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Customer Development, Product Management, SaaS

Collecting qualitative data for customer development isn’t as hard as you think

Qualitative Data for Customer Development

Qualitative data in the marketing world comes down to the kind of information you can only get from interacting with real people in the real world. Yes, it’s a little difficult to quantify responses to open-ended questions, especially when they’re told to you over a cup of tea, but the value of this information to startups and growing businesses should not be underestimated.

Agile product development.

Customer development.

Lean Startup methodology.

This is how both new companies, and established companies creating new products, are growing intelligently and sustainably, while avoiding the pitfalls that have spelled disaster for the thousands of companies that fail each year. In fact, the Lean Startup movement, along with customer development, are in many ways a reaction to the high mortality rate we’ve seen in startups, and they gain followers by presenting solutions.

At the core of these solutions is qualitative data.

When founders collect and use qualitative data correctly to inform their product design and marketing strategies, they can and will avoid most common pitfalls. Most importantly, they will produce a product that people need and want, finding problem/solution fit (and maybe even product/market fit.

In The Startup Owner’s Manual by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf, the authors sum it up like this: “Startups solve customer and market risk by reading this book.” Their book is all about gathering and using qualitative data, and their list of “9 Deadly Sins” is indicative of the problems qualitative data is uniquely able to solve, including…

  • Assuming “I know What the Customer Wants”
  • The “I Know What Features to Build” Flaw
  • Emphasis on Execution Instead of Hypotheses, Testing, Learning, and Iteration

Their four-step formula for business building aims to circumvent the dangerous assumptions that lead to startup failure, and their prescription begins with “Customer discovery” (read: Gathering qualitative data!).

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research seeks to find information about the behaviors, needs, desires, routines, use cases, and other information on how a product might best fit into a user’s life or work, including details about emotion, personality, and other intangibles affecting purchasing decisions.

For Blank and Dorf, they recommend founders create a set of business model hypotheses for how they envision their businesses working, and physically go out and ask people in their target market for insights:

Of all the lessons of Customer Development, the importance of getting out of the building and into conversations with your customers is the most critical. Only by moving away from the comforts of your conference room to truly engage with and listen to your customers can you learn in depth about their problems, product features they believe will solve those problems, and the process in their company for recommending, approving and purchasing products.

What does this look like in practice?

It’s not hard to do.

Your goals are simple. You have to find answers to these questions:

  1. Do you really understand the customer’s problem, in its entirety, within their everyday context?
  2. Is the problem severe enough that people are highly motivated to solve it?
  3. Will they care enough about the problem to tell their friends?

First, you have to find the right people to ask.

You can’t gather qualitative data from just anyone. The people with the answers you need are your ideal clients – those that have a problem or need, know they have a problem or need, are actively searching for a solution, and is willing to pay you to provide that solution. Blank and Dorf even add that the most ideal prospects are so desperate for a solution to their very painful problem that they’ve cobbled together a DIY solution in the meantime.

How many people should you ask? Start with 50 potential customers who don’t know you. Persuading them to give you some of your time is the hardest part of this process! (You can do it.) Start with asking people you know directly and ask for referrals to friends, and friends of friends.

Second, you have to designate the right person to ask the questions.

Who should conduct qualitative data interviews? The answer will probably surprise you, but more than one expert says it should be none other than the founder. Who better to find out what is needed, and who needs it, than the person driving the entire operation?

Then, you have to ask the right questions, in the right way.

You can ask your questions one-on-one, collect qualitative data within a focus group setting, or through (totally not creepy) observation. You can even ask for qualitative data through email and surveys (though that becomes problematic, since only a self-selective group will respond, potentially skewing your results). The most important part of qualitative data is digging for the insights you wouldn’t be able to find any other way, and the best way to do that is through good, old-fashioned conversations.

Ask open-ended questions that lead you to these insights:

  • How they describe their problem.
  • How severe they consider the problem to be.
  • How this problem affects their everyday lives.
  • If they could make this problem magically go away, how would it change their lives?

DO NOT ask them what features they want in a product. Not only is this asking them to do your work for you, the average layman is really bad at product development and will lead you into the product death cycle:
Product Death Cycle

Other useful information…

The most important characteristic of your target prospect is whether they have a problem you’re uniquely able to solve, but while you’re finding out, you may want to make notes on:

  • Demographic information, such as job title and industry.
  • Personal style (this may come in handy when deciding how to design your brand/product/website).
  • How they speak, what words they use – recording your conversations will give your copywriters the raw material they need to craft a compelling brand voice.

Find the common threads in the answers and use them to create a user story. It might look like roughly this:

Sample Target market: Freelancers

  • Problem: Consumers hate to bill their clients each month.
  • Severity: Billing stops freelancers from being able to put in more “paid” hours, reducing their overall income, and increasing stress levels (they don’t like accounting!).
  • We think we can develop a program that keeps score of client charges and automatically bills for completed work.
  • It will automate tracking time, or per project pricing, tally and invoice accordingly, removing all of the tedious work that takes away from creative time.
  • After we succeed with the initial software, we will work on integrations with tax/accounting software programs for end-of-year reporting.
  • Millions of freelancers will be able to take one big, recurring task off of their plates.

