May 26, 2020
6 min read
Frank Lagendijk

Revising product priorities & processes in times of a pandemic

As the COVID pandemic continues to show its impact globally, SaaS companies scramble with the changing circumstances. Are you able to adapt to the new reality? Will you make it through? Are there new opportunities that will make the company thrive? And what does this mean for you as a product leader within such a company?

For fact, your product priorities are heavily impacted. If you had mapped out your plans in a detailed timeline roadmap, chances are most of that can be thrown out of the window.

Weathering this storm for SaaS companies means retaining existing customers instead of "growth at all costs". Selling has become harder and every business is evaluating their spend. Retaining customers is the top priority for most now. So how can you properly adjust product priorities to focus more on retention? And what to learn from this harsh reality-check in terms of product planning?

Retaining customers

Focusing the business on retaining customers in case that wasn’t top priority, has a lot of implications. For Product, it might be the time to revisit how you make sure you’re aware of all your customers’ needs. With a process in place to do that, you can start solving for (new) needs and deliver value, which is key for improving overall retention. So, what are some areas to think about? Let me give you three.

1. listening capabilities

Don’t make the mistake of thinking your customers are the “same” customers they were a couple of months ago. They have changed. We all have, because our needs change in a downturn. Just as you’re revising priorities, these companies are revising theirs. That might mean different ‘jobs’ of your customer become more or less important.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking your customers are the “same” customers they were a couple of months ago. They have changed.

Team up with Customer Success and talk to key customers as part of your research efforts. Be emphatic and listen carefully to discover the most important needs that your product addresses or will now have to address.

What could that mean practically?

  • Allocate more time for talking to your customers as a product leader. Be in the trenches and get a feel for what has changed first-hand.
  • Make sure you’re in sync with customer-facing teams such as support and customer success. They will make an extra effort to better serve the existing customer base. Make sure you’re well aware of the feedback the eyes and ears of your company are getting back – so you can take action.
  • Have something in place to track feedback coming in from those teams. Associate it to core themes customers care about. If you can’t go into some tool or some source of truth to see important needs, figure out a way to get that done.
2. Onboarding

Effective onboarding can mean the world to customers deciding to stick with your product or move on. If it isn’t intuitive, and customers can’t find the value they’re looking for, chances are they will not stick around. You can look at different stages of retention, as defined by Dan Wolchonok, Head of Product & Analytics at Reforge:

Week 1 retention:
Can you get users to use your product more than once?
Mid-term retention (weeks 2-4):
Can you establish a pattern of usage?
Long-term retention (weeks 4+):
How does your product become an indispensable tool?

Carefully look at what customers are bringing in most revenue and where your customers sit in these retention buckets. If you have a lot of recently acquired customers, it might be worth starting from the top of the funnel first before improving longer term retention. Improving early retention trickles down into the rest of the customer life cycle.

How week 1 improvements cascade over time – by Dan Wolchonok

Read our article 'Product-Led Growth: how to eliminate time-to-value' more tips on onboarding and decreasing time-to-value.

3. Closing the loop with customers

This may be part of your customer experience approach already. If not, now is the time to double down on it. Especially in times of high stress, closing the loop with customers carries a lot more weight. Acknowledging them for taking the time to provide feedback builds the relationship.

Practical examples:

  • When sending NPS surveys, make sure to thank them, and respond based upon their sentiment. Then, carefully track that feedback, and make sure the product team is aware. You can then take it into account for prioritization, act, and delight your customers.
  • Track feedback from support and customer success teams to learn about every request, unaddressed need, or issue customers have. Know exactly how often it’s mentioned, and by whom. This allows you to prioritize important wins effectively. By knowing exactly who mentioned it, you can communicate fixes back to them in a personalized way. It keeps them involved, leading to… you guessed it: better retention.  

Reframe your perspective on planning

You might change your processes and product priorities to focus more on customer retention. But how do you effectively plan new initiatives?

Now might be the time to realize that detailed timeline roadmaps aren’t the way to go. Why? Roadmaps with specific deadlines assume there’s little to no change as time passes. The more specific and the further out you guesstimate, the bigger the chance you’re wrong. They give you a false sense of control. Problems, opportunities, and goals shift in the real world, and that’s ok. Take that into account.

Your roadmap should mainly serve as a way to communicate the problems that need to be solved, and the order that you think you need to tackle them.

The world has changed, so you might need to reprioritize customer problems to solve. However (with a few exceptions), you should not need to disrupt your entire business. Don’t overreact. – Teresa Torres

Use this big reality check of a pandemic to rethink how (detailed) you plan. Forget about specific deadlines, and take it to a higher abstraction level. Shows what you’re working on ‘now’, what’s ‘planned’ or ‘next’, and what you’ll tackle ‘later’. Then prioritize initiatives in the order you think you need to tackle them.

By making it less rigid, you also avoid falling into the trap of pursuing any initiatives because you’ve outlined them in such detail, that it ‘feels bad’ to move them or throw them out.

All in all, see this period as a positive to make your customers more central to your product strategy. And while you’re at it, rethink how you plan for your product initiatives in a way you’re ready for future change.

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