This story is a version of a post published here.
The new product roadmap framework: customer feedback
Today, developing a SaaS product and launching it in the market is easier than ever before. The good news is that there is a market for almost every quality product. With platforms like Siftery, Product Hunt, and Stack Share, product discovery for and access to early adopters has become a cake walk. However, every SaaS founder takes a leap of faith when building a new product. The success of this leap depends largely on how good the product’s roadmap is. The product roadmap doesn’t necessarily mean that the product must have a definitive feature list with a meticulously carved release plan. For me, it is more important that the product roadmap have a clear identification of the customer problems that the product will continue to solve with every new feature. And most importantly, it must answer how the “build-measure-learn” feedback loop will be incorporated into the product.
When I set out to build Omoto, I had written down a set of features that I wanted to incorporate into the product. I did not do any customer research or competitor research. I just used my knowledge that I had gained through my professional experience and believed I knew what the customer wanted. Thankfully, I didn’t build Omoto until I had at least a couple of clients willing to pay for the solution. In this article, I will be sharing what I learned about setting up the right product roadmap using customer feedback. Let me also reiterate that I don’t believe in a rigid product roadmap. I have learned that it is more important to have a sturdy customer feedback loop that will continuously improve the product roadmap.
Start by identifying your customer
Not every product will work for all types of customers. It is important to identify the customer base that you are going to target for your product. From the start, Omoto’s target customers were healthcare brands that were collecting patient feedback on paper forms. The next target group were companies that were capturing NPS feedback via online survey but did not have an automated system to regularly collect customer feedback and provide real-time reports.
I selected these customer segments because, through my professional experience, I knew that there was an unmet need that could be fulfilled by Omoto. Moreover, there were very few solutions that were focussed on solving this specific problem. There were products that offered a plethora of other services and feedback was one of them. I knew that by focussing on just customer feedback, we could do a much better job and deliver more value for money to our customers. However, I started developing the product only after I had validated my hypothesis. Let me show you how.
While Omoto was still being conceptualized, designed, and developed, my co-founder and I prepared a powerpoint presentation that laid out the value proposition of the solution. We would cold-call to get meetings with decision makers in our target customer segment and show them the presentation to seek their feedback. With that feedback, we started developing the initial product features.
Of course, we didn’t start with a blank canvas. We already had a set of features and benefits that we were certain our clients would appreciate. However, with every meeting, we would either learn a deeper reason why a client appreciated a certain feature or uncover a completely new requirement that we had not considered. Through this process, we got a clear understanding of our product’s must-have and good-to-have features. The early feedback also helped us validate our hypothesis and prepare a list of features we could sell to each customer segment.
Don’t sell to your first few clients; partner up with them
It is getting easier to acquire new customers for a SaaS product these days. But you need to choose your first few clients very cautiously. These early adopters would largely decide the course of your product roadmap for at least the next few months. Unless you believe in launching your product only when it is perfect (which it will never be), you would release your product’s first version while still developing the next set of features and also doing minor bug fixes here and there. In this situation, you should consider your first few clients as partners who would help you shape the product.
From showcasing the value proposition on a sales presentation or on its website, a SaaS product then moves to a stage where it acquires actual paying customers. Ideally, these early customers must be working with you to make your product better. This is exactly what happened with us at Omoto.
Our first client had a feedback collection method that was working for them but they were spending too much time in analyzing and reporting the data. Also, they did not have a way to close the loop on customer feedback. So we opened up Omoto’s API and offered them a service for just INR 10k per quarter to use Omoto’s backend for reporting and workflow automation. This early customer helped improve Omoto’s API and also gave us a ton of feedback on reporting and workflow, which helped us shape the future releases.
Don’t be in a hurry to sell and move on to the next opportunity. Stay with your customers even after the sale is done. Keep checking in to improve user adoption, collect personal feedback, and gather insight on what needs to be developed next. With a handful of clients onboard, you would have a pretty long list of things that the product needs to implement.
