Even experienced leaders can easily forget that one voice shouldn’t drive change.
I try and write from recent inspiration and this post is far from an exception. Over the last few weeks, several of the CEOs we work with have all reinforced the problem of the lone voice driving change, which is a symptom of mismanagement of the SaaS feedback lifecycle. These are experienced business leaders who know better but can still get caught up in reacting to a single opinion. And it’s prevalent across disciplines too, with my recent experiences including sales, marketing, product road mapping, investor relations, and customer success.
SaaS companies that react to lone voices can have a hard time staying a course. They may also have fractured identities resulting from too many cooks in the kitchen. Mismanagement of the SaaS feedback lifecycle often manifests in product roadmaps that cater to a customer’s perspective rather than market need. This is probably most common in startups who listen to whale customers more than the market.
Listening and Acting Are Different
In SaaS, listening to feedback is critical to rapid iteration and growth. So we’re conditioned to listen to everything. We set up systems and processes to capture as much market feedback as we can — from prospects, from customers, from employees, from investors, from advisors, and so on. That’s perfect. We need to listen to everything. That’s easy.
But disseminating and acting on what we hear needs to be more discerning. This is where the SaaS feedback lifecycle gets dicey, even for seasoned pros. It can be hard not to act on a single voice, especially if we’re fragile on the topic, or nascent in our thinking. We get an input, perhaps from a very respected source, and we’re prone to execute against that perspective. But if it’s still only one, let’s think about how to validate that a bit more before acting.
Think Like a Journalist
The college for my advertising major at the University of Florida was journalism. So my core classes, before I got into my major, were journalism. Fact checking is the most basic of journalistic principles. If you can’t validate a fact with an additional source, it’s not a fact. We can apply that same standard to feedback we get.
If the lone voice is validated, by at least one, preferably two additional sources, then and only then is it worthy of consideration for action.
Even Surfacing the Lone Voice Can Be Disruptive
One thing it feels like we’re often reluctant to say — because it feels blasphemous — is that feedback can be just plain wrong. You can hear something from a lone voice and capture it. But if that voice automatically gets elevated in a [email protected] message it gets credibility. If it’s wrong, it just planted a bad seed. So even widely disseminating all feedback can be disruptive. It’s about considering your audience. The leadership team should be able to handle everything. But to share everything with everyone in the company can be confusing and distracting. I’m all about transparency, but we need to strategically guide our organization through curation.
Three Rules of the SaaS Feedback Lifecycle
To summarize, I like to think about the SaaS feedback lifecycle in the following three stages.
1. Listen to Everything
Methodically capture feedback from everywhere.
2. Curate Before Surfacing
Validate perspectives against your strategy and point of view before sharing with the whole company. Share everything with leadership, if you like.
3. Corroborate Before Acting
If you hear a voice that you respect, work to reinforce it before acting. Look for more than two aligned perspectives prior to even considering a change.
Why does this matter?
Opportunity Costs of Lone Voice Reactions
The bottom line is that acting on lone voices wastes resources on small opportunities rather than large ones. Since we’re in the business of executing against massive growth, that’s a path to mediocrity that we can’t afford to take.