The customer is not always right: Obo survey shows the need for market data during the product journey

January 24, 2019


New State of the Product Journey Report shows product teams, engineers, and sales professionals believe product planning processes are “good enough” despite high product failure rate

SAN MATEO, Calif.– January 24, 2019Obo, the world’s first product decision system, today released a preview of the findings from its inaugural State of the Product Journey Report, that shows how organizations have settled for “good enough” product planning processes, and often don’t take into account input from sources other than their customers.

Obo’s survey was designed to assess how professionals across an organization—from product management to executives to engineers to sales—view their current product planning process and highlight the key challenges and barriers that they face. Research findings were based on a survey of more than 600 executives, product managers and leaders, engineers, and sales/service professionals across the United States.

In most organizations, product managers still rely on a myriad of tools such as spreadsheets and slide decks to develop product plans, but those tools alone don’t provide teams with the insights they need to build successful plans and, ultimately, successful products. Even when teams use existing road-mapping tools, it is too easy to build a plan based on the wrong product or feature, only to realize the mistake after significant time and monetary investment.

“It is time to help the product team, and all those involved in the product planning process, benefit from the era of digital transformation. There are significant challenges in the product planning process that have yet to be addressed by a viable application or platform,” said Pete Sinclair, CEO at Obo. “This report showcases that teams do not have confidence in their current processes and are looking for higher levels of communication and clear prioritization across functions. It is also clear that there is a need for better ways to solicit and incorporate input from the market and other stakeholders—rather than just customers —to improve long-term product viability.”

Is “good” really “good enough”?

When asked to rate how effective their planning processes are, respondents across roles believe that their organization’s current approach to product planning is OK – not great, but good enough. Significantly, however, core product leaders—executives and product management—rate their processes higher than the builders (engineering) and significantly higher than the field (sales, support). Questions asked respondents to rate on a scale 1 (low) to 7 (high). Responses to these questions were converted to corresponding letter grades where an “A” is defined as “extremely effective” and an “F” is defined as “extremely ineffective”. Executives and product management rated their process an average of a “C,” while engineering and sales consistently rated the same processes at a “D.”

“The results of the survey are indicative of not only a communication gap between these various teams, but also of the importance of the different vantage points of these roles,” said Sinclair. “While sales and service professionals may not be as involved in the product process, they are on the front lines engaging with customers, prospects, and the competitive landscape in the market. They are keenly aware of the gap between what’s in the product and what the market and customers actually need and want. Executives and product management might be either too close to the product planning process or too removed from the market to see what is or isn’t working..”

When the customer isn’t always right

With clichés like “the customer is always right” and “we put the customer first,” it’s hardly a surprise that most businesses are focused on keeping their customers happy. This includes providing them with new features or products that they say they want or need. The survey revealed that more often than not, organizations believe that getting and responding to customer input is significantly more important than getting and responding to market input:

Most respondents (63 percent) say they solicit customer feedback when developing new products and features. However, only 37 percent solicit feedback from the broader market on these same products and features. Even less than that (13 percent) believe that market feedback is the most important to get.
While 22 percent of respondents say that “customer driven” is the best way to describe their product planning process, only 11 percent view their process as “market driven.”

Over 25 percent of all respondents say that a customer-driven approach is a characteristic of the best product planning approach, while only 11 percent believe that being market driven is key to a successful product planning approach.

Prioritization is key

While respondents reported that their organization has a “good enough” product planning process, the survey revealed that the biggest challenge to improving those processes and making them “great” came down to one key concern: prioritization. Both the top challenge, or an everyday difficulty that an individual or team needs to address and surmount, and the top barrier, something that can prevent the process from moving forward without assistance from others, cite prioritization – regardless of job function:

More than one quarter (28 percent) of all respondents across job functions believe that competing priorities are the number one challenge faced when building a better product plan.
21 percent of all respondents say that the top barrier is a shift (or shifts) in strategy and priorities.

Other top challenges and barriers that respondents highlighted include “too many decision variables” (20 percent), “budget changes” (19 percent), “plan approval process” (16 percent) and “evaluating and validating features” (15 percent).

The complete State of the Product Journey Report will be available for download in early 2019. Sign up to receive the full report at: