How do you know what your customers really want?

I’ve been in product management and product marketing for most of my career. One of the things we live and die by is customer input, and not just 3 or 4 anecdotal pieces of input. No, we want to hear from lots of customers! It’s critical for us to know exactly what customers want and more importantly, customers want to be heard. But it’s not easy to get this information flowing, and surveys and focus groups often don’t provide enough detail. We dream of finding an easy way for customers to get together and discuss their feature wish list, vote on features, and then just hand us their prioritized list.

As product managers and marketers, whenever we present our product plans it never fails, the first questions from senior management are:

  • How do you know that’s what our customers want?
  • How do you know these are their highest priorities?
  • How many customers did you actually talk to?

A few years ago idea management tools started to become popular. You might be familiar with Starbucks’ My Starbucks Idea or’s IdeaExchange. These tools are great. They enable customers to submit new feature requests, directly discuss the various features together and vote on their priorities. They make it simple for product managers to ask customers questions to help clarify exactly what they’re asking for. They also enable product managers to communicate to customers what feature requests are being worked on and which ones have been delivered.

What if you could get a discussion tool like this built-in to your team’s agile project management tool? With VersionOne Ideas, all you have to do is configure the tool and engage in the discussions. When you decide which customer idea or feature request you want to add to the backlog, just hit the button and it’s done. No, you’re not dreaming! The entire customer discussion stream is right there, embedded in the story and in the backlog. As the story flows through the iteration and release, the status of the story is automatically posted to the Ideas discussion tool. Check out the Ideas video to see how it works.

Why not give Ideas a try? The next time management starts asking how you know what customers want, you can say, “Because we brought them together to discuss and vote on it”.

See how VersionOne uses Ideas! Visit IdeaSpace to join the discussion.

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