“I love it when customers bombard us with obscure feature requests.”
- No product manager, ever.
Listen to your customers, they say. But what happens when your customers all want different things?
🗣 “Could you translate the app into Swahili?”
🤖 “Is there an integration for the billing system we’ve been using since 1987?”
🌑 “OMG, you don’t have a dark mode?”
In an ideal world, you’d make feature choices by transporting all your customers into a forest, and letting them fight to the death, Hunger Games style.
Yes, there may be some ethical and moral issues to contend with — but at least you’d be left with only 1 customer, and it would be crystal clear what features you should build. 🤷
Luckily for you, there’s a simpler and far less bloody way of prioritizing feature requests — feature voting! 😌
Feature voting provides a systematic way of determining what your customers really want, and what you should start building — without the need for spears, arrows, or battleaxes.
It helps you to:
- Stick to your development budget (and keep your boss happy!)
- Stop building features that no one ends up using
- Reduce the awkward goodbyes of customer churn
…along with a host of other benefits that you’ll read about later on.
As the name implies, feature voting is a mechanism for prioritizing different product features by holding a popular vote.
Typically, companies list out different feature ideas on their product roadmap and then let their customers vote on which ones they feel they would get the most value from.
The votes are tallied in real-time and at any point, the company can look to see what’s most highly requested from their customers. This means that any random one-off requests that one customer loves but everyone else hates, end up languishing at the bottom of the pile.
Now you may be wondering…are all votes equal? Well, not necessarily. A good feature voting solution *cough* ProdCamp *cough* can also allow you to prioritize the votes of your highest-value customers.
After all, a feature that gets 100 votes from customers paying $20/mo, is probably worth less to you than 2 votes from customers paying $5,000/mo.
With all this said, done correctly, feature voting is a simple and elegant solution that can transform your entire product development process.
Why is Feature Voting Important?
Unless you have an unlimited budget and unlimited development resources (in which case, contact us? 🙂) then you need a way to prioritize and focus on what matters.
The best of the best are able to do this by ruthlessly focusing their attention on the features that matter and ignore the rest of the noise. That’s the secret to creating a really powerful product with product-market fit.
Of course, the difficult part is deciphering what is important and what isn’t.
You’ve likely got hundreds of ideas for what you could build, both internally and from customers, so you need a mechanism for sorting the wheat from the chaff.
A study from Startup Genome found that “start-ups need 2–3 times longer to validate their market than most founders expect”. And that “this underestimation creates the pressure to scale prematurely… in our dataset, we found that 70% of start-ups scaled prematurely along some dimension. While this number seemed high, this may go a long way towards explaining the 90% failure rate of start-ups.”
If you build features that no one wants, you’re likely to drain your budget and become one of the 9/10 companies that fail.
In other words…
Feature voting eliminates the guesswork and uses real data to inform your decisions.
It allows you to validate the customer’s need for certain features so that you have a level of certainty that it is going to be useful to the end-user.
The opportunity cost of working on the wrong thing is immense and has sunk many companies over the years. You have to be able to identify those things that are going to drive your company forward and have the strength of will to ignore the trivial.
One last thing for all those superhero-loving, lean start-up guys and gals out there:
In the lean startup methodology, feature voting represents a superpower because it allows you to proactively narrow down what should be worked, and get to relevant, working prototypes faster and more efficiently. By implementing it within your company, you incentivize everyone to apply this mindset to their work.
How Feature Voting Benefits Your Business
Not sold yet on the idea of feature voting? Take a look at some of the key benefits for your business:
You Instill Customer-Driven Development
We all have a crazy uncle that tells us not to share their “millionaire” business idea about creating a brand of sunglasses for dogs — “just in case someone else steals it”. 😬
Yet, there are so many stories about “crazy uncle” companies who spend months and months developing a product that they’re really proud of, only to release it and find out that there’s no demand for it.
Don’t delude yourself into thinking you know what customers want. If you don’t validate your assumptions, you can get into an awful lot of trouble.
Feature voting is a way to let actual customers drive your development plan. It deprioritizes your intuitions and inner-craziness and instead lets your end-users tell you what they would find most valuable. When you do this, you end up with a much tighter product that actually solves a real need, and that’s what is going to set you up for success.
It’s estimated that 64% of features in an average enterprise application are rarely or never used!
You Make Data-Driven Decisions
Let’s talk about making data-driven decisions, by providing you with some shocking data…
Imagine what those companies could have achieved if they’d used their budget and manpower on more useful features? And how much faster could they have grown?
With limited resources, you want to use data as much as you can to drive your business. Data is objective, candid, and not influenced by the whims of your team members, or the blind spots present in your product team.
By using the data from feature voting, you’re fighting against building unwanted features that carry a huge opportunity cost.
TL;DR — Intuition is useful, but trust the data!
