Road Trip! Product Planning by Customers

We’re going on another road trip. This time we’re touring Silicon Valley. How original!

18 meetings in 8 business days. This is going to be fun…
Half of the meetings are with existing customers. We’ll be showing off all the cool new Collab v2.0 features and demo’ing a brand new product that we just filed a patent for. But more on that in another post.

It’s vital to keep in close contact with your customers. Your sales force will ignore customers as soon as the money is handed over (until a year passes and they want maintenance revenue). This is fine for the sales guys — after all their job is to find fresh meat — but it’s not OK for customer service or for product development.

It’s your existing customers who know what needs to be built next. They know which parts of the software are most annoying. They think of cool new features that would genuinely help their lives, not just put up pretty bullets on data sheets.

Sure they send complaints and ideas to support@. But that’s nothing compared to what happens when you meet face-to-face.

I’ll be walking down a row of cubicles and our host will causally announce that “The Smart Bears are here.” I’ll see a name I recognize and pop in. “Oh hey! I’ve been meaning to tell you guys, it really sucks that the search results page won’t show more than N entries. I have to do this thing every release where I …. and it would save me hours if only it would …..”

Why didn’t that guy email us? Doesn’t matter, the point is he didn’t. But when you’re there everything’s different.

Sure you can’t implement every suggestion. And some will confuse more than help. But this is the only way I know to build software that people actually want to use. You can’t compile it from stray emails.

Some people swear by Customer Planning Sessions. You can take managerial representatives from 10 companies and fly them in for two days of exciting meetings about what they want to see and what you’re planning to deliver next. Seems fine, but my experience is that the folks that show up are rarely the folks that actually use the software. You certainly get great information about what the managers need — and that’s 1/2 of what we focus on with Code Collaborator — but the other 1/2 are the developers who stare at the screen every day and you have to make them happy too.

It is possible to give managers reports, metrics, dashboards, and all that other process/control/measurement stuff and yet also have a pleasant, helpful, useful environment for ends users too. You just have to listen!

  • RaminAssemi

    Seems like actually talking to your clients (ideally face-to-face, but at least on the phone) is a crucial element in pretty much… well, every kind of industry. Funny that we often try to avoid/automate it and overlook the value it can bring us.