Expand to new avenues and capture more feedback
As a SaaS product grows its user base, it will be forced to look at new ways to keep every user happy. Just having a limited set of features won’t satisfy the growing needs of a growing user base. Therefore it is critical that the SaaS product has a built-in mechanism that automates user feedback. Tools like Canny and Productboard help capture customer feedback on product features. Users can up/down vote features and request new features, which helps prioritize product releases based on user expectation.
Initially, we had only tab-based feedback surveys but as we acquired more customers and we pitched more channels to our customers, they voted SMS channel over email. Therefore, while we had initially planned to release emails before SMS, we prioritized launching SMS based feedback over email.
When we launched our SMS channel, the survey pages would take too long to load on a slow speed mobile network. One of our clients’ customers are in tier 2 / 3 cities, where mobile internet speed is not as good as it is in bigger cities. We doubled our efforts in making the survey pages as lightweight as possible and achieved the performance benchmark required by this client. This, of course, helped all our other clients too!
As we expanded to clients from other industries, we again had to relook at our product priorities. With an eCommerce client onboard, we expanded our workflow system that supported only individuals at each escalation level to further support groups/teams at each level. This was part of our roadmap, but, because of customer feedback, it had to be prioritised over CRM API integrations that we were then working on. We realised that our clients were mostly willing to integrate with Omoto’s API’s. This saved us a ton of effort in building individual API integrations with leading CRM’s in the market.
It is important to stay flexible in your product priorities and keep recalibrating based on what matters most to your customers. That way, your product roadmap helps you build your business too.
Look at customer behavioural data, not just what they say
We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want. ~Eric Reis, The Lean Startup
I believe looking at customer behaviour data will keep you from sabotaging your product with feature overload. Sometimes it will also save you from killing something that a majority of your users love while some don’t.
It is easy to get overwhelmed with feature requests and you might find your product roadmap taking a completely unexpected turn. Therefore, it is also important to have some sanity checks in place to ensure that you are not running after each new feature request without validating whether it would add value to your product roadmap.
We faced a similar situation in Omoto as well. Every user in Omoto gets a summary email digest of all feedback responses received on a daily and weekly basis. Early on, some of our clients did not appreciate the email and asked us that it should be stopped. We had not thought that anyone would ask us to shut down something as valuable as response summary and therefore there was no off switch to it. So we decided we need to build a switch that would turn off the summary email to all users within a client account. But before we did so, we looked at the email open and click rates. The data suggested that users love this summary email! We had 94% open rate and 70% click rate for the daily and weekly summary emails! We added a subscribe/unsubscribe flag for this summary email at the user level instead of at an account level. This allowed us to control the recipients’ list of the summary email.
Later when we conducted our customer survey, 100% of our clients said they would miss the summary email the most if it was shut down. I am happy that we looked at user data before updating our summary email feature.
Keep collecting customer feedback and act fast
Finally, I would like to say that customer feedback is a goldmine of information. While I built Omoto to capture only NPS and CSAT based customer feedback, I have learned that our customers need a feedback tool that could support any kind of customer feedback. One of the best things we built in Omoto is the workflow engine that ensures that something gets done about each feedback received. We are, therefore, building a new product roadmap that will allow more expansive customer feedback methods and also support taking action on those feedbacks via better workflow integration with tools like Jira and Youtrack that specialize in task management.
SaaS products need to be agile by nature. Hence, customer feedback and quick action on that feedback have to be a part of the company culture. If you set yourself up on a rigid product roadmap, you will find yourself fighting a losing battle because every product should be built to serve its customers. That can happen only when the roadmap is fully aligned with your customer. It is the, therefore,t to keep realigning your product roadmap based on customer’s expectation. Here’s a great article by Hiten Shah to help you build the right kind of customer feedback in the early days to build the right product or feature:
When you want to create a new product or feature that people love, your goal should be to learn as much as you can before you’ve launched it. Before you’ve even written a single line of code or designed a single pixel. This tactic is called early access, and it’ll help you learn the most …