Once a company has found initial product market fit it can start to grow and scale. However, there are many challenges when it comes to scaling product management. The more customers (and potential customers) you have, the more product requests and feedback you’re going to hear. Customers always want more and sometimes the sheer amount of requests can be daunting. How do you prioritize? When customer feedback is contradictory and different from your product roadmap, the issue can put a lot of pressure on your team.
“We need to have X feature to buy your product!”
“Your competitor has Y. Can your product do Y?”
Customer A: “We want the button to be bigger”
Customer B: “We want you to hide the button”
In today’s “age of the consumer”, companies are encouraged to incorporate customer feedback early and often. However, you’ll never have the resources to build everything the vocal minority asks for, and even if you did, you’d end up with a Frankenstein product.
Balancing this constant product feedback with your limited resources is one of the most important thing an early stage startup does.
1) Organize Feedback Strategically: Customer Requests, Metrics Movers, and Customer Delight
Some of my favorite pieces on product management have been written by Adam Nash, the CEO of Wealthfront and former Vice President of Product Management at LinkedIn. In one of his blog posts he writes that you should put your feature concepts in one of three buckets: customer requests, metrics movers, and customer delight .
This is critical because it allows you to take a step back and organize customer feedback in a strategic way. You can understand which requests are nice-to-have’s, which are critical to generating more revenue, and which are going to really going to put a smile on customers’ faces. Your feature development should map to these buckets. Nash writes “You don’t necessarily want to implement every suggestion, but product professionals need to listen to direct requests carefully, with humility and deep consideration.”
2) Identify and Prioritize Target Customers
At Pixlee, one of my favorite methods to prioritize customer feedback is identifying what your ideal target customer looks like. It’s easy to get overwhelmed trying to create everything for everyone. In a perfect world I would love to serve all customers regardless of size, use case, or pricing because I think they could all use our product. However the feedback and feature requests I get from Coca-Cola versus a local coffee shop are going to be very different.
Given our limited resources we have to ask ourselves who are our ideal customers, what verticals are they in, how big are they, and what use cases do we want to enable. After you’ve clearly defined your target audience, it’s up to you to be disciplined. You must learn to say no to some opportunities that fall out of scope.
3) Understand the Why Behind the Ask:
When interpreting customer feedback it’s always important to understand the context of the feedback. Not all feedback is created equal and deserves the same weighting. Was it off-the-cuff feedback mentioned on a call or a burning painpoint request via an email? Ask what customers are trying to achieve with the request. Often, you’ll find that their problem can be solved in another way.
In addition, customers have a habit of providing feedback that’s a solution instead of articulating the actual problem. According to Jason Shah, Founder and CEO of Do and a former PM at Yammer, a feature request from a user might give you insight to a core problem you need to understand; understanding that problem can lead to an entirely different feature. He recommends asking for how they imagine using the feature and the key goals they hope to achieve. At that point the core problem becomes pretty clear.
4) Don’t Build First! Incorporate Customer Feedback throughout the Design Process
A quick way to anger your engineering team is to constantly ask for new must-have features, only to have them poorly scoped and not meet your customers needs.
Edwin Fu, the founder and head of product of Placements.io recommends that you try designing the solution before coding.
“This technique can yield great dividends” Fu says. “Simply working with wireframes and HTML/CSS mockups can validate your customer’s feedback and result in faster engineering ramp-up. The result of this exercise could help validate feedback and potentially, unlock greater visibility and value to the product vision”
For instance, lets say a company receives feedback that their analytics dashboard isn’t helpful and hard to understand. That company wants to iterate on their product quickly but doesn’t have the time or money to spend 3 months building a new analytics dashboard hoping it will work. Instead, show designs and iterations to customers and get feedback along the way. You can’t do this with every customer, but finding a few with really insightful feedback can have a huge impact on your business.
As a startup, it’s incredibly tempting to implement every piece of customer feedback, but the reality is that we’re constrained by resources and time. Every startup I know runs product management and development a little differently. Because each startup is unique, there is no one size fit all template for deciding whether or not to incorporate customer feedback. However organizing, identifying the target customer, understanding the why, and incorporating the customer throughout the design process are great ways to take advantage of product feedback.