Zen of Product Management – Article 4

VOC Deathmatch



In lieu of over quoting The Book of the Samurai I thought I would turn to another book in my library – The PDMA Toolbook 2. This is volume 2 of a 3 book set that I am actually now the proud owner of. The set was published from 2002 through 2007 and contains a compendium of new product development information from tools and metrics to market research etc. Sponsored by the PDMA (a group that I am an active member of) it is certainly the most concise collection of content but not necessarily the most well read. Cooper and others own the historical thought leadership space and new authors such as Steven Haines are bringing new light to the field. All that being said, you probably want to know what I have about VOC – so I’ll get on with it.


VOC or Voice of the Customer is such a seemingly simple thing but so widely misunderstood I’m sometimes astounded by the degree it is misused and/or misunderstood. Today I would like to focus on one of the biggest myths about VOC – VOC interviews should be done primarily with your best or key customers. On page 170 of The PDMA Toolbook 2, you can find a listing of 9 VOC myths that they’ve identified to go along with this one.


Why your key customers are not your best VOC source.


Sure, key customers are by definition key. They are typically your top billing clients, your largest clients in terms of orders, headcount etc. They might have a seat on your VOC committee – often called a User Group or Client Advisory Board or Strategic Advisory Group. In some instances, they might even have a seat on your board of directors. All that aside, they are your current clients. If you’re looking to expand your client base particularly if you’re looking to attract new clients from slightly or wildly different segments, your current clients can only provide marginal support. In some instances, if you listen only to your largest client, your offering may become so client specific that you lose the ability to service a broader community.


A companion myth to this one is:


Noncustomers don’t want to talk to me.


Of course they do. Who doesn’t want to tell someone what they want – especially if their current provider leaves them wanting more? I have met with numerous noncustomers over the years and I find they are the most candid and most helpful. They can often tell my straight away why they’re not my customer and what it would take for me to be their customer – they have nothing to lose. A free lunch goes a long way here.






I called this article VOC Deathmatch because if you don’t talk to the right people, you’re not going to come to the right conclusions – and often you end up in a political deathmatch over VOC. How often have you heard someone in your organization justify something by saying, “Well we spoke to so and so and they want it.” The implication here is that since they want it, and they’re our largest client, then everybody must want it. That’s not only statistically invalid, it’s also logically fallacious. They’re one large client out of how many? You then have the polar opposite argument that goes something like this, “I did a non-scientific survey of Twitter and 73% of the people talking about product x said they would buy it if it did this.” OK, so right out of the gate, they’re using a deflective tactic to obscure the real problem with their statement. By admitting that it’s non-scientific the immediate tendency of the audience is to say OK, I get that, but what did you learn? Most groups will completely overlook the fact that the “research” was conducted in an unspecified group on a free and open social media sight. You have no idea who the tweeters are, who they represent and if they’re even empowered or informed to make a value statement about product x. It’s just a simple summation of general statements by an amorphous blob of people.


In the next article, I will cover my favorite VOC technique and discuss how I affinitize the results to translate them into action.

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