What happens when your target customer doesn’t care about your product

I'm going to talk about this from the perspective of a staffing tools vendor because I'd be a target customer and I have some experience in the area (as a user). I guess it all starts with blogging, actually. When you are a relatively successful blogger, companies that want to market to you (and want you to market them to your readers...got that?), find it very easy to contact you directly. Like any hopeful sales person (and in the case of the start-ups, it's also the "CEO"), they want you to receive their product well and if they can close the deal or you will blog abut them, all the better.

This happens to me a lot. There's just been a deluge of staffing tools vendors entering the market after a really long drought (and lots of wailing by folks like me that want better tools). The e-mail conversation starts something like this: "Hi Heather, I recently found your blog and want to introduce you to a new product my company is developing"...and lately I've even gotten a "Heather, I'd like to get your view on the fact that resumes are not a good way to assess candidates", which led to "well, then let me tell you about our product" (I'm paraphrasing). Ugh. I don't really like being engaged in a sales call under the guise of a conversation about staffing, especially when the person doesn't seem to really want my opinion in the first place.

What I've noticed is that about half of the time, the e-mail string escalates into an argument about why I need their product, why my thinking is wrong about assessments/resumes/job posting sites/social networking tools/whatever. I'd like to say that I am shocked by the lack of sophistication in the approach, but I am not. The concept of cutting off your nose to spite your face comes to mind. I've seen it several times. So I am not just talking about one person here.

Staffing tools vendors, I am going to say one thing to you that you really need to think about, and this can be translated to other industry spaces as well, but listen up: someone in your target customer segment that does not like your product and is willing to tell you why is your best friend. Don't argue with the person. Don't try to convince them. Just listen as long as they will talk to you. You are getting free customer feedback; feedback you can use to improve your product or market it more effectively.

Have I seen people do this effectively? Yes! Jobster, LinkedIn and TheLadders. And I've continued to spend time with them giving them feedback on their product offerings. Did I say no to them originally? I did (but they didn't argue with me...they just listened). I turned into a customer when their product features matched my needs. We discovered this through the course of the conversations as newly added features were explained to me. And I sure do blog about them.

Listen, I understand that people are personally invested in their work, especially if they developed the product themselves. But if you don't understand your target customer, you have nothing. Critical customer feedback is much bigger than closing one sale.  And just because I might not be interested in your product doesn't mean that others will necessarily feel the same. You can absorb what I have to say or you can try to argue with me and prove me wrong. Your choice.

Sorry for the rant, but I've been on the receiving end of one too many of these e-mails lately.

Comments (10)

  1. Um, wow. Why aren’t you head of sales for Microsoft?

    As a third party IT recruiter (now sales/account manager), I wish I had you as a manager earlier on in my career. The older and (slightly more) wiser I get, the more I realize that sales isn’t talking, but listening. I’ve spent a good amount of my career trying to close that next deal and not cultivating relationships. By doing that, I’ve not only lost single sales, but probable long-term clients as well.

    As Jim Durbin has summed up for me before…take the long-term approach, listen, and ask what you can do to help. These three tributaries combine to be the river from which all sales flow.

    Brilliantly done Heather.

  2. You highlight essentially avoiding customer argument in order to speak unbaised about products and competition. However learning from feedback then becomes crucial. But one has to filter the required feedback inorder to incorporate customer demands.

    Fresh in MS


  3. nate says:

    You have good points on listening and changing. I heard a stat somewhere that some amazing proportion of people do not want to improve.

    Amazon’s customer-centric ideas seem to be sincere and to have worked.


    It also helps to find a receptive audience.

  4. DanF says:

    Stick it to those damn marketers! Err… good advice for your target market I guess.

    By the way, VERY slick new design here 😉 Nice!


  5. Well said, and hopefully, well read (by those vendors who come calling with said products).

    I’m glad you mentioned Jobster as they have been the classic example of an organization committed to listen and correct based on customer/non-customer feedback. A customer advisory board? Holy cow – who’d a thunk.

    Good post.

  6. Arturo Munoz says:

    Very well said, Heather. A target customer who is willing to instruct a solution provider on the reasons why the product doesn’t hit the mark is indeed a friend. We must keep in mind, however, that providers are in the business of delivering these products based on antecedent information that their target audience may no longer hold as valid at the time the product comes to market. The provider faces a crisis then.

    Should it embrace the target-customer feedback, modify its product offering yet delay its entry into the market, thus risking losing the competitive edge that immediate delivery of the solution could make possible if the change requests turn out to be rather insignificant, or should it find a new target audience for whom the antecedent specs may still prove valuable enough? Neither option is desirable. It’s easier to remind the original target audience of what was originally important to them, just as many project managers remind stakeholders during user acceptance testing of the original business requirements, which no longer hold sway with the target-users months after the project was initiated. Not a pretty picture. But building things *does* take longer than dreaming them up.

    I favor thinking ahead and building for the future, which is why I favor the process of verifying specs while progressively persuading the target-customer that something which appears unnecessary right now may in fact prove indispensable in the future, provided certain conditions are met. If that target-customer is unwilling to recognize these potential conditions, then this many not be the most optimal target for the provider to pursue.



    LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/e/fps/160986/

    Blog: http://reach4polaris.blogs.com

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    Patrick-you are nice and funny.

    Nikhil-yes, there’s a lot of wortk to be done WITH the feedback. I’m not recommending that the process stops with listening…I’m just probably not the right person to describe in detail what happens next ; )

    Nate-I guess that is because people would have to admit that something isn’t 100% right. Hmm, life wihtouth improvement…why bother, right?

    DanF-glad you like the design. Let me just say that I do believe that to many/most marketers, what I said is probably abundantly obvious. I suspect that with some of the tools vendors, they don’t have a big marketing staff so they try their best and what seems obvious to most of us escapes them…uh, I guess. Heck, I don’t want to make excuses for anyone. My job falls somewhere between recruiting and marketing and I don’t know it all but it was just one of those things where I was thinking: "Helloooo….this isn’t how you market your product folks!"

    MB-if past situations are any indication, they won’t read the blog post before they contact me but they might read it after and think "D’oh!" ; )

    Arturo-still I think gathering the baseline feedback and then tracking changes during the product development lifecycle would make sense. Also, what about user acceptance testing? I suspect a key thing would be to have marketing and developer groups working together THROUGHOUT the development cycle. I think that trying to predict future needs of the target audience is fine as long as you are still incorporating feedback into your offering. But trying to argue to your target audience that they will need your product but they aren’t smart enough to know that yet is arrogant. I am sure there’s a more sophisticated approach that embraces some current functionality needs as well as highlighting some of those "future looking features"

  8. Mom says:

    The unexamined life is not worth living…Socrates.

    It plays out everywhere.

    Nice blog !

    (unbiased opinion from Mom)

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    Gotta love it when your Mom jumps in with a little Socrates ; )

  10. Trauma says:

    First and foremost i want to complement this is a nice blog a good blog actually. It always happens to me everytime i go to the mall mybe becoz of my looks they will always entertain me and show me stuffs (products) and convince me to buy but i usually hate this. When i sees a good t-shirt and i wanna buy it and then suddenly a sales persons approach and says BLA, BLA, BLA, well instead of buying the shirt i will step outside and not but the shirt coz the sale persons is very annoying.

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