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What if the Features You're Releasing are not Interesting to Your Customer?

The term "voice of the customer" gets thrown around a lot, and can be claimed by lots of different groups in the company--sales talks to customers, or potential customers anyway, every day. Certainly customer success would say THEY have the voice of the customer--it's in their title. And our friends in product management spend a ton of time with customers, so clearly they have the voice of the customer.

And yet, it is marketing--and in particular, product marketing, that needs to be closest to the customer when it counts the most--when you're trying to ensure you hit the mark with the features and functionality that will help them solve the problems they feel today, as well as those they may not yet feel.

So this sounds great on paper, but too often marketing is left trying to make something of a product release that is comprised of a bunch of grab-bag features that product managers either really wanted to build or were built with a single customer in mind. I've spent more time than I care too with product marketing teams trying to make heads or tails over the collection of things that product has put together and tried to make a coherent customer-facing story out of it that sales will digest.

And guess what--they never digest it--they basically just do what my dog used to do when we fed him something he didn't like--he'd sniff it, try a bite, and then look up at us. That's sales when they don't like what they have to sell.

You want me to sell what?

The key here, at the end of the day, is alignment. Ah yes, just simple alignment. No, not simple--hard. Complex. Political. All these things. But it's in this stew of egos and priorities and territorial fights that the battle must be waged and won--all on behalf of the customer. Marketing needs to be that voice. And you need to be working closely with both sales, CS, and product to get everyone on the same page in terms of where the near-term roadmap is leading, what it will yield, and how you will sell and marketing whatever the engineers make to the marketplace.

Misalignment grinds the gears--product is happy, sales and CS are not, marketing is definitely not as adoption plateau's after the early adopters, and you're stuck in a rut while competitors release the killer features you wish you had.

As marketers we need to take control of this process and ensure that our voice--and that of the customers--is heard in the planning process, in the development process, in the beta process, and the release process so that what comes out of the development pipe is reflective of what has a chance to be sold successfully into the customer and prospect base, and sold at scale.

It's that last part that's the crux of it all. Every feature will make some customer happy. Your job in marketing is to create the alignment up and down the supply chain of your company to make a ton of customers happy.

Get in front of the train before you're having to chase after it, and ending up on the hook for the failure of a release that you knew way ahead of time was not going to be a success.

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