“When do you start gathering customer feedback during the strategic planning process? And does this differ for B to B vs. B to C?”
This is an interesting question because the implication is that there is actually a start and an end to the feedback gathering process. In fact, gathering market insights should be a continuous process that serves to inform, validate, and modify your strategy at all points of its inception, development, and execution. Asking when you should start gathering customer feedback is equivalent to asking when you should start eating healthy. The answer is “always” – even if the reality is something vastly different. I say this because, through our workshops and benchmarking, we have found that product managers are spending, on average, less than 10% of their time visiting with customers and understanding their needs. So, it would seem that gathering customer feedback is a somewhat rare event rather than a continuous part of the product management DNA.
Of course, all of that is easy to say. But the reason that product managers are spending so little of their collective time on this critical endeavor is the fact that insight gathering is often seen as optional – at least when compared to helping someone close an actual deal. In my corporate experience, when faced with the choice of planning or doing, doing wins every time. The trouble with that approach is that the doing all becomes pretty random without any plan to back it up; and also pretty inefficient to boot. So, it is incumbent upon every product manager to make time for the plan – and you’ll hear me say this on every episode of the podcast. In short, make proactive visiting with customers (not selling to them) an integral part of your weekly and monthly schedule. Put it on your calendar and make it a non-optional task. Then your insight gathering will have no beginning, no middle, and no end – it will just be a constant part of what you do and think about every day.
Now, onto the second part of the question regarding if there is a difference in the feedback gathering process between B2B companies and B2C companies. The answer here is “yes” – but only in as much as the methodology; not the frequency. Or at least this is how I believe it should be. In my experience, B2C companies do probably pay more attention to proactively gathering customer feedback on a regular basis because, if they didn’t, they probably wouldn’t be in business for very long. When the buyer of your product is the same as the user of your product, you don’t get a lot of leeway if you put out a real clunker. But in B2B, you are usually selling to an entity where the purchasing decision may be one or two steps removed from the actual user experience. That’s not to say that B2B companies shouldn’t pay just as much attention to the end user as B2C companies; it’s just to say that sometimes they don’t.
So, the shorter answer to part 2 of this question is that there probably is, in practice, a difference between B2B and B2C companies with regards to how frequently the feedback gathering process is carried out. But there shouldn’t be – at least in my opinion.
Listen to the podcast episode
Dear Strategy: Episode 001