The Product Manager's Guide to "This Feature Will Close the Deal"

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.

About Ron and Aha!

Ron is a product guy. He is the Director of Product Management at Aha! - the world’s #1 product roadmap software. He previously founded and sold his own company and has been on the founding team of multiple venture-backed companies.

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Comments

  1. Don

    At the outset, philosophically, how can you agree to something you don’t understand? It’s impossible. All parties need to lay out what is involved and the impact of actions or inaction. Second, everybody has to have some skin in the game. Without a real commitment, i.e. Something of weight or consequence, by both sides, then either side can back away from the table at any time. Prospects can leave at any time without fear of reprisal. If they aren’t laying money down there must be some form of commitment. But no commitment is as binding as money. It is essential in the condition on the promise a software vendor makes.

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  2. Margaret Dittloff

    Ah, so true. I too have been lead down that path and you are absolutely right. Still sometimes we PMs get overruled. Then you just have to find a way to see if part of the feature or concept could provide benefits to your larger customer base. Use that as a commitment to work with the new prospect and develop something that is perhaps an even better fit for them.

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  3. Keith Denton

    Boy have I heard this one before. I now tell the sales account mgr or executive “we have what we have. Do that selling thing you do and sell it. You can’t tell me that the totality of the rest of our product ia unsellable. Take the order or get a hard commitment based on today’s value and we’ll add your feature in the next release.” At some point, sales has to learn to sell what you have, not what they wish you had to make their jobs easier.

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  4. Nishat Aleem Khan

    I agree to continue selling the original product to the clients in hand; but would not forsake the opportunity to develop a new feature either. However, there should be a basic down payment for any such request which should cover the cost of R&D, overheads and human resource which would be allocated/ recruited for development of the feature. An astute sales team should run feasibility for the initial request even if the final deal does not materialize.

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  5. Alfred Ressenig

    It all depends on the position and standing which you as Product Manager have. If you have a weak position and you try to reject the request then VPs and Directors will find a way to “convince” you that developing the feature is the better option for the company. If you have a strong position then you may reject. I’d, however, recommend that you get the requested feature analyzed by a Business Analyst who would hopefully find out that the minor feature is not minor at all and has severe implications. With such a statement in your hands you have a well-founded argumentation and the prospects that your decision will be respected are much higher. Still, the sales guy who loses the prospects for a decent bonus payment will not be your friend.

    Reply
  6. Chris Merlin

    Great post on the dangers of allowing Voice of the Customer to become Voice of “A” Customer. Product Managers must stay convicted to their vision of their portfolio to be successful, and they will have an of armchair quarterbacks trying to de rail them….comes with the responsibility of the job.

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  7. Pascal Bleij

    Nice article Ron. First one after Brian?

    While I fully agree on the long-term vision and product strategy, there is one comment I would make to the VP……”If the customer wants that feature, send me the order, and I’ll make sure the customer has this feature before we start deploying it”. In this way, you put the commitments back to the one requesting……….especially if it’s not part of your current long-term vision, but if people want something and willing to pay for it, why not build it on top of. If it really depends on the one feature before they sent the order, they probably want it anyway? If not, they’re not your customer. I love the articles of Aha!

    Reply
  8. Jignesh Sonchhatra

    It seems this is such a common scenario that can happen with any company, any industry and can be experienced by any PM firsthand working at any of those companies. And it is tempting to take the “feature that will close the deal”, especially when your company is a growing company and needs that first big customer or deal. In my opinion, first, a more practical approach towards this should be involving all the key decision makers. At the very least, all the potential failure scenarios should be taken into consideration and fallback plan should be put together with internal stakeholders. If a decision is made to go forward, a binding agreement should be made with the potential customer committing to buy X number of units if your company delivered the feature as promised in time and potential consequences if they don’t. This step is a reality check of how serious the customer is about the feature and the product as a whole. A systematic approach like this may not completely avoid the fiasco completely but it can certainly provide a guard-band for it.

    Reply

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