Case Study: Buyer is not the end-user – challenges for the Product Manager

Amol, the product manager of a Set Top Box (STB), was responding to a RFP (Request For Proposal) from a DTH (Direct To Home) operator; the contract if secured would mean significant revenue boost for 2 years, to start with. The STBs would be purchased by the operator in bulk and distributed to their customers (end-users). The RFP had a series of detailed questions on securing the digital content transfered, tamper proof ability, over the air firmware upgrades, recording capabilities – among others. Amol was as usual irritated. This was the umpteenth RFP that he has responded to (most of them successfully made it), however why is every operator being so specific about the features dear to them whereas elegance of the User Interface or ease of operation or small learning curve does not seem to carry the same weight. Amol’s issue was that although his company sells STBs to the operator in bulk, the STBs are not used by the operators but by the end-users to whom they sell. Amol feels that his duty is also to provide the enriched user experience to the end user who however is not involved in the buying decision. The STBs are just an instrument in the whole package and most advertisements by operators concentrate on the channels in the package and various pricing plans. Is Amol unnecessarily getting worried? Should he just concentrate on what the operator needs (as it is the operator who signs on the dotted line)? How does one handle situations where the user of your product is not the buyer?

The basic thing for Amol to understand is that he is surely addressing two different market segments with the same product but with different faces to the product. The product means different things to the operator and the end-user. You directly talk to the operator and that makes it objective and quantifiable. You do not talk to the end user directly and hence what the end user feels about the product can only be qualitatively gathered. Amol found that the user experience that the STB’s user interface provides has direct correlation with: (a) Complaint calls to Customer Care (b) Revenue from value added services (like pay-per-view movies) (c) Service upgrades. Amol must look at various indirect signals which could have an impact on the business and appropriately manage his product. For example, a very high rate of complaint calls landing on Customer Care where customers complain about not being able to view pay-per-view move list – could be due to sub-optimal way to access that list. Most often the needs of the customers are tacit and this falls into that category.

Many product managers would have faced situations such as this. However if the product manager ignores the end-users, it would in long term harm the product. In such situations – always lookout for qualitative data in addition to quantitative ones. Also, meeting the end user – the ultimate customer – will surely help. Have you faced anything like this? How did you approach such a problem?

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