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Share product roadmaps to grow account value, relationship and success

Keeping customers informed and educated about the product roadmap is a core part of the customer success team’s role. But it’s often not as simple as it sounds.

First, because inevitably, the relationship with any customer will fall into “auto-pilot” after initial implementation and onboarding is complete. The customer has grown accustomed to using the product in a certain way, and unless there is something critical that is missing for him/her to achieve their goal, may not necessarily be looking to do new things with the product. The reality is that learning about YOUR product is NOT at the center of the customer’s mind on a day to day basis.

Secondly, customer success teams are tasked with many other tasks, and while ongoing customer education is important, it is rarely considered urgent. And so we go about as CSMs dealing with the fire-fighting, with little time left to proactively educate customers about more value they can get from our product and service.

And lastly, product teams don’t always have a good quality, “customer facing” roadmap to share. Today’s product & dev teams often focus on agile development and iterative design, sometimes (and always mistakenly) forgoing the bigger picture from a longer development arc. (Note: this doesn’t happen in Totango, our product team is perfect 😉 )

The reality is that spending time with a customer to educate them on “what’s coming” is a tremendously rewarding experience for both sides. With a few best practices, you can easily overcome these challenges:

1. Create a yearly “roadmap tour” together with the product team. Sharing a roadmap with customers requires some effort in planning and scheduling, so it is much easier to do in one shot for many customers. A good approach is to have a “yearly kickoff” during the first couple of months of the year. Have the relevant product manager(s) join the tour. A template for a roadmap meeting structure we’ve found effective is:

a. Customer retrospective — Ask the customer to start by giving an overview of their use-case, implementation and any feedback they have. This is an open canvas for the customer to share things from their perspective, often with very insightful results.

b. Roadmap plan — This should be at least 6-12 month horizon and not focused on “the next release”.

c. Closing words and next steps — Often, you will take action items for follow-ups. Make sure to ask the customer what of the plan they like and what may not be as relevant. It’s important to dedicate time for this to get quality feedback.

2. Keep it simple. When sharing the product roadmap, focus on customer benefits not features/functions. Talk about user stories and not execution plans.

3. Monthly checkpoints between customer success and product team – A “tour” is a great way to drive a formal roadmap session with customers, but the CSM team has many impromptu opportunities to share product vision and plans. They need to be in sync on what’s coming so they can always speak confidently to the plan of record. This calls for a strong tie-in with the product and development team. At Totango we aim to have monthly checkpoints (above and beyond constant communication) where we review the current plan of record and align to dos.

The benefits from sharing your product roadmap are numerous, especially when you follow the above best practices. You can then avoid these types of scenarios:

  1. Flirting with Competition: If your customers are already flirting with competition and checking out the landscape, they may be hearing and seeing features and functions that may be lacking in your product.  You may have these in the works, but if your customers don’t know what you have cooking, they may think that the competitor can better meet their needs.

  2. Relationship Plateau: Every relationship hits a plateau, even in business, and via sharing the product roadmap you will insure that things are always fresh and as exciting as they can be for your customers.

  3. Early Feedback Rules: Don’t let your product team fall into a comfort zone of knowing what’s right.  Let your customers chime in early in the process and steer the ship into a desired direction.

  4. Starting from Scratch: Your customers invested time and effort into your solution already.  They would much rather stick it out with you waiting for a feature that is around the corner, than start from scratch with someone new.  Share your roadmap regularly so that they can stay onboard with you for many months and years to come.

Go ahead and request this from your Product team!  Better yet, make this a part of your ongoing process to collaborate and collect feedback from your customers and infuse it into the evolving product enhancements.

Cecilia Tevel

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