Introducing new product features: Should sales leads get a vote?

When it comes to developing new product features and services, who should have the power? Should your sales leads and pipeline get a vote or should companies stick to product roadmaps?

For sales teams, nothing is more important than hitting sales targets.

So when a potential client says, “We love it, we need this and we do have a budget, but . . .” And then here comes the feature request.

Except in many cases, it isn’t really a feature request. It usually comes down to, “we need this, otherwise” they take their budget and go elsewhere. It usually turns out to be a deal breaker, and whether or not a company can deliver can undo months of managing a prospect through a pipeline and negotiating a commercial deal.

Should a company go ahead and implement the feature request?

To answer this question - and before you go back to them with an answer - there are a few things worth considering.

#1: What is the deal worth?

Start with the customer lifetime value (CLTV). Work out how much an annual or multi-year contract is worth, and whether you can get more revenue out of this client - either upfront or annualised over a year or more for implementing the additional product development.

#2: Can your product team do the work?

Do they have the capacity? Are we talking a short project that only takes a few hours work, or would it take weeks or months? And do you need input/support from the client to complete this work?

All of these questions need to be factored into the answer you give the potential client. Product teams that have the capacity, that can fit the work in without too much disruption, are going to be more inclined to support implementing the request than those who have to re-draw a whole roadmap.

#3: Would other clients appreciate this feature?

All product-focused companies have a roadmap. A plan for the features they are going to implement and launch over the next few weeks and months. These features should be tied into commercial needs, new markets and sectors, and requests that customers have put forward.

Your sales lead could be asking for something that has already been considered and is on this roadmap. In which case, either let them know that the product doesn’t have this feature but soon will. Or re-arrange the roadmap slightly, if you can, to make this new feature a priority. Simple! And this way, you’ve won a new client and ticked something off the roadmap.

#4: Is there a strategic advantage?

Beyond the CLTV, is there a strategic value to introducing this feature at the request of this client?

Would this client help land you new revenue in a sector/region you’ve been trying to get into? Is this feature suitable for similar clients (e.g. something that you know will be useful in the financial or healthcare sectors)?

Providing the strategic advantages are sensible and there are short and long-term gains from doing extra work to win this client, then this could be a valuable investment.

#5: Will it be good for the team?

Finally, another aspect to consider is the internal politics. Every team has internal dynamics. In most software and product-focused companies, there is often a tension between sales and marketing and the product development team.

Look at what both teams need. Can you sell this to both as a win, or use this as a way of bringing those teams closer?

Research on the balance between development (R&D) teams and sales/marketing published in the Harvard Business Review is worth thinking about: “Our advice for senior corporate leaders: Beware of giving R&D too much power. Allow marketing to contribute—and contribute visibly—to your firm’s newly developed products.” Without visible input from teams who interact with customers, this research warns that “products provide less value for their customers, and sales drop.”

Ultimately, whether or not you implement a new feature requests depends on several factors: time, resources, capacity and the deals value. But weigh up all angles before getting back to the potential customer. A quick yes or no before considering everything could backfire for your sales team, the client and developers.