Product Management: The Buy and Whine Cycle
This short write-up is to explain the tweet below I committed to the ether of the internet. Working for a vendor means being exposed to people moaning about vendors almost constantly and it’s a core part of the job. However, buyers have more power than they realise and providing feedback is more important than ever, irrelevant of the size of purchase.
If you want whine about vendors, but don’t want to talk to them, you’re doing a disservice to only you.— David Gee - dave.dev/ipengineer.net (@_ipengineer) March 1, 2022
You have more power as a buyer than you realise!
The need to buy a product, assuming you’re not addicted to shopping, stems from having an unmet need. Enterprises have many unmet needs, some known, and some not known. With over 90% of buying decisions being made before a buyer reaches out to a vendor, the buyer already has most of their decision making done. A vendor can help reveal ambiguous details and ultimately has a duty to sell you something that either meets the needs or qualify out (meaning the vendor cannot satisfy the requirements). This short post focussed on respectful vendors and not those selling their grandma. For the record, I remain ever amazed that even poor products have buyers. Every time you see that awful looking garbage product on eBay, someone, somewhere has purchased it, with an aim of fulfilling a need.
A product in most cases will not satisfy all the listed needs unless the needs are simply described and the products abilities doubly so. What I mean by this; if you need a fork to eat some food, you do not buy a Leatherman, despite on paper the needs being met.
In other cases, the customer’s needs are Snowflake like and chances are slim that a single product exists to satisfy the needs.
A vendor has a duty to ensure best fit and will constantly manage the product’s features and deliverables to ensure that there is a good industry fit. It’s unrealistic (unless you have millions of dollars) to expect that a vendor will spend thousands of dollars on man hours to make a sale in which the total contract value plus expected profit is never realised.
Something that is often forgot, is that meeting needs is an ever-changing game. Needs met today leads to unmet needs tomorrow. If that wasn’t the case, new products wouldn’t come along to meet the needs of new markets. Sometimes the changes are minor and can be covered by feature additions, but if the change is severe then a new product of service is required to cover the set of changes.
As a general rule, yes, size matters. The more money you spend, the higher influence you have with the vendor. One side-effect of an industry that sees so much change is that expectations and industry fit changes with it.
Vendors hawking products need to have confidence the product works and delivers on the documented features. Product management’s job is to make sure the product meets its core needs and manage a roadmap for generally acceptable emerging needs within the same common set of requirements.
Bad, Bad Vendor Sales!
If you buy a product that does not meet a core need despite the vendor declaring support, then reach out to the vendor. There are more communication channels in existence today than ever before and talking can be easy. I have been met with nothing but open arms over the years when doing this. Yes, there will be a question on spend and it’s down to you to set the scene on what sucks and what your expectations were at the time of purchase. The first person you reach out to might not take you seriously, in which case, find a different person close to the product to communicate with. Someone who’s responsible for the product will want to know your issues, I guarantee it.
I can’t think about the information contained in this article without thinking about the effect open source has had on the world. It’s consumed in more products and systems than anyone would believe in 2022 and companies strong arming the little person doesn’t end well. More importantly, one person’s influence in something tiny can be amplified in magnitudes and there isn’t normally any money involved at all! It’s all for the common good.
When you buy a product or service, there is often a sense of at-odds entitlement and hopelessness. You bought it so you deserve input and hopeless because no one listens. Open source is a great example of providing input to make not only your life better, but everyone else’s too. I take inspiration from the open-source community and stand with the same view of for-profit organisations that you’re trying to make your life better in exchange for cold hard cash, but also at the same time, providing input to make your industry better too.
It’s not War and Peace. A friendly hello, a description of your buying journey and usage of a product is good enough to get the conversation going. Any self-respecting product manager, leader or responsible person will welcome the communication. Product management teams are speaking to customers less and less and account teams are more protective than ever. Products will only improve and your bang for buck will increase by saying hello.
It’s clear that User Experience (UX) or Customer Success (CS) teams are leading the way with customer engagements and it as most companies pivot to a SaaS model, you can search for UX and CS people at the organisation as a way in to lodge your view. Vendors use third party organisations to interview companies to get this data and direct input such as yours will be welcomed.
It’s not all roses, however. If you’re not following industry patterns however and you are being unique, then think carefully about your demands. For instance, being the only person on the planet to ask for a PHP API to a networking device will probably met with severe questioning. I might even ask what decade you’re living in, but hey, that’s me. If your needs can’t be met, then maybe you need to re-assess the ask or figure out if you’ve been mis-sold. If you’re adamant that your emerging needs should be met, then maybe you’re sitting on the next billion dollar unicorn.
If you’ve spent cash with a vendor and the product doesn’t deliver, it’s your duty to get in touch and either resolve the bad investment or get your money back.
If you’re riding the rising edge of an industry change and spending little, you have valid input for a vendor. All vendors need to hear how good or bad their product is and directly without decoration.
If you’re sitting on a set of ideas that potentially feed a new market, maybe you’re sitting on the gravy train riding to the gravy boat.
Feedback forms are a blight on the industry and being pestered for reviews doubly so. Meaningful input is so important for any business and acquiring it is no simple feat. If you have valid input, sharing really is caring.
You can break the ‘buy and whine’ frustration by doing minor research on LinkedIn and saying hello. Your vendors are waiting to hear from you!
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