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The Worst Two Answers

You’re an upstanding product marketing guy, and you want to validate your company’s product ideas with customers and potential customers. So you go get in front of them (not always easy – that’s when you appreciate your best salesguys with their Rolodexes (Rolodices?) and relationships…).

You sit down in the meeting room, smiles and handshakes and coffee all around, and you pitch your wares.

The best answer you could ask for would be something like, “Awesome! I want one now! I’ll help fund the development and will be a lead alpha customer to help you along the way. Here’s my PO and a dedicated person to help out.”

But what’s the worst thing you could hear?

You might think it would be something like, “Whoa whoa, you guys are way lost off in the weeds. This is completely wrong in all ways.”

No doubt, it would suck to hear that. But it’s not the worst thing you could hear. It’s actually still a good thing to hear, since now you know for sure that you’ve got problems.

No, there are two really, really bad things you could hear.

  1. “That’s really interesting. In fact, it’s quite clever, really… Yeah, I can see how you did that. I don’t need it right now, but I can see how someone might really like that. Yeah, well done.”
  2. “Hmmmm…. [long, pensive look]. This is interesting. I need to think about this. We’re heads-down trying to finish this project now, but once I come up for air, I want to study this some more. When? Oh, probably in six months or so…” (It’s almost always six months.)

Both of those answers say the same thing: I DON’T NEED THIS. The first one creates the impression that someone else will need it. If they give you a solid clue as to who that will be, that’s a good answer and a good friend. Absent that, you may find yourself hearing that answer over and over, meaning you’re just being led down the garden path.

The second response sounds like the classic case of, “We’re ahead of the market,” the easy salve to soothe the pain of marketing and sales plans that just aren’t working out. But, rest assured, if you come back in six months, you will find that he/she has looked no further, and he/she may push you out another six months.

These answers are horrible because they give you entirely the wrong impression, and you lose valuable time as happy words and thoughts crowd out the darker reality that may eventually come rushing in.

Make no mistake: No one is trying intentionally to mislead you. It’s just that people are nice. And you probably know some of the people in the meeting; they’re your professional colleagues. And professionals don’t rip their friends to shreds. (Much.)

So they’re protecting you from what you need to hear. And what you need to hear is, “This is not the right solution.”

Some marketeers will go so far as to say that you will only be successful if you allay pain. That’s not necessarily true for all products, but if your product is a new tool or a new chip or anything that interrupts the conveyor-belt design process that seems to get sped up each year (heck, even the robot that replaced Lucy many decades ago occasionally finds itself with too many chocolates in its mouth), then you better have a damned good reason for doing that. Which means, it better ease some pain or at least scratch an itch.

And if it does, you should hear the sounds of relief in your meetings. Anything short of that should be interpreted as, “We got more work to do.”

(Of course, then there’s the issue of explaining that to the Board…)

Oh, and if you’re an engineer lucky enough to have someone come ask your opinion, do them a favor: tell them what you really think. Be respectful, be gentle if necessary, but be honest, good news or bad.

 

 

(Stimulated by a recent product briefing/demo, and drawing from my prior experience pulling such fishhooks out of my cheeks…)

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