Customer Research
Localization & Internationalization
When scaling products globally how can remote product managers grasp customers' needs and pain points?
Question from Zain
When scaling products globally how can remote product managers grasp customers' needs and pain points?
Answered by Ali Brandt
Product Leader, Coach and Consultant

As a Product Manager, a key factor in your product’s success is that it’s delivering solutions to real life customer pain points and needs. The easiest way to ensure a PM fully understands those needs and pain points is for them to live and operate in the same context (and location) as their customers. 

That said, as companies continue to scale globally, and the working world as a whole shifts more towards remote work, building the flexibility to hire PMs in different locations could put you at an advantage because it will broaden your talent pool and enable you to launch in locations where you don’t have fully embedded PMs. If this is something you want to explore, there are some steps you can take to ensure that your PMs can build the context they need without having to live in the same country or location as your customers.

1 - Build a customer-centric culture at your company

Wherever you work, whether at an office or at home, your employees (and PMs especially) should always have their customers top of mind. This means any time you’re making a decision, you always weigh a customer’s needs as an essential input. Here are a few ways to make sure that you’re building a customer-centric culture:

  • Make sure that your company and team goals and roadmap are customer-focused. This should mean that company goals focus on solving core customer problems and/or take into account the impact on the customer.
  • Center customer needs and feedback in team discussions. For example, if you’re weighing two potential features to build, make sure you’ve spoken with customers to understand which would have the most impact for them and validate your solutions with customers before shipping.
  • Take any opportunity you can to bring the customer voice into your team’s work. You can do this by sharing customer stories & quotes, digging frequently into customer data, or even inviting customers to speak directly with your team about their experiences.

2 - Lean into remote tools for customer research

We’re at an exciting time for customer research tools, with lots of new options and functionality available to support remote customer research. Video interviews can be a nice, simple way to connect with customers. If you’re looking for more features, tools like Lookback and dscout are great if you want to watch a customer use your app or software remotely. Gone are the days that you need to get your customer into a room with a one-way mirror for your team to be able to meet and understand their users.

3 - Spend time on the ground with your customers

At the end of the day, it is still essential to spend time on the ground with your customers, watching them go through their day-to-day work and use your product. If your PMs don’t live in the same country or location as your customers, they should plan to travel regularly to see them. One company I consulted with had most of their PM team in a different country from their headquarters and customers. All PMs traveled to headquarters on a regular basis (some once a quarter, and some as often as once a month) so that they could stay close to their customers and fully understand their context. 

As you consider whether to hire Product Managers in countries where your customers don’t live, there are definitely pros to both approaches, but being open to hiring in different locations will give you access to a broader talent pool and could give you an advantage for hiring. 

And don’t forget, just because your PMs live near their customers doesn’t guarantee they’ll be customer-focused. I’ve seen companies do very well hiring PMs in other locations when they build a customer-centric culture and strategy, and hire for Product Managers that align with that culture. I’ve also seen teams who live near their customers and do poorly because they never “got outside the building” to speak to their customers. More essential than location is a genuine desire to understand and get to know customers, and a willingness to build a product and strategy that puts customers first.

About the author
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Ali Brandt
Product Leader, Coach and Consultant

Ali is a product leader, coach and consultant with over a decade of experience at mission-driven organizations including Kiva,, and Gojek.

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  • Tools like Lookback and dscout are great if you want to watch a customer use your app or software remotely

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