There are ways to build a company or a product but the most key feature is the most unused and overlooked. Many talk about it, but how many actually do it? Do you reach out and talk to your customers? We say we do it but I would be remiss to think that we are actually good at it and do it enough or even right. The problem I see is that we like to reach out to our favorite customers or those that we have a great relationship with, they tell us what they like and don’t like but the real group we are missing are the ones that hate us and think our product is terrible because it is lacking a feature they want.
Worse than just talking to your favorite customers is not talking to customers at all and building what you think they need and want. When you talk to them you get what they want, but the secondary question is do they really need that? If you go and build it will they actually ever use it or find it useful if they do? These are questions you need to be asking before you build something. This is where you need a domain expert and the ability and data to show a customer that they don’t really need what they want and there is a better way to increase sales, their ultimate goal.
The place you see a lot of shiny unused features is in a product that is driven by engineering. I was an engineer and it is fun to build cool stuff. I can not tell you how much cool stuff I wrote that was never used. Back when Woot first launched I thought it was amazing and I went out and built a “deal of the day” system for our website, all in, I probably spent a few hundred hours building it and we launched it, it flopped. Our customers didn’t want it. What is interesting is that often the stuff engineering wants to build is stuff the customer likely needs but often doesn’t want. On the opposite side of the spectrum is when sales is pushing the product roadmap. You are building things that customers want but may not need. These are typically features that the customer saw in another demo that looked cool and the product is lacking or worse, some arcane feature their current custom system has that they don’t want to give up.
To combat the want and need you should have Client Advisory Boards (CABs) to discuss product roadmap and get feedback from a wide range of customers. Listen to sales calls, hear what the customer is saying first hand, not through the sales rep. Hold meetings with your Customer Success teams to hear what the current customers are saying. Then it is a matter of prioritizing. You will, and should, say no to shiny features and only build what really achieves the goal of the product. Know when to say no and do so with data and reasoning but absolutely build the shiny stuff that is needed. It is a bit of an art mixed with science.