Ayham Ereksousi on how B2B product teams can incorporate VOC more systematically
Product State Q&A
Ayham Ereksousi is a CoFounder CEO at Stomio. He is a former product leader at Cisco Meraki and Snap One; and an angel investor at Hustle Fund.
Website / LinkedIn
EC: Why is voice of customer important for B2B product teams?
AE: Well, let’s start with why voice of customer (VOC) is important for any product team: Direct feedback about a customer’s experiences with a product helps us make better products.
The more complex the product — or the more valuable the customer relationship — the higher the stakes. B2B products are quite often complex and each B2B customer relationship can be very valuable - so the importance of collecting VOC that helps you get your products nailed is amplified.
Some factors that make qualitative voice of customer feedback so critical in developing B2B products:
B2B relationships span years—sometimes decades. Involving long-term customers in your development process isn’t just smart product management, it’s smart relationship management.
B2B products are installed in a variety of environments. The ability to gather VOC from a large number of field testers means you’ll find ‘corner cases’ and identify interoperability challenges before your product is launched.
You’re often building products to solve problems that are filled with technical details. To do that well, you’ll need to go deep with customers learning about their use cases and pain points.
Many B2B products are big ticket items. Casting a wide net gathering VOC for an upcoming product also begins the sales process for that product and greatly reduces the risk of a big miss at launch.
So incorporating voice of customer throughout your product lifecycle is critically important for B2B product teams. The only viable way to do so is to scale your voice of customer programs.
EC: What are some ways B2B product teams can incorporate VOC more systematically?
AE: A lot of solutions focus on capturing feedback post launch (e.g. have a widget in your app for product NPS or feature feedback) but the product lifecycle starts way before the product is launched.
Here’s how I think about it:
1- Early Stages (concept): You have a concept in mind based on feedback or industry trends or competitive forces or company strategic direction (or a combination of any of those). You need to be agile here and have a rapid feedback loop. Qualitative customer interviews are a perfect fit for this stage. Grab 5-10 sample customers from your segments and schedule open ended interviews. The goal here is to validate that you have the right hypothesis and loosely discuss the concept. This is more exploratory research at the beginning.
2- Build: When you start building, you need to get into the nuts and bolts of what your customer experience will be. Inevitably, you’ll run into multiple design choices that require customer input (because they’ll be the ones using it!). It’s critical that you have a handful of customers available to give feedback within 1-2 days, so you can keep your design/engineering teams working. Those customers (ideally 3-5) can be your design partners, who will typically provide free-form feedback via email or video calls. This is more of a group research with a lot of rapid prototyping.
3- Test: Now you have a working product, you need to test it with a much bigger sample from your customer base to eliminate all biases you already have (selection bias, big customer bias, internal bias..etc). This is usually your beta test or seed test phase. Your focus now is on validation. Does your product actually solve the problem? Do your target customers see it as a viable solution to purchase? You want to find corner cases and bugs in real life so you can avoid disasters at launch. At this stage, target 20-200 customers to get a statistically significant population covering as many of the corner cases as possible (we’ve seen some organizations target 1000+ customers). This stage can also result in content from testers that can be used at launch (e.g. testimonials). This is more of a guided unmoderated research with strong feedback loops
4- Launch: Your product is ready for prime time, you validated everything with your customers. There will be more feedback coming in as more customers are looking to adopt your great new product. Look to funnel their feedback, which is typically verbatim and use-case driven, through sales or customer success managers or simply through a feedback widget in your app or on your website. This is more reactive open-ended feedback mode
Once your product starts gaining momentum, you’ll switch back from validation feedback to exploratory mode:
What features can you add to your product to unlock more use cases?
What new pain points or bugs are discovered that your team needs to fix?
What would a future iteration of this product look like? Rinse and repeat.
Thinking about voice of customer throughout the product lifecycle enables B2B product teams to create systems to capture, engage, and analyze their customer feedback at various stages.
In my opinion, B2B product teams should start any internal debate with ‘our customers think/believe/want/ask/need XYZ and here’s the data to back that up’ instead of ‘I/we think XYZ is needed.’
EC: How do you approach VOC yourselves, as an early stage startup?
AE: I can share how we’re doing it at Stomio. We have somewhat of a super meta use case. We’re a B2B solution for B2B product teams and we exist to help them capture voice of customer during development — at scale.
So how do we capture their voice during development? 🙂
When we started our journey, we were in concept stage. So we formed a product advisory council that had 6 close contacts of mine that represent some variety of our target audience. We met as a group once a month for an hour and we presented a topic for each meeting. It was a very lively and informative debate each time we met.
Then we started building so we had ~5 design partners we met with regularly to share designs and get their feedback. Those were major parts of the platform and those design review sessions were extremely important in shaping our product decisions.
Then we did a soft launch to get a working product in the hands of a handful of early adopters. That was our beta test without actually calling it a beta test because it felt weird to tell someone ‘Hey! Can you beta test my beta testing platform?’
Now that we have launched and have customers, they are still at a size that is manageable to meet them regularly. We are quickly approaching a phase where we will incorporate our product to capture feedback on our product (super meta, told you!) and we just rolled out that mechanism to capture feedback from our customer’s users (i.e. their testers) which is super exciting for us!
So it’s a similar framework to incorporating different techniques for a single product lifecycle, but we’re doing it for the platform — because the platform is the first product for us.
We still think about this a lot.
It’s our core mission and we live by it.
“B2B product teams should start any internal debate with ‘our customers think/believe/want/ask/need XYZ and here’s the data to back that up’ instead of ‘I/we think XYZ is needed.’”
- Ayham Ereksousi
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