Here at Salesforce we take listening to customers VERY seriously. We don’t do it because it’s trendy, but because we know that to build the best possible products, we need to do it alongside our customers. Ohana (family) is our #1 priority and part of that family is giving our customers a seat at the table.

And we’ve been at this co-innovation for quite some time. In fact, 2016 marks ten years of co-innovation with our most powerful listening channel, the IdeaExchange. This channel has fundamentally changed the way build product. Listen to our Co-Founder, Parker Harris and our EVP of Products, Mike Rosenbaum, talk about the evolving importance of the IdeaExchange since its beginning 10 years ago.

The last 10 years of customer-driven innovation has taught us a lot. While listening is fairly simple (and fun!), using it to inform product planning is much more complex. Integrating customer feedback requires executive alignment, commitment to community, and a solution that is both simple to use and rich in information to help product managers plan effectively. Sound daunting? Well, we’re here to help because today we’re sharing some of the tips and tricks we’ve learned while building our listening machine.

1. Create a single source of truth for feedback

Teams across Salesforce connect with customers in a variety of ways, whether it’s during a sales or support engagement, via a conversation at Dreamforce, or on the IdeaExchange. Each of those connections offer great insight into the needs and wants of our customers, but as we sought to mature our listening function we found that feedback was spread across many different channels. We had a “voice of support”, a “voice of sales”, “a voice of engineering” – the list goes on, rather than a cohesive voice of the customer. The result was a disjointed set of feedback that was difficult to act on.

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The first step was standardizing the company on a single process for capturing feedback. We replaced legacy objects and flows (and the occasional PowerPoint and Excel spreadsheet) with a single, in-app repository to capture feedback from employees and customers. This ensures that the invaluable input from our customers lives in a single place for easy reporting and analysis. With the data in one place, we needed to ensure we had a way to effectively prioritize, which brings me to the next tip:

2. Identify measurable ways to gauge the impact of incoming feedback

Ideally we could implement every single piece of feedback submitted by our customers, but the reality is that we have to make tough decisions about what to build with the time and resources available. To ensure these decisions best reflected the needs of our customers, we had to give our feedback streams a common language of impact to help drive prioritization. Essentially, we needed a way to tell if one piece of feedback was more important to our customers than another.

Luckily, we already had a great model in the IdeaExchange, which uses Community votes to gauge demand. For internal feedback, we established a requirement that every piece of feedback submitted on behalf of a customer be linked to an impacted opportunity or account. For external feedback on the IdeaExchange, we translated votes into similar account impact. This gave us a common language, with the data set sharing the same metrics for easier prioritization based on the numbers and profiles of the accounts and opportunities interested in a specific feature.

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With a cohesive, measurable set of product feedback we had a powerful tool to inform planning. But to ensure it turned into action on the product side, we needed a game plan.

3. Operationalize feedback review and response

Over the past few years we’ve worked with executive leadership to ensure that every single roadmap planning session revolves around customer feedback. Product managers at every level are held accountable by their leaders to review customer feedback and provide a plan for how to deliver their top customer requests. These updates are shared across the product organization to ensure visibility and alignment. To help make it fun for our product managers, we incentivize them to deliver on customer feedback with an awards program that recognizes our rockstars for their commitment to responding to the customer voice.

4. Close the Loop

Asking for feedback is nice, but ultimately it’s only a gesture if your customers feel like their feedback goes nowhere. As we’ve evolved our listening function, we’ve made sure to build in milestones for reporting back to our customers. Here, transparency is the key. With each release we update our customers on what we plan to deliver, and celebrate with them when we do with thank you badges, parties at Dreamforce, and communication campaigns focused on how their voice has shaped our product. We also do our best to share what we won’t be able to deliver. While it’s not our favorite news to deliver, we’ve found that honesty and transparency benefits our customers as they consider their own roadmaps.

During these last 10 years, we’ve learned a lot about how to innovate with our customers. Ultimately, taking the time to develop a listening engine that is transparent, cohesive, measurable, and integrated enabling us to deliver products that reflect the needs of our community. That’s how we did it…now it’s YOUR turn to connect and innovate with your customers in a whole new way!