Events. It’s natural to dread them. As a product manager, you may view events as largely tactical and time-consuming endeavors. Beyond that, you may loathe being stuck in a trade show booth taking on a sales role that’s not entirely comfortable for you.
But the truth is that events aren’t just a sales and marketing tactic. They can and should be a strategic part of your market research—a way to glean feedback from your market as much as they are a place to push your message.
Rethinking the Role of Events
While some product managers have a sales background, most don’t. And when you’re put into a trade show environment, your focus suddenly becomes delivering leads. Maybe your sales people lure prospects in with a good pitch and then expect you to continue the conversation—maybe even close the sale. Frankly, a lot of product folks aren’t good at this.
Ultimately, you may be wasting your time manning a booth when you could be making events more beneficial to your team, your company and even your prospective customers. So, what can we do to rethink event support and create events that actually benefit the product team? Here’s a start.
1. Talk about your customers’ problems. First of all, let’s change the way we approach events. So often, we see our role at a trade show as one of doing demos and talking up our product’s features. Stop that. Focus instead on the problems that our product aims to solve.
When you begin a demo, talk about the problem first. Then, confirm your prospect actually has that particular problem. (If they don’t, then demo the solution to a different problem.)
You might say: “Our product does a million different things, and obviously I can’t show all those to you right now. But one problem I’ve heard a lot of your peers have is this … Is that something that you’re running into as well?”
If your market research is on point, they’ll probably say, “Yes it is. I would love to see how you’re solving it.” But they could say, “No, we actually don’t have that problem” or “We solve that with something else.”
By prefacing your demo with a conversation about problems (rather than leading with your product), you increase the likelihood of people being more open about their pain points. And what you learn in those conversations is tremendously beneficial.
You might learn that your audience has different pain points than you thought. Or maybe they think about the problem in different terms and it’s time you started using different language.
For product managers events can be a perfect opportunity to learn more about your customers and whether you are positioning your product well in the marketplace.
2. Break free of the booth. Trade shows and other events are about networking and talking to people—not just selling. So, it’s important to leave the booth. Sit down and have a cup of coffee with people.
Once you put together a name and a face, it’s easier to follow up afterward. You can call and say, “Hi, we met at XYZ event last week. I’m doing some follow-up research, and you came to mind. I’d love to get 30 minutes to chat.”
That request is easier to make if you’ve met and have started building a relationship. This can be vital to your research because you’re gaining information from potential customers.
If you manage a product team, you could even gamify this process by offering a reward for the product manager who makes the most contacts.
3. Create your own event. We typically think about event support as being driven out of marketing with the product team being there to support the marketing function.
That doesn’t have to be the case. Let’s take event support to the next level and as product teams, create events of our own.
You could create a rolling road show or a “listening tour.” Go to your customers and host a breakfast, for example, or speak on a topic that’s useful and interesting to them. In doing so, you’re creating the opportunity to converse and learn about their pain points and needs.
You could offer incentives to attend and bring a peer, such as raffling off a big prize. Or you might consider offering an advance look at your beta offering as an incentive.
From Tactic to Strategy
By changing the way you approach events—or even by creating your own product-centric events—you can engage in useful conversations and gain valuable data that you can use as part of your product development and marketing. As you create your strategic plan, bring events into the fold as part of your product marketing strategy rather than a sales tactic and reap the benefits.