The product trio leads discovery. But this doesn’t mean that other teams aren’t involved. Being thoughtful about product discovery means staying on good terms with others throughout your company. You might need to get buy-in or support from leadership, you may need to collaborate with user research or data science teams, and you will likely experience some overlap with customer-facing teams like sales, marketing, and customer success.
But there’s a fine line between seeking input and support and seeking approval. Product trios can often encounter resistance when rolling out the continuous discovery habits. And while you don’t want to directly ignore your coworkers’ requests, there are times when you may need to work around them.
Product trios can often encounter resistance when rolling out the continuous discovery habits. And while you don’t want to directly ignore your coworkers’ requests, there are times when you may need to work around them. – Tweet This
Today’s post considers what to do when you encounter pushback or resistance from outside the product trio, especially when it comes to conducting customer interviews.
Ask Teresa is a recurring series where I answer common questions about continuous discovery. Find all the posts in this series here. Have a topic you’d like me to address in a future post? Get in touch here.
Question: What do you do if another team like sales or marketing is really protective over customers and doesn’t want to allow you to talk to them?
We see this a lot with sales teams, with teams responsible for revenue. The first thing is to understand what’s going on here.
Your sales rep is responsible for renewing revenue from existing customers. And their fear is that if you talk to “their” customer, you’re going to put that revenue at risk because they don’t really understand what you’re going to ask. They don’t understand if the customer’s going to like it. They’re going to feel like they’re asking the customer for a favor. They’re not going to want to do that.
Your sales rep’s fear is that if you talk to ‘their’ customer, you’re going to put that revenue at risk because they don’t really understand what you’re going to ask. – Tweet This
We see similar tendencies on the marketing side. Maybe they feel like they already have their own market research, and you should just listen to their market research. They don’t want you to come in and learn something that’s different from what they learned.
In both of these instances, the key is to remove the fear of the unknown. Start teeny tiny. Don’t go to your VP of marketing or VP of sales and say, “All my product managers need access to customers.” Have one product team make friends with one sales rep or one marketing person, build the relationship, and remove the unknowns.
You can start really small by asking, “Can I just sit in and observe your meeting?” When you go to that first meeting, don’t say anything. Simply observe. They should be comfortable with that.
Then, in the next meeting, ask if you can ask a single question at the very end. Tell the salesperson or marketing person what the question is, tell them what you’re hoping to learn, and be sure to make it a story-based question so the customer loves it. That helps your coworkers to see that this actually isn’t scary. Your customer really enjoys participating. And then from there, iterate.
So the key here is to understand the root of the concern. Most of it is the fear of the unknown. Work to remove those unknowns, start teeny tiny, and then iterate your way there to help overcome that resistance.
When other teams are protective over customers, work to remove the unknowns, start teeny tiny, and then iterate your way there to help overcome that resistance. – Tweet This
A Few Tips for Working with Sales and Account Managers
If you’re trying to overcome resistance specifically from sales or account managers, start with the instance that is the easiest for the sales rep to start with. There’s no universal right answer here—this will differ based on the sales rep.
Remember, they’re worried about putting their revenue at risk, so find a way to remove the risk from the situation. Maybe this means talking to their best customer where they know nothing will put the deal at risk. Maybe it means talking to their worst customer where they know the deal is already lost.
You can ask the sales rep, “If you had to do this, who would be the first customer you would turn to? Who is the customer you would feel most comfortable reaching out to?”
A key phrase that I find helps is, “Let’s just try it” or “Can you experiment with me?” This helps the salesperson adopt an experimental or prototyping mindset. Don’t frame the ask as a long-term change. Frame it as, “Can we try it once and see what happens?” This is usually a much easier yes.
I find that saying, ‘Let’s just try it’ or ‘Can you experiment with me?’ can help people adopt an experimental or prototyping mindset. – Tweet This
And once you’ve conducted the interview, remember to close the loop. After each conversation, make sure to circle back with the sales rep and share what you learned from the customer, how it will inform your decisions, and what product changes you are making as a result. Definitely remind the sales rep to notify the customer when you’ve made a relevant product change. That’s a conversation the sales rep will love to have and will motivate them to schedule more interviews for you.
Remember: You Don’t Have to Start with Current Customers
If you’ve tried all the tactics I outlined above and you’re still encountering resistance, don’t give up. You don’t have to start with your current customers or go through formal channels in your company. You can still get valuable insights from conversations with people who match the profile of your current customers. We often forget that we already know people who match our target customer profile.
You can still get valuable insights from conversations with people who match the profile of your current customers. We often forget that we already know people who match our target customer profile. – Tweet This
Here’s an example: I worked with a team who was struggling to find doctors and nurses to speak with. Because they worked at a large company with tons of meetings, it was going to take them three weeks to schedule an interview. After a couple of weeks where they weren’t able to get anything on their calendars, I asked them if anyone had any doctors or nurses in their family or personal network. The product manager had an uncle who was a doctor. I suggested they start there.
Another example involved a bank that had strong company policies that meant their product teams were not allowed to talk to customers. But for most of their discovery questions, it didn’t matter if the people they talked to were current customers. It just mattered if they banked somewhere. Fortunately, the team knew plenty of people who had bank accounts at other institutions.
Sometimes we create rules for ourselves that don’t exist or get caught up in the idea of going through the proper channels. But especially when you’re just starting to talk to customers, I want you to be scrappy. I want you to use whatever channel gets you a conversation.
Especially when you’re just starting to talk to customers, I want you to be scrappy. I want you to use whatever channel gets you a conversation. – Tweet This
I regularly respond to common continuous discovery questions like this one in our community. You should join us!