“The customer only knows what she thinks she wants based on her experience with the current product. The innovator can take into account everything that’s possible, but often must go against what she knows to be true.” (Ben Horowitz, from his book ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’)
I’ve spent much of my career in product management roles and have spent countless hours trying to build winning product roadmaps. One of the toughest parts of the roadmap exercise is explaining to a big customer or to sales why the feature they need soooo badly didn’t make the list.
In a bid to make things more democratic and transparent, some organizations deploy ideation software. Usually this looks like a list of features that are submitted by customers and a way of voting these up and down the list. As a product manager, I never liked the idea of ideation because it forced me to either build the wrong features or made me look like I didn't care about our customers' desires.
Often the best product decisions come not from polls or votes but from customer intimacy and from a broad perspective. If you have more than a couple hundred customers, it can be challenging to get good insights into your customers’ needs and pains. Traditional channels such as trade shows, customer visits and win/loss interviews are great but don’t always provide the nuanced or timely feedback needed to make decisions throughout the year.
Customer communities are a great way for product managers to get constant feedback from customers by not only querying them directly but by observing them ‘in the wild’. Through the community, you can better understand context and nuance, you can see things through the lens of your personas, and you can develop that paradoxical intimacy with a large group of customers. A better understanding of your customers, through an online customer community, can lead to that breakthrough feature.
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