How to Use Customer Feedback to Get Product Buy-in and Manage Stakeholders
Here’s the product leader’s nightmare:
You're walking into a meeting where you and other stakeholders are about to decide on your product roadmap.
You outline the features that you think are the most important to build next… and no one agrees with you.
It’s a long, painful experience, and you leave with an approved plan to build features that you know aren’t important. In the worst case, you might have even lost some credibility with your colleagues.
I’ve been in those meetings—the ones where it felt like I got my a** handed to me. It only took a few of them before I spent some time figuring out how to set myself up to successfully get product buy-in from all the important stakeholders.
This article is about what I’ve learned about avoiding product meetings like that, and instead effectively creating a shared product vision among the important stakeholders.
It’s about how to prepare so that those meetings become congratulatory, back-patting, productive experiences rather than confrontational moments that lead to poor product decisions.
Here’s how I nurture product buy-in from stakeholders and ultimately create the foundation for making better product decisions.
Making good product decisions starts with drawing insights from good data
The key is good data.
Ultimately, your company is looking to build a product that someone wants to buy. One of the best ways to do that is to collect customer feedback and use what your customers are telling you to inform the product that you build.
That means creating an effective feedback collection system. One that touches all your customer-facing teams, brings the data into one place, and allows you to segment feedback by customer type.
In my experience, this data is necessary if you want to have product roadmap meetings that go smoothly. If you have data about the features your customers want, you usually can (eventually) get buy-in from stakeholders to build those features.
Step 1: Create a system for collecting customer feedback data that includes all customer-facing teams
So, step one is to actually build a system to effectively track customer feedback if you don’t have it already. We’ve already got a very detailed guide on how to track customer feeedback. But the basics are:
Figure out everywhere feedback comes in, and pipe it into a single spot. That may include proactively soliciting feedback from your customers.
Ensure each of your customer-facing teams is on-board with the system and that they use it. Part of that means making it easy and integrating it with the tools they use.
Collect information about customer attributes so that you can segment feature requests and draw useful insights from it.
Step 2: Share the customer feedback with all relevant teams
You need to share the customer feedback with others. Circulating the facts about what customers want is the best way to align on product priorities and get buy-in.
I encourage you to actually make time for a regular meeting with all stakeholder teams to review feedback trends together and think about priorities.
Sure, you might be skeptical of the value of yet another meeting. But meetings do two things:
They allow other teams to provide additional insight into the trends you may be seeing. Hearing from other teams can sharpen your insights.
It forces stakeholders to have their data organized if they want their features to make the roadmap. It also means they think carefully about what's actually important for customers. Which means, ideally, they bring you facts from the customer feedback system you're using.
Step 3: Create your draft priority list and check it with each stakeholder
When it comes time for your meeting to decide on the roadmap for the quarter, you should already have a good idea about what your customers are saying. Before your meeting, you’ll have already gone through and made a draft of the priorities.
(If you need some support on that, we’ve got a good guide for how to prioritize your feature requests).
But now you need to socialize the priorities with the other centres of power in your company.
In my experience, the best way to do that is by having one-on-one conversations with the major stakeholders where you review a draft of your roadmap.
So, for example, I would have a meeting with the VP of Sales and introduce my priority list that’s drawn from feedback from all customer-facing teams. They might say that, from a sales perspective, there are slightly different priorities. You talk about what the data says, but you also listen to what they’re saying. If appropriate, you do some massaging of the priorities.
Then, do this again with the VP of Customer Success, or your Director of Support, and everyone else who is going to have a say in the roadmap.
By the end of this process, they’ve all heard what your customers want. Even if everyone isn’t in 100% agreement about what the priorities should be, at least everyone knows that, at its core, the product roadmap is based on the customer. And they know that you’ve heard and thoughtfully considered their priorities.
Step 4: Have the meeting, and—hopefully—get the rubber stamp
Now, you’re ready for the meeting where everyone is deciding what the roadmap is going to look like. If you’ve done the above, you’ll be armed with a solid set of customer feedback data coming from all sides of the company. You’ll understand it and be able to talk about it. And everybody else will have seen some version of it too.
You’ll also have a set of priorities that you’ve created from that feedback and an idea about what other leaders are looking for. You have also tailored your list to take into account their comments and priorities.
If everything goes well, you’ll give your list and everyone will nod their heads and congratulate themselves on how well-aligned the company is.
(You will know that that alignment happened because of a bunch of work on your part, but you’ll keep it to yourself because you're gracious and are just happy to have the approval you need to build a product that will delight your customers).
There still may be some conversation about priorities. And there should be—that’s the nature of playing as a team. Your teammates should get some say.
But the work you have done should at the very least inject data into the conversation. So rather than arguing about what the truth is—what customers really want—you’ll be arguing about what the company’s priorities are, given what your customers have said.
And for that discussion, you’ll all be standing on the same foundation of solid feedback data. If the group decides on something that goes against what the data says, they’ll know it, and it will (hopefully) be an intentional decision.
“Ya, but my CEO is a wild card”
Sometimes the CEO can throw a bit of a wrench in the gears for the product team. CEOs do that: they chime in with a pet feature or ask to prioritize some request even though it may not be a real priority.
(As someone who has been both head of product and a CEO, I know this better than anyone)
The fact is, the CEO gets some silver bullets—that’s the nature of the position.
Your job is just to remind them about the facts, and then be a good soldier and follow through on whatever the decision is. If you’ve done a good job, you might be able to convince them about what’s important. But even if you can’t, your solid use of data and socializing the team to that data will allow you to leave the meeting looking credible.
And, in my experience, the CEO only gets to use so many silver bullets before they demoralize the team.
This system, over time, still works.
Customer feedback is your key to company alignment on the right priorities
You’re all in the same boat with the same goal: to build a winning product that delights your customers. But you need to get everyone rowing in the same direction.
Your customer feedback data is the key to doing that.
You set yourself up for success by first collecting and using a set of solid customer feedback data. And then, you can build up buy-in by socializing your teammates to the results of that data, so everyone understands it, accepts it, and uses it as a starting point for roadmap decisions.
Once those facts are acknowledged, all that’s left is some conversation around specific priorities—which customers matter more, what features may be more important in the future, or sometimes (unfortunately—sorry) what your CEO likes best.Last Updated: 04-11-2021
Kareem is a co-founder at Savio. He's been prioritizing customer feedback professionally since 2001. He likes tea and tea snacks, and dislikes refraining from eating lots of tea snacks.