The goal of this list is to clarify your company’s vision, distilling it down into a few bullet points, for your Customer Development, product development, and marketing teams to use as guidelines for growing from a minimum viable product to a successful, sustainable business.

A Minimum Viable Product is the smallest possible group of features that will work as a stand-alone product that solves the core problem, and demonstrates the product’s value. It requires much less investment than creating a full product, and makes it easier for product development to iterate based on customer feedback.

Qualitative data isn’t just for startups

Any time you’re making a change, starting something new, or toying with the idea of adding another feature, taking the time to gather qualitative data can help you avoid making costly mistakes – mistakes that result from assumptions. 

Work with Nichole for your B2B SaaS Startup
 

Customer Development, Customer Experience, Product Management, SaaS

How to tackle the #1 problem product teams face: customer feedback

How to tackle the #1 problem product teams face: customer feedback

What’s your biggest problem as a Product Dev professional? Too many demands and not enough time? Limited resources? Oddly enough, none of those topped the list for Hiten Shah’s crowd.

Hiten Shah (of KISSmetrics, Crazy Egg, and Quick Sprout fame) once wrote that that “the problems people have on Product teams fall into two main categories: Customer Feedback and Alignment.” This conclusion came after Hiten asked his readers to share their biggest product problems, and in more than 100 replies, those two themes emerged as the leaders.

Let’s go through the problems real Product professionals sent Hiten Shah point by point.

“Fast/Effective ways to quickly recap and synthesize qualitative research”

Qualitative data – ie. freeform responses versus ratings or multiple choice answers – are notoriously difficult to sift through and analyze. It’s only recently that, with advanced technology and machine learning, it’s become much easier to tag, sort, and assign sentiment to qualitative feedback at scale.

Tagging, in particular, is a huge time-saver when you switch from just manual tagging to auto-tagging. Tagging comments with their major themes is the first step towards conducting frequency analysis to identify trending topics – or find relevant feedback with a click.

Using an NPS survey with an open-ended comments section, for example, you might find that your ‘detractors’ (low scorers) comments tend to be tagged with “slow loading time” or you may see a specific feature request recurring.

Yep, modern customer feedback software should be able to deliver every comment with a feature request, for example, tagged and prioritized by frequency, from the highest-value customers, in about a second.

You can even use tags to route specifically tagged feedback straight to the appropriate department for follow-up. No need to hunt for bugs – the bugs will come to you! (Don’t they always?)

“It’s [customer feedback] very subjective and sometimes doesn’t have context, therefore I take it with a grain of salt, but engineers may not see it that way and want to address the feedback immediately.”

When your customer feedback comes primarily through surveys that *don’t* include open-ended responses (to gather all of that golden qualitative data), it’s impossible to get the context you need to evaluate the issue and possibly solve it.

But understanding the why behind NPS, CES and CSAT scores (to name a few) isn’t all the context you need to decide where to allot your time and resources.

You literally have to consider the source.

Is the feedback coming from a high-value, ideal client? Is your existing survey solution capable of identifying those markers?

Did you know that it’s even possible to target specific customer segments with survey campaigns?

And for even more context – you can target customer surveys based on product milestones. For example, you can set a CES survey to deploy after new feature use to find out how easy (or difficult) new customers think it is to use.

“Feedback overwhelm – how to prioritize what users want/need the most.”

An overwhelming number of customer comments can leave you feeling like you are trying to drink from a fire hydrant. It’s time to talk about the wonders of machine learning.

Historically, extracting insights from piles of unstructured feedback has been difficult, expensive and time-consuming. That is not the case today. When you need insight from feedback at scale, it is time to invest in text and sentiment analysis using software with natural language processing.

Machine learning has come a loooong way. Yes, algorithms must be trained to understand your company and customers, so chose a software vendor that will keep their team in the loop and ensure you’re getting good insights right off the bat. Then the software just gets better and better at telling you what is most important to your customers.

“Having a regular cadence of customer interaction to develop insights and product intuition.”

Okay, there’s no excuse – this is so easily doable. You can set any CX survey you want to deploy on a regular basis, or, deploy after customers complete specific milestones. Having to go get customer feedback shouldn’t be something you have to think about. It should be automatic! Part of your daily, weekly, or monthly routine.

But, it’s only that easy if you’ve got software that makes it that easy – let’s be honest here. Modern customer feedback software can integrate with Slack, Intercom, or whatever you use, as well as deliver surveys to customers while they’re in your app, and deliver it to you tagged, sorted, and prioritized.

Regularly!

