You have an idea for a new product feature to build, and you think your customers will love it. Before you start to build it, you want to get some feedback on the idea. You contact some of your customers who will be interested in the new feature and you ask them what they think. Your customers say that they love it, and you go back to your team, excited to start building.
That process is commonly used, but it’s flawed. Certainly, soliciting feedback is much better than building a new feature based only on conjecture. But to get good feedback from your customers, you can’t simply ask them what they think. To get valuable feedback, you need to include a form of consideration in the question; otherwise, your customers don’t have any reason to say “no.”
Jason Fried recently wrote about how to price something. He made a similar point.
You can’t ask people who haven’t paid how much they’re willing to pay. Their answers don’t matter because there’s no cost to saying “yes” ”$20” “no” ”$100”. They all cost the same – nothing.
Instead of asking, Jason recommends actually charging.
So put a price on it and put it up for sale. If people buy that’s a yes.
If your new product idea is something that you plan to charge for, you could ask your customers to pay for it ahead of building it. However, many product features are meant to enhance the value of a current offering, not to provide an additional revenue stream. You need another way to find out if your customers are truly interested, or if they’re only saying they are because there’s no cost to saying “yes.”
One approach that results in better feedback is to ask your customers about features relative to each other, rather than asking about the value in isolation. This is similar to conjoint analysis in marketing. Take between 5 and 10 of the top ideas that you have to enhance your product and ask your customers to rank them in the order that they’d most like to have the features. After collecting responses, you can apply an algorithm such as instant-runoff voting to determine the top choice. Following this process introduces consideration. It’s no longer a question of if the customer wants the feature (why wouldn’t they if it’s free?), it’s a question of if the customer wants a feature more than another. In other words, getting the feature will cost something (namely, other features that they could have had instead).
Of course, you can’t always determine the value of features by asking your customers directly. Sometimes you need to address unstated or future needs. If you do want to use customer feedback as support for initiating a project, do it with relative importance.