A few years ago, I was preparing for a major product update. We were nearly done with our dev work and were gearing up for the launch.
But then we made a huge mistake.
Our VP of Sales came over to my desk with big news. A few minutes earlier, a large multi-national company had committed to sign up. Great news, right? But there was a catch.
“They just want us to add one minor feature which they really need. Once we do it, they said they would sign the contract.”
Now we were faced with a big decision. The feature that this customer wanted did not really line up with our strategy. And this “small feature” was not really a small feature at all. It was actually much more complicated than the feature that we had already spent more than a month building. It required a bit of a data model tweak. Yikes.
But I was promised that “just one feature” would close the biggest deal in our company’s history. How could we turn down such a huge deal?
So, I made the decision to push back the launch until we could add this new feature. And two months later — on the day it was ready — I confidently walked into the VP of Sales’ office to tell him the good news.
Unfortunately, he was not in a delightful mood. Two days earlier, the company who requested the feature emailed him and said they would not be moving forward with our product because their budget had been frozen. They put the purchase and implementation of our software on hold. And then they went cold.
My stomach sank to the floor. I realized in that moment how blind I had been. I was so hung up on this possible deal that I had allowed my team to abandon every other customer counting on that release — as well as our vision for where the product was headed.
Standing in that hallway, I knew it had been the wrong way to go. I learned that “This feature will close the deal” is a story with no end, because it:
Ignores your strategy
When I said, “Yes” to building that “key feature,” I was totally caught up in the moment. This lack of critical thought had deep consequences for everyone from my product team to our users. Re-focusing our efforts on this one, irrelevant feature took us away from our core vision. That feature had no alignment with our core functionality — or the goals and initiatives we had set to achieve that year. Worst of all, it had no relevance to most of our loyal users who were already paying customers.
Devalues your product
Saying, “Yes” to every new idea shows a lack of confidence in your product as is. You should value the product you have now — not the promise of what is to come. So, say, “No” to irrelevant feature requests. And steer the conversation from “What is missing?” to “Here’s what we have — and why it matters.”
Sets the wrong precedent
It is tough to disappoint potential customers — especially when they are influential and could impact your business in a major way. But when you bend to a single customer, you set a dangerous precedent. You are saying that your product is less about where you are driving it and constantly subject to change based on popular opinion.
It is tempting to make “exceptions” when the big boss asks or the VP of Sales pushes. That is why it’s worthwhile to remember that every decision has an opportunity cost and creating value now is typically better than the promise of it in the future.
Ultimately, long-term vision for your product always outlasts quick short-term wins.
I know how hard it is to be a Product Manager. This role — and the constant choices that come with it — will wear you down if you are not careful. But the allure of big potential customers is a siren’s song that will take your team off-course.
So, do not chase the feature that “will close the deal.” Your real, loyal users will reward your good sense.