In the early days of a startup, founders almost unanimously have one common goal: growth. There’s an innate hunger amongst us, a thirst to land that huge customer or to achieve that next big milestone.
For many of us, we’re driven by that pursuit. The most successful founders are generally those who reach their goal and, without hesitation, move on to the next one. With SaaS businesses in particular, that road is often paved with requests from customers for product changes to suit their needs, and the ensuing temptation to constantly say “yes” for that one extra shot of growth.
Herein lies the eternal dilemma that startup founders often face. We’ve been told “the customer is always right,” but is that really true? If a customer or prospect is saying they want a particular feature or change to the product, should we just fulfill that request in pursuit of retention or growth?
I’ll be the first to admit that these aren't easy questions to answer. Product development isn’t a science, and in my experience, for every philosophy and methodology that’s out there, there’s an equally valid counterpoint.
What I can say is that I’ve witnessed the “yes temptation” firsthand. It’s particularly prevalent in young and emerging industries like cannabis, where technology companies have yet to solidify their place as trusted partners for their customers, and where the competitive environment, coupled with the massive opportunity, creates the perfect conditions.
I’ve witnessed companies fall into this trap, and the result is almost always the same. What starts out as a road map driven by vision over time turns into a product that looks more like “Frankenstein’s monster.” When the product is influenced too much by customer requests, it begins to lose its identity and strays further and further off course. Worse yet, this divergence happens not just in one direction but in many, often with features “bolted on,” leaving many customers confused, especially those newer to the product.
The problem then compounds when looking at the associated costs for each fulfilled request: maintenance, supporting the feature, requests for additional functionality, training, documentation, and so on. It’s not just unsustainable, it becomes nearly impossible to provide high-quality customer care when the company is constantly building just for growth, not retention.
Sure, in the short term a quick “yes” and a few weeks worth of design and development may land a big account. However, what truly creates sustainable, scalable growth and, in turn, great companies, is actually saying “no.”
As an entrepreneur, particularly one leading product development, it’s your ability to say “no” that can mean the difference between the success and failure of your product, and potentially the business as a whole. By treating customer requests as information to help guide your decisions instead of the decisions themselves, you remain in charge of your own road map. And when you’re steering the ship, the power to stay on course and stick to your vision rests in your hands. Equally important is that in doing so, you avoid those aforementioned associated costs and allow your business to focus on arguably the most direct indicator of success: the customer experience.
To create a great customer experience, we need to examine its core components. In SaaS businesses, the product is arguably at the center of that recipe. However, we can’t overlook other key ingredients such as an organized and engaging sales and implementation process, phenomenal customer success management, and equally great customer support. The most successful businesses with the highest customer satisfaction are those that stay true to their vision and maintain a focused product. They’re able to successfully dedicate the time and resources needed to not just land the big account, but to successfully support and manage it as well. Operations run smoother, communication is more effective, and processes are less cumbersome. The internal result is a quicker moving and more efficient organization, and the external result is a happy customer who’s getting the support and care they need.
It’s this level of focus, and a company’s ability to embrace the power of “no,” that can often mean the difference between long-term success and failure. It can dictate which companies will stand the test of time, and which will crumble under the weight of an unsustainable product.