Using Customer & Product Feedback for Innovation
Kareem Mayan, co-founder of Savio, discusses how great product teams leverage customer and product feedback for better products, and specifically how feedback can help us innovate on and optimize existing products. We discuss:
What’s the difference between innovation and invention?
What are the biggest mistakes product teams are making when it comes to leveraging feedback?
Do product teams really have the data they need?
Best practices for how to use feedback most effectively.
Connect with Kareem:
feedback, customers, build, product, teams, data, incremental innovation, feature, innovation, roadmap, jj, talk, find, proxies, sausage, organization, saas, deal breaker, sales, question
Intro (the incomparable Sandra Segrest) 00:03
Welcome to Product Voices, a podcast where we share valuable insights and useful resources to help us all be great in product management. Visit the show website to access the resources discussed on the show, find more information on our schedule, or to submit your product management question to be answered on our special q&a episodes. That's all it product voices.com. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now, here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of Great Product Management.
Hello, and welcome to Product Voices. We talk a lot about innovation and, you know, big cool new ideas and creating new industries and disrupting industries and the big new shiny objects. And all of that stuff is fun. Don't get me wrong, I love to hear about the rocket ships going into space and all of the other fun things that are changing the world around us. But the truth of the matter is and product management, most of our work, and most of the impact we make is coming from what I call incremental innovation or things that are slightly moving the needle not changing entire industries. And there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, that's what is very valuable for businesses. So if we in product management can find some ways to find new ways of solving old problems to find better ways to find incremental value. That's going to be a huge benefit to our customers, to our business to our products. So today's conversation is all about kind of incremental innovation, first and foremost. But most importantly, how do we go about that? How do we succeed in that? And specifically, how do we use customer and product feedback for that in innovation, incremental innovation, if you will.
And my guest today is an expert on this. I'm really really excited to get his take on this. Kareem Mayan is co-founder of Savio, a product management platform that helps SaaS teams build evidence based product roadmaps over his 25 years in software. He's co founded and run product at and sold three software companies before starting his first company in 2007. He worked at espn.com and MySpace, back when it was larger than Facebook. (So there!) Kareem, thank you so much for joining me today. I'm looking forward to the conversation.
Thanks, JJ. I'm excited to be here.
My Space, you know, there are people listening to this who don't even have never even had a MySpace account. So that makes us feel old.
It's a shame because they will have had to cut their teeth learning CSS some other way.
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Alright, so you know, I gave him a very quick kind of intro of the topic. But I know you're very passionate about this idea of both, you know, using customer and product feedback to its utmost potential, but also kind of this this this type of innovation, if you will tell me a little bit about why this topic kind of piqued your interest and why you're so passionate about it.
Yeah, I mean, maybe, you know, maybe it's a sort of a personal rebuke, I guess, you know, I, I was a dev way back in the day, he moved into product and sort of became enamored of this Steve Jobs in, you know, I think myth of how products were built, you have this blinding insight. And, you know, you change industries with your brain, by, you know, building these sort of step change products, like the iPhone or iPod. And, you know, the older I've gotten, you know, the sort of more I've realized that it's extraordinarily rare to do that. And the truth is, as you said, during the intro, the majority of change comes from innovation. So I sort of, I think, was David cancel, who said, or I first heard it from him, he sort of talked about the difference between innovation and invention, invention is creating new things, innovation is improving on existing things. And so I think, I think the truth is that most most folks, most PMS innovate, and they the way to innovate effectively is to deeply understand what your customers need and want and care about what their issues are, what they're willing to pay for all that, you know, sort of good product stuff, and then using it to drive the changes you make in the products that you manage. So, you know, when you look at like these step changes that happen. I mean, we're going through one right now, I truly think language learning models and Chachi Beatty and similar going to change the world have already changed the world. But you know, after that step change, there's going to be a lot of incremental innovation in every industry, in terms of how to use AI. And so if you're working if you're a PM, working on an AI company that's building on top of lit language learning models, you're doing incremental innovation, and I think that's fantastic. And you can build a very great Very good business with a great product on top of that, but it's um, it's innovation not not invention. And the way that to do that well is to really understand your customers.