You can have your finger on the pulse of customer satisfaction and will know immediately if there’s any fluctuation. As an added bonus, give a pat on the back to whoever built an update or solution for customers so they can see the results in action!

“My main problem is to get to know our audience and talk directly to them.”

Surveys are great – we love them. But you know what? Even with a qualitative feedback field, a survey can’t take the place of a real, person-to-person conversation. And usually, the biggest barrier to having those conversations is making the time.

We can’t pick up the phone for you, but we can save you time. Enough time to schedule interviews with your customers and get even deeper insights that they may never tell you in writing.

“In Product we’re expected to be customer-centric. We’re supposed to get feedback and talk to customers all the time. It’s literally our day job. But that’s on top of making sure we’re focused on building the right things and helping our teams ship too.”

Here’s the thing, Product friends. You aren’t the only department that has to be “customer-centric” and talk to customers all the time and review steady streams of feedback. So to make this part of your job easier, you might have to reach out to other departments and make customer-centricity a multi-team effort.

If you have a Customer Success department, start there – you might find that the Customer Success Manager is the Product Manager’s BFF. They’re also talking to customers every day, and in many ways, they’re closer to the problems customers face than you are. Most CSMs would be delighted to build better relationships with their Product Dev departments, working together to answer the question “What can we do to help our customers achieve success?”

“It’s not easy and it isn’t getting easier. Customer feedback can come from anywhere: Customer support requests, live chats, social media, the sales team, customer reviews, competitor research, and more. Adding to the pile are the endless opinions about what to do with the feedback from people on our teams.”

It’s not easy – true. But it is getting easier to solve qualitative feedback issues with modern customer feedback software.

What you want to look for is a customer feedback program that can pull all of customer comment sources together, like NPS or CSAT feedback, user interviews, support tickets, app store reviews, social and analyze those comments in a way that lets you see the big picture and slice & dice by theme, sentiment, survey date, and data source.

Work with Nichole for your B2B SaaS Startup

B2B, Customer Development, Customer Experience, Customer Success, Growth Hacking, Product Management, SaaS

There is no better “growth hack” for B2B SaaS than talking with your customers.

B2B SaaS Growth Hacks

Not just when you’re developing or marketing a product, but through every stage of the customer lifecycle.

It sounds simple — but it’s not easy: talking with your customers through every stage of the customer lifecycle.

There’s been a lot said about the value of talking to your customers before you build the product to ensure market fit, but very little said about continuing the conversation past marketing and past the sale.

Why do I know talking with your customer is *the* very best predictor of, and contributor to, SaaS business growth? Because creating a constant flow of customer feedback, input, and conversation makes Customer Experience (CX) better.

Multiple studies show that CX leads to revenue growth.

CX Drives Sales

CX also drives brand advocacy (aka. word of mouth), creating a virtual sales army, which leads to:

Decreased cost-to-acquire.

“Customers with the best past experiences spend 140% more than those with the poorest past experiences.” — Harvard Business Review

Increased customer lifetime value.

“Customers with the best past experiences have a 74% chance of remaining a member for at least another year.” — Harvard Business Review

Plus, qualitative customer research leads to making data-informed decisions that streamline product management, ensure customer success, and make marketing and sales far more efficient.

In short, as Laura Klein, author, VP of product, and co-founder of Users Know says,

“User research saves time. Period. When you actually understand what your user needs before you build things, you have a much lower chance of having to go back and rebuild everything after shipping something that nobody uses.”

But what does “talking with your customer” really mean?

It’s not like you’re inviting them over for tea and cookies every week for a casual catch-up (though that would be awesome, and you should do that and invite me).

When we say “talk to your customers,” or “listen to your customers,” I usually mean getting on the phone with them (or better, meeting up with them in person). But, it can also mean sending surveys that include long-form response fields, or building quicker in-app surveys into your roadmap to uncover moments of friction.

And, of course, if you’re earlier in your business, there’s the Lean approach of interviewing dozens of target customers in person and over the phone — groundwork that helps founders (and product developers and marketers) form better hypotheses around what will deliver the best product-market fit.

There’s also user testing.

These are all valid ways of listening to your customers. But I’d like to advocate for doing all of these things and going several steps further. I’m talking about combining all of the above and adding genuine conversations to the mix.

It’s just not input. It’s just not feedback. It’s getting to know your customers as human beings and building relationships with them that drive positive CX far more powerfully than any of these elements could do alone.

So much has been written about interviewing customers prior to developing products that I’d like to focus on how to keep communication lines open after the launch, after customer acquisition, starting with onboarding.

Track more than actions, during and after onboarding

Customer Success + Product Management

(This is a chart I created for: “Product Managers: Why You Should Include Customer Success Milestones in Your User Flow”)

The first key to ensuring communication stays clear and open is to observe your customers. We communicate far more by our actions than we do verbally, and tracking the actions of your customers, especially (but not limited to) during onboarding can tell you the truths you need to hear.

