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Category: Voice of the Customer

Who is the customer?

Who is the customer?


A market is a job and a job executor. This is all we need to know to understand the answer to the question, “Who is the customer?”

To better explore this question – let’s begin with this: The goal of innovation is to help a customer to accomplish a job perfectly.

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Answer: The customer (of course).
Question: Who is the customer?
Answer: The person executing the job.

We innovate for the person executing the job. They’ve felt the pain of the errors. They know all the irritating imperfections. They will be more than happy to fill your ears full of their troubles.

We analyze job executors as if studying a new culture. They have the information we need – and it consists of the rocks the inhibit perfection. We interview them. We observe them. We study their artifacts and do our best to understand their world.

If we want to learn what it means to prepare a meal perfectly, we must identify people who prepare meals. If we want to understand what it means to learn a new skill perfectly, we must identify people who learn new skills.

We call the person who executes the job the “job executor.” (Intuitive, no?) Though I do submit that “job executor” doesn’t roll off the tongue so easily. However, it’s much clearer than overly simple term “customer” that we kick around in our conversation like a hacky sack. Just like any technical terminology, it’s precise and beautiful in it’s clarity. You confuse me when you say “customer” but when you say, “job executor”, we are communicating.

The word “customer” could mean many things. It could mean job executor. It could also mean purchase influencer, job beneficiary, etc.

But “job executor” has only one meaning: the person who executes the job.

If we want to innovate for the job of losing weight, we must ask the question, “Who wants to lose weight?” This wonderful question spawns more: Do we want to study this job for everyone who wants to lose weight or just certain segments? Men over 40? Obese teenagers? New mothers?

But you protest still. You say, “We’re in B2B, and our markets are complex. We have to study more than just job executors.”

Yes, it is true that your markets are complex. But no, you’re still studying job executors.

Imagine you are producing hydraulic hoses for small tractors. You might identify the following stakeholders: procurement person, design engineer, product marketing manager, and manufacturing engineer. Consider the jobs that these folks will execute as they consume your product:

Procurement person: Purchase a hose.
Design engineer: Design a hydraulic system for a tractor.
Product marketing manager: Ensure that the tractor will have a valid value proposition.
Manufacturing engineer: Ensure the manufacturability of new tractors.

Some of these jobs are directly related to your hose such as “design a hydraulic system.” Others are more indirect such as “Ensure that the tractor will have a valid value proposition.”

If you are creating a new hydraulic hose, you will likely have to consider more than one job…. but don’t be seduced by the “our markets are more complex” line. Yes, there’s complexity. But so what? The markets you serve will still consist of jobs and job executors.

You might just have to work a bit to identify them.

Of course, we will still have to use the word “customer” because we can’t expect everyone to suddenly use our precise language. You are now like the scientist who sees a loblolly pine tree and recognizes it as a Pinus taeda. But with your less learned friends, you might still just call it a pine tree.

Go Slow to Go Fast: How to Speed up New Product Development

Go Slow to Go Fast: How to Speed up New Product Development


Taking time to understand customer needs reduces product development time.

Ever heard the joke about the optimistic pilot? Before the days of computers, when pilots had to use more elementary tools, a particularly optimistic pilot was flying from New York to Bermuda. To his horror, he noticed that the compass needle seemed to be stuck. Being conscientious, he felt that he should alert his passengers.

“Good afternoon. I’m afraid I must inform you that we’re having some instrument problems and we’ve been flying in the wrong direction for a bit. We’re not sure for how long and so – we are not sure where we are. But the good news is that I’ve had the throttle down the whole trip, and so we’re making great time.”

Doing our VoC work is the equivalent of checking our maps, our compass, and the GPS to know where we are, to plot our destination, and to make sure that our team is aligned. It would be a poor decision for a pilot to ignore his instruments, and it would be a poor decision to just begin NPD without preparing first.