Yeah, I actually love that innovation, not invention. And so we're innovating, not necessarily inventing, it's and certainly there's invention happening out there, like you said, a great example. But after that invention, after that, there's going to be so much innovation around it and, and in that ecosystem, so I think that's a really great way to say it. So, you know, and I love again, your your kind of stance, if you will, that, to do innovation, true innovation, again, incremental innovation, or just innovation, it's, it's all about that feedback. It's all about understanding what's happening with your customers, in your products in the markets, etc. So I think I mean, let's, let's be honest, I think most people in product today know that, you know, we should be using feedback, and we should be gathering insights from our customers. But I don't think a lot of companies, a lot of teams, a lot of product managers do it well, quite yet. Or at least we're experts at it. So I want to start with kind of, you know, what do you think the biggest mistakes are that you see product teams, making regarding leveraging feedback, and really getting the value out of feedback? What are some common mistakes that you see? Yeah,
I mean, there's, there's a handful that that I've seen over the years, and gosh, you know, have made myself on more than one occasion. The first thing is ignoring it right or maybe more accurately paying lip service to it, right? You know, it's important. And you might talk to support or read some support tickets or chat with sales. Here's some stuff around the watercooler or slack or whatever, but you don't really use it, you want to you want to build what you want to build, and use it to justify when convenient use the the anecdotal feedback you've received to justify what you're what you're going to build. So I say that's sort of one, you know, the next would be reading this stuff that comes in, we've got a lightweight system to get product feedback from support or customer success or sales. And we sort of call it like you're marinating in the feedback and let it wash over you. You marinate in it, and then you when it comes time to decide what to build, you, you know, you use that knowledge to to make your your product planning decisions. And that leaves you subjected to recency bias and availability bias and a bunch of other biases that that likely won't get you the results that your customers are looking for. Sort of going up the stack, then would be using a general purpose tool, and I think like a spreadsheet or airtable are similar. And I think those are great, great places to start. If you're you know, either paying lip service to it or marinating in it, you've got some process for getting feedback in there and you can read it, you can build little pivot tables and stuff. And I think that's, that's a, that's a great place to start. And then you know, you can get sort of more sophisticated from there. But the the main mistakes are really no lip service. And, and marination. Those are the most common sort of failure modes that we see.
So I want to ask you a question. And this is, maybe I should have started with this. But one of the things that I hear teams and product managers tell me and it's it's interesting, because it usually falls on one end of the spectrum here, it's either I have no access to data, you know, I don't have the data, I need to understand my customers, or I have so much data that it's impossible, right? I can't I can't make heads or tails of it. So my question to you is, do you think that teams really have the data that they need in general?
Oh, that's a great question. So I'd say, culturally, I think it's important that product teams, and even execs, you know, C level folks care about this stuff, assuming they do and assuming the right infrastructure is in place, you know, what we run into most of the time, is that most teams do have the data they need inside of the organization. But it's scattered, right? It's not centralized. And so therefore, it's not really usable without, you know, doing a lot of heavy lifting in order to get the data that you need. So you know, it's in support. It's in Zendesk, it's in Salesforce, it's in Gong, it's in Google Docs. It's a notion it's in Survey Monkey. And so it's a Slack, you know, it's I could go on, but so the, you know, the real pain point there is, is getting that information into one place. It's organizing that information in a way where it can be analyzed, prioritized, put on a roadmap, pulled up quickly, when a stakeholder says why are we building this instead of that, and then you know, use to close the loop. When you when you build those features that the customers asked for. So like, I'd say that in a SAS ified world, most b2b SaaS companies, and that's who that's who we sell to and work with. The vast majority of the time, they do have the data they need because you know those There's all in there sort of individual line of business tools. It's just really, really, really hard to use.
Yeah. And so, in, in that situation, is it Is it possible for a product manager or a product team on their own to obtain that data? Or is it something that leaders are going to have to focus on kind of setting the organizational structure and, you know, the systems in place to make sure that that data is, you know, whether it's using a platform or something to to, to get that data and have that data available to product teams? What are your thoughts on that?
