The reality for every technology company is that prospects, customers and partners will always ask for more product changes than the company has resources to build. Every tech company, from the Googles, Amazons, and Microsofts of the world down to the 2-person startup working in an incubator somewhere in Silicon Valley, faces constraints like not enough time, not enough developers, and too much code to roll out all at once.
Sometimes in customer success, it feels like we bear the brunt of this. Customers get angry because they have to continue to ask for the same things, competitors with a better widget steal our clients, and big prospects jump the line and push our client’s feature out to the next release. It is really easy to become frustrated with what can feel like a black hole of feature requests or an endless list of unaddressed bugs. It’s also frustrating when timelines seem to float around or product teams don’t seem to be able to provide a solid roadmap.
All of this said, there are some things you can do to work in harmony with your product team. If the people relationships are a challenge, or you’re wondering about the motivations of a product team, here’s an article I wrote earlier this year. If what you’re looking for is some practical advice on ways to build a stronger program, together with your product team, keep reading!
GIVE THEM AN OUT
Remember the last time you got back from vacation and looked at the 100+ emails sitting there in your inbox that represented a week or so worth of work? Yeah, that’s what it’s like for a product manager to look at the list of feature requests waiting to be tackled. If you have a backlog of feature requests, it feels bad to you, but it feels much worse to your product team – that’s their job! Offer to help them clean up or prioritize the backlog so that they feel like they are starting fresh. Of course, keep the really important features in the queue, but ditch the ones requested by customers who are no longer with you, that are many years old, or that are clear corner cases. Along these lines, give your product team permission to say no to new features that don’t make sense for your business. While nobody likes telling a customer no, it is better than having a feature request sitting there forever that everyone knows is never going to happen.
In order to help your product team prioritize requests, you need to provide a business case for your ask. This doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, but it should include the number of customers asking for the fix or feature, the revenue those customers represent, the level of risk of that revenue, and details about the use cases involved. One of the best ways to continue building a business case, even after you have sent your request to your product team, is to group the same requests using your CS platform, CRM solution, or ticketing tool. Most of these systems offer some sort of grouping capability like parent-child relationships or tags. Use those to ensure that your product team doesn’t look at your request as a one-off, but as something that is needed by multiple clients.
LISTEN AND ASK QUESTIONS
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard customer success teams complain about not understanding how their product team prioritizes things. Then, when I ask if they ever have meetings with their product team, they say, “Yes, but they never cover what I want to know.” or “Yes, but I kind of tuned out when they got into the details of the roadmap.” This is a missed opportunity. You need to ask for the information you want. Don’t just sit in these meetings and consume what you’re told. Ideally, go to any meetings that include your product team with a list of questions. If you don’t ask questions, you are the one responsible for not having answers. If your product team isn’t sure what you are asking about, share customer use cases and stories. This can also be helpful in getting your product team to understand the “why” behind the request.
DON’T JUMP THE GUN
Your product team works really hard within their scheduling and prioritizing framework to get a bunch of competing priorities on your roadmap. If your company uses agile, one of the premises of that methodology is flexibility. That means that your development team will be adjusting and refining what they can build and test up until the latest possible point. You can help keep your customers aligned with new releases and set correct expectations by making sure that you are in step with your product team on when to share what is coming. Don’t get ahead of your product team’s recommendations on timing, or you’ll be forever apologizing for delays. Also, if there is an actual scheduling mistake on the part of your product or engineering team, work with them on how best to communicate adjusted timelines. This has the added benefit of getting their commitment on the new timeline.
You know how we complain about our product teams being a black hole for requests? Well, on our end, we are often a black hole for feedback. Our product teams need to understand how customers are reacting to new releases and feature, fixes to bugs, and the roadmap itself. Be sure to set up a feedback loop to your product team so that they have a consistent stream of feedback from customers. In a perfect world, this feedback loop will also include direct feedback from the customers themselves. This can be formal, like a customer advisory board, or it can just be simply setting up calls between your clients and your product team to provide recommendations and advice.
Harmony with your product team can be achieved, but it takes work on both sides. Build the relationship, and then follow these 5 steps to improve the experience for your team and your customers.
The Success League is a consulting and training firm dedicated to furthering the discipline of customer success. We offer a Udemy course on cross-functional leadership that covers how to build relationships with other teams like sales, product, finance, and marketing. We also have consulting engagements that can bridge relationships between teams and ease friction for your customers. Visit TheSuccessLeague.io for more information about our consulting and training offerings.
This article was originally published here.