/prospects to identify market problems and opportunities (here’s a great post on this from Rich Mironov).

Experian is a large organisation (17,000 employees globally) with many business units. Our Data Quality and Management business employs about 500 people across six geographic regions. We have a centralised product group (product management, product marketing, engineering, UX, PMO) that is in part geographically dispersed which covers 10 product lines, and we’re in the process of dramatically diversifying our portfolio and driving our business to a new phase of growth. Gathering, synthesising, and sharing insights is a big challenge.

I’d like to share some of our team’s experience in this area and how we’re deriving value from it across the organisation.

Get People out of the Office

In our team we call the activity of getting face time “market interactions”. For us a market interaction is any interaction such as an industry event, a meeting with a partner or a client, or prospect engagement (with or without sales). And we measure the product team on the volume of interactions commensurate with their level and the product they’re responsible for.

Now I know that many of you just had a thought about how measuring on number of visits is a bad thing. But here’s why I don’t think it is. Because beyond the methodology, a significant part of good product management is behaviour – the things you do that become the art of delivering great products and customer value. Getting out into the market with customers requires behaviour to change or be focused, and to do that effectively, we should measure it. To start, we just encouraged people to get out and speak with people and measured that it was happening – nothing more than that.

Now perhaps you’re thinking “okay, that makes sense, but it’s still not very useful beyond knowing that someone did something”. Which is why we’ve taken it a step further.

Make it Count

As a VP of product I couldn’t care less about the actual number of interactions with customers and prospects. But I do have at least two needs that I know this activity delivers on:

1) I need product people who are credible, have solid product plans, and who are customer/user experts.

2) I need the insight to share across the business and in executive engagements.

The impact of market interactions on the first point is a given. Let’s talk about the second point. With a team of 17 product managers and product marketers now completing in the order of 40+ interactions a month, there’s no way that I, or any of the team, can be across everything that everyone else is doing; but we know communication, collaboration, and sharing are critical underpinnings of successful product too.

So we made a change.

Rather than just collecting statistics, we created a survey that each product person can fill in to provide some data about the interaction: date, type, product(s), use case(s), vertical etc, and some notes on what was discussed/discovered. Some screenshot extracts of the survey are shown below:

example of a survey asking for basic information about a market interaction

example of a survey asking for basic information about a market interaction

example of a survey asking for basic information about a market interaction

If it’s not written up, it doesn’t count towards your KPI. This drives the behaviour to get out of the office (this includes virtually getting out of the office too), AND, to do the write up, which was missing in the beginning. The survey data all flows through to a power BI dashboard (it really wasn’t that difficult).

It allows me, or any stakeholder in the business now that we’ve shared it out, to see the interactions that took place, cut the data by a range of data attributes, and read the corresponding notes. Critically, I’m able to review a sampling of interactions to both discuss with the team. Additionally, it assists with crafting the strategy, making decisions and educating stakeholders. It also allows all the product managers to review their peers’ notes – which could be relevant to them, given that customers interact with multiple products and parts of our portfolio.

In our next iteration we’ll look to apply some analytics to extract trends from the raw write-ups. You can see some samples of the dashboard below:

Unlocking Product Discovery

There is another very significant side effect of driving this activity.

I said that initially we just encouraged people to get out there. I liken this action to an intravenous drip. In the beginning, it’s just saline: it will hydrate you but ultimately won’t cure any infection. But as a result of getting out there, we build relationships with sales (and gain their trust) and more importantly with real customers.

The product team can now use these customer contacts to go more direct, and inject additional items into the IV line, into interactions that generate more value. We’ve unlocked great opportunities and created momentum to improve our product discovery activities, which we all know are arguably the most important things that product people should be doing (I suggest you read Marty Cagan for “inspiration” on this topic).

For example, we can do better product discovery by doing direct contact research interviews rather than just sitting in on sales meetings. We can build prototypes and take them to these customers after knowing what their problems are. We’ve now done this a couple of times after some design sprints and shared the prototype with the “friendly to product” contacts we’ve built up and had great feedback.

Our vision was to ensure that we deliver value and are experts in our domain. And we knew that product discovery was a critical element we needed to improve on in order to deliver value. But while doing discovery is critical, it is a behavioural shift if it’s not natural in your organisation and product team. And with all the other demands that take our time, it requires focus.

In summary, this was our approach: you may find it useful if you’re struggling to get this going in your team:

  1. Measure the team on interactions to drive behaviour (some people won’t like it. Fact)
  2. Add write-ups to get the detail of this activity and “if it’s not written up, it didn’t happen”. (Some people won’t like this either). Share the outputs with all team members and stakeholders
  3. Add analytics (still to be done on our end)
  4. Use the relationships developed to inject more useful items through the intravenous drip – product discovery – research, prototypes, testing etc (everyone should love this!)

Thanks to my team for embracing this activity and building out the tools and processes to bring it to life.
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Michael Morris

About MICHAEL MORRIS

Michael is currently VP Product for Experian's Data Quality and Management business. He has over 15 years experience in data and software related products across product management, strategy and consulting. He has a passion for creating value for customers through great products, growing and developing people and understanding the underlying motivations of human behaviour.