Well, it's, it's tough, right? Because your customer facing colleagues are proxies for you. And they talk to customers or prospects all day, every day. And so, you know, you as a PM, only have so much bandwidth and contact with customers. And so, you know, you can certainly, for every customer you talk to, you can certainly, you know, jot down in a spreadsheet, what kinds of things that they're asking for, but the sort of most effective approach we've seen, if there's not organizational buy in, is to go find a couple of people, we call them, you know, customer champions, or feedback champions, go find one success, one, support one in sales, wherever your feedback comes from, and get them on board, right, build a lightweight process, use it to like Savea, use a spreadsheet, just get started, whatever, it doesn't really matter, just get started. And just get them feeding feedback into this place, so that you can use it. And build, you know, convince yourself that it makes sense, you know, build sort of business case for the organization to sort of roll things out sort of more widely, but build like a little skunk, a little skunk works team. To do it, it's really hard to do by your own or on your own. Because this is sort of a cross departmental challenge, where feedback comes in to certain teams, but it's product who's ultimately the consumer of that information, who needs those teams on board. So it's, it's tricky, for sure. But there are lightweight ways to go about it, where you can go find, you know, the people, in my experience is the people who are, you know, the guy in sales or gal in support, or, you know, guidance, success, who are always telling you things like, Hey, I just talked to ACME Corp, and they really need the XYZ feature. But you can, you can harness that energy and enthusiasm to you know, to make the product better, and then in turn, give the person in sales, what they're looking for, which is to be able to close more deals, or person in success, what they're looking for, which is to you know, expand an account, etcetera, cetera.
Yeah, I love that. And, and it not only, you know, like you said, brings in the data from those proxies, but it, it sets a culture of, you know, we're all in this together. And, and we're, you know, we're building these together, and we're using this feedback together. So that's, that's great advice. So so once, once a team has access to feedback, you know, however that data is obtained. Tell me some of your tips for best practices for how that feedback is used most effectively.
Yeah, so some, the sort of culmination of the feedback is really well, but let me step through. So you've got your feedback in one place. There, you know, your job then is to analyze and prioritize that feedback. So, you know, you might be able to say, Okay, our priority this quarter is reducing churn. So what are our most requested features from turn to customers? That should be an easy view on your data, or we want to win more deals. So what are our features ranked by total opportunity revenue, so you sort of slice and dice the feedback and feature requests in ways that are aligned with what your your business is trying to accomplish? You then decide which features you want to build. And you know, this is sort of the combination this is where people get PMS get really excited, is what is when you can go into a stakeholder meeting with a roadmap that you've put together, where each feature that you're proposing to build is backed up with evidence, your job in that sort of stakeholder roadmap meeting, is to be the best informed person in the room about customer problems. And so, you know, I've been in more meetings than I can count JJ, sadly, where I would have a roadmap that wasn't backed up by any sort of concrete evidence, it was backed up by me marinating and feedback or paying lip service to it. And you know, I get up ended by a hippo, the highest paid person's opinion. I BPCL says, Well, I just got off the phone with ACME Corp, and they want the FUBAR feature, and that's not anywhere on the roadmap. And the truth is, neither us neither of us knew whether that was the most important feature to build. But when you can go into that room, with you know, the FUBAR feature, you know, and the data behind it, saying, Well, you know, there's only 12 Customers Acme is one of them. But their, you know, opportunity revenue is 20k. But the ABC feature over here has 35 Customers totaling 50k. And that's why we're building ABC, before we're building FUBAR, it becomes very hard to overrule the decisions you got, because you can use each feature that you're proposing. There's a, there's a rationale behind and that rationale is based on evidence. So we hear from product managers who use that evidence based approach. That's how you helps you build and and the, the amount of wrangling over those roadmap meetings just has plummeted, because they come well armed with with evidence to, to back up the decisions that they've made.
Yeah, I think that's such good advice. And one really important thing that you you mentioned throughout that is being able to quantify essentially, right or give, give the evidence, which is in Look, I've been in those meetings to where I was a product manager, you know, trying to sell my idea and had no business selling it, because I had no feedback behind it. But we've all been there. But But to your point about being able to, you know, quantify it and show that, you know, hey, this is this has more customer, customers behind it, and it also has more value to the to the business does, do you find certain ways that the feedback itself can kind of become empirical data as meaning kind of the to the business value kind of aligned to the business value, I guess, is the way to say that. So in other words, it's, you know, if 10 Customers want it, and 10, and you've got 20 customers in your entire portfolio, that's, that's a really good thing. But if 10 Customers want it, but don't want to pay for it, like, what is the data? How can you kind of tease that information out of feedback gathering? Or have you any best practices there?
