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Product Management: Should You Eat Your Own Cooking?

January 03, 2013 | By Jeff Lash

Using your own product to replicate the customer experience and “tasting your own cooking” can be a valuable exercise. You will become your own subject matter expert concerning all of its features and functionality, which is helpful to be an effective product manager, marketer or salesperson.

Would you purchase a car from a BMW salesperson who drives a Honda? Would you eat at a restaurant where the chef doesn’t eat the restaurant’s food? There's a common expression called "eating your own dog food," meaning that you should use your own product or service. After all, if you don’t believe in what you’re selling, why should anyone else?

Before we go any further, I’d like to suggest we get away from the traditional “dog food” analogy, which has its own set of connotations (including some negative ones). Instead, let's replace "dog food" with "your own cooking." I’d also like to emphasize the distinction between "tasting your own cooking" and "eating your own cooking." Chefs regularly taste their own cooking to determine if the recipe is right, but that’s different than eating the full dish for its nutritional value and sustenance.

Using your own product to replicate the customer experience and “tasting your own cooking” can be a valuable exercise. You will become your own subject matter expert concerning all of its features and functionality, which is helpful to be an effective product manager, marketer or salesperson. This can often be a good way to gain personal insight into potential pain points or enhancements.

That said, there are times when your own personal experience or perspective might be irrelevant or detrimental to the product. If you’re creating a product for neurosurgeons, or Hong Kong currency traders, or entry-level assembly line workers, your own perspective pales in comparison to what those buyers and users would provide. Your opinions on what would improve the product design and functionality might not agree with the perspective of the actual buyers and users.

Many companies are going beyond just "tasting their own cooking" and are “eating their own cooking” - using the products they create to actually run some aspect of their business. The thinking here is that “If it’s not good enough for us to use as part of our business, then it’s not good enough for our customers.”

The problem is that this strategy can backfire if your company’s needs are not similar to those of your customers. Plus, if TV cooking shows have taught us anything, it's that what tastes good to one chef may not be palatable to someone else.

So, when does it make sense to taste your own cooking? When does it make sense to eat it? And when does it make sense to do neither? Tally up how many times you answer "yes" to the following questions:

  • Are you in the target market for your products or services? Based on the criteria you have defined around ideal target markets (you have done a relative targeting and segmentation prioritization, right?), evaluate whether your organization fits within the vertical or horizontal markets you have chosen to prioritize. For example, you may have prioritized the insurance market as a target, or more specifically independent insurance brokers.
  • Do you fit the profile of your ideal buyer? Within your target market, you should have a view of what the ideal customer looks like. Building on the above example, maybe your ideal buyer is an employee/operator that sells both auto and home insurance products and has no more than 10 employees. Analyze how closely you fit that buyer profile.
  • Do your employees fit the profile of your typical user? Your typical users have certain demographic characteristics, domain knowledge and technical skills. Compare how closely your employees match that profile. Maybe for your product for independent insurance brokers, the typical users are administrative assistants, over 50 years old, with limited computer experience.
  • Are your goals and needs consistent with those of your buyers and users? You should understand the needs of your buyers and the tasks that users of the product or service would be trying to accomplish. Match these to the way you would be using the product within your business.

If you answered "yes" to all four questions, then it may make sense to "eat your own cooking" and use your product within your own business. Feedback from your own use of your product can be a valuable input, alongside other market and customer feedback.

If you answered "yes" to two or three of the questions, then it may be worthwhile to "taste your own cooking" on a limited basis, but be extremely conscious of how buyers and users differ from your company. The more dissimilar your internal users are from your buyers and users, the less valuable internal use will be as a source of insight into how your products can be improved. Also, “eating your own cooking” might actually harm your business, since you didn’t design the product with your own needs in mind, nor should you have.

If you answered "yes" to zero or one of the questions, then "tasting your own cooking" and making decisions based on your perspective could be hazardous to the product's health. In this situation, your needs are so dissimilar to the needs of buyers and users that your internal perspective on the product could at best be irrelevant and at worst could be the exact opposite of what is right for your customers.

Jeff Lash

Jeff Lash is Vice President and Group Director of Go-to-Market at SiriusDecisions, where he leads the Product Management and Portfolio Marketing Research and Advisory Services. A recognized thought leader in product management, he has over 15 years of experience in product management, product development, product marketing, and user experience design. Follow Jeff on Twitter at @jefflash.