If you need to know where your other half wants to go on vacation you probably ask them, right? Because that’s the only way to know the answer. Without the question, the answer’s nothing but an assumption.

Well, the world of product marketing + customers is no different.

When it comes to speaking to your customers we see a lot of product marketers ask how often they should be touching base (i.e. one-on-one, over the phone) and there’s a reason no-one’s got a definitive answer to this, because there isn’t one.

One thing that is for sure though, is we all need to be doing it. Regularly. Whether you’ve had a staple product on the shelves for 20+ years or you’re testing the waters with a new concept, your customers hold the key to your long-term success.

Why?

1. You get feedback. You might know the product inside and out but you probably don’t use it daily like they do. Maybe they just want a more condensed version of your existing user manual. Maybe they want a whole new feature adding. If you don’t ask you don’t know.

Remember, no matter how great your solution is now it can always be better and picking up snags and customer wish lists is the single best way to take it to the next level.

2. You can act. Faster. The more often you check in with customers the quicker you can pick up on any flaws, issues or demand, and the sooner you identify things like that the sooner you can take action. That means happier customers, less churn, a step up on your competition, and more sales. And now, not later.

Keep in mind: for every customer who bothers to complain, 20 others remain silent.

3. You get buy-in. It’s easier to get the go-ahead on a new campaign, feature or product if you’ve got concrete evidence supporting the why. That’s not to say you have to go and invest $$$$$s just because one customer said they’d quite like feature X adding to product Y, but keep a physical track of your conversations and if a trend emerges use it to support your argument.

4. You shape your campaigns. If one person’s thinking it others almost certainly are too, so the tidbits of knowledge you pick up during your chats could even shape future campaigns.

For example, let’s say you’re a CMS provider. Currently, your main marketing line is that your solution is “incredibly intuitive with drag-and-drop-style building features”. However, having spoken to a tonne of customers now, the selling point seems to be shifting towards its built-in SEO capabilities. Could there be a new campaign slant in it to attract more prospects?

5. Find out how you’re doing. Quantitative data is great and gives you a real insight into how products and campaigns are performing, but there’s nothing quite like qualitative research. It adds meat to the bones and helps you understand the reasons and emotions behind the numbers.

Why is page A the most visited in our app? How come people aren’t finding their way to feature B? Why didn’t campaign C work? Why was campaign D so successful? How can element E of feature F be improved? All answers you can get from direct communication with your customers.

Okay, so that’s the ‘why’, now let’s take a look at the ‘how often’.

How often should you speak to your customers?

We mentioned at the start there’s no such thing as a gospel frequency so we don’t have a magic number for you all of a sudden, we’re afraid, but what we do have is some for food thought.

While speaking to PMMs for our Product Marketing Insider series, we’ve come across leaders who make getting on the phone to customers part of their daily routine - however, while that’s definitely #customercontactgoals, understandably, it might not be achievable for everyone.

So, here’s what some other PMAers had to say:

“Within a team of three (different marketing roles, I'm the only PMM) we probably field several support questions weekly related to resources that we publish (i.e. can I get a recording of the webinar, that download didn't arrive in my inbox...) and then between the team we run one or two customer interviews a month either for case studies, user testing content or product feedback.”

- Rebecca Taylor, Product Marketing Manager at GatherContent

“Maybe once in two weeks. We run feature adoption campaigns regularly and so end up getting on a call with the customers to understand the friction they face in not using the feature.”

- Vaishnavi Ketharnathan, Product Marketing Manager for Checkout at Chargebee

“It happens at least weekly. Not to the same customer, but it has to happen at least weekly.”

- Aneel Lakhani, Exec Marketing Consultant

“I'm on the phone at least once a week with a customer doing persona interviews.”

- RJ Gazarek, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Atlassian

"I find that with a role as busy as ours, committing the team to customer calls/visits is required to keep everyone on point. We require two customer calls a week per PMM, not including sales calls (so true "customer" calls)."

Jonathan Hinz, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Seismic

"Frequency will vary based on the size of your company, industry, etc. but one thing I would recommend is setting the objective for the conversation/feedback and having a way to consolidate and share on a quarterly basis with broader team or company."

Daniel Kuperman, Director of Product Marketing @ Snowflake

Making the most of all your customer contact points

Everyone’s number one choice is always going to be one-on-one phone, video or in-person time but sometimes that’s easier said than done. So, here are all your options.

1. Call your customers

This’ll give you an open forum to get firsthand answers from the horse’s mouth and comes with a couple of pretty huge benefits:

Benefit #1: you can explore areas you might not have originally anticipated - if a customer’s answer sparks a question that wasn’t on your premeditated list, for example.

