The popularity of Lean Startup and similar philosophies have engrained in every Product Manager and Entrepreneur that we need to “get out of the building” and talk to customers. But customers aren’t your only source for great feedback.
Once you find market fit, you’ve shipped a product, you have real customers, and your team is a little bit bigger than three friends in a garage, it’s important to gather product feedback from as many sources as you can. You’ll need to focus not only on external customers, but also on your internal stakeholders.
Following are the five groups that will provide you with the most valuable feedback. Their input is extremely valuable, and it has the ability to make or break your product.
#1: Feedback from Customers
Customers will always be your most important source of product feedback. Their time is very valuable and often hard to get. So you should have a clear plan before you contact them with random questions. For example:
- Understand why you are doing research and what questions you want answered
- Have a clear hypothesis that you’d like to validate
- Decide what is the best technique to use to get the information you need
[tweetherder]Before talking to customers, have a clear hypothesis you want to validate[/tweetherder]
Keep in mind that to get the right feedback, you need to talk to the right people. How many times have you conducted user interviews and walked away with no valid information simply because you weren’t talking to the right person? Yes, I’ve been there, too.
To avoid that problem, review your product’s Personas as part of your interview preparation. That way, you’ll know exactly who to talk to and the type information you can expect to get from each group.
Every B2B product usually has three types of personas:
- Primary personas: People who benefit the most from using your product. They are the person for whom you are solving the problem.
- Secondary personas: These people might interact with the software from time to time, but more importantly, they might get benefits from the software in an indirect way. For example, they might consume the reports your software produces.
- Buyer personas: These are the people who authorize the purchase of your product. They probably won’t be users, but they need to understand the product’s value so they can justify the purchase.
If you are not familiar with personas, I recommend this great article: A closer look at personas, by Smashing Magazine.
Once you have identified your personas, drafted your questions, and found candidates to talk to, you are ready to conduct your research.
There are many research techniques you can use depending on what you want to accomplish. The spectrum ranges from doing customer development to playing prioritization games and everything in between. I’m writing a post explaining some of the most useful research techniques, so subscribe to my newsletter at the bottom of this post to be notified when it’s out. You don’t want to miss that one!
#2: Feedback from Sales
Your Sales team is an invaluable source of user feedback. They talk to customers everyday, so they understand their needs and know what sells and what doesn’t.
From the Sales team, you’ll usually get three types of feedback:
- Customers often ask for…
- Customers are struggling with…
- If I had this feature today, I could close this huge deal!
The key is listening to their feedback, but not committing to anything on the spot. Each request needs to follow your standard prioritization process, to make sure the suggested features are aligned with your strategy and will add value to many customers, not just a few.
[tweetherder]Listen to feature requests from Sales but do not commit to adding them right away[/tweetherder]
Establishing a good relationship with your Sales team is extremely important. They need to feel that they are being heard, but they also need to understand that there is a process by which new features are added to each release.
It is your job to educate them on the process and to be consistent in your interactions with them. If you agree to do something “just this one time for just this one customer,” then you’ll find yourself in a lot of trouble. It’s a slippery slope, and there is no going back.
Depending on the size of your company, you’ll need to provide a way for Sales to give you their feedback. For small companies, it’s okay for them to call you directly or for you to attend their weekly Sales meeting.
For bigger companies, this quickly gets out of hand, so you might need to provide a web portal or a dedicated email address like “email@example.com”. Also, some of the top Product Management tools like Aha! and ProdPad have great features for idea management. They are worth checking out.
Whatever you do, the most important thing is to make sure you are making it very easy for the Sales team to provide you feedback. Remember that they are very busy, so if you make it hard for them, then you’ll be missing out on a great opportunity to hear from customers.
#3: Feedback from Support
Your product Support team is another great avenue for user feedback. Like Sales, they are always talking to customers, but their interactions are different. In this case, every single support call or ticket represents a customer that is having trouble with your product. Not a good thing.
When gathering feedback from the Support team, it’s useful to implement some metrics and categorization for customer issues, so you can group them together and determine what needs to be fixed. For example, you can have categories like:
I recommend having regular meetings with your Support leads to discuss the most pressing items. Foster an open discussion on which issues come up most often and which ones are causing the biggest pain for customers.
As pressing as it might sound, feedback from the Support team needs to be treated just like any other type of feedback. It needs to go into your backlog to be prioritized, validated, and then added into a future release.
Unless you have a critical bug, you shouldn’t try to jump into any issues immediately. Keep in mind that every time you add any extra work to a release, you need to remove some other feature to make room for it. It’s a trade-off, and you need to be aware of the impact.
Also be aware that not all support problems need to be solved by your Development team. Some recurring issues might be addressable with more training, documentation, marketing videos, etc. Your Development team’s time is your most valuable resource, so make sure you are leveraging it as best you can.
Addressing your customer’s issues and concerns will help you create loyal customers and will improve your retention. It’s an important but often overlook aspect of Product Management.
Related article: The business case for great user onboarding
#4: Feedback from Development
Your Engineering team will also have a lot of feedback and ideas on how to improve your product. Their perspective might be biased since they probably don’t have the full market view that you do. So make sure you take their feedback in the right context.
In my experience, the most valuable feedback from the Development team is usually the much dreaded “tech debt”. I know that sometimes the term tech debt can be used as an excuse to over-engineer things. But in many cases, it’s really a cry for help that can’t be ignored.
Your team is most knowledgeable about the corners they had to cut to deliver that extra “strategic feature”, or to work on the CTO’s pet project during the middle of the last release. You need to listen to their input and determine if it’s time to pay some of that debt before it becomes a real issue.
I know it is difficult to justify working on tech debt, especially to your Executive team. It’s hard to explain that you won’t be able to deliver customer delighters because you need to fix something that in their mind shouldn’t be broken in the first place. But that’s just the reality of building software.
[tweetherder]Tech debt needs to be prioritized like any other feature[/tweetherder]
If you are trying to get Executive support to invest in tech deb, try framing the problem in the light of “worst case scenario”. Not delivering some customer feature can affect sales for this quarter, but not focusing on paying your tech debt can bring your business down.
#5: Feedback from Executives
The Executive team will always have product suggestions and feedback. They have the best understanding of the overall company strategy and how your product fits into it. They are also one of your key internal stakeholders, so it’s important to listen to their requests. But just as with any other type of stakeholder, they need to adhere to your prioritization process and understand that adding any extra functionality today will affect the functionality they already agreed to for the current release.
On the other hand, it’s important to dig deeper into each of their requests. As with customers, your Executives will know the problems they are trying to address, but may not know the best solution to those problems. And they are more likely to request what they believe is the best solution, rather than explaining the problem.
Always try to discover why they are asking for this functionality. They usually have good reasons to request it, so make sure you are listening with your strategic hat on.
As your company grows, you’ll find yourself getting feedback from many directions. Make sure you are ready for it by having the right processes and tools in place. The best Product Managers are those that make everybody feel listened to, while balancing those requests with what’s right for the product.
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