Why you should involve your customers in your Product Roadmap?

New Product Managers Knowledge 5 min read, August 20, 2020

Communication is Key:

Strong team and intra-organizational communication in any industry or business is vital for long term success and longevity.

In the SaaS market specifically, communicating value is not only important for customer acquisition, but its a cornerstone of customer retention.

Engaging our customers and knowing what they want is the foundation for truly understanding their problems and therefore allowing us to build value-adding solutions that we are sure will be used.

This is often ignored by SaaS companies as they build 'nice-to-have' features thought up by the dev team or founder, without any real market validation.

Not communicating effectively with customers can leave them feeling like this guy
Not communicating effectively with customers can leave them feeling like this guy

Customer Retention

Another cornerstone to success often ignored by SaaS vendors is retaining those customers you’ve already worked so hard to attain.

Naturally, and talking from experience, Founders often seek to bring in new business, acquire new customers and put all of their efforts into sales and marketing with the intention of bringing new users to the platform. However, if you take the time to look into Intercom, Dropbox and other successful SaaS, you'll see that customer retention is just as important as customer acquisition.

If customers are felt 'left out' of the product development cycle, or their feature requests and ideas are ignored, they'll feel ignored. People often act on their emotions, and if you aren't a vital irreplaceable part of their business' operational stack then they'll no doubt replace or drop you all together as their software service provider if you choose to operate and develop in a vacuum, without considering their wants and needs.

This, in turn will lead to excessive churn often before the customer's lifetime value is achieved or the payback period for their acquisition cost is met. Meaning, you lose money and a customer.

However, strong communication with your customer is a two-way street, and it’s about time more vendors made a greater effort to share their plan for growth – including their product roadmap and short term objectives as a business. Why? Read on.

I see it often: objectives and roadmaps are falsely treated as a closely guarded secret - like your ‘million dollar idea’ that can never be shared (and therefore never actually brought to market).

But, without first validating these ideas or the proposed direction you plan on moving in with the people that will actually be buying from you or continue to buy, you can end up wasting huge development resources and money building things no one wants. I've been there, and I'm guessing you have too?

Additionally, without customers and more importantly engaged customers who are actively involved in your business, that closely guarded secret roadmap is worthless.

A product roadmap shows your vision for the future. More than anything else, it sparks conversation on where you wish to go and how you plan to get there, and often times this can easily be driven by crowdsourcing demand using your user base.

Choose the direction that makes your customers happy.
Choose the direction that makes your customers happy.

It surprises me endlessly to see how many users love to share detailed feedback with us, or share an idea that will make our software even more valuable to them (and therefore make us less replaceable).

Do we immediately act on it? No. But we do put that idea out to our userbase on our roadmap here: https://roadmap.announcefly.com and ask our community to vote and discuss the idea so we can be sure it's worth investing time in.

How I Do Things

My goal has always been to be as transparent as possible to our customers.

While product roadmaps are always subject to change, it is your duty as a service provider to provide a space where both the company and the customer can contribute in improving your product roadmap, or at least letting their voice be heard.

This way, changes in schedule or previously planned activities won’t bring disappointment to your customer, but rather become part of an ongoing discussion that evolves and adapts based on the ever-changing market landscape.

This is a great way to prevent disappointment, and we never share fixed dates on when something will be implemented, instead, we use our statuses feature to let them know its 'on its way' or 'up next'.

Remember, customer engagement is NOT all about social media likes and shares – it’s also about how your customers feel about your business.

If they are passionate enough to spend the time to leave you valuable feedback or want to contribute to see your platform or software grow, you should listen and give them a place to share it.

How We've Acted On Suggestions

I am trying to change the way SaaS companies think about product development and roadmaps by leading by example.

One of the biggest criticisms I received when talking to SaaS companies was, "why would I want to let people vote, they'll just upvote everything".

True, it's possible they would do that. But that then led us to discuss with our users how they felt about this and what we could do.

A few of our users suggested a 'vote credit' system that would limit the number of votes they could cast on our roadmap every week.

We opened up the discussion and let users suggest solutions to the problem we were facing.

Great! Now we had both an outlined problem with our tool, but using the same strategy of transparency and just asking, we also had a great solution (and awesome new feature).

So we then put this feature out and our community loved the idea! So now we build that as we have hard data that it will be both used and add value. If you take a look at our roadmap you'll see other ideas like mobile apps etc weren't as favoured, so why would we waste our time on it?

Product Managers must use a solid roadmap structure to understand what your customers want
Product Managers must use a solid roadmap structure to understand what your customers want

Conclusion

Ultimately, this customer-centered marketing strategy can increase customer retention by four-folds precisely because it’s grounded on your customer’s needs and preferences.

Treat your customers as your partners, and they will treat you well. This is especially true for SaaS companies whose primary objective is to provide specifically designed products that solve their customers' problems. Otherwise, you're not doing what you set out to do.

Transparency should be integral to your business' values, the next step is to foster and protect a long-term relationship with your customers.

A strong relationship after all, is based on honesty and integrity – the knowledge that you can deliver what is expected of you.

Drop a comment below and share with your SaaS colleagues. I'd love to hear your thoughts or if you agree/disagree with our way of doing things!

SaaS Product Management Product Dev Building Products Product Management Trends Product Managers