I'm Kristina Volovich, Product Marketing Manager at Amazon, and in this article, I want to talk a little bit about how to incorporate the voice of the customer into your product marketing strategy.
These are three companies I've worked for in my career. I would say all three of them were customer-centric or considered themselves customer-centric.
HubSpot - I'm sure you're familiar with it - it was always the marketers, even internally we were a marketing-centric organization. All of our decisions internally were made based on what the marketing team thought, which was awesome for us as marketers and externally. Marketers were really at the forefront of everything we did; we were always listening to them. And as a marketer, it was easy because we knew what we were doing, and I knew what marketers were thinking.
StackOverflow - I don't know how many of you are familiar with StackOverflow, but it’s an online developer community. There, the developers were the customers and as a result, they were focused on developers. Our CEO was a developer, and developers were highly regarded at the company. Everything that we did, we always had the developer at the forefront of our mind.
Amazon - the reason I put all customers below is at Amazon, there are multi-millions of products we internally use. I work on the Audible for business team, a new team within Amazon, part of Audible, but it creates an interesting challenge because even though it's a B2B product, we're spun off of a B2C product.
So in that case, we have to think about the customer that's an Audible user. Most of those customers are Prime members, so we have to think about how they're Prime users. We also have to think of all of our accounts, and anyone who's creating an account is creating an Amazon account.
Does anyone reading have an Amazon account? I'd hasten a guess it's almost everyone.
That's why, when talking about Amazon in general, no matter what part of the business people work on, I like to say that they're marketing to all customers.
Customer obsession is one of our principles internally we talk about and that's actually what inspired this article.
Below are a selection of ways, which I'm sure those of you reading have heard of at least one, to capture customer feedback.
Whether it’s interviews, surveys, listening to the voice of the customer through forums, or product feedback pages on your website, you're part of customer communities. I think at one point in my career, I've probably done all of these. But the challenges for me, and I don't know how many of you can resonate, were:
- How do I interview with a customer at the right point in time?
- How do I get insights from those interviews and apply it to my product?
- My feature requests form - we have an instance whereby we have a sales team putting in feature requests from customers. So, how do I make sure those feature requests make it into the product? And they don't just sit there, because otherwise, the customer will realize you don't care about any of their features.
I want to focus on the challenge of using customer insights effectively, and I think there are a lot of different teams within organizations talking to the customer. A customer success team, a sales team, your CEO, or someone on your executive board might be talking to the customer. But I do think as product marketers, we're uniquely positioned to solve the challenge of bringing and bridging that gap of customer insights.
Using customer insights effectively
I like this graph because it shows how product marketing is at the center of everything. We touch sales, marketing, product, and we hear conversations on the product side, sales side, as well as the marketing side.
Because of this, we're uniquely positioned to be the voice of the customer and consider, "Okay, I'm hearing this, how do I get it to the product?" or, "I'm hearing this from sales, how do I come back and make sure we have a closed-loop feedback?".
With that in mind, I'm going to talk about a couple of different ways you can use customer insights at every single stage of the product marketing strategy.
The product and feature development process
How many product marketers reading this are involved in some sort of product feature development? A good number of you I would guess, or at least I would hope because I think it's important to start at the beginning of the product development process. Start by listening to customers early on, even before the product is built. In the chart below, we can see all the different ways product development works.
In my opinion, as a product marketer, if you understand that and understand where the voice of the customer fits, you'll set yourself up for success. So, get involved as early as possible.
Get involved early
By the time the product roadmap is set, it's often too late. We'll have salespeople right now in my organization that come and say, "Well, our customer wants this feature, how come we're not focusing on this feature this quarter?" And we say, "Well, did you follow the process we’ve set up internally, which is taking feature requests up to a certain date, and then they'll be considered for that quarter."
That way, we know we're developing the product roadmap based on something the customer is saying; a lot of the time, if you do an interview, and the product roadmap is set for the next year, it's going to be extremely hard for you to actually get that into the product and truly feel like the customer’s voice is being heard.
