How Do I Prioritize Features? Part 1 of 2

If you’re a startup founder or a product leader, chances are you don’t have a hard time dreaming big. You just don’t struggle with a lack of ideas, a miniscule vision, or not enough projects to work on. 

When building a new SaaS product in particular, it can quickly become overwhelming how many possibilities there are that you can pursue – new features, enhancements to existing features, redesigns, experience fixes, and wish list items. The ideas come from every direction: sales, engineering, design, customers, and your own strategic planning. 

But you keep running into the same two pesky constraints when building the dream product to rule your industry: time and money. You either have to pay more people to get all the things built now, or you have to wait to get all the things over time.

When dev says it will take years to build (via Giphy)

I know, I know. We all want a quick and easy microwaved product that somehow comes out looking like a filet mignon from that steakhouse with the fancy valet service. But spreading the build over time could actually be a blessing in disguise for two reasons: 

  1. It forces prioritization
  2. It allows for the platform to be designed by customer feedback and adaptive. 

So now that we know we need to prioritize, how do we go about it? In this first post of a two-part series, we’ll look at the customer-related data we’ll need to prioritize features:

Remember Who You’re Building For

I wouldn’t be doing my job as a user experience designer if I didn’t lead with this: Don’t forget to keep the people who are using your product at the center! 

Do you have one or more clearly defined personas who use your product? What are they trying to accomplish? What have they come to expect? What are their alternatives in solving the problem you’re attempting to alleviate?

If you have answers to those questions, that’s a great start! 

Now, it’s just as important to remember who you’re NOT building for. You are most definitely not building for “everyone”. Serving a specific group of people very well is much better than spreading your team thin desperately trying to calm the clamor of disparate customers with farflung edge cases. 

Think about it: Would you rather create software a few people love and spread to friends and coworkers, or software that a much larger amount of people apathetically endure until they churn?

What are Customers Saying (and Doing)?

I’ve heard it said about marriage that it’s important to get a PhD-level understanding of your spouse’s needs, preferences, dreams, fears, etc. We could apply this same principle to understanding the people who use your product and your buyers (who may or may not be your users!). 

Customer discovery and UX research can help uncover new insights that help in designing a product people love (for more on asking the right questions, be sure to check out our recent blog post on the topic).

While direct user interviews and usability testing can be invaluable, especially before incurring design debt, chances are you have other super valuable sources of customer feedback you may have neglected as well when planning for your future roadmap, namely your user-facing team (support, customer success), support tickets, and reviews. Product analytics can also be a great indicator of where users are getting value and where they’re dropping off.

Don't skip understanding! (via Giphy)

With this data in hand, you can represent users’ voices throughout your process – after all, you aren’t building the product for yourself or for anyone else on your internal team. Sure, you have important insights and understand best practices, but amassing as much feedback as possible through these research efforts helps keep the people actually using the platform in the center and will empower you to make data-based decisions.

If It’s Broke, Fix It?

Your research, especially into customer feedback through support and customer success channels, can bring to light a number of experience issues that need to be addressed.

You can also perform a design audit on your existing platform to identify a larger number of usability issues that may not be reported by customers. 

At Trailmerge, we do design audits for B2B SaaS startups, identifying specific workflows, interactions, and UI elements that miss the mark against usability best practices, marking each infraction on a 1-5 severity scale. 1 represents a relatively minor annoyance to users or a small aesthetic issue, while 5 represents an issue that inhibits users from being able to accomplish their goals with the platform.

Leveraging a similar severity scale can help you prioritize what currently needs to be fixed by your dev team, redesigned, or thrown out.

What’s Going to Sell?

Now that you’ve gained some quality understanding of your users and learned from your customer success and/or support streams, let’s turn our attention to sales.

Of course, product/market fit is the prerequisite driving force of any startup, and the fine-tuning of your roadmap and feature specifics is no different. Serving your users is a great place to start (and remain), but there are many cases when your buyer and end users are not the same person.

So, what’s going to help you sell? Make sure to glean from your conversations with prospects with these questions in mind:

  • Are there features that customers are asking for? 
  • Why are prospects hesitant to buy? 
  • What feedback are you able to get from lost deals?
  • What are table stakes or bare minimum features for buyers?
  • Which features will help sales close more deals?

What do your potential customers actually want to buy? (via Giphy)

That all said, exercise some caution here for a few reasons:

  • Prospects are not always forthright in providing reasons for a “no.”
  • If someone says they would buy “if you had” a particular feature, it’s speculative, not a commitment. I could say I would buy a ticket to the moon if given the opportunity, but I have little idea if I actually would when presented with the real choice. Data about past behavior is more reliable.
  • A high focus on competitors’ offerings can stall innovation and differentiation in favor of chasing parity.

Next steps: Apply Constraints

We’ve looked at several sources of helpful data in this post to move decisions from gut feelings to customer-centered and strategic for the growth of the company. In part 2, we’ll factor constraints into the equation.

Blog Photo by Valery Fedotov on Unsplash

Mark Tegtmeier

Founder Mark Tegtmeier brings years of design experience to Trailmerge. He has worked with early stage startups, design and software agencies, government, and enterprise, driving them further in their product vision. A husband of one, father of four, and urban homesteader, Mark loves developing tech talent and coming alongside founders with ambitious visions for their products and companies.

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