Lots of small business bloggers tell you to listen to the customer and build accordingly. But some people take it too far.
I recently had an experience with just such a company. They had finished their product demo and I was wrapping with a few standard questions.
Notice how it evades the question, like a politician. He might as well have said, “The future is whatever you think it should be.” Perhaps he’s trying to demonstrate receptiveness to feature requests, but it’s a non-answer.
Follow-up questions failed to uncover a roadmap. Maybe because they don’t have enough customers to know where to go? The next snippet provides more evidence for this theory:
Me: Do you have any questions for us?
CTO: Yes. What is your biggest business problem that you would like someone to solve?
Fishing for ideas? Are you asking me to define your next product for you?
This isn’t “listening to customers,” this is a rudderless ship. Having clear goals and confidence is compatible with customer-guided development. What you should be doing is active listening:
Notice in all cases you’re simultaneously engaging the customer and honing the suggestions. Engaging means the customer feels like you’re genuinely listening and giving thoughtful consideration. Honing means you’ll leave with concrete things to consider.
Even admitting something is impossible is constructive because then when you do accept a suggestion they know you mean to implement it. You’re displaying honesty and setting up reasonable expectations. People know all twenty of their ideas can’t be done; they’ll appreciate honest rejection.
Companies that listen are both rare and beloved. Listen, don’t fish.