The reason that executives insist that “they don’t have time to do market research” prior to development is that they want their new products to launch faster. But this is short sighted. If they will take the time to execute VoC properly, they will in fact be able to launch their products faster than otherwise.

Why do we think we don’t have the time?

Because we mistake action for progress. When project teams are building prototypes, this feels like “real work.” It feels like action. But doing research doesn’t feel like real work. It feels like waiting for the real work. This is of course, incorrect.

Executives are familiar with taking action that involves outputs, like business results. They don’t think of the relationship between the inputs and the outputs. Also, market research sounds theoretical, not practical…because executives don’t often have this background.

How does development without VoC slow down development?

Without VoC, every decision is difficult. It is difficult because there is no agreement on anything. Feature choices, performance levels, material options? All difficult. So many decisions to make. Should we use aluminum or titanium? Should we use polyester or cuben fiber? Should we make this app work on all iPad models? Are we building a product to hit the general market needs or just a niche? Without customer insights, there is no market strategy. No product strategy. No roadmap. Not one worth much anyway. For if we create a strategy in a vacuum, it will likely be inaccurate and even worse, our team (and company) will not be aligned around it. Development slows down due to a lack of confidence with many things: what needs should be addressed, what performance level should be delivered, etc.

Even when decisions are made, without customer insights, they will be revisited. Maybe many times. Perhaps changed or even remade. With low certainty, the team flounders. It takes time to gather data and remake a decision. It takes even more time to unmake a decision and change course.

Without good customer insights, engineers will also feel more empowered to assert their own vision of what the product should be. When the subcomponents are brought together, it’s a Rube Goldberg device that no customer would touch.  Time keeps slipping into the future with each event. And it all could have been addressed with an upfront understanding of customer needs.

How does a lack of VoC affect team productivity?

Without data-driven customer insights, team members will argue much more – again – due to the uncertainty. They take turns with statements may sound like, “If I was a user, I would want…” And it becomes a contest of the wills. One person’s opinion versus another where the most dominant personality wins. Not only does this damage team morale, but the clock is ticking while these conversations persist.

And it’s not just development productivity. With a good set of customer needs, our marketing communications and tactical marketing folks will also be faster in their work. They will have direction for their activities. They’ll know everything from which benefits to tout all the way down to the details of what demos to create.

Time? We should acknowledge the opportunity cost of building the wrong product

This will be the biggest time loss of all. We spend months, perhaps years, developing a new product. We spend time in meetings. Time with suppliers. We solve problems. We make our launch preparations and see them through – from photoshoots to website updates.

Then, the product? Uh oh. It’s a loser.

All that time is gone. Time is one thing that once lost, it’s gone forever. All we can do is try better the next time.

Do the VoC – and while we might appear to be slow now, but we’ll ultimately be more accurate and faster as well.

From the classic work by Bob King, Better Designs in Half the Time: “A relatively short time is spent defining the product. A relatively long time is spent designing the product and a surprisingly long time is often spent redesigning the product.”

Adding a bit of time for customer insights will help us arrive at destination faster. And even better, we’ll get there with a product that customers will love.

What is Win/Loss Analysis?

What is Win/Loss Analysis?


“I never lose. Either I win or I learn.”



Why did your customer buy your product – or your competitors? This basic tactic is used by less than 20% of companies. (

Why is this? This riddle can take a seat alongside “Why do companies have such a short-term focus?” and “Why does CEO pay skyrocket even as performance declines?”

Rather than ponder the mysteries of the irrational, let us focus on something more useful – understanding this great and powerful tool, the Win/Loss Analysis.

What is Win/Loss Analysis?

It is a market research event that occurs as part of the sales cycle. As previously stated, its purpose is to determine why a deal was won or lost. In practice, it’s like any qualitative interviewing process. There’s an interviewer. A respondent, a discussion guide driven by objectives, etc.

What can we learn with Win/Loss Analysis?

