Original article appeared in Adviser Magazine, December 2021
Think back to the days before everyone had a convenient GPS on their phone. Remember paper maps? If you do, you probably also remember driving the wrong direction and having to turn around, taking the wrong exit, and getting lost a lot on road trips.
In the technology industry, developing a product without client feedback is like using a paper map. Product managers and developers may not know exactly how to get where they need to go, resulting in delays and additional cost. That’s where the GPS of client feedback comes in to guide the way. When it comes to defining product roadmaps, here’s why software vendors should be using that GPS.
4 Key Areas Where Client Feedback Improves Product Development
1. Empowering the Product Roadmap
There is no amount of market research that can replace direct client feedback. Understanding client needs prior to and during the product development process is key if software companies want to deliver a satisfactory product. Client goals, challenges, constructive criticism, and requests for new features are highly valuable pieces of information that should be used to define the product roadmap. To collect this information, individual conversations and/or forums with clients should occur on a consistent basis.
2. Supporting Client Retention
Having a consistent client feedback loop is essential for client retention. When a client sees their feedback being implemented and the software is developed to meet their needs, they’re more likely to remain a client. They may even be more likely to upgrade their product or invest in more of the vendor’s products. This is beneficial for both the software vendor and the client as it strengthens the partnership between the two.
3. Embracing Best Practices
Of course, this can come with some challenges as well. Not all clients will have the same needs. Identifying the synergies and differences between the needs of all clients, in addition to your company’s goals for the product, will help to inform what direction makes the most sense from a product perspective. From there, you can recommend revised business processes or potentially even configuration if a client request is not aligned with your product goals.
4. Balancing Innovation
Regular feedback from clients also helps strike a balance between innovation and practical client needs. During the development process, product managers/developers may be excited about their own ideas for features they think clients would like. But clients are doing the day-to-day tasks they’re using the software for, so they’re the ones who will know if these features are really needed. No matter how innovative, implementing something that doesn’t solve a pain point for the client is never the way to go. Striking what isn’t necessary before developing also saves time and money for all parties involved.
Clients as Advocates
When clients are satisfied with a software product, they’re more likely to recommend the vendor to colleagues and/or offer testimonials. Because of this, clients are valuable ambassadors for the product, and can even be thought of as an extension of the company’s sales team. According to HubSpot, client testimonials are particularly important when a product reaches the “saturation” phase of its lifecycle. Testimonials from satisfied clients highlight what makes the product stand out in the market, and help clients choose a software vendor over competitors.
It’s also important to keep in mind that most clients are aware every software company will try to present their product in the most favorable light possible. While sales representatives do a great job of presenting all the benefits of their product, they’re not likely to highlight the pitfalls. Clients often look to their peers in the industry to get a first-hand account of what it’s really like to use a product and work with the vendor. It’s essential that existing clients have positive things to say about the software vendor in order to convert curious prospects into new clients.
When product teams understand the requirements from their clients and keep them in mind throughout the development process, it can reduce cost and increase efficiency. Throughout my career, I’ve been on both the software vendor and client side in the insurance industry. I know just how many inquiries clients receive on a regular basis from software vendors hoping to pitch their product. This can be very frustrating for clients with limited time to vet all the options, and limited budgets to invest in solutions. In my experience, it’s unlikely for a client to respond to a vendor inquiry if they’ve never heard of the product, or without reaching out to a peer for a recommendation. This makes it even more crucial for software vendors to ensure their clients are getting what they need out of their product, creating positive buzz around their company.
Feedback Yields new Product Versions
Using client feedback to define a product throughout the working relationship with the client means updates and new features will be introduced continually. This shapes the configuration of the product for the benefit of the client, but they’ll also need support when product updates are introduced. To help clients transition smoothly into new versions of their product and get the most out of it, the software vendor should do the following:
- Provide clients with early insight to changes and new features that are coming. Keeping clients informed is key so they can prepare for those changes internally and adjust their processes if needed.
- Provide an overview of what clients can expect from the new features at the beginning of the development life cycle
- Inform clients as early as possible for any breaking changes
- Share what the feature looks like during development (i.e. At the end of sprints)
- Create documentation and training for product updates to help current users adjust and to support onboarding of new users
- Continually share the product roadmap with clients as updates are made
Taking these steps leads to greater client satisfaction when they receive new features they’ve been waiting for and feel supported throughout the process.
Client Input Creates a win-win Opportunity
When product teams understand the requirements from their clients and keep them in mind throughout the development process, it can reduce cost and increase efficiency. If the client’s needs aren’t met, features may need to be redeveloped leading to an increased cost for their organization. Keeping the client’s needs top of mind prevents this. Both the software vendor and the client win when the development and implementation process are smooth and cost effective.
Again, client retention is a key benefit of this approach. When a client has confidence that the vendor is listening to their needs, they’ll be a loyal client and more understanding if inevitable delays occur. This also builds trust between the vendor and client. The client will know they can rely on the vendor to accommodate their organization’s growth and changes. If the client is happy, they won’t have to go through the time-consuming and costly process of looking for another vendor down the line.
Over time, a long-term working relationship will form. In their continued partnership with the software vendor, the client will contribute to shaping the product through their feedback. This yields more benefits than a standard “out-of-the-box” solution, as it has been developed specifically to meet the evolving challenges of the client’s market. With a strong technology partner who considers direct feedback and long-term goals, clients can ensure the future success of their organization.