Dear Advisor: Can i just survey my customers to help me decide what to build next?

That’s a great question! I wish my answer was "yes".

At the end of the day, we want to make sure our product is resonating with a profitable and loyal customer base, to find product market fit and scale.

I’m assuming you’ve either:

  • prioritized your ideas, and have decided what product/feature to build, and now would like to gauge customer interest before building it, or

  • you'd like to solicit input from customers to decide on which feature to build next.

Your question is, what approach(es) can help you decide on which feature to build -- or if you should actually go ahead and do so?

Here's why I don't recommend surveying your customers to gauge interest:

  • I’ve found that when you ask someone if they’ll -- in the future -- pay for a product/feature that they can’t play around with right now, especially without a price tag associated with it, (almost) everyone will tell you "yes, we’d like it". But when it comes time to buy it... it’s a whole other story. I’ll be the first to admit, for this reason, I’m not a fan of NPS scores (!).

      • Recommendation: Why ask someone how likely they are to recommend this product to a friend? Have a referral link to explicitly see who's actually making the recommendations.

  • Another challenge with 1-question surveys is that it's impossible to evaluate actual intent, because some responders will never select the extremes (e.g. 10 on a 10-point scale for "very likely to recommend").

      • Recommendation: Analyze responses to top-2 or top-3 scores, or ask a multiple question survey to evaluate responses relative to each person's baseline.

  • And if there is interest, but the feature is not core to your product offering? I typically don't recommend developing custom solutions in-house for this, because you'll end up having to maintain that solution indefinitely.

Having said that, here'a another survey that can help you scale:

  • Rahul Vohra of Superhuman recommends asking customers if they’d be “very disappointed” if they can no longer use the product, where the rule of thumb is responses of 40% or more signify product market fit, and shares advice on how to ask for feedback from customers to get input into additional features.

      • As any rule of thumb, it should be taken with a grain of salt. How often should you be asking your customers to set the right expectations? And if we survey 1000 customers, 10 reply, and 4 are very disappointed -- did we find product market fit? :)

If you don’t want to survey your customers, here are 3 ways to help you evaluate whether something is promising, by getting input from your prospects/customers directly through their engagement:

  1. Before spending time and money on development, you can create interactive wireframes to demo to prospects and get feedback, alternatively,

  2. Before spending time and money on development, Gary Livingston recommends creating a pre-orders/waitlist for the feature/product before building the feature/product:

    • Creating a landing page to sell the product to your ideal customers, as if it exists.

    • Taking them through the complete checkout process, which includes them placing the order.

    • Once the order has been “placed”, don’t save any of this information -- and tell them so.

    • Then asking them to join the waitlist for the offer and record the waitlist opt-in

  3. Built-in "comment section" for customer feedback as part of each product feature. Remember that you're solving problems for your customers, who may have a different way of looking at things. By letting them share ideas with you on what they'd like to see improved, you may find emerging and promising themes that can be addressed with new product features.

    • Amazon does this well, for instance, during the return process, when you’re asked to select from the drop-down why you’re returning something and also allowing you to add more comments, as needed. (I share advice on what that can look like in my talk on product market fit, slide 17, with recording here.)

    • Case study: By listening to customers at Dia&Co and understanding the nuances of how customers choose what to buy, I proactively identified an area of a new business opportunity for the company.

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