We learn the perceptions that customers have regarding our entire offering. From the product itself to everything that impacts the customer experience. From purchasing, to actually using the product, to obtaining support. If customers have previous experience with our product, then those experiences would heavily weight their assessment. In addition, they will rely on many things such as:

  • Experience with our sales process
  • Reports from other customers – testimonials, reviews, etc.
  • Case studies
  • Our reputation

If we lost the sale, then our competitors bested us in their performance for certain evaluation criteria. And if we won, then we bested them. For the Win/Loss itself, our focus is on learning, understanding these criteria, and how well we performed compared to others.

Of course, we are measuring customer perceptions. If our product is superior in some way that the customer did not perceive, this “reality” did not help us. Similarly, if our business really has capabilities that the customer does not think that we have, then this “reality” likewise did not help. Though, learning this does help. At least with the next deal. We can act to fill the gap. Perhaps we need a new demonstration, a white paper, altered positioning, better advertisements, etc. to address this problem.

Think of your own experiences as a customer. Why did you choose one company/product over another? Was the sales presentation poor?  Were they late? Were there technical issues with a web conference? If in person, how were they groomed? How about the proposal itself? Were there misspellings that were bothersome?

Who should we interview?

Should we focus on the lost deals or the won deals? The answer is “yes.”  We need to learn from both. Each will have a bias that will infect the reliability of our insight. Those who bought from us will be positive, happy, and will reflect upon “what a wise decision it was for us to do business together!” They will be more loose-lipped about the deficiencies of the competition and will alternatively pat us on the back for having such an amazing product as well as themselves for having made such a wise decision.

Those who did not buy from us might dread the interview. A tinge of guilt. A need to placate and make us to feel better. They may craft a palatable story for our ears to digest. We must help them to get past these obstacles so that we may learn the truth. We need their help to learn about our gaps and deficiencies – no matter how painful the conversation may be.

What should be in the interview itself?

This will use the normal phases of a qualitative interview:

  • Introduction
  • Rapport & Reconnaissance
  • Objectives
  • Conclusion

During the Introduction, emphasize three points. First, an extreme appreciation for the person’s time. Second, that the goal of the interview is to learn the truth. Of why they bought or did not buy. To not worry about offending or insulting us, that it’s really nobody’s “fault” per se. The customer made the best decision that was in their interest, just as they should have.

Finally, the interviewer should emphasize that this will not be a sales call. Along those lines, we must counsel our interviewing team to never enter salesy conversations. For example, we will not overcome objections as we might normally do. In fact, we want the objections – and as many as we can get. Set a mood that is friendly, affable, and non-threatening. Throughout the interview, continue to smile, to be curious, and to encourage the customer to speak freely.

The goal of the Rapport & Reconnaissance (R&R) is the same as with a typical qualitative interview – to build rapport and better understand the customer’s context. Especially when interviewing customers who did not buy from us, continue to reaffirm that “it’s ok”, that we’re not offended. Stay in the R&R phase as long as required to get the customer comforta
ble, chatty, and in a mood to be truthful. Five to ten minutes is plenty.

The Objectives section is the heart of the interview. The “heart” because this is when most of the learning will occur. Create a discussion guide to keep the conversation on point. As you ask each question, keep in mind that it’s not just the “answer” that you’re looking for. Go beyond. Listen intently. Probe for clarification. Seek to understand. When you feel that you understand a point well enough, use the “What else?” question.  This gives the customer permission to provide a different answer or elaborate on a previous response. Another good follow-up probe that you can use at almost any time is, “Can you tell me a little more about that?” Here are some question lead-is to consider for your discussing guide:

  1. What were you seeking to accomplish with this product?
  2. What alternatives did you consider?
  3. What would the ideal product (or features, attributes, etc.) be? (As a follow-up to this: what would that feature/attribute help you to accomplish?)
  4. What criteria were you using to evaluate this purchase?

From those questions and similar, you can develop criteria. Prior to wrapping up Objectives, it’s a good idea to quantify the customer’s thoughts using benchmarking questions.

