So you’re not a salesperson. And you sort of like the fact that you can come into work, not have to drive around all over the place and work from a well setup desk with your custom rig and your screens give you all the data you may need. I like that too… but sometimes it helps to talk to actual users. Sometimes its not ideal but you have to go, with or without your sales team and visit the end customer. For some projects, you may need to live inside customer environments for awhile. Validate the information you are getting through several layers of salespeople with actual customer feedback. Think of it like a mission Not easy and not always possible, but it may allow your product to cross the chasm between good and great.
Watching what a customer does, understanding if its same or (usually different) from what he/she says is how you get insight and may get a leg up on that elusive and difficult process of product discovery. As a product manager finding key customers (inside or outside) your organization is an important aspect to developing a minimum viable product. Initially you may never have as many users as you’d like, so you have to find some and then keep them happy with iterative upgrades that continue to elegantly solve their problems. Ultimately, you will need to move from individual feedback to a more data based approach, sure, but even then direct human feedback can offer sage like advice. A good general always knows whats its like on the ground – not just what the map reveals.
So once you find a few key customers, figure out what they want, and then give them what they need. Get on the phone, do a skype session, whatever it takes to get on the ground intelligence. Market research, site analytics, all of this is fairly important. But pain points ultimately come from humans and that insight can make a big difference in your product/feature development efforts.
What do you think? as a Software PM would you completely rely on the numbers or mix that in with human feedback? How hard is to to balance the two?