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How do you access customers for research when an internal stakeholder group is "protective" of their clients?

7 Answers
Vikas Bhagat
Vikas Bhagat
Webflow Senior Director, Brand & Product MarketingJuly 14

Great question! I think it all starts with how you approach the conversation with that internal group. Building out a "walking deck" that explains my goals, intentions and the potential program is a great way to lower the fear of other teams. It also helps to bring those stakeholders along the journey as you build out that deck - ask them questions - what do they wish they knew about their customers, what could be improved across product, marketing, sales, etc. Once you can identify the stakeholder group's goals, you can build that into your plan and show an opportunity.

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Kevin Garcia
Kevin Garcia
Anthropic Product Marketing LeaderJune 25

Most teams are protective of their clients for a reason. Perhaps they're worried about promises made to the client. Maybe they have a really important sales conversation coming up. Maybe the customer just experienced leadership changes and the account team is trying to win the new leader over.

In my experience, building context and clear communication are critical to eventually having open access to all customers. Get informed on the customer before making sweeping asks. What can you learn from your CRM or internal notes or dashboards that can help your peers feel like you are not just coming into this situation cold. Doing the work will also help you have better intuition as to which customers are off the table.

You also need to communicate your ask clearly. Saying "can you connect me to the VP at XYZ company" is not helpful. Clearly stating that you have researched their account, have a specific ask (e.g. "I want to connect with them for 30 min about X add-on and their purchase decision"), and a specific value add for your peer (e.g. "connecting with XYZ will ensure we create a landing page that helps us set better expectations with buyers like this in the future") will almost always net you a better experience. You are giving them a chance to be part of the solution and not just a gatekeeper.

If you can set these expectations early and meet them often, eventually (I've found) the teams start to bring the walls down.

302 Views
Dee Dee Wolverton
Dee Dee Wolverton
Udemy Product & Instructor Marketing, DirectorDecember 15

Always assume best intent. Start there. Often times people want to help, but there are other things going on; there may be nuances you have not yet considered which your stakeholder is weighing carefully. It's important to dig in to see where the resistance may be coming from and get your stakeholders support against the goal itself - even if the means to achieve that goal may change.

Listen carefully to your stakeholder and treat them as a subject matter expert when it comes to their clients. Try to deeply understand their concerns. Share your purpose, how it supports company objectives, and ask for their recommendation on the approach. Invite them to help you find a solution. Usually, worst case scenario is that they'll redirect you; best case scenario is that they'll help you design + execute communications. 

If you can work through it then, in addition to getting the project off the ground, you may have also found a great new partner to work with in the future.

547 Views
Grant Shirk
Grant Shirk
Cisco Head of Product Marketing, Cisco Campus Network ExperiencesApril 13

Oof, tough situation. It's very hard to navigate these situations, and tougher to give advice without context into why that group might be protective. Often, if you take an open mind in and ask, you'll learn that there are good reasons for this. Then you'll have to adapt what you want to learn.

(If you want, DM me with some more context and I'll try and answer 1:1). 

But, I'd say if you're not getting access, the first thing to work on is that internal trust across teams. They may have been burned before. It might be a very sensitive topic to customers. That context will help you navigate the conversation. 

Or, if you're really blocked, look to external sources. Where can you find lookalike customers? Can you hire a firm to speak with them on your behalf? 

384 Views
Sonia Moaiery
Sonia Moaiery
Skilljar Director of Product MarketingMay 6

Interesting! I think it's always best to acknwoledge your stakeholder groups concerns. They're probably mostly worried about the following 1) overwhelming a client with too many asks and requests/wasting their time 2) jeopardizing a clients renewal or upsell that's in process and 3) signing up for more work themselves to coordinate your research. These are really fair concerns but you also need to do your research! Here's an example of a note that I would send that stakeholder to address all of the concerns above and ask them to help you identify customers so you're respecting their concerns. And, asking for their input always helps!

_________

Hi internal stakeholder, 

You may have heard about X project/new product that I'm driving with X senior leader, it's an exciting project that will inform the strategy on XYZ. I'm eager to speak with a few of your customers to get further insight on this topic. I want to be cognizant of their/your time, so was wondering if you could help me identify 4-5 customers that I could speak with that don't have upcoming renewals and haven't been hit up too much lately by us. This is an opportunity to show your customer that we take feedback seriously as it will be going directly into the product we're building. 

I will handle all the scheduling (and include you on the conversation as optional so you're in the loop!) and here is a copy of the questions I will be asking, feel free to leave comments if you have input on the questions. 

I'd also be happy to offer your client the following incentive as a thank you for their time. If you have questions I've copied X senior leader who is quarterbacking this intiaitve with me! 

371 Views
Harsha Kalapala
Harsha Kalapala
AlertMedia Vice President Product MarketingJuly 8

I am assuming this is sales, account management, or customer success teams. It is an understandable concern - especially in large enterprise situations. There seems to be too much at stake to risk with someone you aren't familiar with. It can also be a factor of company culture - which is unfortunate when that creates a blocker for information flow.

The first step is to build a relationship with those stakeholders. Let them trust your judgment and align with your motives - which, in the end, should benefit them as well. I'd pair that with executive support—get buy-in that the benefit from getting you in touch with the customer is worth the effort and risk. Be careful with this, as you don't want to appear to triangulate - it can make the resistance worse. Important to communicate this with execs so it is delivered in an effective way.

Start small and show evidence of you holding your own with these kinds of conversations. It gives you the confidence to work up to the big dogs as well.

260 Views
Lisa Dziuba
Lisa Dziuba
Lemon.io Head of Growth Product MarketingDecember 4

Tricky question :)

Pretty often high-potential customers are well-protected by internal stakeholders. So it will take to "sell" your user research to all the gate-keepers:

  1.  Step 1: Communicate the value of the research. Explain to the stakeholder group why the research is important and how it will benefit their clients. This will help them understand the value of the research and may make them more willing to cooperate.
  2.  Step 2: Be transparent about the research process. Be open about the research process, including how much time it will take from the clients, what hypothesis you'd love to test, and how you ou will collect & use the data from the customers. This will help the "gate-keepers" understand that their client's privacy, time, and interests will be protected.
  3. Step 3: Offer to share the research findings. Explain how the findings will be used to improve the product or service for those high-potential clients. 
  4. Step 4: Seek their input and feedback: Ask the stakeholder group for their input and feedback on the research, and incorporate their suggestions and concerns into the research plan. This can also include adding research goals that will be beneficial for internal stakeholders personally.

Good luck with this non-easy task!

250 Views
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