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Waiter: SE, Salesperson, or Product Manager?

Often when I am eating out, I ask the waiter for a recommendation. And so often the response is the same: the waiter responds by telling me what she prefers. Frankly, I don't care what my waiter prefers! In fact, when I imagine my waiter eating, it reduces my own appetite.

I am really asking (i) what this restaurant specializes in, (ii) what is the most successful or interesting dish to most other customers, and (iii) what dish might fit best with my "goals" for this meal.

Waiter: SE, Salesperson, or Product Manager?

The waiter is in such a perfect position to help. She has contact with more eaters than anyone in the restaurant! If she is paying attention, she should have a good sense for what dishes are left unfinished and which ones receive rave reviews. She could respond with "what kind of meal are you in the mood for?", or, "are you really hungry or looking for something rather light?" With that information in mind, she could recommend something that matches what I'm after and is most popular among her other customers.

Relevant to product management? I think it is:

  • are your sales people inquiring about customer goals before they send the quote or set up the demo?
  • do your sales people understand the typical goals of their prospects? Can they match prospect goals with individual capabilities of your product?
  • when you are talking with people from development, marketing, sales, operations, finance, etc., do they see you as the person who speaks for the customer, or just another person with an opinion?

As the product manager, you need to be the person who speaks to the most customers and prospects in open-ended conversations, and you should also have the broader data based on closed-ended questions.

Please don't be like my waiter. Gather the data and share it with marketing, development, and sales. This is the best way to garner respect and cultivate your position as the true leader of your product line.

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