Benchmarking within the Interview

This is a simple exercise that will help you to understand your relativestrength to competitors. Ask your customers, “with our product as the reference, how would you score the following alternatives? Is this about this same as ours, a little better, much better, a little worse, or a lot worse?”

The product is a logical place to begin – but don’t stop there. Ask about your reputation. About the sales process. Support – anything. Use the items that came up in the earlier part of the discussion.

Continue to probe for “why?” Why each is one better, worse, etc. Don’t hesitate to make sure that you understand the reasons fully enough.

When it’s time to move to the Conclusion phase, when your time is at an end and you have learned all that you are going to – you only need a couple easy questions to leave on good terms. With your data obtained, you transition into a relationship-building mode. Here are three questions – any of which can serve this purpose:

  • Out of everything that we’ve discussed, what should we focus on to improve?
  • What do we need to do differently to earn your business?
  • If the president of our company was here right now, what advice would you give them?

These questions signal that the interview is ending while leaving the door open for more commentary.

Who should conduct the interviews?

If the sales person conducts the interview, it provides an opportunity to build the relationship even from the wreckage of lost business. A conversation between peers without the stress of sales negotiation, a nice segue for future goodwill. But truthfully, most sales people struggle to refrain from selling – it’s too natural for them to slip into that comfortable habit. Also, since the sales person contributed to the experience, the customer may be reluctant to share anything that the sales person did poorly. The result? Our data will likely seem to support the case that the business was lost due to everything other than the sales person: product, competition, delivery time, price, etc. Of course, when the sales person is our moderator and notetaker, they are likewise unlikely to record anything negative about their own performance.

Consider what you might do instead. You could have someone who wasn’t involved with that project as moderator. Perhaps product managers could take turns conducting interviews for each other’s products.

The best practice is probably to outsource the Win/Loss interviews. When speaking with a third party, the customer is more likely to provide an honest response. There is no doubt that this will provide the highest quality, least biased data.

When should the interviews be conducted?

The interviews should be conducted within three months of the deal, whether won or lost. The purpose of the interview is to learn, and we cannot get data from customers who cannot remember it.

What do we do with the data?

As soon as we have finished all our interviews, we are ready to study the cumulative findings. Store, code, and compile the data for analysis.
Use Excel to create tables and charts to present the insights graphically. Be bold! With the conclusions in hand, it is not the time to worry about hurting people’s feelings. Everyone should embrace the process as an opportunity to improve for the good of the entire business. Make sure that any specific findings are routed to those who need it most. Product deficiencies to the product managers, presentation issues to the sales managers, positioning misfits to the marketing managers, and so forth.

For more information on Win/Loss Analysis, consult the following sources:

What’s really different about B2B market research?

What’s really different about B2B market research?


From the book, New Product Blueprinting, we know that the B2B customer is generally more knowledgeable, more interested and more objective, which has implications for the quality of insight that we can learn from a customer interview. However, the most important  difference, and the most meaningful for B2B market research has to do with the markets themselves: they are more concentrated.

This simply means that there are fewer customers. Fewer customers for mining shovels than toothpaste. Think about it…packaging equipment, chemicals, computer chips, oil platform mooring systems, industrial HVAC units – concentrated markets all. If your customers are OEMs or B2B firms themselves, they are likely concentrated.


What are the implications for market research?
What should any Voice of the Customer (VoC) process deliver for market research? It should provide customer needs. We call this customer insight. We need to know our customers’ problems, their goals and objectives. In modern innovation parlance, we need to understand their jobs-to-be-done…just as the B2C marketer does. However, with a concentrated market, we have an additional consideration. We need to nurture relationships with the purchase decision makers. We call this customer engagement. Our process should gather customer needs while also inspiring trust. It should demonstrate competence, responsiveness, professionalism – inspiring confidence and even likeability. If we have positive “customer engagement,” then our customers will see us as partners in a common pursuit for collaboration and mutual benefit.


