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How Customer Visits Reveal The “Why” Behind Your Roadmap

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  • Ted Best, senior vice president of product at Offerpad. He is a results-oriented technology and go-to-market leader with extensive product management and marketing experience in both SAS and enterprise software products.

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You should take every possible opportunity to go out and visit customers and experience their world. The goal of a customer visit is to be an apprentice and learn that customer’s job, so you can bring that real-world context back to your roadmapping. 

Customer visits are beneficial because they provide high bandwidth communication. If you’re doing an onsite visit, ideally, you’re in the customer’s environment. 

That gives you the chance to see how they arrange their cube or their desk, the types of interruptions they experience and how they’re doing their work.

The information that is gathered during a customer visit helps identify new opportunities for driving revenue and delight. Not to mention, most innovation comes from exploring unmet needs, new user segments and new workflows.

But also these interactions provide a wealth of color commentary.

When you’re storytelling or drafting a day-in-the-life of narratives, that experience with your market takes your roadmap to the next level.

A roadmap tells you what is going to be done and approximately when it’s going to be done, but it doesn’t tell you why.  

And, the question most people ask when you’re doing a roadmap presentation is “why?”

Specifically, you might be asked, “why this now versus that later,” and the market visits can help you answer those questions. 

 

How Often Should You Visit Customers? 

The straightforward answer is as often as possible. 

The challenge with customer interviews, it’s easy to push those to the background. 

Marketing, finance, development and sales are all putting demands on your time and your agenda. Customers aren’t asking you to visit them. So, you have to make it a priority. 

The best strategy is to set up a cadence and stick to it. The goal might be to visit customers once a week, six visits a month or 15 visits a quarter. The purpose of defining your cadence is to hold yourself (and your team) accountable. 

 

What Data Should We Gather During a Market Visit?  

Customer visits are rich sources of data because there a many different dimensions around the customer experience. 

You can capture: 

  • Descriptions of experiences with the product
  • Verbatims related to pains 
  • Workflows 
  • Jobs to be done 
  • Day-in-the-life stories 
  • Customer journeys 
  • User segment characteristics 
  • How users measure their role 
  • New opportunities

 

With so many topics that need to be addressed in customer interviews. How do we address them all without overwhelming the customer or ruining that relationship?

There are two types of visits: one is for ideation and the other is for specific ideas on how to solve specific pains. 

The first is a high-level open-ended conversation. The second is focused on workflows and jobs to be done. 

So understanding what you’re trying to learn will help you structure the visit. So you don’t go in and try to learn everything. Understand what you need to identify the type of information you need to capture. 

The golden rule is if you want to understand the topic deeply, you probably need 5 to 12 interviews around that topic. Remember, this is qualitative information, not quantitative information.

Continuous Discovery Strategy 

There are two different ways to approach customer visits. You can do a formal project where you conduct an in-depth plan about which segments you’re going to visit. Then you outline how many interviews you are going to do for each segment. This time-intensive approach is excellent for exploring new opportunities.  

But there’s also a theory, taught by Teresa Torres, author of Continuous Discovery Habits, that you should do more unstructured, shorter, frequent interactions with your customers to get real-time input into your development process. 

The idea here is that while long-term project-based customer visits are useful, it isn’t as important as maintaining a constant stream of visits with your customers.

So this strategy involved conducting weekly touchpoints with customers driven by the team who is building the software. The objective is to complete small research activities in pursuit of a specific outcome.  

There is a key benefit to this approach, and that is we make product decisions every day, especially when you’re in the design mode. 

We ask questions like, “Should we buy that here or there,” or “What does the logic need to be?” 

If you’re in weekly contact with your customers, the key benefit is you’re going to have an opportunity to ask the customer those questions. 

This approach allows you to go into co-creation mode with the customer. 

In other words, you’re building the solution with the customer. You’re not building the solution and then going to them and validating it with the customer.

Of course, you’ll do usability testing with the customers later. But when you’re building it, conceptualizing it, having that constant interaction with the customers is invaluable. 

 

Roadmap Socialization is Storytelling 

Since the roadmap doesn’t clearly state the “why,” you should schedule socialization updates on progress on a monthly or quarterly basis. 

Before the update meeting with a group, schedule one-on-one meetings with the individuals who are most likely to derail the roadmap by helping them understand the work before the public unveiling. You can even utilize their expertise to bring them into a co-creation atmosphere to earn their buy-in. 

During the update meetings in small or large groups, you should review company strategy and product strategy, highlight the progress and showcase the impact of changes or new additions. 

You should present multiple verbatims using the customer’s voice to emphasize pervasiveness, and you can also leverage day-in-the-life stories to demonstrate context. 

 

Where does discovery fit within the product roadmap cycle? 

It helps to think of roadmapping as this circle that keeps turning it goes through phases and discovery is continuous. 

 

Roadmap

 

First and foremost, I feel that a product roadmap is a communication tool. It’s telling the organization what we’re doing and what’s coming next. And, you should pretty widely distribute that across the organization.

But, this wheel consistently turns, and your roadmap content is moving from the right to the left. It’s important to understand this cycle because you’re going to have to do another roadmap update in three months.

You need to start planning out your customer discovery and customer visits to do now so you’re ready when prioritization happens during the next cycle. 

Sometimes it helps to color code features on the roadmap back to strategic themes, so when business stakeholders look at it they understand that orange means growth and yellow is cost reduction. 

 

 

Ideation is the Beginning of the Next Product Roadmap Cycle 

If you’re doing your customer visits and you’re extracting the data, there are usually ideas and innovation concepts already at your fingertips.

If you understand the workflows, identified unmet needs and found new users, make your research plan again as a part of  continuous discovery. 

If finding ideas is challenging, you can do internal crowdsourcing or external crowdsourcing. Or, create a hackathon or approach where you set a specific challenge and develop multiple solutions to compare and contrast. You can also utilize co-creation with customers. 

In summary, customer visits should be a central part of your discovery process, use the output from that process to fine tune the roadmap decisions and storytelling and finally, intentionally make time for innovation. 

 

Additional Resources 

Teresa Torres – producttalk.org 

Karen Holtzblatt – incontextdesign.com 

Jeff Gothelf (Lean UX) – jeffgothelf.com 

Kindra Hall (Stories that Stick) – Kindrahall.com 

Miro Board – miro.com 

Product Plan – productplan.com 

Author

  • Ted Best, senior vice president of product at Offerpad. He is a results-oriented technology and go-to-market leader with extensive product management and marketing experience in both SAS and enterprise software products.

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