Yeah, great, great question. So there's a handful of ways you can add metadata, I guess, to the request. So you know, things like customer importance, would be, you know, would be key. So this is a must have this as a deal breaker, this is a nice to have. And so being able to sort and filter on those things, show me all the deal breaker features, sorted by opportunity, revenue, right, that gives you another access into the data, being able to go look at the customer verbatims, as well, and just how they talk about it. A lot of a lot of what you can see as a PM really depends on what your your proxies are going to capture. So if, you know, CES is doesn't sort of talk about willingness to pay or, or sales doesn't talk about willingness to pay. You know, it's gonna be hard pressed short of going back out to those customers, which you can certainly do, and hitting them up and saying, Hey, we're thinking about building the XYZ feature, just curious about, you know, willingness to pay mind hopping on a call kind of situation, you know, short of doing that, you're, you're sort of limited to the data that's, that's inputted by your proxies. But we found with Savea, we use customer importance internally, you know, as we talk through the product, obviously. And so, we found that to be a very good indicator of willingness to pay, right, if it's a deal breaker, it's sort of by definition, you know, kinda kind of break the deal, because you don't have the feature. But yeah, it's it's a, it's a great question. I think it's a very important access to, to sort on, it's not your sort of, JJ, sort of indirectly getting it. I think one of the reasons why gathering this feedback and having it organized and structured is so sensible, because the course approach is, well, this is 20, this feature is 20 requests, and this feature is 15. So we should definitely build the 20. Before we build the 15 It's obviously very coarse way of looking at it in a simplistic way of looking at it. But you know, you can drill down and say, Well, who are those customers? Are they on our enterprise plan? Are they SMBs? Are they in Asia, they in North America? Are the features, you know, is it a deal breaker for them or nice to have. And so, being able to slice and dice that data, really helps you hone in on, you know, which features you can build that are going to that are going to drive the business forward.
Yeah, that's, that's a great point. And, you know, it just it goes back to the kind of you know, innovation versus invention as well right or incremental innovation. It's, it's, it's not about always, you know, creating a whole new module or a whole new product or what have you. It's about finding those you know, features that can add add just an a value and it may be like to your last point, it may be just it may be a new geography, right, it may not even be, you know, something like, exist Adding customers or customers in your pipeline in North America, maybe it's actually, your know you're finding things from the data that could lead you somewhere else. And I think that's really important. And I think it's important for teams to not only look at, you know, of course trying to quantify and, you know, it's very difficult to say, if we build this feature, I will have 10 customers buy it, right, it just doesn't equate to that always. We wish we wish it would, but it doesn't. But retention, you know, customer satisfaction, all of those things are sometimes just as important, as, you know, new revenue. And so back to your one of your points earlier about, you know, what is the business trying to accomplish? And I think I think aligning it to that is really important. So I love that. You know, I think I want to ask a question that tied to this a little bit, which is, you know, leaders out there listening, obviously, they would love to have, you know, their product teams, bring them recommendations and make, you know, make decisions based on on more data, you know, equipped with, you know, more feedback, etc. But truth be told, I, again, I don't think that a lot of leaders know how to do this, or how to set this up in their organization culturally, or system wise. So for the leaders out there listening, what advice do you give to them to, you know, ensure that their teams are equipped with encouraged empowered to, you know, really use this kind of data to find these, even if seemingly small changes or innovations, but to find these areas that can add value?
Yeah, great, great question. I mean, honestly, JJ, the you hit on it, the most important thing is to have in our experiences, to have a culture of caring about feedback. So you know, that that starts from the top. And if you're not in one of those organizations, it's going to be an uphill battle. The, the way to get like, in my experience, if you can align, logging this feedback, having your your customer facing teams log this feedback with with their incentives, or at least understand and articulate those things, to your colleagues, especially your VP product, and you want to go get sales support success on site, and I think the conversations would be something like, Hey, VP sales, you know, you want to close more deals, we want you to close more deals, the way that's gonna happen, you know, for all those deal breaker features, is for you to log them. And then for us to build them. That's sort of a very basic conversation. But you'd have that conversation with a VP sales, where you know, you're aligning the behavior you'd like them to do with what they're incentivized to do. And then you got to make it super, super painless for the sales team to do so you do the same with support, you do the same with success. And so once you've sort of got that culture in place, I mean, there's some very concrete things you can do. And the 30,000 foot view is really having a single tool to log your feedback in having a really, really lightweight, low friction process for those customer facing colleagues to log it. And then once the feedback is in there, then it's it's not really it's entirely under your control. Right, you can analyze it, prioritize it, build roadmaps, you know, sort of based on the, the feedback that you deem to be most important, but the core part of this, that's not going to work unless you're customer facing teams are, are really bought into the process and culturally care about it. And you know, frankly, are incentivized to care about or at least understand how they will excel at their jobs, and be seen as better within the organization if they do this behavior that you as head of product is asking them to do.