Tracking customer behavior during onboarding and throughout product use allows you to see:

  • Time to first value (how long is it taking?)
  • Where customers run into trouble and need tech support
  • When customers typically need Customer Success help to reach their desired outcomes
  • Which customers reach their success milestones (the points in their user journeys where they see real progress towards their ideal outcomes)
  • And which customers don’t reach their success milestones

Yes, you want to track how well your customers accomplish the required tasks outlined in your User Flow, but usually, tracking stops there. If they press the right buttons at the right times, if they input the requested information, if they log in relatively regularly, it’s easy to assume customers are happily using your product.

But that’s not always the case. There may be ‘success gaps’ you can’t see that are causing churn. FYI: A ‘success gap’ is “the gap between what you think represents the customers’ successful use of your product and what they think equates to success,” according to Lincoln Murphy.

This is where aptly timed in-app surveys come in handy, which I’ll get to in the next section.

Tools that can help:

  • Appcues for onboarding
  • Intercom for targeted in-app messaging
  • Segment for easily managing your tools without dev

Check in with event trigger-based surveys

While you’re tracking user behaviors, successes and failures, you’ll also want to check in with your users in an unobtrusive way to get their feedback at specific points in their user journeys.

For example, if you identify a page or prompt during onboarding that tends to ‘lose’ people, have a trigger-based in-app AI chatbot pop up and offer to clarify, or transfer them to an agent. (This, incidentally, would have saved my relationship with more than one app! If you hit a ‘wall’ during onboarding, the odds of completing the process and becoming a successful customer are terrible — unless you get timely help).

You can set up event trigger-based surveys to deploy when users spend too much time on a page, ‘click away’ before completing the action, or when they’ve been ‘dormant’ (not logging in) for a while.

By giving customers opportunities to tell you they’re confused, are experiencing failure, aren’t getting the results they’d hoped for, or are suffering from a lack of time/motivation/technical skills etc., you will know who is really at risk of churning in time to save them, and really impress them with your customer service skills.

Finding friction with customer effort scores

Another place where checking in with your customer can really pay off is after the onboarding sequence is complete. It’s a perfect time to ask “How difficult was this?” (aka. A Customer Effort Score survey). The easier a process is, the less friction people experience, and the more likely they will be to complete your desired actions and reach their desired outcomes.

Then, after your new user has had a chance to put your product to work, you should send out a Net Promoter Score survey (NPS) to find out how they *really* feel about your product. Do they like it enough to recommend it to a friend or colleague? That’s an excellent indicator of how well they’re succeeding. And be sure to send an NPS follow-up question to understand the why behind the score.

Tools that can help:

Wootric: For these types of in-app surveys, I recommend Wootric. Their dashboard makes it very easy to understand what you’re seeing, and they do great work with extrapolating insights from qualitative data questions too.

Wootric

The Game Changer: Have real conversations in your community

Tracking what customers do and asking them what they think at strategic points is a very good start; the trouble is, that’s where most B2B SaaS companies begin and end. But B2B SaaS businesses are subscription-based. They’re in this for the long-haul. They depend on customers sticking around (customer lifetime value! retention!).

And that means you also have to build relationships with your customers.

This is why I so strongly advocate that B2B SaaS companies build social communities around their products. It’s an opportunity to relate to your customers as people.

The bonuses are many. B2B SaaS product communities give you:

  • An on-tap resource of customers who are delighted to answer your questions and give you real-time feedback on everything you do
  • A straight line to your most engaged customers
  • A real-time capability of helping customers in trouble and creating delightful experiences for them, on a public forum, with everyone else watching (warm fuzzies all around!)
  • An opportunity to cultivate a culture around your brand and a genuine community
  • And… it’s possible — ZERO churn!

The most important thing to remember about building a community is that it’s not a one-sided arrangement. This isn’t a place for you to ‘shout into the void’, post blog posts nobody reads, try to ‘sell’ or advertise. It’s a place where you and your customers can come together around your common interests. Human to human.

Tools that can help:

  • Facebook
  • Slack
  • Your social community of choice!

Bring it all together now!

When you are tracking user behavior in your product, identifying predictive patterns of behaviors/successes/failures, locating trouble-spots and offering timely help, checking in with surveys to ask your customers what they think — in their own words and with numerical ratings, AND forging human-to-human relationships in the casual setting of social media groups, you’ll see a few things happen…

Customer Happiness

  • Your referrals will skyrocket as more customers achieve success
  • Your retention rates will go through the roof
  • Your acquisition and product development spend with become more efficient (as you target the right prospects, and use customer feedback to guide your iterations)
  • And you will grow — fast

Are you ready for that?

💗 Check out Nichole’s Services for B2B SaaS startups 💗

Customer Experience, Product Management, Products, Retention, Startups

Achieving product-market fit should be job #1. By @SueDuris

This is a guest post by Sue Duris, Director of Marketing and CX at M4 Communications.