How do we obtain both customer insights and engagement with a VoC research process?

Finding a system that delivers is not easy. Strategic selling programs have been implemented for years with success because they are effective at selling while building engagement.  However, they do not provide the customer insight, data, and analysis needed to feed the front end of the New Product Development (NPD) pipeline with impactful ideas. On the other hand, some B2B firms have committed to generic “off the shelf” Voice of the Customer research methods. In this case, they obtain the insights for growth, but they miss an opportunity to use the process as a vehicle to engage customers and build relationships. To get both within, B2B marketers need a system that is designed to deliver both.


What are some practical ways that a B2B customer insight process for VoC research can also deliver engagement?

The process should use the fundamentals of VoC while delivering a professional and engaging experience. First, the interview should keep the customer’s objectives in the center. The interviewer probes to truly understand the customer’s problems – resulting in a customer that feels “heard” and appreciated. Although this is also a B2C process attribute, it has more usefulness in B2B. When an interviewer deeply listens to a customer, this endears the interviewee to them. It’s an antidote to any concern that the interviewer secretly is using the session as a selling opportunity. Meanwhile, the interviewing team respects the moderator’s role so that the session itself feels like an engaging conversation amongst peers.  Next, the interviewing process itself should deliver a professional experience. For example, with the flagship product of New Product Blueprinting, Blueprinter 5.0 software, the customer will see a professionally designed layout which features digital sticky notes, an agenda, multiple views, multiple languages (if applicable), even multiple colors to categorize customer data types. It is a simple and elegant display: attractive for the customer – and simple for the interviewer. Next the process should provide an attractive, professional account to recap the interview. Also within Blueprinter 5.0, the Blueprinting team can export the notes to an official report. As a PDF, the report will become a digital business card –  circulating amongst many decision makers within the walls of the customer’s business.  

Finally, a B2B-focused VoC process should be designed to maintain contact with the customer throughout development. To support this, Blueprinter software allows interviewing teams to capture tasks and assign them to team members – visible for all to see. This helps them to stay accountable for any promises made.


When the process builds engagement, it improves relationships. When it provides insight, it fills the pipeline with new ideas. But with both together, there is a third benefit: higher ROI for new products. How so? When customers are engaged from the beginning, they will buy not only because the product addresses their needs but also because they were included along the way. The respectful peer-to-peer conversations positioned the B2B marketer as a partner rather than a vendor. Also, during the selling process, the marketer won’t have to bore them with the 75 features the product has, but rather, they can just speak to the handful that matters. As everything comes together – the right product – pitched by a valued partner –  provides perhaps the biggest benefit of all to the B2B company: shorter sales cycles – “and there was much rejoicing.” Shorter sales cycles mean that the “time to money” will be much less.


For B2B, it would be hard to overstate the importance of a VoC system that drives both engagement and insight.

It’s the difference between opening a new manufacturing plant or closing an old one. The difference between maxed out bonuses versus watching the best employees leave. It’s the difference between having to justify poor EPS growth as opposed to reading about your latest stock upgrade. All B2B firms would certainly be wise to assess their VoC process for both engagement and insight.


Wade into your Customer’s World

Wade into your Customer’s World


“The one who knows the water best is the one who has waded through it.” – Danish Proverb


I was once in a product development meeting where product managers and engineers were arguing about the merits of one feature versus another. In order to protect the guilty, let’s pretend that one group was promoting the blue feature, and the other was promoting the red feature. The rhetoric sounded something like this:

“If I was a customer, I would want the red feature.”

“In my last company, all our products had blue features.”

“Sure, but nobody bought your products, remember?”

The debate became intense. Emotions smoldered. Nobody was about to lose face or admit weakness. Many things went unsaid as well – such as the secret development work behind the scenes to support the red feature. Finally, the boss posed this simple question, “Who here has spoken with an actual customer this year?” And of course – silence followed.

