Getting feedback – Dos and Don’ts

By Subraya Mallya - March 2015 | Topics - Product Management

As product companies we build products to meet a need out there. Along the way, we follow the standard practice of reaching out to existing customers, prospects, experts in the field to get validation of the problem, our proposed solution, market, pricing etc.

But having met someone (physically or online) and requested feedback, accepting the feedback is a skill that many of us don’t possess. It is an area all of us need some training in. The natural tendency is to immediately react to feedback (specially when it is negative). The result of that is it will block any additional feedback from coming your way.

How does one rein in the urge to react and make the best use of the time with someone who is helping you? Here are some things we learnt as part of numerous sessions.

  • Keep the noise out: Given that we have sought time with this person/people for feedback we block out everything else. No text message, cellphones during that meeting. Also as far as possible we don’t schedule the meeting in a coffee shop that abounds with all the necessary distractions.
  • Too many cooks: We avoid going to that meeting with a large team and “gang up” on the person giving feedback. Just one, at the most two. While one of us presents our product or idea the other can take notes. We also take turns in asking questions on different areas (sales, marketing, product, customer, pricing).
  • Set the expectations: As much as it is an art of seeking and receiving feedback, giving feedback is even more awkward. Just so we get unvarnished feedback, we make sure to convey to the person giving feedback, that we would appreciate the brutal truth and nothing less. There will be no feelings hurt or egos bruised. This way there is no awkward feeling.
  • Set the context: We start with the background on why we think the problem is worth solving and how painful the problem is to our target customers. Without getting into the solution, we try to keep it at the problem area and our hypothesis of the solution. This way we are not biasing any thoughts.
  • Listen more and speak less: Needless to say, the person giving feedback will ask some questions. Wait for the person to finish the question and then take your time to answer. One common mistake we all make is – while the person asking a question we interrupt, we put our mind on fast-forward to come up with the answer that we ought to give and consequently don’t listen to what she is saying properly. “Listen twice as much as you speak” rule applies here and resist the temptation to speak over the other person. The key thing to remember is – you are getting free, valuable advice. Maximize the value of time you have with this expert. I remember having a session with someone who had just left a large company and starting their own startup – he spent almost 50 minutes of the hour talking about the product and why he was passionate about the idea and not once asked me what I thought. This after he requested my time to get feedback and not to mention I had just come off a position, leading a company, in that space.
  • Don’t Defend: When we ask for feedback – we go prepared for negative ones too. We feel positive feedback, which is inline with our thinking, is great, but negative ones, which help us prevent making costly mistakes, are even better. Just accept the feedback in totality. There is always time to analyze and rationalize it later. We always ask follow-up questions to understand how the situation can be better handled. Anything we disagree with we either discard or keep it for a revisit down the road. Remember who is seeking for the feedback.
  • Clear asks: Much too often people who come for feedback come with a blank slate. Open-Ended questions are great when you are exploring some concepts or seeking to understand a business function as part of your sales process. But if you are asking for feedback on your product/solution – you need to bound the asks, clearly in the areas where you are challenged. We go with questions such as Scaling a business, Marketing a low-touch product, Value-based-pricing etc. Making sure you clarify what you are seeking as you are setting up the meeting is much better. Open discussion might yield some nuggets but might leave less time for questions that are much important.

What else has worked for you? Share with us.

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