Ask A Good Product Manager

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How do you balance needs of the target market with the vocal minority?

Posted on May 4, 2008 · 3 Comments

Question: How do you balance the feature requests of a vocal minority with keeping your product attractive to a mainstream audience?

Answer from Roger Cauvin: You can leverage the vocal minority to your benefit, so don’t ignore it. Since the vocal minority is vocal, they can be a powerful part of a positive outbound marketing campaign if you address their needs and give them a ‘megaphone’.

First, employ facilitation to gain an understanding of the ‘whys’ behind the feature requests. A product manager’s job is not to tally requests for features, but to determine the underlying problems that are most compelling to solve.

Second, find the ‘win-win’ commonalities among the problems that the vocal minority faces and those that the mainstream audience faces. The feature requests may not match, but the audiences may share underlying problems. In many cases, these problems bubble up to the top of the priority list.

Finally, assess the problems relative to your product’s positioning. To the extent possible, the problems your products solves, and the features it includes, should support and strengthen the main idea that you would like it to represent in the mind of the customer. In general, you should reject any features that undermine your product’s positioning.

3 other answers so far ↓

  • Gopal Shenoy // May 5, 2008 at 5:24 am

    Always listen to the customers that are vociferous – they are vociferous because they are passionate about your product – they care, but this does not mean you have to implement every feature they ask you for.

    I have written two blog posts on this

    Five Guidelines to prioritize feature requests

    Love the customers that hate you

    Gopal

  • Bob Corrigan // May 12, 2008 at 11:52 am

    I agree you should not smile upon features that undermine your product’s positioning – but pay close attention to them. The stream of feature requests – especially from customers – are a strong leading indicator of how your customers think of your solution, and of where their problems are cropping up.

    All the more reason to equip your client support team with the ability to capture such requests when they come in on the support line. This has been an invaluable resource for me, and has saved my bacon on more than one occasion.

    One of our board members describes it as “knowing where the puck is going”. If you’re a hockey fan, that makes sense to you.

  • Derek Britton // May 15, 2008 at 2:03 am

    I agree with everything that’s been said so far. There are also quick and easy ways to turn “loud maverick clients” into a systemic approach to customer management, requirements management and thought leadership. Its sometimes painful when the input is left-field and not expected, especially if it is not positive. So therefore expect it, plan for it, and build a channel to manage it. This can be as simple as providing a “wish list” status for clients who can call in to support and suggest ideas for the product, through user groups (a regular forum to debate ideas about the product) up to the more strategic “Client Advisory Panels”, where there is a ‘board’ of key clients (including the loud ones) who discuss and review product vision and possibly roadmap details. This inclusive process is a good way to validate plans, build some loyalty, get some good field test before the expense of building software, and indeed tee up appropriate BETA programs with the right clientele.

    Turning this sort of “handling the vocal ones” into a proactive and methodical process stops it being a potentially negative situation and turns it into a valuable asset and one that can really contribute to future vision. Most companies are painfully aware that there is a big “unknown” in releasing new technology, products, features, because they just don’t know how much interest there will be… the customer engagement process is a way to help mitigate those risks.

What do you think?