How to influence Product (and product roadmaps) to benefit your partnerships
The 5 essential elements of useful product feedback
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Nearly everything you need to know to forge great partnerships is taught in kindergarten. That is why I turn to Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie to open this post about how to influence Product by delivering useful feedback. When Bert asks Ernie “how do I look” he is seeking an answer to the question we all wonder: how does the world see me? When Ernie replies “with your eyes, Bert” he reminds us how difficult it can be to deliver feedback. At work, this unfolds differently: how did I sound in that presentation? Was the tone of my email too harsh? How does this outfit look for the customer meeting?
Feedback can be hard to deliver and even harder to gather from others. But valuable feedback can be transformative. It can be like fertilizer to a relationship. Or like grease between two teams. “Feedback is what champions eat for breakfast,” author Ken Blanchard once said.
Within a technology company, Bert is every Product Manager asking “how do users view my product.” And, more specifically, “what new features should we build to make our product better?” In this post we will unpack how a Partnerships team can help answer these questions by delivering structured feedback from partners. First, let’s look at how feedback can strengthen your relationships with both the Product team and your partners.
Why product feedback kills two birds with one stone
Successful partnerships hinge on understanding what your partner wants. This is as true of internal partners (like Product) as it is for external partners.
Product teams want to build amazing products that delight customers (and partners). They want to develop products that drive impact, as measured through user engagement, revenue, press coverage, etc.
Partner feedback helps Product teams build better products. And by supplying Product with the feedback they crave, the Partnerships team builds trust. That trust sets the stage for the collaboration between Partnerships and Product that is essential to closing big deals.
Partners want amazing products. They want products that are easy to use that help them grow their business. Partners also want to feel heard, to feel important.
Getting the Product team to launch the features that your partners are requesting builds credibility with your partners. This is one of the most important things you can do for a partner - enhance your produce based upon their input. Partners hear the words “we value your feedback” all the time. Rarely do they hear the words “that feature you requested … we launched it yesterday.”
Feedback kills two birds with one stone - it addresses the most basic needs of both your internal (Product) and external stakeholders (your partners!). But how do you structure product feedback so that Product teams can use it?
How to influence Product with useful feedback from partners
Translating partners’ unstructured product input into organized feedback that a Product team can actually use requires a focused approach. Earning the trust of Product teams means demonstrating your team can view the world through a Product Lens.
Organizing partner feedback begins with understanding that feedback comes in different forms. Some partners will voice product gaps (e.g. “your mobile app is too slow”). Others will propose specific feature requests (e.g. “we need feature parity for data submissions via the mobile app”). You should capture both. Product will ultimately decide whether partners have identified the optimal feature to address the feature gap.
Most of the literature on how to deliver feedback focuses on giving feedback to individual feedback for professional development. Far less has been written about how to provide useful feedback from one team to another. Yes, many of the same principles apply. Yet there are important differences. Below are the five key attributes and a structured approach for how to deliver feedback to Product.
Partner feedback should be:
Well-timed - Product and Partnerships teams should be in an ongoing dialogue about the product and feedback from partners. That said, Product teams go through a regular planning process where new features are prioritized. As a Partnerships team, you should know exactly when your Product team goes through this planning process. You should deliver partner feedback in advance of their planning process. Doing so will allow the Product to incorporate feature requests into the Product roadmap. Product requests that arrive too late are dead on arrival.
Prioritized - Partners are obviously not the only source of feature requests to Product. You can expect that the priorities from partners will be merged into a much larger prioritization exercise by Product and Engineering. Therefore, you should save your Product team time and energy by delivering feedback that is already prioritized for them. Make sure that the feedback you provide aligns closely with the company’s strategy and the overarching objectives your Product team is focused on.
Quantified - Product and Engineering teams have limited resources and need to maximize the impact of their investments. This is why it is important to attribute a value to a feature request. Understand what metric(s) your Product team are optimizing - revenue, customer signups, engagement. Quantify the feature request your partners are requesting to the metric(s) your Product team values most. These metrics should line up to your company’s overall strategy. If you are not sure how best to quantified the impact then simply listing the partners requesting a feature can go a long way toward helping the Product team understand the potential impact.
Specific - feedback should help Product and Engineering determine how many resources are needed to address the feedback from partners. For example, highlighting that partners “want more API documentation” is not sufficient. Your Product team will want to drill down into which API, what aspect needs better documentation, etc. Do this work for them before they ask.
Relevant - by capturing requests and ideas directly from partners, your feedback to Product will likely be valuable. That said, it is important to demonstrate that your team understands features that are already on the roadmap or blocked for some reason. It can go a long way to demonstrate your existing knowledge of the Product team’s priorities by incorporating this into the feedback you deliver.
Partner Feedback Framework
This framework offers a way to collect feature requests from across the Partnerships team and deliver it to Product in a useful manner. As you’ll see, this format provides each team member with an allocation of “points” (10 in this case) to vote for different feature requests that have been collected across the team. Next, the features that receive the highest score from the Partnership team are assessed for overall impact on the business. This assessment, showing the revenue, customer and geographic impact, helps to strengthen the case for prioritizing these features. This exercise should be conducted by the Partnership team every quarter or every six months.
Special thanks to Brian Elliott for showing us the way and to Adit Vaidya for Product feedback on this post.
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