I submit that your product development teams should do their own Voice-of-the-Customer (VoC) projects to complement the bigger market research effort. As a result, you will have more fun, argue less, and actually build stuff that people want.

Of course, you might have formal market research available. Perhaps a conjoint study, customer satisfaction reports, concept tests, need assessments, etc. But no matter how much you have, your intuition for new product development decisions will always be limited if you have not spent time with customers yourself. There can never be enough research to answer every question that comes up during development. You need intuition – based on actual experience with customers.

At its core, innovation and new product development are problem solving processes. The first step to solving a problem is to diagnose it. To diagnose it, you must experience it. See it, hear it, feel it, smell it if possible. A doctor would never rely on tests alone. Are the eyes watery? Are there marks on the skin? Do the joints move easily? How does the breathing sound? The pulse? The senses are engaged.

You should also use all your senses to diagnose customer problems. Visit them, see them, talk to them, interview them. Gather their needs. Probe for understanding. Perhaps you don’t need to smell them – I’ll give you that. Take good notes and combine this new knowledge with the rest of your market research. I imagine that your company has many product experts. But do they have market experts?

But, alas, you are skeptical!  Perhaps you will insist that you already know what customers want.

I say – maybe. Maybe you do. Maybe there are customer needs that are well understood. If you are a product manager for Weight Watchers, you already know that customers want to lose weight. Fine. But…how well do you understand what is difficult about losing weight? Is losing weight easier or more difficult at home as opposed to vacation? With all the knowledge about nutrition, what challenges do customers really have losing weight? And how do you explain the success of all the “medically-assisted rapid weight loss centers?”  Regardless of your market, there is always more to learn about customer needs. And quite frankly, if you’re not doing VoC work yourself, then how can you be so sure that your knowledge is complete?

Ah, but you persist. You tell me that “Our sales staff knows what customers want. They talk with customers every day.” And so, with their kind counsel, you say that you do – in fact – understand your customers’ needs.

Do you have some information? Sure. But let’s think about this. Ask a sports fan what happened in a game where their team lost. Did they give you all the information? Are you ready to write an objective article from this fan’s perspective? I doubt you would feel very confident that you have the whole truth. Now, imagine that you asked a parent for an assessment of their child’s piano recital. Do you get some information? Sure. Did you get all the information? No way. It’s a horrible idea to use biased data as your only source of truth. Even a GPS system needs multiple satellites to know where you are.

Perhaps I have won you over on that point. But then you tell me that, “We do not have the time to execute our own VoC – so we have to do our best without it.” To this, I will quote the great John Wooden, perhaps the best basketball coach of all time, “If you don’t have the time to do it right, when will you have the time to do it over?” Without enough VoC, your product development team will move very slowly as they argue over whether it should be the red or the blue feature. Or even worse, they will build science projects that do not solve any meaningful customer problems. If you have waded into the customer’s pool yourself, you have a better chance to lead the team away from those hazards.

I think I have now convinced you, but alas, you still do not give in so easily. You tell me that, “We do not have the knowledge, expertise, or experience to do our own VoC projects.” Perhaps you have market researchers within your company – and they have told you that you should not do your own VoC because you don’t have the expertise. They are like grammar teachers – scolding students for beginning sentences with conjunctions or ending them with prepositions. (Personally, I think that a preposition is a great thing to end a sentence with. But, I digress.) VoC skills are like all skills in that practice leads to proficiency. Training and coaching programs can accelerate your progress.  I assure you, with a moderate bit of education and experience, a product manager or engineer can become an effective VoC researcher.

I want to leave you with a final thought: VoC projects are fun! Learning from your customers is a blast. Beyond that – your new knowledge will clear away the confusion from product development. Over time, you will be a market expert as well as a VoC expert. Skills such as interviewing, capturing customer needs, ranking requirements, etc. will enhance your career. Give yourself time to get there and enjoy the journey “wading through the water.”  As the great Zig Ziglar said, “Anything worth doing  – is worth doing poorly –  until you can learn to do it well.”