Everyone who interacts with your product or business will have something they would change if they could. It is natural for all of us to have an opinion on what we see and how we interact with the products we use. As a result, product managers can become inundated with ideas and feedback about the product they support. The challenge is that not all ideas and feedback will make sense for your product or may make sense, but not as a priority for you to do at this time. This creates a tough situation for product managers where your job is to constantly create feedback loops with your customers and those around you to improve your product but in order to close the loop, need to be able to say no as a product manager to changes that may not make sense.
As a product manager the first thing you need to realize is that it is your job to say No when needed. You are not doing anything wrong by doing this. Many people I have met are concerned that saying No is a bad thing and what you need to realize is that saying No is not the problem it is the delivery of how you say No that is often the problem. When someone takes time to get you feedback about your product you need to take a step back and realize that they did you a favor by sharing their thoughts. With that said, if their thoughts do not align with the product vision or create a new value for your product you need to close the feedback loop. The reality is lying to your customer by saying you are considering their feedback for a future product update when you really are not, is more hurtful, than just being honest by saying No upfront.
When you tell a customer that their suggestion is being added to the product roadmap when in reality it is not being considered just to avoid the saying No to a customer discussion, you set the stage for follow ups by that customer in the future. You can and will see that customer check back every so often to see when the feature is scheduled. To find out where it is at in your product roadmap and over time you can turn a healthy customer into a very upset customer by making them feel lied to and wasting their time dragging them along. When you get feedback about your product that is something out of scope of your plans, you need to be able to say No as a product manager to your customers and team members but again, it is not about saying No is the problem usually, you need to work on how you say No to those people.
So what is the right way to say No to customers or team members when they provide feedback? Here are some good rules to follow:
1. Start with appreciation. You always need to remember who ever gave you feedback is trying to help you make a better product. They want to make it better for themselves so they can improve their use of it and feel their thoughts were valuable which is why they shared it. You need to start the discussion with that in mind and begin with and continue throughout with a tone of appreciation and consideration for sharing feedback and taking their time to give you their thoughts.
2. Explain why you are saying No. Does the feedback fall outside of your product vision? If so, explain your product vision first and how the suggestion may be outside of the scope you set out to accomplish. Does the effort for the feedback greatly outweigh the benefits? Again, explain that you took the time to size the work and based on the effort to complete you would need to spend X amount of time, money, resources, etc to accomplish it and would also need to bump the following features from your roadmap to prioritize it. Most people you meet are understanding that your product is a business and you need to make business decisions. As a product manager when you say No, you just need to ensure you are explaining the business decision on why it is you landed where you did to close the feedback loop on the feedback.
3. Always ask for more. The last thing you want to do is close the door on future feedback from the individual that shared with you the suggestion that you are saying no to. After you explain the reasoning behind it, engage them to share more feedback now that you have set the table on the parameters that is guiding your product management. Build a relationship with them to continue to get feedback that you can use. When saying no to a customer on feedback, don’t turn a cold shoulder where you are saying No and that is the end of the message. End the message with a continued request for more feedback in the future.
Product managers need to say No to feedback on a normal basis in order to build the best product roadmap possible and keep the team focused on the right features. In order to say no without offending anyone, product mangers need to become sales people and have skills to sell the No to the customer so that they walk away feeling appreciated, understanding the reasoning behind the decision and willing to still contribute more in the future. If you can swing that, you can get a great steady stream of feedback loops that even when you say No, you are not damaging your customer base.