Don’t Forget About the Buyer

Product Managers dedicate much of their waking hours catering for the needs to the users of their products, not to mention managing the needs of their internal stakeholders who they collaborate with to build and maintain sustainable products. One other group that is sometimes overlooked by Product Managers, are the buyers of our products. Though in some instances the buyer may also be the user (for example in the case of a traveler booking their own airline ticket), it is still important to differentiate between the two roles, predominantly because each role represents very different mindsets, needs and values.

I have listed three reasons why the buyer should also be top of mind when carrying out market research and product planning.

1. Maximise Sales Revenue

The most obvious reason why the buyer role is equally important as the user role, is the fact that it is the buyer who ultimately decides which vendor to engage. This immediately impacts your organisation’s bottom line. Whilst not all Product Managers are officially responsible for the Profit/Loss of the products they manage, a fundamental part of their role is to support the sales team to reach revenue and volume targets for their products.

Some Product Managers may be fortunate enough to work alongside great salespeople who intimately understand their customers’ needs and can brilliantly articulate the value of the product over and beyond the competitive offering. However, Product Managers should not rely on the strength of the sales team. Every Product Manager should also know who their target buyers are, their demographic characteristics, how they cognitively make purchase decisions, what the buying lifecycle scenarios are and when there is a significant trigger point to move the buyer closer to transaction. This knowledge should then be used to inform product design and development decisions.

E-tailers seem to have a good grasp of this concept; companies like Amazon, Connox.com and ShoesofPrey.com understand their customers in every key buyer and user scenario. They employ digital channels for ordering, transaction, order communications, delivery, and cross-selling, but also leverage technology to create the best possible offline customer service and fulfilment experience. The combination of the use of technology to understand buyer/user behaviour and goals, along with the organisational discipline to then satisfy those buyer/user needs – ultimately creates an experience that keeps their customers coming back.

2. Buyers are More Fickle than Users

Buyers can ruthlessly walk away from a new product that does not immediately appear to meet all their key unmet needs. This is unlike users who often don’t have this flexibility and in many instances will be forced to keep using a product even if they are deeply dissatisfied with it (particularly in the service industry or for B2B products).

As an example, I recently played the role of a ‘buyer’ in a market research project. I was tasked with shopping and purchasing a pair of ladies shoes. Disappointingly, I found the overall level of attention to various aspects of the end-to-end shopping experience (the servicescape, merchandising, and most importantly customer service), to be extremely low. After trawling through many different stores, I eventually made a purchase from a boutique that had a good product range, pleasant atmosphere and a particularly eager sales assistant – price was an after-thought.

In this scenario, as the intended user, I valued the entire shopping experience including the intangibles, such as store atmosphere. However, if I had been simply the buyer, price may have been the dominant factor, and the intangibles inconsequential.

This demonstrates a key distinction between buyers and users – and shows how polarised their needs from a product experience can be. Striking the right balance and prioritisation of these various needs is crucial and can only be achieved if the product manager understands the user and buyer roles.

3. Seize the Opportunity to Win More Users

By going to the same lengths to understand your target buyer segments, as you would do for your target user segments, Product Managers can be sure to deliver the best possible end to end experience for all customers – potential and existing buyers, and actual users. Quite simply, if your organisation loses a buyer to a competitor, you are also losing the opportunity to fulfill new potential user(s).

For instance, Brainmates has been looking to fit the office with a new kitchen. Originally we were going to engage a big brand kitchen vendor, but after some frustration with their online design and ordering tools, we quickly began looking for alternatives. In the end we contracted a sole trading cabinetmaker, because he demonstrated the ability to satisfy many of the needs the big brand kitchen vendor had not. The customised and personal service we received from the smaller vendor and the overall positive experience with him – means it’s highly unlikely any of us at Brainmates will contemplate a larger vendor in the future. Therefore with the loss of one buyer, the larger vendor has lost many potential buyers and users (the whole Brainmates team plus those they share their feedback with).

So what can we, as Product Managers, take from these examples to improve the buyer experience? Here are the key points to keep in mind.

  • Understand and attend to your target buyers’ unmet needs.
  • Establish communication and service channels to build up long term relationships with each of the target buyer segments.
  • Forgo short-term financial wins for long term gains.

Remember, when carrying out your market planning, don’t ignore the buyer – whether online or in the physical world – they are equally as important as the user and understanding both could mean the difference between success or failure of your product.