Benefit #2: you can gauge their inflections and this can say an awful lot about how a customer really thinks and feels. For example, let’s say you send out an email survey for people to complete. One of the questions is “What do you think about our analytics software?” and someone answers “Yeah, it’s good.”

Written down, that might not seem like a negative at a glance. But, what if that Q&A happened over the phone and it turned out there was a long pause while they had to think about it before they responded? And the customer’s voice was a bit deflated and unsure? Instantly, it becomes less positive.

In terms of organising your calls, if you want time for a decent chat, it’s probably best to book appointments with your customers in advance - after all, no-one likes a 20-minute phone call being sprung on them out of the blue. Giving people notice will also ensure they book time out to answer your questions with care and thought.

If you’re going with the ad hoc approach just be mindful of what time of the day you pick up the phone (remembering to take time zones into account, too). It’s thought between 8am to 9am and 4pm to 5pm is best, lunchtime, between 1pm and 2pm, is the worst - a hangry customer is not a happy customer!

Last couple of tips for this one:

Tip #1: remember to ask open-ended questions; one-word answers don’t tell you much. So, for example, instead of asking “Do you like our analytics software?” ask “Can you tell us what features, in particular, you like about our analytics software and why?”

Tip #2: people are busy and sometimes it takes a little nudge for them to part ways with some of their time for you. Try it for free first and be creative with your approach, but if you don’t get anywhere and you have the budget, think about attaching an incentive to the call - a simple voucher would do.

2. Get the info secondhand

Unlocking internal data is a time old problem in the PMM community. We all know other departments (sales and customer service in particular) are sitting on a gold mine of data, but extracting it can be like getting water from a stone sometimes.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick or easy fix for this one and before you’re freely and regularly fed with the info you need, an internal, cultural shift might be needed. Why? Because, rightly or wrongly, before said people in said departments go out of their way to help you, they need to understand why it’s important and how it benefits them.

The good news is that’s pretty easy to justify. Better products and features mean easier sales for your reps and fewer calls to your service departments. Winner.

Next, you need to make it as easy as possible. You’re busy, they’re busy, everyone’s busy, but the harder you make feeding back the less likely they are to stick to it and they kind of hold the cards on this one, so it’s best to give them what they want - within reason, of course.

A couple of ideas include:

  • Introducing a CRM whereby customer and prospect-facing teams can easily add important notes there and then. The later they recall what they’ve been told, the more likely they are to forget or miscommunicate key details.

  • Investing in something like Slack and creating channels dedicated to feedback on things like ‘reason customer complained’, ‘reason prospect didn’t convert’ and ‘customer praise’.

  • Sending someone from your team over to do random desk drops throughout the day to pick their brains in person.

Tip: if you want to really drive adoption of this kind of mindset it could be worth compeitionising it, at least for the first quarter or two until it’s fully embedded. For example, you could offer a reward to the sales rep who provides the most and richest feedback each week.

3. Analyse phone calls

This could be with your sales, customer service, support or onboarding teams and can be used in tandem or instead of (if you don’t get any co-operation) the previous point.

Admittedly, this option’s going to be a lot more labour-intensive but there are tools out there to help, like:

While the above tools are great the only snag is they’re predominantly for sales enablement, which doesn’t necessarily help decipher post-sale conversations. So, here are a couple of ideas on how to make the qualitative data you earwig on manageable and actionable:

  • Divvy it up. That way, you can work your way through more without eating too much into any one person’s day.

  • Set up a system. For example, you could create a scorecard with specific issues listed and then each time a customer raises something relating to that issue, scribble some of the buzzwords into the corresponding field.

On the flip side, you could monitor things people don’t say. For example, sticking with the CRM builder, if not a single person mentions your drag-and-drop builder as a pro, is it really as easy as you think?

4. Approach them in person

If you put on semi-regular events, trade shows or conferences for your customers use them as an opportunity to poach them for feedback - odds are, people will be a bit more giving with their time if they’re already at an event for them, by you. If all goes to plan, this could be a great outlet to get tonnes of first-hand feedback at once.

One caveat for this though is to make sure you’re speaking to the right person. If you’re B2B and want to understand how a customer finds your CRM system you need to speak to the person who uses it, not the person who foots the bill.

If all else fails...

You’ve still got lots of online options to gather quantitative and qualitative feedback, you’ll just miss out on some of the benefits that come hand-in-hand with actually hearing the responses.

Some popular tactics include:

  • Sending out email, SMS and in-app surveys
  • Going through social media conversations (public and private)
  • Adding a quick form to your Wifi network (commonly used in cafes, restaurants, bars, leisure centres, and hotels)
  • Using feedback monitoring sites - like Google and Yext
  • Recording visitors’ website sessions
  • Reviewing live chat transcripts.