When Should You Stop Gathering Customer Feedback… and Make a Decision?

Your product is ready.

You’ve tested it—and it works exactly as you’d envisioned. You and your cross-functional teams have reviewed your plans for marketing, sales, customer service, and manufacturing—and they’re all bulletproof. You’ve even talked up the product’s release date with prospects—and they’re eager for it. Yep, the product is ready.

And yet….

A little voice in your head tells you to wait. Maybe it’s asking for one more survey. Maybe it wants another focus-group session where you sit with users and watch them interact with the product. Or maybe it’s whispering for you to review your existing customer data one more time, just to make sure you haven’t missed something. As your release date nears, that voice inside you gets louder and louder, eventually screaming at you: Please! Don’t hit that “go-live” button yet!

What’s happening here? Are you just so data-driven that you’re always looking to compile and analyze more of it to make sure your product is as good as it can be? Or is something else going on?

Staying in Customer Feedback Mode Can be a Form of Hiding

One irony of our big-data era is that, thanks to the unprecedented sophistication of the analytical tools you have access to today, your task as a product manager is more difficult than ever.

Yes, with systems like machine learning and predictive analytics you can glean more useful information about your customers’ needs and wants than any product professionals who’ve ever come before you. But even after you’ve crunched all of that data, even after you’ve turned all of your customer feedback into actionable insights, your product still might fail.

And if your product fails in our modern era, when there’s so much data out there that we all assume product managers have all the answers, then the fault must rest entirely with you.

Which is why it’s possible that it’s not your little data muse in your head asking for more evidence as you near your release date. It’s fear.

But as a product manager it’s your job to embrace that fear—to recognize it and, if you’ve handled all of the other aspects of your job properly, to make the tough decisions about your product and then ship it.

In fact, there are many reasons that sometimes drawing a line in the sand and making a decision—even though it might terrify you—should win out over your temptation to wait and seek more feedback. Here are a handful of those reasons.

5 Reasons to Stop Gathering Data and Just Make a Decision

1. You’re a product manager, not a data collector (or an order taker).

The most obvious reason to make a product decision rather than wait for more data is that your role as a product manager calls for both your market knowledge and your intuition.

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“You’re a product manager, not a data collector (or an order taker).”

Yes, you need data. Yes, customer feedback is valuable. But in the end, it’s your responsibility as your product’s champion to feed all of that information into a larger decision-making process that also features your gut instinct.

After all, that gut instinct of yours isn’t just an uneducated guess. It will represent the totality of the knowledge you’ve gleaned in your role as PM, and your unique perspective about your market and user personas. Don’t be afraid to tap into it.

2. Your customers don’t always know (or tell you) what they really want.

There’s a funny story that circulates in the aviation industry, where every few years the airlines survey passengers about the types of in-flight snacks they’d prefer—a piece of cake, for example, or a plate of fruit. In survey after survey, the passengers overwhelmingly say they’d rather have the fruit. But when flight attendants roll a real cart down a real aisle on a real flight, an overwhelming majority of passengers ask for the cake.

Talking to your customers isn’t always the most direct path to the truth. Sometimes they won’t tell you what they’d really want, because they’re in denial about it themselves. Other times they simply don’t know what they want because they haven’t encountered it yet—and it’ll be your job to present it to them.

Horse-and-buggy drivers told Henry Ford they wanted a faster horse—not an automobile.

Music buyers told product managers they wanted CDs that didn’t skip—not an mp3 player (whatever the heck that was).

Remember, as a product manager your job is to lead your customers—not to follow them.

3. The data (or your interpretation of it) could be wrong anyway… so why not innovate?

A corollary to the idea above, that your customers can’t always articulate what they want, is that no matter how much data you compile and crunch, you might still come to an incorrect conclusion.

People are fickle. Tastes change. Priorities change. A competitive product that hits your market out of nowhere might change everything.

So don’t simply gather up a list of requests and demands from your customers and turn that list into a product. It might feel like the safe route, because you’re getting your list of priorities straight from your customers. But a product built strictly on orders from users and prospective users could for a number of reasons still turn out to be a dud.

So innovate. Show your customers and your market something new, something they weren’t expecting and might not have even realized they needed or wanted. That’s how you make a product worth owning and raving about!

4. Failure leads to learning. Hiding leads to… nothing.

Comedian Jay Leno once explained in an interview the reason so many comedians won’t stop talking even for a split-second after delivering a punchline is that they’re terrified of the silence that could follow.

So comics just keep rambling right after the punchline, adding filler statements like, “It’s ridiculous!” or “Know what I mean? Crazy, right?”

Such useless phrases can actually lead to negative consequences for the comic’s act. First, they clutter the punchline. An audience set to laugh at a joke might hold some of that laughter in if they think the comic isn’t finished. Second, they don’t allow the comedian to do the risky and scary work of delivering his line and then waiting, in silence, to learn if it worked.

And that second threat relates directly to you as a PM when you stay in customer-feedback mode, continually seeking, compiling and analyzing more data—rather than making a decision about it with the information (and intuition) you already have.

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“Failure leads to learning. Hiding leads to… nothing.”

Products will fail. But the sooner you can get yours out there, and learn where and why it failed, the sooner you’ll be in a position to improve it.

And if it makes that voice in your head feel a little more relaxed, you can tell it that actually shipping your product is probably the best way to get more of the customer feedback it so desperately wants.

Which brings us to our final point….

5. Agile!

The agile method of product development favors shorter development cycles so product teams can push their wares out into the market sooner and more often, giving customers a chance to experience the products firsthand and give their feedback.

In other words, agile should help you quiet that little voice in your head that’s afraid to make a decision, afraid to ship—and instead seeks the comfort of just one more survey or customer conversation.

If you adopt the agile method at your company, you’ll have more chances than ever to talk to your customers and gather feedback. And if you find your customers aren’t as happy with your current product as you had hoped, the agile method means you’ll be able to quickly punch up the product based (partly) on that feedback—and push it right back out to the market quickly.

And that little voice in your head that’s afraid to ship will go back to a deep, peaceful sleep.