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Product Dig #1: The Feedback Trap

January 2020 3 min read

We all heard that any product seed planted in the fertile soil of initial investments should be rained early with maximum possible amount of feedback from potential customers. As it’s the only way to ensure that the team is doing something that people will need and eventually will pay for.

It’s not in question that the feedback is essential. It’s sound idea that’s easy to buy into. Though everything that happens afterwards is vague:

  • What did you count for feedback?
  • How do you measure quality of the feedback?
  • Is there any feedback that is harmful?
  • What is the tipping point for pivoting?

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So what’s the Feedback Trap?

I’m about the problem that is when you gather feedback in an uncontrolled manner by asking direct questions to customers or potential customers about your product. From the first glance it looks like the right thing to do and it’s not a big deal at all.

What might go wrong

  1. If you’re not speaking to your target market. So the feedback you get is irrelevant.
  2. People are bad predictions. They can promise one thing and then would not act on the promise. They may have different inclinations when they reply to are you and when they go and when they’re going to buy your product.
  3. Different people have different problems to solve. And sometimes they can be very good at selling their specific needs or wishes.

The Feedback Trap is when the low quality feedback makes a startup make sub-optimal product decisions.

I saw a lot of this with companies that are building their first product or didn’t succeeded yet. This trap might be very harmful and not that easy to recognize.

Solution

1.Setting targets

Find what exactly are you trying to test and what would like to know.

It seems like a basic idea. It is but very important and it doesn’t mean that you should stick to the target that was set at the start all the time. At least you’d have something to start with. Then you can get information you never thought about. That would be a huge success, though it’s important not to lose the string that got you into questioning.

2.Initially defining potential customers

The second set of questions is about who are your customers and who aren’t. Meaning who you’d be hunting for the feedback? What channels do they use? How to engage them into answering your questions?

It will be dramatically different experience to gather initial feedback for a grocery shopping list and for an analytical system for banks. Users and decision-makers are completely different for these two products. It would be relatively easy to find a person who might advice you on the grocery list and hard to have a 20 minutes from a CEO to answer your questions.

3.Questioning is a strategic game

Your questionnaire has the highest chance of determining failure or success of the whole endeavor.

I genuinely advice to read The Mom’s Test book before starting the questioning process. It’s short and brilliant.

4.Assessing quality of results

Know how to assess quality of the questions asked and the feedback received.

You could find people that are 100% match your target clientele or someone who are at outskirts of your client map. It’s important to note the difference and not treat their feedback as equal. Sometimes you can have 1 very important feedback that’s a gem and 10 more that aren’t a big deal.

Though if you control the process and everything is written down I would rather encourage you to go and try something unplanned but with a chance to get unexpected and interesting results to power new ideas.

Summary

You needed feedback that is meaningful and trustable as a data source. You’d need a lot of energy and positive attitude. Also it’s the observation, so the less you interfere with the experiment, the better it’ll go. Dare you sell anything to the people or push them into a pre-defined way, you’re an observer here, not a seller or an owner of your product.

Target to gain understanding of your potential customers in the context of your product and how it’ll fit their lives. Opposed to get a list of improvement recommendations.

Critical thinking

It’s not everybody who agree that the conversational feedback is a trustable source of the information. Rather quantitative feedback from your analytics will provide hard numbers to act upon. Pieter Levels argued that the only feedback that can prove product/market fit is actual sales.

I’m back in a week or so. Gather usable feedback meanwhile!

A.