Product Manager Hard Skills Ep. 1

7 min readMay 24, 2023


Support Data Collection

Despite the fact that product managers’ work heavily relies on soft skills, including but not limiting to staying engaged in meetings, understanding the progress of each work stream and knowing the top of mind of each individual, there are still a handful of hard skills product managers could practice and sharpen. Let’s talk about support data collection.

Support data collection could happen side by side with customer interviews.

Support data collection could happen prior to customer interviews.

It all depends on how familiar the product team is in the product space and whether it is enough to form a product gap hypothesis. In this article, I would like to focus on the situation that all project members have no prior knowledge in the product space.

To me, the most intuitive way to start support data collection is to walk through the customer product-purchase experience. If you are the kind of person that does a lot of research before buying anything, you are no strangers to the thinking process below. The experience usually starts from the thought of buying something and ends in either buying something or not. Often, if it ends with not buying anything, it indicates there are product gaps, either within product itself (not providing enough value) or between product and market (no customer groups are being attracted), which lead to potential product opportunities.

Arouse the Thought

Though there are many different factors that need to take into consideration between business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) product development lifecycles, goals and strategies remain universal. I have recently gone through this thinking process myself with the next wearable device, a B2C product, I would like to buy.

Why would people want to look for a new wearable device? Listing out some possible reasons.

  • They do not own a wearable device.
  • They own a malfunctioned wearable device.
  • There are new wearable device brands and models that have more features that fit their needs.

The first 2 reasons are valid but with the technology advancement nowadays, most products could last a very long time and malfunction is just not a common reason anymore. Based on my observation and conversation with friends and family, people who buy wearable devices are usually falling under the third reason but with the provocation of the environment. In this exercise, the environment is constantly promoting self-care/health and wearable products are providing more and more accurate health and fitness metrics every year. By the time people realize, they already have the thought of wanting to own a wearable device and that is just the beginning. Everything in this stage is closer to product marketing, so why am I including it here? In my experience, product managers need to know in and out of the product space before coming up with ideas of what to build next and learning the market trend is the first step. In other words, product groups can build amazing products but all does not matter when not having customers’ attention and adoption.

Analyze the Use Cases & Identify the Customer Portfolio

Every product in the market is targeting a specific group of customers. Without the focus, the product development direction will be diverged and that will reflect on customer adoption at the end. In the wearable device exercise, I categorize customers into 3 groups based on their use cases.

  • Normal everyday use: these people wear the device as a watch, an extension of their phone, a fitness tracker and a health tracker (if applicable).
  • Extreme sports: these people wear the device as a watch and a tracker that could record their extreme sport activities. These people are looking for a rugged device that could take a beat from all the outdoor events and long-lasting battery life.
  • Content creating: these people wear the device as a watch and an extension of their recording equipments. The device needs be able to always have the ability capture the moment fast and seamless compatibility with other recording devices.

I belong to the mix combination of the group with normal everyday use and extreme sports. Since I am looking for a wearable device for myself, this will be my target customer portfolio. With that identified, it is time to move on to the next step.

Market Analysis

A lot of products in the market are targeting the same or similar customer portfolios. I find it extremely helpful to break down products with a systematic approach. Otherwise, it is very easy to get the feeling that you forget checking something and need to go back from the beginning. The following structure can be applied on any product. Actually, this is the simplified version of SWOT analysis.

Internal (Strengths and Weaknesses)

  • Appearance: watch shape, watch size, watch buttons and its positions, watch material, watch band material etc.
  • Features: buttons / touch screen, what buttons / touch screen controls, built-in applications, integration with devices in the same brand, built-in sensors, battery-charging design etc.
  • User experience: wearing feelings, wearing/taking off easiness, buttons / touch screen interactions etc.
  • Support: exchange, refund, technical issue troubleshooting etc.

External (Opportunities and Threats)

  • Price: product position, market competition.
  • Accessories: 3rd party protection cases / watch bands
  • Applications: 3rd party software support
  • Brand: if it has more popularity, it is more likely to get reviews from other customers to understand their real-life experience. Also, it is easier to be put into the second-handed market when the time comes.

With a logical analysis, people often will get a logical result. Unfortunately, purchasing a product, especially a B2C product, is often illogical in my personal experience. Personal preferences, brand loyalties and other unidentifiable factors come into play and they sometimes weight much more in the decision-making process. However, illogical factors are beyond this article and there are honestly not many ways to objectively analyze them.

Buy a Product or Not

Finally, we have reached this stage! With all internal and external factors considered, it comes down to whether the product is attractive enough for any person in the target customer portfolio to take out their wallet.

  • Buy a product: since no products are perfect, I fully understand what I am getting and what not. I choose to live with the things I am not getting as the things I am getting weights more.
  • Not buying a product: the opposite of the above and it is very helpful to list out all the things that are not ideal such as the watch is too big, too expensive, too many features not useful for me etc,

It is way more complex to analyze why people decide not to purchase at the end for a B2C product for the logical (a different target customer portfolio decide to give the product a try and figure this is not hitting the marks) and illogical reasons (the brand he/she likes does not have something that fit his/her needs at the moment) mentioned prior. Meanwhile, it is more likely to analyze a B2B product success and failure. Those B2B products are not personal and target a specific customer portfolio that has market potential (another way of looking at this is that other customer portfolios are on lower priority and it is ok). The company size somewhat reflects their economic situation, so there should be no surprises for what companies buy what amount of the product. If a company proactively or passively gets in touch with a B2B product and the deal does not go through, the issue often lies in product value proposition or product market fit.


Product managers in the stage of support data collection should try to position themselves as one of the procurement members in a company and gets a task to purchase something to use for the next X years. Walk through the thinking process and spend extra effort on the last stage of buying or not buying as it would generate great insights. If you end up

  • Buying: there is already something in the market that fits target customers’ need.
  • Not buying: there is already something in the market but not a good fit to target customers’ need.

In the buying scenario, product manager should be asking themselves whether it makes sense to create another similar product. Can this product be different from others? Most of the time, if the decision is to create a similar product, it is often the company playing catch up with the market as they identify the product line will be promising and they are late in the game; In the not-buying scenario, product managers should be asking themselves what is missing in the product and whether it worths the effort to build a proof-of-concept (POC) product that covers all the gaps observed and validate it with target customers. The insights and analysis extracted from existing products is one out of many sources of truth in the product discovery phase.

I hope what works for me helps some of you to get a clearer sense on where to begin in product discovery! Happy learning!




Started my career as a consultant, moved to support engineer, service engineer and now a product manager. Trying to be a better PM systematically every day.