How to Build Feedback into Your Product’s Lifecycle

July 7, 2016

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The product life cycle is one of the oldest, most enduringly useful business concepts around. In broad strokes, it defines the stages of customer acquisition and retention that all products typically go through.

At each stage, it forces you take a step back and think about the big picture: How can you get this product to more customers and make sure it stays relevant to them in the long run?

The way you approach those questions as a newly-founded startup won’t be the same as when you’re doing $10 million in ARR. Your product itself, the way customers use it, and your acquisition strategy all change drastically between those two points. The only constant is that no matter what stage you’re in, success depends on how much value customers get from your product.

The best way to figure that out is to ask them directly.

Customer feedback is the best way to uncover what needs to happen for your product to keep growing, but only if you’re asking the right questions at the right times. Here are the four surveys you can use to build customer feedback into each stage of the product lifecycle.

Introduction: Find Your Passionate Customers

When you’re first starting out, your single biggest priority needs to be getting to product/market fit. It won’t be possible to acquire customers if your product doesn’t solve a market need. That’s why the growth line is so flat at the start of the introduction stage.

The problem is that product/market fit is an abstract concept. How in the world do you know if your product solves a significant market need if you have fewer than 100 users? You might think the fact that anyone is paying for it is proof enough. But then again, if the fit was really there, wouldn’t people be beating your door down begging for the product?

Luckily, startup marketing expert Sean Ellis has a stress test to measure whether your company is at product/market fit, based totally on customer feedback.

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Survey your customers, and ask them, “How disappointed would you be if you could no longer use our product?” If a substantial number of your current customers don’t consider your product a must-have, you’ll have a tough time convincing enough new customers that it is. By conducting this experiment with hundreds of startups, Ellis has found that 40% answering “very disappointed” indicates product/market fit.

Follow up with your “very disappointed” respondents and figure out what makes your product so valuable to them. You’ll need to target people like them to grow, and their responses will help shape how you market to them. If you’re below the threshold, talk to those lukewarm customers and figure out how the product needs to change to get more of them engaged.

Growth: Learn Why Your Customers Buy

Once you’ve reached product/market fit, you can pour your energy into growth and customer acquisition. But for that growth to be both fast and sustainable, you need to understand why each and every customer signs up.

You might be thinking, “Isn’t that the point of product/market fit? They’re all buying to solve the same key problem, right?”

Yes and no. Consider really ubiquitous products like smartphones. Every customer is getting the same product with the same functionalities, but using it in vastly different ways. A teenager is going to be most interested in photo sharing apps, while a businessman is going to be interested in something like heavy duty file sharing. Phone companies need to market differently to those groups based on how they’re going to use the product.

Your product probably doesn’t have as big of an addressable market as a smartphone. But it’s still going to have different categories of users, each with a unique vision of how your product will make them more successful. You need to tailor your marketing to each group’s vision to get as many users as possible.

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You need to ask your customers why they bought from you, and let them explain in their own words. Put this survey on your purchase confirmation page, as customers will be more likely to respond when they’re feeling anticipation for the product. As you see trends across different types of users, you’ll know what use cases and features to highlight as you market to each segment.

Maturity: Keep Your Customers Engaged

In 2011, Crumbs Bakery was one of the fastest-growing companies in the country, all on the back of one product: cupcakes. Crumbs took advantage of a huge surge in demand for the miniature dessert. But by 2014, sales stagnated and Crumbs’ stock price tumbled to a paltry $0.15 a share.

Crumbs’ demise has a lesson for any entrepreneur: What propels you through the growth stage may not be enough to sustain your company through its maturity. Cupcakes captured customers’ attention initially, but without new offerings to hold their attention, they stopped buying.

When you’re no longer grabbing up new customers hand over fist, retention becomes even more crucial. You need to give customers an experience that’s always getting better if you want them to stick around.

That could mean adding new features, better support, or improved usability. You need to turn to your customers to find out exactly what improvement needs to look like. The best way to ask them is with the NPS survey.

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If customers aren’t willing to recommend your product, it means they don’t think it adds enough value to justify buying it. That suggests they’re likely to churn. NPS is an easy way to quantify which customers do and don’t feel like they’re getting that value.

By looking at responses to the “Why?” follow-up and segmenting them by customer NPS score, you can pinpoint the issues that are most jeopardizing your customer experience. That will ensure your product is always improving, so you can actually keep all the customers you take on during hyper-growth.

Decline or Renewal?

If you keep improving the customer experience and find new applications or markets for your product, it can keep growing steadily well past the maturity stage. But most products fail to keep up with customers’ changing needs, so they gradually lose users and fade away.

Nip that decline in the bud before it happens. You need to get a system in place to figure out why customers leave you before it becomes a problem. That way, you know exactly where to turn to address churn as soon as it starts to spike.
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Use a cancellation survey to ask every single one who cancels why they’re leaving.

That allows you to do two things. In the short term, you talk to customers who respond and offer them a fix for their problem in a last ditch effort to keep them. Qualaroo’s Identity API makes it easy to identify and follow up with anyone who completes a survey.

In the long term, knowing what you could’ve done to keep lost customers is the first step to improving. Look for patterns in the responses so that you can correct the issues affecting your retention.

The Right Tools for the Right Time

Change is the one constant in the startup world. Markets constantly shift, technology is always changing, and new competitors can pop up at any time. Your company will succeed or fail based on how well it adapts to each new chapter.

One of the only things you can control is how you talk to your customers. Each of these surveys is tied to the unique goals of each stage of your product’s lifecycle. By deploying them at the right times, you’ll stay attuned to what customers want and always be ready to provide it. That allows you not just to survive in a state of constant flux, but to thrive in it.

The Qualaroo team has years of collective experience in user feedback and can help you capture insights that matter – at scale.

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