Yeah, I love that. And it goes back a little bit to this, this discussion we have around product management all the time about product lead, right. And the last few years, that's been quite a buzzword. And it's a it's very important concept. But I think that some organizations mistake it, or some groups, maybe even within organizations mistake it for, you know, product being the most important thing, meaning the product group. And it really should mean that everybody embraces the fact that the products are the biggest asset to the company, and that we're all part of building those products. And so I think, you know, if you take that, that kind of stance on things, then it may be easier to set that culture up, because I love that the ideas that you're bringing in terms of, you know, just helping people from around the organization, understand and be incented to, you know, bring this kind of feedback and understand how it's going to ultimately help the products. And I think it you know, it's not like they shouldn't want to help their product colleagues, just like we shouldn't want to help our support colleagues, etc. But if you think about the product is the business Send the product as the asset and sometimes that may help help them kind of understand that and bring that to the table and embrace that culture a little bit more.
It's funny, I sort of look at it, like, I use the metaphor of sausage making all the time. And, you know, when you're a SaaS company, your software product is the sausage. And you are sort of, you know, you determine, ultimately, whether you put in paprika, or salt or pepper, or pork or beef or whatever. But you've got people out there, you know, who are selling the sausage, and they've got feedback. And people who get, you know, sausage returns have because people don't like the sausage, and they can give you the feedback as well. And so, you know, the sellers want to sell more, and they want to sell more paprika, not, you know, garlic, because that's what the market is telling you telling them. And so to be able to get that feedback in and make that garlic sausage, sorry, paprika, sausage, I forget butchering the metaphor it No pun intended. Sorry, that's terrible. You know, it's sort of, you've got that feedback out there. And you can you can incorporate it. And I, it's just sort of incumbent upon you, I think, to as a pm or a product leader to drive, you know, putting the process in place and systems in place. Because ultimately, you know, it's your responsibility to consume that information and incorporate it into your, to your sausage making.
Yeah, absolutely. I love it. Final question for you, Kareem. What resources do you find most valuable? Have you found most valuable for our product teams as they're trying to get better in this area?
Yeah, I mean, honestly, judging, the biggest resource I found is other PMS. We've really tried to incorporate a lot of learnings from our careers and experiences talking to customers and prospects on the Savio blog. So shameless plugs have yo.io/blog. But you know, honestly, like, I would go find other PMS, whether it's in Slack communities, whether it's people like you coaches like Uj. or similar to just you know, have, I'm a big fan of learning from people like learning from direct experience, via coaching. And so getting on the horn with folks for an hour or, you know, an ongoing engagement to help roll out a system. I'm a big, big fan of and so you know, there's, there's a lot of good pm coaches out there. You obviously being being one of the great ones. And so, getting on the phone with folks like you, you know, I'm happy to chat with folks, if you want to email me, Kay at Savvy io.io No sales call at all, just you know, 1520 minute chat about where you're at, and potential things you could do better, feel free to reach out as well.
That's great. And we'll definitely put that blog and contact information on productvoices.com. So you can reach out to Kareem, if needed. Kareem, this has been an amazing conversation. I've loved the discussion and learning from you. Thank you so much for joining me.
Thanks for having me, JJ. This has been great. Love being here.
And thank you all for joining us on product voices. Hope to see you on next episode.
Outro (the incomparable Sandra Segrest) 27:57
Thank you for listening to product voices hosted by JJ Rorie. To find more information on our guests resources discussed during the episode or to submit a question for our q&a episodes, visit the show's website product voices.com And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform.