The Data or The Person or Both

The Distinction Between Data-driven and Customer-driven Product Management

Happy New Year!

Everyone is psyched up about 2021, I started the year sick and I have put a lot of pressure on myself already by telling myself to focus on only one thing, and that is product management. I found some sort of validation by rejecting 2 offers(I’m not ready).

So yeah, the next year would be about me working my way to being a great product manager while learning product design as a hobby.

So while studying product management materials particularly one from Matt LeMay , I found clarity on something that had been a source of confusion.

How do I know my customer by looking at figures on a dashboard, basically can data give me full information about the User’s needs?

You can’t blame me for being confused, even in job descriptions you find the term “Must be data-driven” associated with product managers, well I thought that was the fancy way of actually talking to customers. Again when you actually talk to customers you find out that they are not actually telling you everything, you still have to make deductions.

Well, I was way in over my head and I say that because in order to make deductions you have to do something and that is listening.

You see I mix it all up, being customer-driven and being data-driven as a product manager are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they both are interwoven and I’ll get to that very soon.

I found out the similarity when I conducted interviews with potential users for a product discovery. I cannot disclose what this product is but I found out that my team and I were focusing on the wrong customer because data had shown us that one customer segment (the buyer) was not happy. The numbers were all over the place and if not for the fact that we were customer-driven or in this case user-driven, we might have missed it.

My solution to this problem as I ideated with my team was the fact that data has shown us that we need to protect the buyer from the seller but what if we protected them by equipping the seller with protection. This made us understand that our primary customers were the sellers and not the buyers because they were the owners of the product that would be sold to the buyers.

This experience made me understand that the core difference between being data-driven and being customer-driven is to either look or listen. It’s never healthy to do only one, listening alone can be deceitful as it gives you a biased side of the story no matter how good you think your interview scripts are. Looking at the data alone takes away the place of empathy and does not give the required context for empathy.

As a product manager, it is important to be customer-driven and data-driven, keeping in mind the fact that the purpose is to keep the customer buying and the user using.

The lesson here is to listen and look.

I discover problems and manage the solution.