How to unstick your customer success team’s relationship with Product

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Do your customers feel heard when they ask for feature requests? Do they understand your product roadmap and know what’s coming next? Do you worry that when you raise their concerns to your product team, product isn’t listening?

When the relationship between customer success and product teams gets stuck, it affects everyone. If you’re not collaborating well with your product team, you risk excluding the customer’s voice from your product roadmap to the long-term detriment of your company.

A good relationship with your product team takes work. Fortunately, it’s straightforward. In fact, you can lay the foundation of a better collaboration almost immediately.

Where product and customer success get it wrong

Customer success and product should be a dream team. Product teams are in the business of designing solutions to customer challenges. You’re in the business of knowing what the challenges are. You’re both there to protect and increase revenue. Your collaboration ought to be intuitive.

Why, then, aren’t you seeing your customers’ product requests on the product roadmap? Or worse, why are you hearing that your customer success team isn’t advocating for product during customer interactions?

In truth, many product teams need to do a better job of listening to customer feedback, and customer success teams need to do better at educating customers on the strategic choices that product teams must make. More often, though, it’s just a failure to speak a common language.

To win product’s hearts and minds, bring data

The biggest thing I learned from working with product teams as a young leader is that product relates far more to data than to opinion. Your product team lives, breathes, and makes decisions based on data.

Customer success, on the other hand, is more granular and immediate. Our instinct is to advocate for our customers and protect every relationship. If an otherwise happy customer tells us they’re not going to renew unless they have a certain feature, tickets are submitted, escalations are made, and Product people are booked into Zoom calls with the customer to explain themselves.

Here’s the problem: to the product team, this response doesn’t resonate. And it’s not because they’re used to hearing about what isn’t working for customers—it’s because you’re not coming with a data-driven perspective.

Product doesn’t want the solution—it wants the problem

Let’s use a simple, theoretical example. Over a couple of weeks, several customers tell you they’re unhappy with a yellow button in your product’s reporting dashboard.

These customers want a green button instead, and they want it fast. One customer says they won’t renew unless your product team changes the color—so you’re barely off the call before you’re submitting another ticket to product for the green button.

Of course, you took the time to explore why each customer needs a green button so badly, and you identified the commonalities in each case… right?

This is the information that your product team needs. They don’t need you to specify the solution—that’s their job. Instead, they need your help to understand the problem. Rather than giving them green button requests, provide these details instead:

  • Details of the challenge that customers think a green button would help them solve.
  • The number of customers impacted by the green button issue.
  • The revenue associated with those impacted customers.

For example, the issue might impact 20 customers, or only a few—but those few customers might be large accounts, which makes a combined dollar impact of over $1 million in revenue. Now, you’re creating the kind of analysis that product teams respond to all day long.

By a mile, this way of translating customer feedback will strengthen your influence with the product team more than anything else you can do. Look at it as your key to earning the seat you need at the product roadmap table.

If you’re a CSM who wants to take an initiative like this, start a spreadsheet for your book of business. You have 20 customers, with $5 million in revenue, and these are the common themes you’re hearing. Does it impact all of them, or just 10 of them? What’s the dollar value associated with that 10? It doesn’t have to be complicated, but you should consolidate the data in a way that your product team can digest. If you can do that, any product leader is going to acknowledge the thought you’ve put into it and start asking you more questions about what you’re hearing and seeing.

If you’re a customer success leader, you can turn this into a team process. It needs to be more than throwing everything onto a spreadsheet—specify that, before handing it over to Product, your team will filter it and do some preliminary analysis to prove that it’s legitimate and has a significant impact.

What do you want in return?

Trick question. In return, you get a better partnership with your product team—which is no small thing. It’s far easier for the customer success team to advocate for your product roadmap, for example, when you’re closer to it. Better relationships lead to a better understanding of why your product team makes the choices that they do, and to a better ability to communicate it to your customers.

Granted, some customers will always advocate that the green button is what they need—but they also understand that in business, there are choices and prioritizations to make. You, meanwhile, will feel more comfortable and confident defending them, especially when you can say that you’ll talk with your product team and find out where a green button might fit into the roadmap.

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