No one’s going to tell you your baby is ugly.
Have you ever heard the phrase? As a Seinfeld fan, I can’t help but think of the episode when Jerry and Elaine finally get to see the baby. Jerry tells the two smitten parents that their baby is “so very gorgeous.” But, moments later, he hilariously and emphatically asks Elaine “Is it me, or was that the ugliest baby you have ever seen?”
Check out the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkadtxlCRU4
Jerry and Elaine’s behavior has all kinds of business applications. One that's been on my mind recently relates to product managers and the products they manage (their “babies”). As with ugly babies, clients are hesitant to be critical of an “ugly” or “undesirable” product offering when speaking with the product’s father or mother - the product manager (PM).
For Honesty, Enlist a Neutral Third-Party (like Elaine)
At Clozd, when working with prospective and current clients, we often find that product teams are the most interested in win-loss analysis. They have the right intentions, viewing win-loss interviews as an opportunity to better understand why deals are being won or lost in order to shape their product strategy and roadmap. In their zeal, many product managers say to themselves, “who better to conduct these interviews than me?” Instead of leveraging a neutral, unbiased third-party, they decide to take on the interviews themselves. In some cases, they even perceive themselves to actually be a neutral, unbiased party. What they don’t realize, is that they really shouldn’t be the ones to conduct the interviews, even if they can find the time.
Why? Because, just as with Jerry and the ugly baby, prospective clients will be hesitant to share their critical feedback with them. They'll be cognizant of the fact that the PM is invested emotionally in the product and that it's, in a way, their "baby." As a result, they’ll overemphasize positive aspects of the offering and "sugarcoat" some of the negatives.
As Clozd consultants conduct win-loss interviews for clients, I’m consistently amazed by the openness and candor that prospects demonstrate during the interviews. As they speak with us, a neutral third-party, they are often brutally honest about the shortcomings of our clients’ product offerings. And each time I think to myself, “the PMs that are conducting win-loss interviews themselves are missing out on valuable feedback. There is no way this person would have been as candid with the product’s parent.” For win-loss analysis, having an unbiased third-party is the equivalent of Jerry having Elaine. Not only did Jerry tell Elaine the truth, but he couldn’t wait to do confide in her.
My Dentist: A Real-World Example
A real-world example of this comes from a recent experience I had visiting my dentist. A few weeks earlier I had spoken with the product management team at a prominent dental software company. The PM’s were conducting win-loss interviews themselves but due to limited bandwidth were exploring potential win-loss partners. At the end of their evaluation, they opted to continue with their existing process rather than incurring the cost of a third-party.
Coincidentally, at my dental appointment, I noticed that my dentist was using their system. I asked the dentist about the software - how he liked it, was it a good product, how it compares to that of competitors. His response was, “It’s crap. It still feels like it’s from the 1990’s. But I don’t have any other choice. Their main competitor is also crap.” He went on to explain various shortcomings of the product with varying levels of emphasis and disgust.
Although the PM team may be able to secure some of this negative feedback, I can’t help but wonder how the dentist’s tone or comments might have changed if he were speaking with the actual product manager. I can’t help but think that, like Jerry with the parents, he would have been guarded. He would’ve withheld some of the painful details. He would have manufactured some positives to share. And in the end, the dental software company would have missed the real tone and honest feedback that could have been secured by a neutral, third-party.
For more specifics on why a neutral third-party is critical for effective win-loss analysis, check out this blog post.