Saturday, June 19, 2004

Your customer's customer

Since I was in the semiconductor networking industry, my customers in this post were engineers designing switches and routers.

One of the roles that product managers do is to define the future/strategic direction of the product line(s). How would a PM do that? Most will answer "by talking to customers and looking at where the markets are heading". That was precisely what I did in my previous company - talking to my customers (lead engineers/architect) in their early cycle of defining their next generation of products, pouring thru market research studies, and looking at general market reaction. Talking to customers is good though I always felt that something was not complete. This is why:

  • 80% of the time, my customers did not have the long term vision of their products. They were told that this is how their next generation of products will be.
  • Depending on who I talked to, I might get a glimpse of what my customers may build few years from now but where did they get the information?

What if I approach my customers from a different angle?

Since most companies will build what they think the market want, they would have spent time to determine their customers' future needs. If I go direct to the horse's mouth, chances are I would get the same information. And if I beat my customers to it for the information, I would appear much more credible to pitch my strategic plans to my customers. In my case, I would need to talk to several service providers out there (phone, ISP, and others) to understand their pain and their plans and present back to my customers, the companies that selling equipments to the service providers.

What could be a more fitting than talking to another PM of my customer's customer? The PM should know where his/her product lines are heading. That'd give me several years of headstart to define my own product lines. The best part is that the PM has done the market research already and I can use that as a benchmark when I start my own market study.

It seems to be a logical way to get better information for the product lines yet in my last company, I didn't see too many PM's took advantage of this approach. Was it because logistically, it'd be impossible to meet the customer's customers. Or was it because it does not make sense?

I would love to hear your comments on this?

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