“How many barbers work in New York City”?
Most of us have experienced an interview question like this. There’s no right answer, it’s more about demonstrating your thought process. One of my team members (whose name I will mercifully withhold), got this same kind of question before he started with us. His answer:
“25,000” (full stop)
Luckily after a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, he realized his mistake and took us through his thought process, nailing the rest of his interview.
My point: far too often I see individuals make essentially the same mistakes when presented with questions by clients or in RFIs. To pick on a topic near and dear to my heart currently: “Can you do dealID?”. The following responses to this question are all incorrect:
3. Let me consult my team and get back to you
4. [scripted answer chock full of more industry jargon]
I loathe client meetings that consist of talking past each other with increasingly meaningless and bloated jargon, shaking hands, and leaving with no idea what you should do next. The client has no idea how to evaluate the product versus competitors. From the product team’s perspective, you’ve missed a golden opportunity to gain control of the conversation and direct it towards your product’s core capabilities. Don’t change the subject entirely; there’s a kernel of truth in that question somewhere. Find it. Think about why someone would be asking that kind of question, and then move the discussion to the next level. Identify the problem that the client is really worried about, and demonstrate how your product can solve it. If I were a savvy client, I would lob softball questions like that over the plate all day, just to see if those pitching me a product are tuned in enough to take advantage.
At Videology, our product team takes pride when our vision and strategy are translated into strong client conversations. By internally evangelizing our platforms, all of our teams are empowered to transcend the buzzwords and jargon of our industry. That doesn’t mean we provide scripted answers and punish those who diverge. Too often these kinds of canned responses are laced with their own share of meaningless language, and relying on them is frankly disrespectful to our teams, implying that we don’t trust their ability to responsibly explore the boundaries of our current product capabilities in an effort to cull out meaningful opportunities. Instead, our product team provides a comprehensive, transparent product vision, so that all our teams can confidently demonstrate our capabilities to the industry. This process requires a set of clear user stories (expect a future blog post on this topic), an efficient means of product communication (ditto), and a rapid prototyping process (yep).
Give all your teams a clear, robust vision of your product. Empower them to treat buzzword terminology as a trigger to dig deeper. Turn the tables, consider why they’re asking that question, counter with your own questions, and discover the root problem. Don’t give an equally vague answer, and don’t wait until you’re back at home base for someone to figure out that the original question was actually an invitation to pivot the discussion towards your product’s differentiating capabilities. Getting the client an answer two weeks later is too late; they’ve already filled in the blanks of your answer with their own (probably incorrect) assumptions. The question itself isn’t important, nor is the answer really. You need to figure out why someone is interested in New York barbers. That starts with total confidence that you know what your product has to offer. That starts with the product team.