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According to data from the McKinsey Global Institute, only one product idea out of seven will yield a successful product.

With new market entrants disrupting the competitive space on a near-constant basis, product managers need to know what products and experiences customers expect. Their goal is to continuously deliver a minimally viable product in the least amount of time possible.

As a product manager in this space, you need to accelerate the pace of innovation to beat the competition and stay on top – and you need to do it in an informed way, based on what your customers want rather than gut instincts. 

This can seem like an impossible task when you don’t have agile and trustworthy access to quality insight at scale. The effective prioritization of product features and new product development to best meet customer needs is tough without direct connections to well-profiled customers.

Ditch your current data sources now

Insights are needed by the entire product team. Sometimes, they come from an embedded insights professional or an insights organization providing this service. Regardless of who is doing the work, the desired end state is the same: Better products, services, and experiences.

There are five basic pools of data for agile product managers use to generate customer feedback:

  1. User groups like CABS that meet infrequently are dominated by strong voices and result in narrow, subjected feedback that lacks relevance. Members don’t have the time to commit to the burdensome process. An even smaller group of people who are meant to represent large market segments are dealt with nearly 1:1. It just doesn’t scale. At the end of the process, you get insufficient data to justify major product investment decisions. Not good.
  2. EAP and beta testers who are usually hyper-engaged enthusiasts who are not representative of the larger customer base. Again, you’re faced with insufficient data.
  3. Siloed transactional data and user data that does not provide insight into the “why” behind behavior. It’s tough to create a holistic view that truly describes the customer – who they are and what they want. This leads to a lack of understanding of the customer to inform the most important strategic decisions.
  4. Purchased third-party that is not only expensive but often sourced from respondents with questionable motivations resulting in low-quality data that is not specific or actionable. This data source is also only current for a point in time, meaning this method does not collect feedback from real customers who are engaged with the brand.
  5. Independent, ad-hoc research tools that are not strategic. There are often completed scattershot to answer in-the-moment tactical questions. These tools lead to disparate and disconnected data points that have limited value to anyone else in the organization.

Whether it offers limited insights, it’s unrepresentative of your customers, or it’s costly, each data source has its own unique challenges. You might also face a data overload by collecting data for the sake of data. The data that is available is totally overwhelming, non-strategic, and not causal. Too much data often results in too little actionable insight or information. Usable data and insight is lost or not effectively leveraged and decisions are made with slivers of data and partial understanding.

What’s a product manager to do?

By looking at this list, it should be clear that your current processes are likely preventing timely access to a meaningful set of customers and their views.

Time and time again, you face the same challenges with your current sources of insights.

  • Traditional methods are slow and expensive.
  • Third-party data doesn't go deep enough.
  • Your marketing and legal team block you from accessing your customer lists to connect with real people to inform product decisions.
  • Siloed transactional and social data lacks context.

You know all too well by now that your customer feedback often fails to keep pace with the speed of business. In many cases, the feedback received is largely anecdotal, forcing your product team to make gut decisions or rely on research to validate decisions that have already been made. Product decisions are made based on disparate/limited data or gut instincts.

Since you can’t receive timely and relevant customer insights throughout most of the product innovation cycle, you risk creating a product that fails in the market. You risk investing time and resources in products or features your customers just don’t care about.

Unfortunately, once a product is launched, in-market issues are diagnosed too late, and sales are negatively impacted as a consequence.

Don’t you think it’s time to ditch these cumbersome and costly sources of data and insight?

Moving with more agility

In today’s highly competitive world, product teams have to move faster and with more agility than ever before. You know it. Your product development team knows it. We know it. But to make the best choices, you need timely customer insights at each decision point. However, the voice of the customer must be integrated into agile workflows and process without bogging down the entire system.

Forbes interviewed more than 500 senior executives from around the world in July 2017, and 92 percent said they believe organizational agility is critical to business success.

The feedback loop could be shortened by giving product managers direct, repeatable access to customer teams for feedback. That access gives them a reliable source of agile insight that can be used to complement and augment existing data. Those engagements make it easier for product managers to focus on, understand, and act on the most relevant data during every iteration of their product innovation cycle.

It’s a win-win-win situation.

SMUD, a community-owned, not-for-profit electric service provider, was also able to shorten the feedback loop with insight communities of highly engaged and well-profiled customers. The product team was looking for a solution that would enable faster customer engagement than traditional research could offer. Thanks to its Plugged-In and Power-Voice communities, SMUD gets product ideation feedback 75 percent faster (1–2 weeks vs. 4–6 weeks) and has been able to launch products 90 days faster.

“Customer input helps ensure we are meeting and exceeding the expectations of all our customers, whether we’re improving existing programs and services, or introducing new ones.” —Frankie McDermott, Chief Energy Delivery Officer, SMUD

Your product team can perform better with on-demand, agile insights, just like SMUD.

You’ll be able to:

Profile & engage hard-to-reach customers to get specific data needed to make rapid product decisions while complying with privacy regulations.

Use fresh insights consistently to inform decisions throughout the product lifecycle, from ideation to development to release to retirement.

Build upon what you already know by integrating direct customer feedback with other data sources to augment their knowledge, uncovering the reasons behind customer behavior and predicting what they’ll want next.

Your data and insight sources shouldn’t hamper your product innovation and development initiatives. But, as we’ve seen, that’s exactly what happens with traditional research methods. Isn’t time to find a better solution? Agile insights enable product managers to bring better products to market faster.


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Sarena Brown

Director of Content Marketing here. I steer the content ship at VC to serve you interesting, engaging resources you can't wait to get your hands on. Why? They are simple and straightforward answers to your most pressing questions. Just like this guide about how you can embrace new customer-centric strategies.
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