Partner with PMs
One thing we do right now, and we did at StackOverflow specifically, was partnering with product managers to put the customer first at every stage of the development process. This could look very different depending on the product you have. It could be if you work in a small company you sit with a product manager one on one and flesh out ideas, and it's very collaborative.
If you work at a large company like me and the product team feels miles away, there's all the red tape and good stuff that comes with a big organization. But at the same time, you still want to have a relationship with the product manager and this will let you get in early.
What we do, and specifically in my department, Audible for business, is we have a prioritization meeting every quarter with the product manager. This also involves the head of product, product marketing, a sales stakeholder, a customer success stakeholder, and a customer service stakeholder.
With those people, we have a prioritization rubric where we map out the next product roadmap we're creating. It could be yearly, quarterly, weekly if you're shipping things very quickly, but we work out how we're going to prioritize. We have a customer section that talks about, "Okay, on a scale of one to 10, how important is this for our customers?" And we measure asking several key questions:
- How many people have called in to support it?
- How many salespeople have submitted a form and said this is what the customer uses?
- I think this is interesting; we have an online forum where people can submit requests and they're anonymous, but they upvote requests sometimes and we'll take the top two and put that as the number one priority.
That's creating a scalable and product feedback strategy.
Product and feature go-to-markets
I think the core of product marketing is go-to-market. In terms of customer voice, we always think about who we're marketing to, or who we're going to market with, but it's also important to think about go-to-market plans as customers first.
Below you'll see a bunch of different things that go into a go-to-market plan.
- Who are you selling to?
- What is the product?
- When should we launch it?
- Why do prospects need it?
- Why do current customers need it? That's something people often forget - current customers.
- Where can we reach these people?
- How do we go to the market?
What you can do from here is pull out and think about things in the lens of the customer. It's both interesting and tricky because a lot of times a go-to-market plan is thinking about the product; the product is at the core:
- What functionality is new?
- Where are we going to market it?
- What social channels are we going to use?
- What events are we going to go to?
But, if you think of it in the lens of the customer, what the customer has been saying, and all this feedback that you were gathering, it can help put the customer first.
For example if you're saying, "When should we launch this?" At Amazon we know we have Black Friday, it's not something I work on but it's a huge company-wide initiative. With that in
mind, us launching something is probably not the best experience for the customer because we're going to be competing with another thing going on at Amazon.
Another thing to consider is how do we go to the market? A lot of the time we try to think about the fact the market, for us, is saturated. With an Amazon account, so many parts of Amazon are trying to target you all at the same time, so we have to fight for a share of each Amazon account and say, "Okay, what time is the best time for the customer to release this product?". Like I said Black Friday, not a good time, but how are we going to even reach them? Is it going to be on Amazon.com? Is it going to be through a Prime newsletter? Are we going to do a cross-promotion?
We have an internal market within ourselves which creates a lot of challenges and forces us to think about the customer first and what’s going to be the best experience for the customer.
Products and feature launches
I want to dive a little deeper into the launch process itself; I think it's important and somewhere that product marketing can have an impact.
We like to say you should set your customer up for success from day one.
What this means is predicting how the launch is going to affect the customer. So, if I'm paying $10.99 for Prime, am I going to want to pay another $10 for Audible? Those two things cost different amounts and are we going to be competing for the same customer share? I also believe oftentimes new products come out and we always try to think about the prospects first, but it's important to also focus on existing customers because that can affect your retention and your adoption of the product.
Ultimately, your current customers are your biggest advocate. So, preparing your existing customers for launch - one thing we like to do, which we've found useful, is pre-launching to our customers and giving them a heads up always. That way, we can see how they react. So maybe a month before we launch a new feature, we'll do a closed beta within our actual customer pool, see how those customers react, and shift and change things based on results.
Another piece here is setting up your internal teams for success. I mentioned previously we have a lot of different teams like sales, customer service, customer success, so it's about making sure they're all aware the product is launching. I realize that sounds simple, but in a big company or even in a small company, sometimes it falls through the cracks and creates a poor customer experience.
The most important thing is measuring the impact launches have on the customer. We're always talking about revenue metrics for sales and the like, but measuring qualitative data, such as how is this affecting your day-to-day? Closing the loop with sales can help your launch and feature roadmap and show results for the customer.