You Empower Your Customers
Your earliest customers are crucially important to your long-term success because they’re the ones that trust and believe in your vision before the product is fully formed.
Using feature voting and bringing their suggestions to the masses is a way to show you care.
Furthermore, it can be an incredibly empowering feeling for customers, especially for products that they are deeply passionate about.
The result is that you build a group of loyal customers who feel invested in the product because they played a part in how it came to be. If you do this well, they become ambassadors for life.
You Manage Their Expectations
Unfortunately, most customers have no idea about:
- How long it takes to develop a feature
- How much money it costs to develop a feature
- If it’s even feasible, and what the opportunity cost would be
This can lead them to become impatient or downright angry when something they really want in your product, doesn’t yet exist.
Fortunately, with public feature voting, it’s very clear to see what’s being worked on next, how long it should take, and why you’re working on one feature as opposed to another. Not only does this manage your customers’ expectations, but it brings all stakeholders onto the same page.
This approach can be particularly powerful. When PixelMe used this approach, they saw their Net Promoter Score (NPS) increase from +44 to +61 in no time.
You Aggregate Customer Feedback
Imagine the following scenario:
- Shaun requests a bigger menu header via your company Twitter
- Ben sends the CEO an email asking for a redesigned admin panel
- Dave posts a letter (an actual letter! 😛) wanting automated invoices
Meanwhile, on the product team, chaos breaks loose…
The problem isn’t just that everyone wants different things, but they’re submitting their ideas via different platforms. Hence, chaos.
When you’re running a business you’ll tend to receive feedback in a number of different ways, and unless you have good systems in place to collect it all and bring it together, you’ll never be able to action it efficiently.
Feature voting allows for a lot of this feedback to be aggregated into one place where it’s categorized according to how much it matters to your end-users.
This is invaluable because it automates a lot of the analysis that would typically be needed to make sense of things.
Instead, you’ve got a sleek, summarized place where your feature requests live and can be dynamically sorted by your customers themselves.
You Create Anticipation
The mere act of sharing your future roadmap and allowing customers to vote on it creates anticipation for what’s to come.
For your most die-hard of fans/minions, the chance to peek at what’s coming is something that will keep them hooked on your product and encourage them to be those ambassadors that build word-of-mouth marketing channels for you.
It’s also an opportunity to story-tell around your company mission and that can be extremely valuable as you seek to build an audience around your work. It’s been shown that just a 5% improvement in retention for SaaS companies can turn into an increase in revenue of up to 95%. It plays on our human psychology and can be a fantastic hook to keep people invested in your success.
Best Practices On Using Feature Voting
In the mysterious world of feature voting, there are two main ways that you’ll see it implemented:
Simple Voting System
Using a simple voting system, a company will share a list of the top features on their roadmap and allow customers to upvote the features that they want the most. The result you end up with is a long list sorted by the most popular feature requests at the top and the more obscure ones at the bottom. This is the most common way you’ll see things done, but it does lack a little bit of detail and specificity.
The other way to enable feature voting is to post your full roadmap publicly. In this case, you pull back the curtain entirely and show what’s being worked on, what’s in the backlog, and so on. This is less common but is actually a better way to go about things because it puts the features in context and shows what’s happening. When you tie this to feature voting mechanisms, you’re bringing customers on board to be your advisors.
Check out the example below from Client Portal’s public roadmap:
Very quickly, customers can see which features have been upvoted the most (the Zapier Integration) and which are being worked on. They’ve chosen to use a basic Trello board, though as you’ll see later, ProdCamp can help you to achieve a lot more 😉
Now that you know how, here are some other principles to keep in mind as you implement feature voting:
Share regular updates
It’s also important to update users on how things are going on a regular basis. When you release a new feature that’s been highly requested, don’t just assume that they will know. Make sure that you communicate what’s been released and why it matters. And even if you haven’t released anything, try to communicate progress milestones wherever possible so that your customers can be a part of the journey. You want them to feel like they are co-creating with you so that they are more invested in your company’s long-term future. Err on the side of too much communication, rather than too little.
When you’re being so publicly accountable, in the way that feature voting encourages, there are going to be things that don’t go to plan and you need to decide how you’re going to deal with it. Perhaps, a top-voted feature is just something that you don’t agree with or you don’t have the skills to build — but now you have to address it because there has been an expectation set. In these cases, honesty always wins. Be upfront about what’s happening and share the reasons why you’re going a different route. If you do this tactfully, customers will understand and you’ll maintain those relationships. Don’t just ignore it and hope it goes away. Transparency and honesty always work in the long-run.
Engage with customers as much as you can
It’s tempting to just put up a roadmap and leave it there, but you’re leaving so much value on the table if you do so. Take advantage of the fact that customers are interacting with you and engage them on those features. Ask questions about why those features matter. Test your solution ideas. Engage in online communities in your space. Encourage two-way dialogue on your social media platforms. All of this serves to give you more information about what customers want and it can add color to the feature voting itself.