Every startup wants to succeed. Startups want it bad. They know nine out of 10 startups fail. They want to be that one that succeeds!

They spend all their time first making that great product. And trying to make it better.  They add to it. A new bell here. A new whistle there.

And when they think they have the next big thing that’s going to disrupt the market, they go hunting for capital, trying to get any venture capitalist and angel investor they can to fund them.

“Capital first” is the battle cry so built into the startup community that whichever startup event people attend, the conversation seems to always be about raising money.  

Yet, when a founder does get an investor meeting, typically investors want evidence to support founder claims. They want to see metrics such as monthly and annual recurring revenue, active users, renewal rates, customer acquisition cost, customer lifetime value, and the like.

They also want to know about the market and the customer, in addition to your product. Is the market big enough? Who is your customer? What value do they get from your product? What kind of traction do you have in the marketplace?

Do you know this info?

While startups make their primary focus about raising capital, they place their secondary focus, if at all, on the customer.

Many times I hear startups tell me “I’ll focus on user and customer research after I get funding”.

Too many startup founders feel that getting funding is the magic pill that will solve all of their problems and put them on some fast-track to success.

But, don’t investors want to know about your customer strategy – i.e. how you make money – before they give you money?

Raising capital is very important. But to focus on it first is the wrong approach.

The first thing a startup should do is achieve product-market fit.

It is everything.

It typically determines whether you succeed or fail. It’s what sustains a startup and enables it to grow.

Make something people want.

It seems basic.

Creating a product that doesn’t fit what the market wants is silly. Yet, many do exactly this.

And if a startup doesn’t achieve product-market fit, chances are it will fail.

According to CB Insights, who has been compiling failed startup post-mortems, the #1 reason startups fail is because they don’t achieve product-market fit. This is cited by 42% of CEO’s of failed startups.

According to CB Insights, the #1 reason startups fail is because they don’t achieve product-market fit. Click To Tweet

Product-market fit is hard work and it takes time. There is no doubt about that. Yet, it’s too much work for some founders. They want the glory but not going through all the blood, sweat, and tears to do the work.

This is where things become paradoxical.

These are the same startups that worry about churn.

“We have to eliminate churn,” they say.

But to ultimately reduce churn means you have to first retain your customers, build loyalty and drive customer lifetime value.

So what is product-market fit and why does it matter?

According to Marc Andreessen, product-market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.

He goes on to say product-market fit is the only thing that matters.

When it’s not there you can tell because customers don’t get your value, no one is talking about you, usage isn’t growing, conversions are slow or not at all, etc.

But when it’s there, revenue, usage, and growth are fast.

People crave your product.

People are talking about you, especially your customers.

When your customers advocate and sell for you, you have achieved it, something I call “customer nirvana”.

It’s not a destination. It’s not a journey. It’s a mindset.

When your customers advocate and sell for you, you have achieved customer nirvana. And it’s not a destination. It’s not a journey. It’s a mindset. Click To Tweet

You have to keep on working towards it. You have to give your customer that experience. The experience is the product. And it all starts with product-market fit. And making everything about the customer.

To get to product-market fit, ask yourself:

  • What is the unmet/under met need my company or product is attempting to fulfill?
  • How do I meet that need?
  • What value do I deliver to my customer that enables them to achieve their business outcomes? What is my customer’s WOW or aha moment?

That moment is what gets you to the value. But it isn’t only the value, it’s how quickly you can get to that value. Time-To-Value is key.

You have to know your why – why do they buy from you?

You have to know the what – what is resonating for them that is compelling them to buy from you?

Then you must know the actions and behaviors they have with you that’s helping them be successful.

Knowing your why, and how customers use your product is what will sustain you.

This is THE WORK.

And, you’ve got to do the work if you want to drive revenue, growth and customer lifetime value.

This work will get you to a minimum viable product, which you can use to gain traction, which you can use to get noticed by investors, which will help you get funded.

Having the insights from product-market fit is what drives and sustains growth.

Can product-market fit be measured?

It’s questionable. But there are certain trends you can look for in the product-market fit path.

Retention is the social proof to product-market fit. Other metrics to be watching for product-market fit include NPS, Customer Effort Score (CES), increased sales (upsells, cross-sells, and greater share of wallet). Win-Loss can also hold insights to how healthy product-market fit is.  

I scratch my head when companies don’t focus on retention. They should double-down on it. Yet, for many, it’s an after-thought.

In its 2018 NPS & CX Benchmarks Report, CustomerGauge still finds retention is an issue.

44% of respondents don’t know their customer retention rates, that’s one in three companies don’t know this vital info!

This aligns fairly well to my research that 2/3 of marketing budgets focus on acquisition activities and 1/3 is focused on retention.

This is another head-scratcher.

