Hey Product Manager: The Problem With “Trusting Your Gut”

product manager data direction

Sometimes your gut instinct is wrong. I discovered this a number of years ago after launching a new product. A strange phenomenon was happening. The more support interactions a customer had, the more likely they were to keep using the product. Wait — what? The more problems customers had, the longer they stayed with us?

This felt counter-intuitive at the time. My gut told me that an increase in support requests was a sign that the product was not working as expected. Today I understand that this strange phenomenon was not actually so strange. Why?

Because customers who purchase and use enterprise software do not just need the bits of software — they need people who really understand what those bits can do and how they can make the most use of them.

If you have read Lovability, my bestselling book for company and product builders, then you might be familiar with what I call the Complete Product Experience (CPE). The CPE defines your product not just as the software you ship or the basic service you deliver. The CPE defines your product as all the ways your customers interact with your company, your team, and your services.

To build an extraordinary CPE, you need more than a gut feeling. 

You need to deeply analyze and understand each touchpoint to get to the heart of what delights or disappoints customers. Ultimately, you need to measure how customers are experiencing your product at every level and where you are failing them. And you need data to do that. 

Sure, you will never have a perfect set of data about your product to make a tough decision. But as I have written before, it is not possible to consistently improve what you do not measure.

So, if you are a product manager for a SaaS or software company, here are a few examples of the types of metrics you should be tracking because they will impact your own CPE:

Productivity
What is the product team shipping and how good is it? How often do blockers pop up and are there trends to learn from? You should understand both the quantitative data about the team’s productivity and how customers are experiencing that output on the other end.

Marketing
You launch products, right? (Or at least you launch updates and new features.) You need to dig into how these launches are performing. How much traffic do you drive to your website and how many new trials or accounts can be attributed to those launches? These insights will help you understand if your messaging is aligned with what customers care about.

Sales
I bet your sales team talks with a lot of customers each day. What are the common hesitation points for customers in those conversations? What are the problems that customers are turning to your product to solve? Yes, this is fundamental information for the sales team. But it is also critical to your day-to-day work and future planning.

Engagement
How quickly do customers start using your product? What aspects of the system do they use? What are the thresholds for time spent or actions taken? This insight is critical — because understanding what drives engagement is key to long-term product success.

Support
Keep track of the bugs that are being reported. How many support tickets are being created each week and month? What are they and how quickly are they being resolved? Monitor help requests too. Find out which groups are your most loyal users and how support team interactions correlate with customer growth.

Integrations
Assuming your product integrates with other systems, how often are these integrations being used? Consider which ones customers use the most and what improvements those integrations need. Sync up with support and sales to find out which new integrations are most requested.

Too many of us rely on our gut instincts over the hard data. We fool ourselves into believing that our past experience is enough to inform the future.

Sure, sometimes your gut gets it right — but sometimes it will fail you. It happens to all of us. But data will protect you when your gut gets it wrong. Obviously, your product and business are unique so you will need to customize your own list of key performance indicators.

By improving the overall experience based on what you learn, you can make choices that will resonate with your customers. This is how you will build a product that customers truly love.

What data do you collect to better understand your customers?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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