Whatever you do, don’t end up like Twitter!
As you can see, despite having 100’s of millions of users, their public roadmap has zero engagement — no comments, suggestions, updates, etc. It’s completely closed off! Learn from their mistakes and make yours better 🙂
Challenges When Using Feature Voting
Feature voting isn’t all puppy dogs, unicorns, and rainbows — it has its flaws you need to be aware of. Here are some of them:
There’s an interesting psychological phenomenon that arises when people are collaborating or working in groups, in that the person that speaks first will influence the thinking of everybody else from that point. We are social creatures and tend to respond reactively to other ideas more often than we come up with truly original ideas ourselves. This plays out in feature voting where the first few votes on certain features push those up to the top of the pile and then that influences anyone who comes to vote after that. As a result, those that were picked first get disproportionate attention and that can sway the results. By acknowledging this, you can take the timing into account when you consider feedback or even implement functionality so that people can’t see the voting results until they have made their pick. These sorts of tactics help to mitigate first-mover bias and lead to a more objective and fair voting procedure.
Customers don’t always understand the real problem that they face
It’s been a common trope in entrepreneurship that the real innovators and visionaries are able to ignore what everyone else is doing and break things down to first principles in order to come up with a solution that changes the world.
It’s this idea that permeates the stories of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and any other product-focused giants of the industry.
There’s an element of truth to this because often customers don’t actually know what they want. They will tend to have a bias towards what they’ve seen before and from their worldview, so it can be challenging to identify exactly what’s going to move the needle.
The famous Henry Ford quote rings true here: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
That’s why it’s so important that companies are able to balance the results of mechanisms like feature voting with the product vision held by the founders.
It’s not an ‘either/or’, it’s an ‘and’. Both mechanisms have value and so you can’t blindly follow either of them. There is nuance here and it’s important to recognize that.
While we might think that every customer is equal, the truth of the matter is that certain customers are going to be more valuable to you than others based on how they use the product, what payment plan they are on, how influential they are, and a myriad of other factors. Ideally, you would want to segment your customers into these buckets so you could apply more weight to the opinions of your more important customers, but in simple upvoting systems that isn’t always possible.
As a result, you might end making decisions that are driven by a popular vote but ignore the needs of the top 20% of customers where the majority of your revenue comes from. In order to mitigate this, you really need to understand your customer base and use a solution like ProdCamp that can combine account values with upvotes.
When you’re completely transparent, there’s always a risk that you overpromise and underdeliver.
While putting yourself out there and allowing customers to choose your destiny, you’re still held to the various resource constraints behind the scenes that get in the way of progress. This brings with it a risk if you’re not able to produce what you said you would, and can mean a lot of disappointed users.
Running a company is difficult and we often get caught up in the optimism of the future by setting unrealistic goals. When you’re considering a long-term product roadmap, it’s easy to be excited by the potential and let your mind run away with you. But be careful about how you communicate these things because if you do underdeliver, your risk losing the trust of your community completely. It’s crucial that you communicate openly and honestly, and that you temper expectations in moments where you are constrained in some way. Don’t let feature voting take over the narrative completely, you still have a business to run at the end of the day.
Take it One Step Further: Connect All Your Feedback to Your Product
The concept of feature voting is simple, but it can run into all sorts of challenges when it’s not implemented with the right tools.
Many companies try to create a DIY version running on a subreddit, Google Sheet, Trello board, or other tool that’s just not fit for purpose. And when you do that, you lose out on so much of the value that you could have captured.
Collecting upvotes is one thing, but if it’s done in a haphazard way, you lose all of the context. What if a customer didn’t understand the feature well enough and upvoted the wrong one? What if your feedback is only coming from one customer segment? What if your most valuable customers are saying something different to your entry plan users? There is a range of these considerations that point to a need for a custom-built tool.
ProdCamp goes beyond mere upvoting and creates a comprehensive system that can capture all sorts of customer feedback and pull it into one place to be analyzed with all its context.
After signing up to our trial, it only takes a few minutes to create your first public roadmap:
So what other advantages does ProdCamp have when it comes to feature voting and feedback collection? Well…
The potential here is limitless because ProdCamp can deal with feedback in any format, from any channel, and pull it together into an easily-digestible form that then informs strategic decision making.
Once you’ve used it, you’ll wonder how you ever did things without it. It greatly enhances the customer experience and in turn, reduces churn to keep your company growing and adapting to the changing consumer landscape. The integrations with CRM software, Slack, and others mean that it fits seamlessly into your existing workflow and you can start getting value from it immediately.
Now for the best part? You try it for free for 14 daysin just a few clicks.
We can’t wait to see what you build!