Customer engagement by senior team members in a sales development support role is invariably helpful. It conveys a top level commitment to customers by meeting customers on their own ground. Often, long term relationships are fostered by these visits, and they help to accelerate the sales cycle.
While customer visits are positive, just visiting does not constitute gathering Voice Of The Customer (VOC). Nonetheless, all too often company leaders seek to interject what they heard into the product development process, and over-steer the offering array of products, services, and features. While leaders usually get an earful from customers of what could be done to enhance the product, it’s dangerous to take the direct leap to implementation based on a few data points.
All too often, leaders relate their key takeaways from the customer visit through their own biases, processing and filtering the “lessons learned” through their own experience and emotional involvement with major product-to-market initiatives. While executive experience is valuable, it can distort the real needs of the marketplace, miss key points, or even worse selectively repeat only the parts that reinforce or justify existing plans – despite inherent flaws in those plans that unfiltered, unbiased Voice of the Customer (VOC) would expose.
Real VOC means collecting customer data in way that follows fundamental market research guidelines. The approach to VOC and the means of collection will vary based on the objective and needs of the research initiative. Most B2B companies underspend on VOC because it brings with it the stigma of market research, which I grant you hasn’t always delivered the value that’s been promised and needed. If applied effectively, VOC should be a lynchpin for successful decision making, and in turn, better results.
I raise this issue because stories are legendary of senior executives changing course on a product offering based on a few customer visits. So, I say, let’s not confuse customer relationship building with true Voice of the Customer (VOC). If only leaders would self-check on this behavior, and be sensitive to the damage they can cause.