Overcoming Obstacles to VoC

Unlock your customer listening program to capture meaningful insights and make better business decisions.


Talking to customers is essential for successful product innovation. 


However, in B2B services organizations looking to productize (and in a surprising number of tech-native software companies), product managers (PMs) don’t feel like they are empowered to do this essential activity. 


  • “It feels like I’m the only one who wants to talk to customers to test product concepts, and there’s not a lot of support around it.” 
  • “I don’t have the relationships to call our customers.”
  • “I know I should be doing this, but I don’t have time to do customer research.” 
  • “Whenever I talk to customers they don’t know what they really want.”
  • “I know we should be testing ideas with customers, but my commercial partners are resisting giving me access.” 

PMs often feel stuck, frustrated, and nervous about their value to the organization if they are not regularly talking to customers. And most CEOs and senior executives buy into the importance of gathering the voice-of-the-customer (VoC) to co-create better products - in theory. But when push comes to shove, even executives seem to stumble in clearing away internal roadblocks. 

Why does this keep happening? And is there anything product leaders can do to overcome it?

As it turns out, there are common obstacles that get in the way. And yes, there are concrete strategies that any product team member can take to overcome them.  


What are the obstacles to conducting VoC?

Based on numerous studies, somewhere in the range of 70% of new product launches fail. Most often, this is because the product doesn’t solve an urgent and expensive customer problem - and teams can’t remedy this without talking to customers. As noted in Fearless, there are four fundamental cultural values in services organizations that get in the way of conducting customer research. Each is rooted in an underlying fear and significantly impacts innovation efforts. 



Services Organization Cultural Strengths


Impacts on VoC Programs



You are known as experts and deliver value through your authoritative advice and guidance.  You have a deep understanding of your clients’ business and contextualize your expertise accordingly.

Common Misconceptions About VoC:

  • Organizations don’t need more customer interactions.
  • We already know what customers want. 

Root of the Fear: 

  • No longer looking like an expert.
  • Bothering clients with too many requests. 


  • Avoid VoC in favor of anecdotal feedback.  
  • Information silos and confirmation bias is common.
  • Miss market-level insights.



You hold yourself to the highest standards possible.  You often pride yourself on “white glove” or “gold standard” levels of service. Clients expect and reward near flawless deliverables.

Common Misconceptions About VoC:

  • Customer research needs to be a long project.
  • Customers will judge imperfect work negatively.

Root of the Fear: 

  • Damaged reputation (personal and corporate)


  • Avoid VoC in favor of building the solution. 
  • Well built (but untested) products fail to gain market traction.


Scarcity Thinking

You believe that resources are limited, and prioritize accordingly.  You protect your existing lines of business and limit potential overlapping value propositions.  Additional resources are added only as new clients are added.

Common Misconceptions About VoC:

  • A customer purchase is better validation than VoC. 
  • Selling is the best way to test the market.

Root of the Fear: 

  • Financial fear of investing in research that doesn’t clearly produce a profit. 


  • Bespoke solutions rooted only in current capabilities that fail to appeal to a broader market.
  • Wasted sales cycles trying to sell with poor messaging.


Individual Heroics

Your culture reflects strong individual performers who deliver distinct and unique value.  You differentiate yourself through your thought leadership and use personal relationships to drive business.

Common Misconceptions About VoC:

  • VoC conversations could negatively impact an account. 
  • VoC can be done without stakeholder involvement.

Root of the Fear: 

  • Damaging an account relationship or losing the account.


  • Account owners and sales execs deny access to clients for VoC conversations. 
  • Only critical client-deliverables get built.

How do we overcome the obstacles to VoC?

Now that the obstacles and underlying fears of voice-of-the-customer research are clear, it is possible to be more intentional in how to overcome them.  Organizations can build an approach that captures meaningful insights, leads to better decisions, and ultimately better product outcomes.


1. From Knowing to Discovering


To shift from the knowing mindset to a discovery mindset, the most impactful place to start is by looking for insights that span across all your customers as well as externally to the overall market. Most service organizations already have multiple customer touchpoints, but the focus is almost always on the individual customer, and it is unlikely anyone is looking systematically across customers and prospects to challenge conventional wisdom. 

