+31614533946 [email protected]

You have already convinced these customers to buy your product. Instead, spend your resources on growing your business and build what the customers you don’t have want.

One of the most challenging parts of the job of a product manager or product owner is saying no to requests for product improvements. But this is also precisely what you will recognize great product people do. Saying no is maybe the number one skill to have as a product person because you need to use the resources you have as productively as possible to make the product vision become a reality. And that is probably not done by making things for existing customers.

We tend to focus on the customers we have. We (hopefully) know them, and they are vocal. It is easy to focus on them. Be aware, however, as this is where survivorship bias is lurking around the corner.

Survivorship bias

During World War II, the United States airforce looked at planes that just came back from battle, full of bullet holes, and wanted to protect them better. They looked at the places where the aircraft were hit the most and planned on adding more armor. The question was, “Where should they put it?”

The airplanes seemed to have been caught most in the tale, the wings, and the body. So that’s where they planned on adding the armor.

Have you spotted the error in this reasoning? The army was looking at the airplanes that returned and not at the ones that didn’t. That was because they lay on the bottom of the ocean. And those were precisely the planes that needed more protections, not just the ones that had made it back from battle. This faulty reasoning luckily was spotted in time. Armor was added to the engines and cockpit instead, as those were the places were the shot-down airplanes were hit.

Survivorship bias also happens to product people. We tend to look at the customers we have, not at the ones we do not have. But those are the ones we need to focus on with all our resources. What are the features that are missing in our product that have prevented potentials customers from becoming our customers? The wishes from our existing customers are like the bullet holes in the wings of the airplane. The product will fly without fixing these holes. We need to prevent other breaches for more planes to make it home.

Mistakes you don’t have to make — I’ve made it for you.

Ignore churned users. Talking with your users and clients is good practice. Keep doing that. Or if you haven’t, please start now! But talking with the ones that used your product but don’t anymore, is maybe even more valuable. They can tell you where others might churn as well. They will tell you what holes need fixing. It is easy to ignore these users. Accidently or on purpose. It is easier to spend time with your current customers, as they are the ones that love you. But spend time with the ones that abandoned you so you can learn from your past mistakes.

Ignoring “almost” customers. All of your customers have gone through a process of deciding whether they wanted to go with your product or not. And during this decision process, there were many moments where they could have decided not to go with you. That’s why, whenever I do a customer interview, I ask the interviewee what the moments were that they almost didn’t choose our product. If you can gather multiple answers to this question, you are very likely to find hurdles in the decision-making process where others decided not to go with you. These hurdles are also holes in your airplanes that need more armor.

Two moments you actually should listen to your customers

As with every good rule, the rule not to listen to your customers has exceptions. The two exceptions to this rule are these:

  1. Upselling. Adding on to your product to sell more to your existing clients. Selling to existing clients is five times more effective in resources than finding new clients.
  2. Reducing churn risk. Trying to keep your existing customers is pretty common sense. If you can make something existing customer wants to prevent them from abandoning your product, that is an excellent reason to make it. In the case of a Saas business, the moment to look at the wishes of existing customers is just before they decide on the renewal of their contract.

Do you like to talk product? That’s great… me too! Drop me a line or respond in the comments on what you would like to talk about.