Companies place more resources on acquisition and feel it is more valuable than retention. Forget about data points from Bain – it costs 6-7 times more to acquire a customer than retain one – or Gartner – 80% of your future profits come from only 20% of your existing customers.

According to Bain, it costs 6-7 times more to acquire a customer than retain one. And according to Gartner, 80% of your future profits come from only 20% of your existing customers. Click To Tweet

There are numerous reasons for the push on acquisition.

This is the culture of the organization and how it measures success. Marketing doesn’t view itself as responsible for retention (to this I find fascinating, considering many marketing departments feel they own customer experience). Retention gets passed around so many times that ultimately no one ends up owning it. Investing and analyst communities place high value on acquisition and so CEO’s follow suit to be in lock step. Leaders have number-envy.

Ultimately, retention must be a mindset that is engrained in the culture.

It also troubles me when I hear people say product-market fit is elusive.

Why? How?

You want to determine product-market fit?

Get out there and research. Find people. Ask people. Take the data they give you and identify insights to help you craft your business model. Do the work.

Raising capital is vital. But it should not be the first plan of attack. Startups must make product-market fit job #1. All roads to startup success begin there.

💗 Check out Nichole’s Services for SaaS startups 💗

Customer Development, Customer Success, Product Management, SaaS

How Product Experts Use Qualitative Data for Roadmap Planning

Wouldn’t it be great to get customer feedback before there are even customers so you know what new features and products to prioritize?

Yes, we’re talking about gathering feedback from customers who don’t yet exist, for a product that doesn’t yet exist, to create a product that will perform better, sell better, and get rave reviews.

And it’s possible.

It’s just the opposite way Product dev usually works.

The usual way: When evaluating a new product, usually you present the product, a minimum version of the product, or a beta version of the product, to a group of users (or beta testers) and listen to their feedback (qualitative data) and look at their behaviors (behavioral analytics) to see where you’ve succeeded, and where you still need to pick out the bugs. But on brand new features and products that aren’t launched, knowing that customers want and need most is educated guesswork. A series of hypotheses and trials.

We’re going to show you how to leverage qualitative data to build better hypotheses to reach successful new products and features faster.

How can you leverage qualitative data when the product or feature doesn’t exist yet?

You have to talk to customers who don’t exist yet.

Seriously.

When preparing to create a new product or feature, your first task is to speak with potential future customers – people who are a good fit for the solution you’re thinking of building. If you have an existing user base and are planning to introduce a new feature, you can start there by finding groups of people whom you think are likely to need it.

Your goal is to check your assumptions against their real, qualitative feedback – and there is nothing like a two-sided conversation for gaining insights you’d never expect. Schedule calls with at least a dozen people you think will be a good fit, and ask:

  1. What goals, inside and outside of work, are you hoping to accomplish today, this week, and this year?
  2. Tell me about your work process – what do you do exactly?
  3. What frustrates and aggravates you on a regular basis – what are the hurdles between you and getting things done?
  4. What might make reaching your goals easier?

Then, present your product idea and ask if they think it could help them reach their goals and reduce (or eliminate!) the hurdles.

Of course, interviewing individuals doesn’t scale. So when you do have hundreds or thousands of users to poll about a new feature to your existingproduct, you’ll need to gather your qualitative data a little differently.

Read More on Wootric

Acquisition, Customer Experience, Emotion, Human-to-Human (H2H), Product Management, Products, Retention, SaaS

9 Empathy Exercises that Help Product Teams Improve CX

9 Empathy Exercises for Product Managers

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. For Product Managers looking to improve customer experience (CX), that definition translates to doing more than understanding the user’s pain points, but also looking at the emotional landscape of what it’s like to use the product – when it is working, and when it isn’t working.

Empathetic Product Managers ask themselves:

    • How does using the product make the customer feel?
    • How does the customer want to feel when using your product? What would be the best possible emotional outcome for them?
    • How do I ensure the product developers understand and take the customers’ needs into consideration in their process?

The answers to those questions affect every facet of business, from acquisition to retention. It’s how, through CX, you can generate rapid growth through word-of-mouth recommendations, and sustain your success with customers who never want to leave.

Read More on Wootric
💗 Check out Nichole’s Services for SaaS startups 💗

Product Launches, Product Management, Products, Social Media

How to run a successful product launch on social media (#QChat)

I joined Quuu to co-host a Twitter chat about running successful product launches on social media.

They rounded up the highlights…

Q1 How should you use social media in your product launch?

