Effective Solutions Through Partnership

How to Put Your Customer First

Project Management

customer-focused

By Guest Blogger Tony Oliver, Penny Wise Consulting Group

This blog post first appeared on the Penny Wise Consulting Group’s blog and was posted here with permission. The original post can be found here.

Has this thought ever crossed your mind? “I would NEVER pay money for that. I can’t believe people do.”

Be honest; you likely will come up with many examples. Bottled water. A personalized license plate. A $5 coffee. For me, it’s skinny jeans. (I really can’t understand the appeal.)

It’s human nature; we look at others’ choices through the prism of our own, and when we see a mismatch, we rationalize our position as being the “sane” one. Meanwhile, next door, someone is doing the same, except now it’s our choice they reject.

Why does it matter? Because whichever company offers the product or service likely deliberated over it, with bands arguing both in favor and against it. Assumptions were presented, data found, and finally, a decision was made. While eventually even those in opposition become supporters (after all, it’s a matter of making the company successful), they may still have their own–very personalviews on the product.

Consumer behavior is as fascinating as it is mystifying. A viable go-to-market strategy combines this knowledge with a keen eye on the business demographics; after all, a product appealing only to 10% of the population can be a wild success provided it is marketed to that group, and not the other 90%.

One thing, though, remains true in all cases: you are NOT your customer. That’s not to say you are better (or worse) than your patrons. It means you should check your assumptions at the door and understand what the customers want. (Customers here can be expanded to patients, or citizens, in the case of government services.)

What does this mean to project managers?

  • Don’t “set it and forget it.”Requirements may be ambiguous at first while the project takes shape. Working with the customer is a must, not a nice-to-have. Much like bespoke tailors taking measurements at various stages of completion to ensure the right fit, PMs should keep a clear line of communication with those who ultimately determine “fitness of use.”
  • Prior results ≠ future performance. Things may have worked pretty well for another customer, and your current one may have asked for exactly the same…until they didn’t. The Russian proverb “trust, but verify” (used with much success by President Reagan) doesn’t mean you should doubt everything, but rather check to ensure it’s still valid or current. After all, how often do you eat on a Friday night what you first thought you’d want when the week started?
  • Consistency is good, but being right is better. Keynes famously said “when the facts change, I change my mind.” This doesn’t equate to flip-flopping; it highlights being in tune with the market, and more importantly, with reality. If the project will yield a product no longer viable or valuable, changes are desired and warranted.

How do you make sure you remain customer-focused on your projects? Share with us in the comments!

About the Author: Tony Oliver is a project manager by trade, a marketing guru by profession, and a lifelong learner from birth. His best trait is an inquisitive mind, which drives his desire to understand not just the “what” but also the “how” and more importantly, the “why” and “why not?” Tony is experienced in supply, pricing, demand, and consumption analysis and holds an MBA in marketing from a top 20 school (UNC Chapel Hill) and an undergraduate English Literature degree from Georgetown University. With 15+ years of experience with Intel and Cisco, Tony is fully bilingual (English, Spanish) with a working knowledge of French, as well as a seasoned public speaker and instructor of Project Management and Presentation Skills courses.

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