Product Ideation: How to Build a Better SaaS Product  

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The rise of subscription based business models has changed the game when it comes to buying, and selling, a product or service. One-off purchases are, particularly in the software world, becoming a thing of the past. Instead, more and more customers are entering into a monthly or yearly subscription for a product or service. Rather than being stuck with a one-time purchase they aren’t happy with, customers can now, within reason, decide to stop using your product at any time.

This places a lot of pressure on Software as a Service (SaaS) companies to always keep delivering for their customers. To do this, organizations must keep 2 simple, but very important, things at the heart of their business strategies:

  1. Build a product customers love. ❤️

  2. Keep your existing customers happy. 😃

This is not to say, of course, that SaaS companies should shut-down their Sales and Marketing departments and focus solely on Customer Success and Product teams. Not at all. Generating new leads, spreading the word about your product, acquiring new customers and building brand awareness—to name but a few—will always be central to a successful SaaS company. But the fundamental way to do all of this, while keeping your customers happy and boosting customer retention? Continuously build a product that delights your users.

Phew, that’s a tall order. We hear you. If every SaaS company could do that then their problems would be solved, right? Yes, however there is one key way to make sure you are building a customer-centric product that fits the needs of your users: Product feedback & ideation. 🧠

What exactly is product ideation?

Before taking a close look at its benefits, and offering up the best processes to follow to get it right, let’s clarify exactly what we mean by product ideation.

Put simply, product ideation is the effective gathering, prioritizing and implementing of ideas in order to provide a better product or service. Product development software company, Craft, describes ideation as, “a structured process...more focused than brainstorming...crafting an actual idea form from the idea.

The benefits? Your product is shaped by the ideas and suggestions of different stakeholders in your organization—from product leads to engineers to developers. This ensures you are harnessing the best minds from your company in order to innovate successfully. What’s more, your product team aligns on what goals they are working on, and why (you should also have a clear process for feeding this into the rest of your organization), keeping everyone in your team working towards the same goals.

That said, many definitions of product ideation focus solely on the internal teams in an organization coming together, brainstorming ideas and leveraging the insights of product owners and developers. Crucially though, this process can miss one key element of successful product ideation—the customer’s opinion.

That is not to say that product developers, designers and developers forget the customer when they are dreaming up product ideas. But it is true that the needs of the customer can often be overlooked in the product ideation process. It’s essential, therefore, to have a process for gathering and prioritizing customer feedback and incorporating it in the ideation process.

How to include the voice of the customer in product ideation 📣

More often than not, SaaS companies have a system for gathering customer feedback. Yet the process is rarely smooth. This is mainly due to the fact that user feedback tends to come in many forms and from many channels. For example, you might get an email to your support team from one customer, a call from another, a message on social media, a verbal comment at an event...the list goes on. Channeling this feedback into one area and making it actionable can be tricky to say the least.

With this in mind, the first step to making sure you are incorporating customer feedback into the ideation process is to have one central place where your customers come together to give feedback. This is where online communities have changed the game. They offer a secure, transparent platform where customers can share best practices and make feature/ideation requests quickly and easily.

So here are five of the main benefits of setting up an online community of users to effectively gather product feedback:

1. You build a better product: By taking into account the requests and suggestions of your users and letting them help shape your product roadmap, you ensure that you are always making a product that fits the most pressing needs of your users. In other words, no more unwanted feature updates that your product team thought were essential, but your customers rarely use.

2. All of your data is in one place: No more wondering which customer requested what feature on what channel. With an online community ideation requests are easily findable on one centralized platform.

3. You own the content: Communities are content machines and ideation requests can come in thick and fast. In fact, in B2B software communities that have a focus on customer ideation, between 30% and 40% of all user content posted can be found in an ideation section. Unlike social media groups, your organization owns this content—something that’s crucial when it comes to potentially sensitive product ideation requests. 

4. Multi-way communication facilitates dialogue and customer engagement. On a community your product team can respond to customers directly in a transparent forum. This multi-way communication allows you to justify why (or why not, as the case may be), you are adopting a feature request. Users not only want this transparency, they expect it. As our product manager, Daniel Boon explains:

We always make sure that every customer idea gets a response—no matter how ‘out there’ it may seem. Our approach is always to ask ‘why?’. It’s vital that a product manager can get to the root problem—and this way we can often find a much better solution than the original idea that was proposed.

Daniel Boon

Product owner, inSided

5. Your customers feel empowered: Last but not least, when users can interact with each other, and your company, (whether that be sharing best practices or making ideation requests), they feel empowered. Involving customers in the progress and development of your product increases customer happiness and retention. There are of course a whole host of ways for SaaS companies to keep and grow their customers, from improving customer self-service to providing a comprehensive knowledge base—check out this definitive guide here.

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That said, having a platform to gather customer requests is only the beginning of the ideation process. It can be hard to know how to prioritize all of these requests and implement them into your product roadmap. 

How to effectively prioritize product feature requests 📊

No matter how you gather ideation requests, choosing exactly what to action in your development process can be the hard part. So, here are three tips to help you prioritize user feedback:

1. Have a platform where customers can comment and vote on requests. With online communities, for example, customers can upvote and/or comment on requests—meaning product teams can easily identify the most popular ideas.

2. Have a clear workflow for filtering and reviewing proposed ideas. Make sure that channels of communication are established internally, with the right departments or areas, as well as externally, with the ideators engaged in the process of proposing ideas, discussing those ideas and voting for their preferred ones.

3. It's also essential to integrate the tools in your Customer Success tech stack. If you have a community for example, integrating it with your ticketing system such as Zendesk and/or your workflow management system such as JIRA can really streamline your customer feedback workflow.

But there's more. Integrating a community with your CRM, such as Gainsight or Salesforce, for example, can allow you to unlock a whole host of customer data, give you a 360 degree view of the user, and help you prioritze feature requests based on much more than simply popularity. 

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With inSided's Salesforce integration, for example, you can easily measure customer engagement on the community and attach ARR to feature requests on the community. This allows you to prioritize user suggestions based on their monetary value to your organization. 💥Here is an example of our Salesforce ideation dashboard to how you can view ideas based on their ARR: 

4. Finally, no matter how you are gathering user feedback, remember how to say no. This is vital. You can’t—and don’t want to—implement every customer suggestion into your product roadmap. Apart from the fact that it would be next to impossible to do so, not all customer feedback will fit with the overall goals of your company.

Don’t forget to put it all into practice

At the end of the day, ideas are just ideas. You go to the trouble of listening to your customer requests, holding ideation sessions, ensuring you have the right tooling to collect the data, and prioritize effectively—yet still, the ideas aren’t implemented. It happens. But remember that the most important part of the whole process is putting all the great ideas into practice—innovating your product and keeping your customers happy.

In SaaS, including your customers in the ideation process is a non-negotiable. So let the voice of the customer shape your product, and explain what you are doing along the way. You’ll not only find more customers will stick around, they’ll likely shout about your product too. Win-win. 

Looking to get the most from your product ideation process? Interested in ensuring you incorporate the voice of your customer into your product roadmap and building a product that fits your users' needs? Get in touch with the inSided team to book your free demo today.

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