The most effective PMMs know their customers inside out. Becoming the ‘voice of the customer’ means uncovering customer pain, digging deep into buyer personas and creating messaging and positioning that resonates.

However, PMMs are not spending much time with customers. In the PMA State of Product Marketing 2020 report 70.9% of Product Marketing professionals surveyed, have customer and market research as part of their remit, but one-fifth of PMMs don’t ever interact with customers, instead they rely on feedback from other teams.

The 2020 report also highlighted a worrying discrepancy, 59% of survey respondents highlight empathy and the ability to connect with customers as fundamental to their success on the job, but spending on customer research and associated tools were down significantly from 2019.

The good news is there is a lot PMMs can do to proactively get to know customers better.

Internal data to form a hypothesis

There is a wealth of information about customers within every business once you know where to look. Marketing reports on best performing content that customers interact with, product monitors usage data and adoption, sales development teams track messaging with the highest response rates, sales leaders report on win / loss rates by persona and support teams analyse tickets raised by struggling customers.

There is a wealth of information about customers within every business once you know where to look. Marketing reports on best performing content that customers interact with, product monitors usage data and adoption, sales development teams track messaging with the highest response rates, sales leaders report on win / loss rates by persona and support teams analyse tickets raised by struggling customers.

Start with an audit of the various systems used across the business and assess the nuggets of information they reveal about customers. Speaking to cross functional stakeholders can help to contextualise findings and gain a wider perspective on the customer beyond the Product Marketing remit.

Trends and anomalies in data can form the basis of a hypothesis and inform the next steps of your customer discovery journey.

Prepare to be open minded

No effort to get to know your customers will be wasted, but product lifecycle, company goals and current projects will dictate the goal for interacting with customers.

From pricing research to message validation, pilot feedback to product roadmap enhancements and adoption to uncovering new use cases, there is always a reason to integrate customer feedback as a key stage in all strategic projects.

While it’s beneficial to stay open minded to ad hoc feedback, preparation will pay off. Developing a framework of open-ended questions, brushing up on research best practice and practicing TED questions – tell me, explain for me, describe for me – will set you up for success in the precious time you get in front of customers. It also allows for easy sorting, analysis and direct comparisons as you conduct interviews.

A general rule of thumb is to aim for five to 10 customer interviews as sufficient to validate your hypothesis and then quantify by surveying a wider group of customers. Where interviews aren’t possible, shadowing meetings, monitoring sales calls and pulling quotes from win/loss interviews are valuable sources of customer feedback.

Challenge your own findings

As well as analysing findings, it’s also helpful to weigh up what customers aren’t telling you. Bear in mind that the noisy few drown out the silent majority.

Often the best clients sit on advisory boards, come to VIP events and hand raise for pilots and BETA testing. Usage data may reveal how engaged customers are interacting with the latest releases but a percentage of users may never open the email announcement with the release notes.

By all means listen to your customers, but question if you’re looking at your best, high fit, typical or churn risk customers and analyse your findings through that lens.

A customer state of mind

If you have developed buyer personas for your key customer types you have already put the hard work into understanding their mindset but keeping that content fresh and relevant requires a little bit of extra effort. Researching industry thought leaders, following stakeholders on LinkedIn and subscribing to relevant newsletters, podcasts and webinars will help keep your knowledge of the customer landscape current.

While that might seem like an extra task on your to do list, you can lighten the load by setting up internal knowledge sharing sessions, lunch and learns, email distributions or Slack groups to make sure that stakeholders are thinking about customers, first and foremost.

Good luck in your journey to customer-centric product marketing!