At Jana, we are proud that our product teams are nimble, focused, and staying ahead of the market. The mobile advertising industry is evolving rapidly in emerging markets. It evolves so fast that learning first-hand from advertisers is crucial for us to stay in the game. The classic “say no” to customer product requests had to be adapted. Account managers see the market changing under their feet, so we have to diligently consider adding their inputs into our roadmap. Let me give you an example:
A large customer wants a complex feature
Our sales team got an informal promise (probably over drinks) that they would be handed a big check if only we had this complex retargeting feature. In the back of my mind, I knew that retargeting was in our future since it is an old adage to try to re-engage users who have already shown interest. Saying a blatant “no” to switching engineering resources from another important project could have pissed off a lot of people who thought millions were at stake. There was a better solution.
Sales people only listen to “yes”
Sales people are trained to always say “yes.” I had to speak their language in order to do the right thing. Instead of saying “no,” I asked a lot of questions about the particular account interested in the feature, and I also asked the sales reps to share their understanding of the market with me. I then wrote an internal wiki to clarify my thoughts on the issue. I included data on the state of the market and on what the engineering tradeoffs were if we were to pursue the feature. Then our team rapidly came up with a simple v.1.0 solution in order to test the market before investing more in the feature. The v1.0, or the MVF (Minimum Viable Feature), would also help us build basic functionality that would be reused later. And very importantly, while doing this, they still worked to finish the important feature we were already developing. That feature later turned out to be critical for retargeting v.2.0.
Customers change their mind -> keep the long-term needs of the market in mind
You know what happened? As often happens with customers, the large account that initiated the request changed its mind because of internal issues, and our other customers were not yet interested in retargeting, i.e. the market was not ready. But fast track 5 months later and now the market is ready, and we’re better positioned to win it since we’ve learned so much from retargeting v.1.0. All of the features of v.1.0, such as better monitoring and alerting and event-based attribution, have turned out to now be critical to winning customers.
You say “no” to a sales person by saying “yes” to the few things that matter.
So in short, you don’t always have to say no. Listen, ask questions and plan diligently so that you only say yes to features you should develop. This is what we’ve done and it works!