Our Qchatters all pointed out that social media is key for building awareness around your new product:

“I don’t know if I’m being too obvious here… but awareness! Let your followers know that you have a product coming out.” — Ruben Richardson

“I think social media is a great way to build awareness for a product, you can tease information and build anticipation.” — Georgia Burgoyne

“If it is a launch the part of the funnel is probably awareness. Paid social is key for targeting, especially if it is not a mass market launch. Influencers may also be effective if they are strategically used.” — Brandi Rand

It’s really important to leverage your network:

“A community is one of the most important ways to build and launch a new idea. People are power!” — Daniel Kempe

“You want to reach out to your network and let them know way in advance to see how they can help support you.” — Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré

“Find influencers & engage. Build anticipation with a countdown. Include any reputable names you can for social proof — customers, partners, as seen on, etc. What Nichole did with the Hotjar podcast launch was a great example.” — Nicki Laycoax

Nichole also shared some tips on what not to do:

“Don’t spam people. Mass-tweeting/emailing people unsolicited, asking for feedback or upvotes, even if they’ve upvoted similar products in the past isn’t effective. If your timeline is filled with dozens of identical messages, you’re spamming. Be authentic.

“If you’re launching on Product Hunt, do not ask for upvotes anywhere. Feel free to ask for feedback, but asking for upvotes is a big no-no. People should upvote the product because they like it, not because they’re peer pressured into doing so.

“If you’re launching on Product Hunt, link directly to your product page. Linking to “http://producthunt.com” only makes it harder for people to find you and doesn’t have any effect on the algorithm.

“Tools like Thunderclap that shout about your launch are notoriously ineffective — it comes across as spammy, and the super secret algorithm for Product Hunt doesn’t like spammy.”

Read More on Quuu

Wish you had someone to tell you if you’re planning your product launch right? Someone who’s done this before – a lot – and knows what it takes to bring SaaS products successfully to market?

Well hello.

I’ve helped hundreds of companies with their product launches – and I am happy to help you, too!

Launch your product with Rocket Fuel! 🚀

Churn, Guest Posts, Offboarding, Product Management, Retention, SaaS, Startups

How Transparency in SaaS Offboarding Reduces Churn by @ShaylaPrice

This is a guest post by Shayla Price, a freelance content marketer.

Too often as marketers, we consider churn a bad thing.

So we design our SaaS offboarding process in a way to trap our customers into staying. However, there’s a better way to do it. And that’s with transparency.

You can use offboarding to your advantage by discovering why customers weren’t meeting their desired outcomes. Lincoln Murphy, a customer success consultant, explains:

“The beauty of the SaaS business model is that you have visibility into the behaviors of your customers… and you should use this to reduce your SaaS churn rate. Specifically, you should be looking for signs that your customer is getting ready to leave and then do something to stop it.”

SaaS offboarding is a gut-wrenching reality check to serve your customers better. Below are five ways to add transparency to the process.

Set the Stage with an Offboarding Workflow

Making it difficult for customers to cancel their services is a big no-no. They won’t miraculously stick around because of your unwillingness to let go.

The opposite will happen. Churning customers will leave your business and will feel justified in their decision to do so. On top of that, they may spread the unpleasant news with their social network of friends and family members.

To prevent the public embarrassment, your team should build an offboarding workflow or cancellation workflow. It’s a sequence of steps that a customer must take to cancel their SaaS subscription.

Below is an example from Leadpages. When users want to delete their accounts, they land on a multi-option workflow, allowing them to select a reason for cancellation.

Image Source

Each option counters the customer’s reason for leaving. For instance, selecting “Difficulty of Use,” let’s the user sign up for an educational webinar or contact support. More importantly, there’s always the option to delete the account.

This offboarding workflow mitigates churn by offering a solution to the customer. It also gives your team essential feedback to understand why customers churn. That way, you can go revisit your onboarding process to fill in any gaps in users’ expectations.

Educate with Customer Success

Once users sign up for your product, you can’t leave them stranded as they attempt to figure out your platform. Focusing on customer success entails educating users every step of the way.

Of course, your team wants to be proactive, providing users with video tutorials, ebooks, and one-on-one support. Alan Gleeson, a B2B marketing consultant based in London, adds:

“More established SaaS businesses with enterprise clients will typically have a dedicated team whose job is to ensure that new account signups are onboarded successfully, and that the application is delivering value. They will also identify and nurture internal champions, who can facilitate up-selling and cross-selling, leading to negative churn.”

Customer success should play an integral part in offboarding, too. You don’t want to kick users to the curb just because they want to cancel.

Instead, you want to educate customers. You may have to address why they feel their current needs aren’t being met. Or you may highlight their alternative options if they decide to churn.

This educational approach puts the customers’ needs first. It also doesn’t abruptly end the relationship. Because you never know, the user may decide to buy from your SaaS business again.

Access to Your Cancellation Policy

Ever customer relationship won’t end with users becoming lifelong brand advocates. And that’s okay.

What’s not okay is failing to prepare for cancellations. Some users will want to deactivate their accounts immediately, and others will want a full refund.

While some user scenarios may call for a case-by-case review, most cancellations should follow a standard guideline. The key is to create a cancellation policy and make it easily accessible to your customers—without the unnecessary hassle.

Before developing a policy, you’ll want to consult with a local business advisor or legal professional. Their expertise will ensure you’re not violating any laws and are adhering to common business practices.