Sales and customer success feedback loop
I want to dive into the sales and customer success feedback loop because in my opinion, this is something product marketing can have a huge impact on and that's not talked about enough.
Many people in sales and customer success always say they want the feedback of the customer. Our salespeople always say, "We're customer-obsessed, we want your customer feedback, and we're going to prioritize that". But obviously, that's not true for all customers - we can't prioritize every single customer request.
One thing coming out of this is: don't ask for feedback just to ask.
In that case, the customer voice if someone's telling you something, and you're not actioning on it at all, actually creates a negative experience for the customer and can sway how they look at your product; they won’t consider you customer-centric if you're not listening to them.
One thing we've done well on my team is creating a process between sales, customer success, and product which closes the loop with customers.
What do I mean by that? When a salesperson asks for feedback, or when a customer gives us feedback, we have something called a feedback tracker, which is in Salesforce, which most salespeople use at our company. We then have that report run in Salesforce and notify every single day, the customer success team, product, and marketing - everyone - that a piece of feedback has been given, no matter how small or how big the feedback is, we always put it in this feedback tracker, and run the report daily which automatically notifies us that this feedback has been given.
That way, if on a certain day or say after a feature launch everyone gives the same feedback, we can see and track what days are more feedback, what days are less, is the feedback all the same and we need to fix something or something is broken? What we do from there is have a monthly meeting with our product team where we go through all the feedback and make sure that we either:
a) decide we don't want to address it,
b) pick at least one thing from there that we're going to act on if we can, and,
c) I think this is the most important. Anytime we have a feature launch or product launch, or something new comes up, we always tell the salesperson who requested feedback or put it in the tracker, if it was customer service, customer success, we tell them to go back to the customer and tell them, "Hey, this feature is launching thank you for your feedback. This is something you requested in the process".
And that's what I mean by closing the loop.
A lot of the times in my past roles we've had similar things but we never actually closed the loop, we never let the customer know, "Hey, your feedback, we actioned on it", which is awesome and what the customer wants.
Finally on this point, working in lockstep with sales and product to prioritize the feedback is also super important and that's how we address it, in our monthly meetings.
Continually prioritizing the customer
The last thing I'll talk about is continuously prioritizing the customer. I understand at Amazon it's ingrained in our DNA - the way we interview and hire people, it's all about the customer. But I do think there are ways that product marketing can help continuously prioritize the customer, and become that voice of the customer inside your organization.
Empower your company
So really empowering your company to put the customer first. Buy-in is super important, working with all the stakeholders in that cross-functional diagram above, we're in the middle, we touch every single piece of the team a lot of the time. Getting buy-in and alignment from all those people to focus and think about the customer is important.
I’d also say measuring the impact it has on revenue is key. I mentioned we give customers a heads up when a new feature launches, we record and measure how customers respond to the features - do they upsell or downgrade after each feature and product launch? Measuring the impact this has on the customer is important and can help you prove the customer is really important.
Establishing processes that are scalable and iterating when they don't work. One of the biggest challenges for product marketers is they're super busy, we have so many things on our plate. So establishing quick and easy processes that are going to work for you is super interesting and important.
This feedback tracker that we've established, for example, is something I honestly don't think about now daily. I think about it when the feedback comes to me, but I'm not thinking about, 'How is this going to work? When am I going to get this feedback?'. I believe it can save a lot of time for us as product marketers.
I also think it's important to experiment a little and see what works and doesn't work. At my last company, we had another feedback tracker process, but it was sales and putting into a spreadsheet - no one ever looked at that spreadsheet because they just put it in and were so busy, no one ever took a look and customers would get frustrated. So we tried to iterate on that process and see where the gaps were missing.
The last thing here is when making decisions, consider customers and their needs. If you're deciding what kind of marketing campaign to put out, think about how your customers are going to react, when you're deciding what sales talk track to put together think about how the customer is going to react to what they're saying if they get it forwarded from another prospect.
In the back of your mind, in product marketing specifically, it's super important to put the customer first and be that advocate for the customer inside the company.