The other day, one of our product managers at Trustpilot came to me with a question: "Should we build what our sales team is asking for?"
Martin is a new product manager, and he has used the first few months in the role to go around and meet different parts of the organization, talk with co-workers about the product he is leading, and explore customer problems. He has also spent quite some time with our sales force in our different offices. He came home with a list of features that they are asking for.
Should Martin build what our team on the sales floor asks for?
A classic way to get a salesperson off the phone is to figure out some feature that is "essential" for you to use the product that they don't have. I have done that so many times! Look for a problem that will enable you to say no without it being your decision.
The problem with clients saying no "with features" is that the salesperson thinks that he would be able to close the deal if he just had that one extra feature. This easily values that feature at the amount of the just-lost deal, but are you sure that the client would have bought IF you had that one feature? You are welcome to try and build it to test this or you can trust my experience 95% of the time it was not THAT one feature; it was something else that lost the deal.
When a customer is asking for a feature, what they are telling you is their idea for solving a specific problem they have.
It is super important for you to identify that underlying problem and to not trust the client's idea to be the perfect solution.
If you default to building all features that customers ask for, you can end up with many different features that are solving the same problems (or none). You need to dig deep and talk with the customer to find the real problem.
A great tool to poke around to find the real problem is 5 Whys. Basically, it's a tool where a customer says, "I need feature X." You ask "why?" "Because it will help me with Y." You repeat "why?" until you have asked "why?" five times. This will give you major insights into what lays under the feature request they started out with!
Using five why's will sometimes reveal that you can solve the problem the customer is facing with an exciting feature. At other times, I found there was no problem but often you derive important learnings that can help you combine real problems from different clients, which enables you to build a bigger and even more valuable product.
If your sales team brings you a client with a real problem, test the idea as fast as possible! This will help you kill the idea before the entire sales floor falls in love with it (it can be impossibly hard to kill then) or prove that it was amazing and build it together with that prospective client. This will help the salesperson close the deal and make you the big king on the sales floor!
You should never keep a list of feature ideas from sales. If a feature that is hiding a real problem is brought up again and again, I can promise you that you will not forget it. If it's truly important, the salespeople have a natural talent for hunting you down until you deliver!