During one of my first gigs as a Product Manager, my manager at the time sent me to get certified by Pragmatic Institute to learn the fundamentals of building and managing software products. One of my biggest takeaways from the training was simply one, slightly blunt statement: “Your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant”.
What this phrase basically means is that although Product Managers do appreciate what you have to say, unless you’re representative of our user/buyer personas and target market then we really can’t base decisions off of what you say without more data.
This one liner became our guidepost for doing one of the most challenging parts of being a Product Manager - managing product feedback and expectations.
Many times we had to say this (perhaps not as bluntly) to colleagues in sales, development, support, but also often to executive leadership, who had their own ideas of what the vision should be. Don’t get me wrong, Product Managers LOVE ideas and inspiration, but we have to find the nuggets buried within the noise. In general, the majority of product feedback comes from two main sources:
The Loudest Customers
I for one love loud customers. These are the people who you can count on to give you the cold, hard truth when it’s needed, but will also share a pint or two with you at a tradeshow. But we also have to be weary of the loudest customers. They are one fish in a pond of hundreds if not thousands of customers that you want to hear from and PM’s need to ensure what their building is representative of the needs of all customers.
Anyone who is close to your product internally ends up having ideas and opinions on the direction of the roadmap and what features should be built. Your executive team may also be engaged in conversations with your biggest customers and tell you that Customer A really needs us to build XYZ ASAP so we need to re-prioritize our roadmap. Or your Customer Success Team may say Customer B keeps asking for XYZ what is the status of this feature?
This is all important to have on record. But Product Managers build products for markets, not customers - so they need noise from all over the map. And ideally some, real, actionable data and user stories to bring back to internal stakeholders to explain why we are saying "Yes" to XYZ features and "No" to their interesting, but irrelevant suggestions.
Creating an online community that is focused on your product is a great way to engage with all your customers, even those who may not be as willing to jump on a call or complain when something about your product is frustrating. The community becomes a space where it’s OK to provide feedback of all kinds, and the PM can engage directly and follow up with their users. Spinning up groups for customer advisory boards, beta testing, or even a group to run your ideas or designs by some key customers is extremely valuable to get feedback early and upfront. With all your feedback coming into your community, this becomes a key data point for making your important product decisions and closing the loop with the people that are taking the time to provide you valuable insights.
To learn more, check out this article detailing 4 Ways Product Management Can Leverage Online Communities.