The best way to do this is through a hypothesis-driven approach where services organizations use their expertise to develop initial hypotheses about what customer problem must be solved before starting on the solution to that problem. The organization then needs the discipline to test those assumptions with both customers and external prospects. The four most critical hypotheses to test are:

1) the root customer problem is correct, 

2) the assumption about the specific customer role who has this problem is correct, 

3) the customer needs to solve the problem within the year, meaning it is urgent, and 

4) the customer is allocating budget or resources to solve the problem. 

To learn more, see our prior article on how to avoid solving the wrong customer problem. 

The product team should interact directly with customers for open and unbiased verification of hypotheses, bypassing potential customer defensiveness that might arise when dealing with sales or account representatives. In the case of organizations that are not ready to offer the product team direct access, they can begin by integrating hypothesis-testing questions into existing customer interactions. Once the product team delivers a unique perspective on customer problems by analyzing the data across customers, the organization will begin to trust them with direct customer access.

2. From Perfectionism to Speed


To help the organization overcome a tendency towards perfectionism, show that voice-of-the-customer testing can be fast. Demonstrating value-at-speed will earn permission to do more testing. There are several ways you can do this. 

As with shifting to a discovery mindset, making customer listening a regular practice is one of the most effective ways to build in speed. Consider adding recurring customer health conversations, win/loss calls, customer advisory board meetings, and customer innovation groups for customers who want to opt-in to provide feedback on early versions. These techniques are more readily adopted because executives recognize how they help drive sales and you can set customer expectations to regularly view early, non-perfect versions of a product.

Of course, nothing is more important to demonstrating speed, than to deliver insights quickly. This can be done with low-effort discovery sprints that are typically 2-6 weeks long and require as few as 5 interviews to test hypotheses per market segment. The organization is sure to recognize that data from these discovery sprints will enable quicker, more confident decision-making that is leaps and bounds faster than building the wrong thing due to an absence of data.  


3. From Scarcity Thinking to Abundance Thinking


An abundance mindset when it comes to voice-of-the-customer enables creative ways to find customer interactions. 

At Vecteris, we regularly use one of several third-party organizations that can help find prospective buyers in an industry. Often these can be “blinded” conversations so there is no reputational risk if the interviewee hates the concept. Another way to remove the risks of talking to existing customers is to tap recent “lost” customers or speak to recently retired customers. 

Beyond the many ways to find opportunities for customer interactions, sharing the patterns of urgent and expensive customer problems will open minds within an organization of broader possibilities outside the existing clients and existing capabilities--leading to more abundance thinking. More importantly, it will help an organization more effectively target the right market segment with the right messaging from the start. Stakeholder tip - these insights are gold for teams like marketing and product marketing, so make sure you know how to get the most out of them


4. From Heroics to Collaboration 


To even pass “go” on establishing voice-of-the-customer programs, product leaders need to collaborate with their business partners.   

Asking for help can be hard, so the first step in making the shift to collaboration is to empathize with the stakeholders in your organization who are often protective of their client relationships. They have a lot to lose if anything goes wrong so don’t fight them for access. Start with a few “friendlies” who are willing to let you talk to their clients and demonstrate what they have to gain through collaborating with you. 

For the stakeholders who do allow you to speak with their clients, give them a sense of involvement and control by having them review your interview questions. Often it can be powerful if you invite them to join an interview to hear firsthand the insights that come out of a well-structured conversation. When working with sales, you can work with them to offer sweeteners when including you in the conversation, such as early discounted access to new offerings. These actions will shift the relationship from “protector” and “supplicant” to “accomplices” working together on customer listening efforts. 

Your successes with friendlies will then open doors more broadly. To ensure others see this value and feel that their voices are being heard, set up regular forums to listen to and share insights with the key stakeholder groups in your organization. By taking these collaborative approaches, the stakeholders in your organization will start to see you as the asset they want in customer conversations to demonstrate the organization’s innovative approach. 


Have no Fear, Talking to Customers is Gold

Every single time I and the product leaders I work with have direct customer conversations, we come away from the interviews with pure gold that directly drives better business decisions. Have confidence that the effort you take to evolve into a culture that supports voice-of-the-customer research will be well worth it. 


If you would like to learn more about any of the approaches mentioned here, please reach out