“Talking to your customers is the single most important thing that you can do,” thinks Martin Gontovnikas, Co-Founder and GTM Advisor at HyperGrowth Partners and former Senior Vice President of Marketing & Growth at Auth0. But most product and go-to-market teams just aren’t talking to their customers enough, he thinks, leaving them with a poor understanding of the customer experience—which can hurt everything from their marketing efforts to the product itself.
One of the reasons teams aren't talking to their customers enough, he believes, is a simple one: “It's very scary,” he says. “It's hard to talk to people you don't know. I think people are scared of not knowing what to ask, scared of wasting their time, scared that what two or three people say is not going to line up with what the rest of the audience says.”
But Gontovnikas thinks it’s just a matter of picking the right customers and then asking them the right questions. It’s not necessary to come up with a new set of questions for every user research session, either. “It doesn’t matter if you always start with the same five or six questions. The meat of it will come from the follow-up questions you ask.”
For leaders who are struggling to get their teams to talk to enough customers because of these fears, he suggests making user research a part of their objectives and key results (OKRs). “In my previous company, we mandated that every person needed to talk to at least X number of customers every quarter,” says Gontovnikas. While it’s not the kind of thing that would be usually included in OKRs, Gontovnikas says that “if it will drive behavior, we’ll do it.”
The importance of optimizing for the right metrics
Reduce the barriers between marketers and customers
Another reason that people in many businesses aren’t talking to their customers enough, thinks Gontovnikas, is that there are too many barriers in place, so they don’t have the access they need. “Businesses need to be thinking about how many levels of distance their people have from the customers. I know a Chief Product Officer who, if he wants to a customer, he needs to first check with the product manager, then with the customer success manager, then with the account executive before they can talk to them,” he says.
Companies should be wary of increasing the number of barriers between their people and customers as their companies grow, as it can be to the detriment of the product—particularly risky for businesses that run a product-led growth motion. “The further people are away from the product, the worse the product will get,” he says. “We should all try to be cautious about when we add these barriers and find a way to break them or do it differently.”
Give everyone the opportunity to get involved in conversations with customers
One way that businesses can reduce this friction is by bringing everyone into these conversations. Not only is this a more efficient approach, but it also means that details don’t get lost as the insights are dispersed to other teams. “One of the biggest problems I think is the hand-over, where one team will do the interview and they give you some insights. Then marketing will read that and then send that to engineering, and in each hand-over there's some information being lost,” says Gontovnikas.
Including people from the product and go-to-market teams in a user research session means everyone has the opportunity to listen in on the conversation, ask the questions they want to ask, and take the relevant insights back to their team.
New ideas can also emerge from “mixing and matching” people from different teams and bringing different perspectives to the conversation, he thinks.
Talking to customers is crucial if you want to truly understand the customer journey, and it's vital for marketers to get these insights however they can. “If everything is a process, everything is always the same way, you will find always the same results,” says Gontovnikas. “I think sometimes you need some chaos and lack of process to be creative and make the changes you need to make.”