Why Get Product Feedback?

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It sounds like a silly question when you phrase it like that, doesn’t it? But really, let’s all look back to the last time that you as a user were asked your opinion of any of the consumer products that you might enjoy / suffer through. Consumer facing apps rarely ask for user feedback, unless it’s a third party star rating that can be used to attract other users. In some cases, there isn’t a way to contact the developer with feedback at all. Instead, many consumer-facing (or B2C) software companies operate from data analysis, observing usage patterns and performing A/B tests of their new ideas. If they can be so heavily data-driven, why can’t we use the same tools in enterprise (or B2B) apps?

Well, we can of course, at least if our tool was born a SaaS or successfully transitioned into one. You’ve got logs, you can instrument your app, you can collect telemetry. Note that telemetry collection requires customer permission, and getting that is a very long transition to make for a pre-cloud enterprise. Nevertheless, it may surprise you that making these moves is not enough. Even with those analytic tools on the bench, an enterprise product manager cannot ignore and needs to collect anecdotal user feedback. As a B2B or enterprise software product manager, there’s a couple of principles to reflect on.

First principle is YANG: You Are Not Google. There are lots of ways that’s true, but in this case we care about the size of your audience. A B2C business has a much larger market than a B2B does. For instance, Google’s Total Addressable Market is all Internet users. When you make a product that supports a business process, your TAM is a fraction of a fraction of Google’s. Every customer matters to you, in a way that is simply not true for a B2C company. If your ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) customer is the IT security leads in the global top ten insurance agencies, interviewing just one or two of them gets you pretty far to building something that will work for the others. But if you’re Netflix, interviewing a handful of people for their opinions on what to build is probably a bad idea.

Second, derivative principle: The community’s opinions matter. Your customers may not be talking to each other yet, but they will, and they’re certainly talking to your executive team. That communication might carry weight that you didn’t expect if you’re a very analytical person who is inclined to discount singleton anecdotes. However, the opinion of a customer who knows the CEO carries one type of weight, and the opinion of a customer who just supplied 20% of this year’s revenue target carries another type. That doesn’t mean you should automatically do whatever is asked, but it’s input you’d be foolish to ignore. Neil Gaiman’s advice applies well to this input: “when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

Decision making influences exist on a spectrum between data-driven (quantitative) inputs and anecdata (qualitative), and as usual with spectra, it’s not ideal to be all the way over on one side or the other. There may be structural reasons to prefer qualitative data or quantitative data (such as not wanting to follow what the data says). As a product manager, that can put you into conflict with the powers that be, which is really uncomfortable. If you find yourself in such a position, you’ll want to have a full arsenal of qualitative and quantitative data to work with. There’s a lot of resources out there for finding quantitative data in every specific product vertical, but here are some starting points for collecting qualitative feedback:

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