Sunday, August 05, 2007

challenge: need vs. needy

As a product manager, you are beset on all sides by the needs of different constituencies.
  • A customer needs a particular feature.
  • A salesperson needs you to talk to a particular customer who needs a particular feature.
  • A marketing person needs you to document what you say on the call with a particular salesperson who needs you to talk to a particular customer who needs a particular feature.
And so forth, and so on. I've written about the importance of helping individual salespeople before, so I won't do it again. Thank your stars I know how to hyperlink.

Needs on their own are OK. Needs are discrete, have some motivating force behind them, and generally have a payoff that can be compared to that of other discrete needs. This helps you to prioritize what you do and when.

When any given constituency goes from "needing" to being "needy" is difficult to determine. But you can generally look to the following as indicators. I call them the "Effs" (as in plural letter 'F'):

Frequency: A needy will ring your bell often enough for you to notice. Do you get more calls from a particular salesperson than others? One customer? One reporter?

Forceful: A needy will look for any and all leverage to get you to do what they want.

Flattery: A needy will make you feel like you are the "only person who can help" by virtue of your "superior understanding" and "ability to get things done". This is the most dangerous one of all, because it makes us feel good to help people, especially when they make us feel good about helping them.

The strategies for dealing with a needy vary, but the most useful one is to try to get them to commit, and then see what they say. Try this template out for size:

"If I do x for you, will that solve your problem?"

"If you get this feature, will this allow you to be successful with the product?"

"If you have these five sales pieces, will you be able to close business?"

"If I explain the product on this call, will you be able to do it yourself?"

Based on the answers you get some clarity on where to go:

If they answer "no", either you don't understand the problem or they're needy.

If they answer "yes", then either they're lying or they are expressing a discrete need.

If they answer "I don't know", then you can start pressing for success measures. If they can't come up with any, they're needy.

Businesses are now dealing with needy customers in pretty draconian ways. Sprint recently dumped what they characterized as needy customers based on the frequency of their calls to support. Talk about having balls - they are actively terminating contracts with customers who ask too many questions. How many of these customers were in fact "needy" is hard to determine - my guess is that some of them would qualify as "needy" and impossible to please, while others had valid and persistent issues with the service.

Discerning between "customers with needs" and "needy customers" is, I believe, essential for understanding how your product is actually used. In all cases, the needs of needy customers obscure the needs of other customers. . . regardless of whether the customer is internal or external.

It's hard to do.


Brian Lawley said...

Excellent post. As PMs we are bombarded with requests from all sides.

A few of my favorite tricks to deal with it:

- Ask the salesperson what their confidence level is that this one feature request will close the deal, and how much revenue they are willing to commit to.

- Tell your sales folks that rather than just coming along to do the demo you will teach them how to do it and attend the first time to make sure they are comfortable.

- When a customer expresses a need always quantify it (i.e. 1 = nice to have, 5 = must have or we'll not buy/switch products). Follow this up with some questions about this feature's importance relative to other features being planned (or even better that that customer has specifically requested). I've found that with many customer requests the customer mainly wants to feel heard, and when pressed will back down a little on just how important the request actually is.

- Create as many leveraged tools as you can. :-)

My two cents...

Brian Lawley
280 Group

Scott Sehlhorst said...

Yes, great post.

Also - I like Brian's tip for teaching the sales guy to give the demo. Or at least suggesting that they give the demo. Which introduces the "I'm strategic" vs "Yeah, me too" conversation that can only end in a good way.