Capturing the right customer insights

Our recent Product Talks Meetup investigated one of the most significant yet often highly neglected or misunderstood areas of Product Management – market research.

A deep understanding of our customers and their needs pave the way for solid business cases and effective strategies for market segmentation, pricing, and product features prioritisation. In a high-paced society where trends, market needs, and customer preferences change at an alarming rate, maintaining a competitive edge may be just a customer insight away.

During an insightful evening attended by over 50 members of the product management and marketing community we discussed a number of topics such as which stages to use customer insight; what tools and techniques were most useful in different situations; how to analyse and extrapolate disparate and complex sets of data and ways to increase awareness and understanding of customer insight within an organisation.

Paul Gray from Brainmates started the event with a short presentation outlining a definition of customer insight and a review of how it is relevant and important for product managers and marketers.

A panel of experts was then interviewed to share their knowledge, experiences, examples and advice and answered question from the audience. Panelists included:

A definition of customer insight

  • We defined customer insight as a deeper and more thorough understanding of the problems that customers face.
  • It can transform assumptions and hunches into validated understanding of customer behaviour
  • With good customer insight, product managers and marketers can articulate customer problems, needs and wants better than customers themselves.

The panel reinforced a point that gathering insight well will provide you with answers to questions but that this is only useful if this knowledge and understanding can be effectively disseminated throughout the organisation to those people that need to know it. Problems flagged were the all too-common departmental silos in which insight was gathered but not shared. This could lead to lost opportunities, duplication and a propensity to act on limited information.

Adrian Ewart explained how tools such as balanced scorecards were suggested as ways of consolidating and understanding information from multiple sources and formatting it in a way that allowed a viewing of ‘the big picture’ or to allow an individual to drill down and analyse a certain section or segment in detail.

Relevance to product managers and marketers

The audience and panel discussion revealed that customer insight was relevant in many ways, from product concept testing and ideation through development and into ongoing product management. Marketers pointed out that when customer insight was good, campaigns and other initiatives worked better than when understanding of the market or customers was based on only partial information or assumptions.

Tools and techniques

There was significant discussion around the use of personas as a means of taking detailed or complex information about customers and translating it into an easy-to-use and inspirational tool. Done well, personas can inform almost any audience about who the target customer is – be they buyer or user or both – and enable the audience to begin to empathise with the persona and understanding of their problems, needs and wants.

The audience asked the panel for way in which quantitative data can be used in conjunction with learnings gained from qualitative exercises. Examples were given of using quantitative techniques to gain a broad picture view of customers, either via an organisation’s own data or via thrid party data sources that could be validated against existing knowledge. Qualitative exercises could be then layered on top, providing more insight and affirming or disproving hypotheses made in advance.

Ethnographic studies were discussed and this topic was of interest to the audience. This method assesses what people do in their environment via questioning, observation and participation. Natalie outlined the process and benefits of this approach, sharing a number of examples as to how it can be used to uncover customer problems and needs that remain unarticulated. When supported by other qualitative and quantitative approaches, these ethnographic studies can be very useful in providing product managers a clearer understanding of what customers want – whether or not they know it.

Enhancing customer insight processes

The panel suggested that customer insight can be enhanced by gaining more executive support for it within an organisation. As there is generally significant data involved, it should be more feasible to demonstrate return-on-investment from efforts based in customer insight and this can be used to argue for more support, resources or tools as required.

Steven Noble discussed the concept of the “Voice of the Customer” program that sought to integrate multiple sources of data and bring together disparate groups within an organisation to ensure that all efforts were focused on the right target.


As product managers and marketers, it is our job to ensure that we define, develop and deliver products and services that add value to customers in a way that sets us apart from competitors and which provides value to the organisation. Satisfying multiple stakeholders can have its challenges. Many organisations already collect significant amounts of information and product managers and marketers should identify ways to enhance this process to esure that all information captured is analysed and used correctly. This will foster a greater degree of customer insight and should keep both customers satisfied and happy while also achieving overall business objectives.

What’s next?

Product Management Training