All related (5)
Wade G. Morgan
Product Strategy & Operations Lead, AirtableFebruary 16

Love the spirit of this question, and will broaden it a bit to "how do you balance market needs with the vision your company may have?"

Prior to shifting to Product Strategy & Ops, I was hired as the 2nd Account Executive at Airtable. I found this experience so valuable because I had a front row seat to literally thousands of customer perspectives on what our product needed to evolve. One of the biggest lessons I took away from that experience was how to think about the balance between providing what people ask for, vs providing something they never would have conceived of--let's call it the iteration vs innovation decision.

When it comes to "building what customers ask for", one of the most valuable mechanisms we used during those early days was to figure out the ask behind the ask to determine what we should actually provide. Often, a customer would ask for a "demo", but what they really needed was a conceptual understanding why Airtable was different than existing solutions. No need to set up a 60 minute screenshare, if I can get you past that gate with a 5 minute discussion. I use this situation as an example because it's analogous to customers requesting specific features.

Just by taking the extra time to uncover their ultimate objective, and being willing to sit in a bit of discomfort (customers are often very eager to solve their challenges), you may learn even more than if you just provided what they asked for. Sometimes you'll find that you should build exactly what they asked for, other times it will be something different.

With that in mind, it is not our job to only build what customers say they want. Sometimes, despite their best intentions, they can't imagine the future you can because their thinking may be constrained by current limitations. It's also your (our) job to innovate, and when you try to innovate, you won't always get it perfectly right, but that shouldn't stop you from trying.

In short, when iterating on customer requests, consider investigating their ultimate objective to determine whether you should build exactly what they're requesting, or something that solves the same problem in a better, more sustainable way. At the same time, don't be afraid to innovate. The world would be a lot different if we just had faster horses.

Sandeep Rajan
Product Lead, Member Experience, PatreonFebruary 22

If your execs are pushing your product in a different direction from your customer & market input, try to understand why that is. They may be trying to pivot the business, or they may have a vision for where the market is going that doesn't quite map to where the market currently is. Or there may be a miscommunication or misunderstanding about what the market needs. 

In each case, do your best to figure out why you're pointed in different directions, and drive alignment on those inputs so that the product strategy can be grounded in a set of hypotheses everyone is committed to testing even if they're not quite totally sold on them.