In this installment of our series examining vendor relations, (Autotask) responds to comments from a Youngstown, Ohio-based managed services provider (MSP) partner, who wants to see greater transparency and responsiveness by vendors about their product roadmaps.
Following, Autotask’s vice president of product management responds to the pain points expressed by AVREM Technologies CEO Robert Merva.
Pat Burns, vice president of product management
Response to Pain Point No. 1 (roadmap transparency)
At Autotask we have complete transparency and availability of roadmap plans.
We have two annual user conferences (one in the US, one in Europe) where we present our product strategy, innovation highlights, and complete detailed roadmap plans for each product.
We deliver the same content on a rolling basis at regional events, typically another 6-8 times per year.
We also have a permanent roadmap communication page that is embedded in our navigation and one click away from every page in the Autotask application, and available to users on demand anytime.
We believe we can always do a better job of proactively communicating our plans, and welcome suggestions from customers, but it’s unfair and inaccurate to claim that we’re secretive or deliberately hold back roadmap information.
At times, there are some announcements made with shorter notice than others, but that’s because product planning is complicated and sometimes priorities change based on market dynamics changing.
It is important to note also that we don’t require an NDA to provide roadmap access to our customers.
Response to Pain Point No. 2 (that we don’t deliver features our users want)
We’re very confident in the planning process we use to make prioritization decisions, and the fact base we analyze to make those decisions.
We make product decisions based on the combination of user input, broad market dynamics (we don’t just look at existing customers, we look at prospects and competitors as well), and corporate strategy.
But user input is by far the most influential of the three factors.
We run prioritization surveys on a rolling basis, we have an online feature request system with voting, we have global advisory groups for each product plus regional cross-product planning groups, and we invest heavily in onsite engagement and one-to-one conversations when we can.
We’ve delivered 471 items submitted through the feature request system since it was launched in 2009 – that’s an average of more than one purely customer-driven product improvement shipped per week for 8 years.
And it doesn’t include many other customer-driven requests from other channels of communication, as well as the many other product improvements we’ve shipped that align with the market in general.
We have 60-plus items in the upcoming August release alone that are directly sourced and validated through users.
In the 22-plus years I’ve been doing product planning for SaaS companies, I’ve found that customers sometimes conflate the observation that a vendor doesn’t deliver the specific thing most important to them as an individual company, with the opinion that the vendor doesn’t deliver what the community as a whole wants.
I also often find that customers can focus narrowly on one item or a small number of items, and if those items aren’t delivered they become frustrated.
However, to have a balanced view, it’s important to assess what was delivered, in addition to what wasn’t.
With a huge product like Autotask PSA, there are so many good, useful suggestions to improve the product that they’re all competing with each other.
This means that sometimes a good idea is delayed because another good idea is prioritized.
But that doesn’t make the second good idea bad, nor does it indicate the vendor doesn’t value good ideas.
At Autotask, there is a massive surplus of good ideas and the way we determine which ones to prioritize is by collecting as much data as we can about what users want and how these things will impact their business.
That sometimes results in decisions that individual customers don’t agree with, but we have data across a massive aggregation of touch points, hundreds of customers and thousands of users, that validates our thinking.
Just like with roadmap communication, we can always do a better job of helping customers understand how we make decisions but we stand by our process and we always consider user demand for new product improvements because that’s the only rational way to sustain our business model.
Some vendors in our space have half of their business on-premise, which is paid upfront, but all of our customers are SaaS and we need to constantly maintain value to protect our recurring revenue.
About this series
In an effort to foster greater understanding about a critical dynamic in the IT services provider ecosystem, MSPmentor will be exploring the topic of vendor relations – and we want your help.
Whether you’re an MSP, a vendor or play some other role, Please send us your stories – either “on” or “off the record.”