Ronan Dunlop

Product Stack Webinar Follow-Up: How to Align Product Strategy with Feature Requests


We are extremely proud to be a partner with Notion and Product Plan in hosting The Product Stack. Our most recent webinar, “Aligning Product Strategy with Customer Feature Requests,” is available below if you were unable to attend the live broadcast.

For those that shared their questions with us, thank you! We’ve cherry picked three of them here to answer. For additional answers to your questions, be sure to check out the posts from Product Plan and Notion, and join The Product Stack community.

Q: How do you choose between feature requests that drive revenue vs. adoption vs. churn?

A: The answer is obvious but far from trivial. Clear business priorities need to be set and communicated effectively throughout the organization so that every team is able to respond to issues in situ with confidence.

That said, this particular question is a challenge for many companies. All three of the business goals you’ve identified are valid and important, but unless you have infinite development resources, you need to prioritize what needs to be built.

If you have the luxury of being confident that your revenue goals are on target for the quarter or the year, focus on something else; if not, that’s your #1 concern, always. Understanding why users churn is vital, too. Think of it as tech debt; ignore it at your peril. There are different strategies for dealing with this, but the sanest may be to acknowledge that you will always have churn, but much like bugs, if you are able to identify the most egregious ones, focus on those and keep a prioritized backlog of your other churn issues. These will never go away, so have a plan to manage them on an ongoing basis.

The revenue vs. adoption one is a business call. Where do you need the growth? Be wary of “freemium” strategies that punt the money question too far down the road, though. Growth is important but not at the expense of sustainable growth. If you’re not already profitable, the goal is to identify a path to profitability so that you are in the enviable position of having additional problems like this very question.

Q: How do you align the customer support team with the decision of not doing the feature when they hear about it on a weekly basis?

A: Include and enable them. First and most importantly, you shouldn’t be in a position where you have to explain why to your support team, but support should instead be part of the decision-making process from the start. If they are included, they will better understand why the business priorities are what they are and consequently why certain features are being developed over others. Also, one could argue that the first question above also has ramifications for support teams. Let’s not forget, your support teams are interacting with customers every day, so they are the ones most intimately connected to the issues that interest and concern customers. This intelligence should be a part of any strategic decision-making process and the head of support should be included in these discussions.

Better understanding the rationale of a feature implementation decision is vital for support teams so they can better respond to customers, but also so they can better manage their own morale. Saying “No” to customers is never pleasant. Your support team is comprised of caring people that get disappointed when they can’t say “Yes.” If they truly understand the reasons behind a decision, they are then better armed to answer customers questions effectively and offer workarounds in lieu of a feature.

Like any other member of the team, support should feel valued. They should be encouraged to capture feedback, be given a seat at the strategy table, and be empowered to push back on decisions. Support is not there to cry wolf; on the contrary, they are your canary in the coal mine. Ignore and exclude them at your peril.

Q: How do you explain to customers that you won’t be rolling out their request?

A: In a word, candidly. If you are in the enviable position of knowing with certainty that a customer request won’t be met, there must be a reason. Share what that reason is. If it has to do with a lack of people, time, or money, then that’s a tactical constraint due to lack of resources. This is not a “No,” but rather a “Not right now” situation, and deserves a different response. In these situations, your response should be, “Thanks and stay tuned.”

A hard “No” is based on more than this. It has to do with business priorities and product vision. There are two opportunities not to be missed in this situation. Use this as an opportunity to clearly define your position in the marketplace. If the request truly runs counter to your product’s positioning, it’s healthy to clarify this and recommend that if this is what a person is looking for, they may be best served by looking at alternative tools (yes, competitors). The worst-case scenario is that you lose someone who you were not going to be able to satisfy anyway. Being forthright and honest about it facilitates their decision process. If they stay, they appreciate you more; if they leave, they (likely) appreciate your candor and confidence.

The second opportunity is the one where you offer an alternative to their request. It’s very possible that this becomes an education opportunity for both parties. From your perspective, you may discover that your customer is asking for a specific feature based on a need that is being met in a very different way by your company. This is a “No, but…” situation. You find yourself being able to offer an alternative that they were unaware of. For your organization, this is valuable knowledge. Why didn’t the customer know this and how can this be rectified?

We need to remember that saying “No” does not necessarily produce a negative outcome. It’s an opportunity to provide black-and-white clarity in an increasingly grey world. Everyone benefits from the peace of mind of knowing.

We welcome your thoughts on the opinions shared. Also, be sure to check out the additional webinar questions being answered by Notion and ProductPlan. If you have additional questions, join our community The Product Stack and we’ll all strive to assist each other!

I’d just like to close with a word of thanks to the person who shared this feedback on our webinar—this is why we do these! Thank you!

“I’m a developer/manager and I just wanted to say I really enjoy these webinars. I’ve always felt that I haven’t seen product done ‘well’ at the places I’ve worked and the way you talk about product in these webinars feels ‘right’ to me and they help me understand more of the product world and that in turn helps me to more effectively communicate what I need to our executive and product teams. So my feedback is thank you so much for taking the time to put these together.”

Aligning Product Strategy with Customer Feature Requests from Pivotal Tracker on YouTube.