Soon after, one of our customers filed this issue. In streamlining the calendar view, we had taken away one of the key filters that our customers used to manage their publishing program—an unanticipated use case. Luckily, we were able to course-correct and reintroduce that filter without much fallout; however, it did teach us a valuable lesson—we needed to be able to tap into customer feedback throughout all stages of the product journey. And even more importantly, use our internal content team as a lab for each product release.
The voice of the customer has always been a critical component of our product roadmap strategy. It weighs heavily on our business cases, serving as another data point alongside factors such as market analysis. It also helps us prioritize product releases. We interview customers before development, offer beta tests during development, and then include that feedback in the final release. And it doesn’t stop there. We want to make sure we have a best-in-class product. We know that our customers’ needs change due to internal and external pressures, and new marketing technology starts to impact the way our customers’ organizations function. All of these factors emphasize why we must keep our ear to the ground at all points of the product roadmap cycle from ideation to execution and application.
We continue to refine the process for collecting customer data from product board to go-to-market. This is not an easy task, as I’ve illustrated in my opening example, but like all things in life, the more we practice, the better we get at anticipating and incorporating our customer’s needs before we’ve produced something that they no longer want. Our primary touch point is the business case for a new feature. We ask ourselves the following questions: What is the impetus behind this business case? Does our customer want this? Why do they want it? What are they currently using to fulfill this need? What features would interest them?
Here’s an example from a recent product roadmap survey we conducted for our most recent Skyword Analytics + Google Analytics release:
Once we’ve collected data on a few releases, we then go back to customers to help us prioritize. We know we cannot deliver all features at once, so given that limitation, we find out which are the “must haves” and which are “nice to haves.” With this data in hand, our developers are equipped with added confidence. The voice of the customer is tangible data that assures them that they are building something desired.
From those surveys, we flag a few customers for what we call “pressure-testing,” the pre-development process where we collect qualitative feedback about how an upcoming release might affect their work. We gather this data via interviews, and it gets translated into what agile developers call “user stories.”
Our development team keeps the customer need upfront throughout the entire release cycle by mapping each feature set to a user story. Our stories go something like this: “As an enterprise marketer, I want___, so that___. This methodology—down to the terminology (“epics” and “stories”)—speaks to me. I imagine life before agile, life in a silo where customer data may have factored into the original business case but got lost along the way. Here, it is front of mind, no matter how small the feature set. And it makes sense.
Think of fashion design. User stories are essentially the prototype for ready-to-wear. The garment is drawn on a croquis (in fashion terminology, a model/mannequin) and then realized into various elements of production from pattern to hem. All the while, the vision of the fully clothed customer is their map. If this focus is lost, they risk wasting materials and resources and producing something that is unwearable and undesirable to the consumer.
There comes a point in product development where the team is ready to give a sneak peek of what they’ve been working on. We circle back with the customers we flagged during the pressure test and let them have a go at it. With our latest release, we were able to identify data discrepancies and anticipate hurdles in user experience before we pushed it out to customers. Getting this feedback earlier in the game had a major impact on our final release.
But, as I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t stop there. Perhaps the most difficult part of gathering customer feedback is post release. It means having the discipline to reopen something that has already been rolled out—and being willing to designate check-in periods over the course of the year. What may have been relevant or useful in January may prove entirely ineffective in July. As marketing technology providers, we are in this game of moving fast, staying ahead, and continuously innovating. Sometimes that means improving on previous versions, sometimes it means scrapping them all together and coming up with new solutions.
While my story may be very SaaS-product marketing focused, these touchpoints can be adapted in response to content marketing initiatives as well. The Content Standard team puts out biannual surveys to our readers to tap into what’s resonating. We pilot email campaigns on smaller user samples to see what subject lines and copy work. We are always looking for ways to improve and listen to our audience. In the content marketer’s case, the audience often comprises readers and viewers, and just as with any paying customer, they are a critical factor in the success of a program.
The key to using customer data as the pulse for your product roadmap is that it keeps you nimble. You can never be satisfied with what you put out because there is always something more that can be done. This is the beauty of the agile process; it is definitely not for everyone, but it is this very challenge that keeps me engaged in my job daily. If this philosophy is something you’re interested in, stay tuned for my personal journey with agile marketing (my first post on agile publishes next Wednesday).
Want to learn what customer data points you need to be aware of, how to develop customer-centric strategies, and how to launch customer-inspired products and services? Check out the webinar slides below, and if you want to learn more about using customer data in enterprise marketing to tell great stories, subscribe to the Content Standard Newsletter.