The next step is to find a happy medium between your company and the customer. How can you maintain a viable business and satisfy your customers’ expectations?

Whatever the policy, you want it to be accessible to the customer before and after they make a purchase. Post it in a visible area on your website and include the policy somewhere within your app. Here’s an example from PushAssist:

Image Source

Transparency is all about empowering your users to make informed decisions. Customers then can determine what works best for their situation. Making your policy readily available is a part of enhancing the customer experience.

Close the Loop with Feedback Emails

Some SaaS companies treat churn like a taboo topic. If they don’t talk about it, maybe it won’t be a real issue in the future.

Well, that’s the wrong mindset to possess in offboarding. Consider churn a chance to have an honest conversation with your customers.

Depending on your business, this communication may happen over the phone with a customer success rep or via a live chat platform. While these methods are useful, it may trap the user into providing an immediate response. (No one likes being pressured.)

Email marketing helps close the feedback loop with churning customers. You can send a message inquiring about their experience with your product. You also can send multiple emails—without being annoying—if a user fails to respond.

Check out the feedback request email below. Baremetrics doesn’t shy away from asking customers why they decided to cancel.

Image Source

Use email as a tool to gain pertinent details from churning customers. Be straightforward with your ask and keep the request short. You don’t want to bog users down with lots of questions.

Bake Long-Term Value into Your Strategy

While mending parts of your marketing and sales funnel is helpful, it’s only a short-term fix to your long-term challenge. You want to bake your goal of reducing churn into your overall business strategy.

Throughout the entire customer lifecycle, your team should be observing and requesting feedback from your users. This undertaking translates into prompting new users to tell you why they signed up for your product, monitoring usage data to understand the most frequently used product features, and giving users a chance provide candid feedback after churning.

With that information, you open the doors to knowing your customers’ pain points sooner. Then, your team can focus on adding more value. Julia Chen, former content marketing manager at Appcues, offers her insight:

“As long as your product is solving the pain of a customer, there’s a chance that you can keep this customer or get them to come back after they’ve canceled. That’s why it’s so important to have active conversations and to understand what drives their behavior.”

Combating churn means taking a proactive approach to talk with your users. It also requires transparency on how you will use those conversations to their benefit.

Rather than concealing the value-added process from users, be frank and take them along for the journey with blog post updates and in-app notifications.

Improve Your Offboarding Experience

In offboarding, your team can learn how to help both current and future customers. It’s an opportunity to reevaluate your path to achieving customer success.

Take advantage of churn by collecting insight in the offboarding workflow. Just make sure you offer transparency throughout the whole process.

💗 Check out Nichole’s Services for SaaS startups 💗

Content Marketing, Product Management, SaaS, Testimonials

Testimonial from Kristin Hillery (@kristinhillery) of @InVisionApp

If you’re lucky enough to work with Nichole on a project, it’ll be clear from the start that you’re working with a total pro. She just “gets it”—and it’s so rare to find people who can quickly understand what you’re looking for, communicate clearly and smoothly throughout the entire process, and then deliver something that exceeds your expectations. And that’s all on top of the fact that Nichole is passionate not just about her work, but about building communities around it.

— Kristin HilleryEditor at InVision

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💗 Check out Nichole’s Services for SaaS startups 💗

Product Management

5 Product Management Communication Hacks to Streamline Your Crazy Job

You’re the go-to get-it-done-gal/guy, the linchpin between departments, teams, higher-ups and lower-downs. There’s a word for for what you do: everything. Or, at least it feels that way.

But you’re not far off. As product manager, you have the information everyone needs (which means they come to you when they need facts and figures), and you’re in charge of taking that information and sifting through ideas to create a real product, for real people.

Fun fact: There’s a card in Tarot called The Magician. He’s the one who takes ideas from the sky and transforms them into something tangible. You’re The Magician.

“But when you’re The Magician, ego is a no go,” says Jess Sherlock, Group Product Manager at GoSpotCheck, a Denver-based software company. “Be self-aware, be humble, be the calm in the chaos. But here’s the trick: You’re no one’s boss, and killer product managers know how to influence without authority.”

The product manager’s role is so much about effective communication—and yet those “communications” courses you took in your MBA program probably didn’t prepare you for… this.

That’s Roman Pichler’s diagram of the many responsibilities often assigned to Product Managers. Look familiar? John Cutler, Senior Product Manager at Zendesk and prolific product management writer puts it this way:

“In a lot of organizations, you’re swimming in this diagram. You’re all over the place. Especially in a smaller organization, this diagram might be your brain. . . . Product is the connective glue. They literally fill the cracks of everything.”

It’s a hard job with a lot of moving parts—but knowing a few hacks can make it easier on yourself (and everyone else).

Killer product managers know how to influence without authority. Click To Tweet

Read More on InVision

💗 Check out Nichole’s Services for SaaS startups 💗