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Understanding the markets you serve is one of the fundamental expectations of a Product Management leader.  And yet more often than not, the tactical nature of our jobs (fire drills, meetings, delivering against commitments, etc) prevent us from focusing on the strategic nature of our roles.

I posted about being intentional with your planning time last week.  This week, let’s expand upon one aspect of what we should be thinking about during this time … understanding our markets/customers.  How well can you answer three simple questions about what you do and why?

  • Who am I serving?
  • What do they need/want, and are ready to buy?
  • How can I reach them and persuade them?




Understanding your markets starts with sizing your markets.  Sizing will help answer the questions who COULD buy our services (total addressable) vs. who IS going to buy our service (attainable).  You may also define more attractive sub-segments within the broader market definition to target. During this process you should also identify and map your existing customers/volume to determine market share, and  highlight who you don’t have as your prospect list.


Once you understand how big the opportunity really is, how do you know what they need?  What market-specific issues do they face?  What are the biggest obstacles they face to achieving their goals? What topics/trends are top of mind in their company?

Getting to this level of detail means interviewing customers.  I actually just stumbled across this article that provides some wonderful insights about how to best approach these interviews.  I highly suggest reading yourself, but some of the tidbits I took away:

  • Planning- identify appropriate participants, understand existing/historical context of participant, script the outreach …. one thing I would add to this step is focusing on internal knowledge first by talking with SMEs.  There are likely plenty of folks who have worked with the customer pre-installation, or in a support fashion who can provide keen insights before going external
  • Preparing – work as a team … one person to lead discussion the other to take notes, create an interview guide to stay on track, highlight main goals and key questions specific to each participant
  • Conducting – ask open-ended questions (don’t lead the witness), use script as guide not steering wheel, be prepared to probe, don’t answer your own questions, confirm what was heard

Once you know who you are serving and what their needs are, the final steps are to a) synthesize the feedback for planning purposes for capabilities you may not already have (i.e. – build/buy/partner analysis) and/or b) work with Product Marketing to polish your positioning / messaging with respect to go-to-market activities.


I am reminded of step 5 from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits book … seek first to understand, then to be understood.  This process starts with active listening, asking the appropriate questions, probing where necessary, never being satisfied until you fully understand and can answer the why questions.  The key here is listening first … only then can you articulate with authority where you need to take your product from a strategic standpoint.  After all, this is what is expected of us as Product Management leaders!