Your Product Roadmap *is* your Product

Group of cartoon business people holding gears

After building, marketing and selling lots of software, I’m convinced that the single most underutilized component to driving growth is your roadmap.

In SaaS or consumer products monetized via an enterprise budget, you make your numbers because of your current feature set. But you blow out your quarter because your product and sales teams present a roadmap that explains the customer’s future state, if they have you as a partner.

When done correctly, the roadmap expands the number of tentacles to grab more customers and dramatically raises the value of every deal.

In the formative stages of building and selling your product, your current feature set is absolutely vital. At growth stage however, your in-market product is not really your product but it’s your proof point. It’s your cheapest and most effective form of marketing. At growth stage it’s your product roadmap that’s really the product that’s going to attract senior executives making 3–4–5 year bets. Because with continuous deployment or daily / weekly releases, the in-market version your positioning is obsolete by the time the customer gets value from it.

So what is a customer facing product roadmap?

Here’s what it’s not.

A roadmap used during the sales cycle is not the same deliverable you share with engineers. That’s necessarily tactical and solution driven. It isn’t a litany of features broken out by quarter for the next 18 months. That would likely break forward-looking rules anyway.

Here’s what it is.

  1. Its the ethos of your business that guides the choices you will make when enriching the offering. In our case, we have a track record (21M+ subscribers) of finding white spaces left behind by traditional transaction software. The design ethos that guides and motivates us is to continue to employ collaborative models to go after these white spaces to deliver big efficiency breakthroughs for our customer’s employees, customers, and partners.
  2. Its a thematic, executive-ready, sales consumable illustration of what problems you will keep solving for. A commitment to solving thematic problems that your target customer base struggles with to consistently drive revenue, reduce cost or mitigate business risk. Or you will have missed the mark. Jared Spool and Bruce McCarthy astutely describe themes “a promise to solve problems, not build features”. And that these themes must remain consistent.
  3. Yes, a healthy dose of tactical capabilities. In practical terms, you are always 5–10 features away from completeness, in the program owners mind. The program owner needs to know you are on it (or be clear the you don’t plan to) to be comfortable that she can get quick wins with the purchase. So by all means, include this. But know that whilst its one of the needed components, it isn’t the one that expresses the strategic thrust behind your offering.

Group of cartoon business people holding gears

Elon Musk epitomizes this. He presents what problems he will keep solving for, in the coming 24 months. Take speed: He markets the Ludicrous Button. Because a stated top speed is a feature. And that’s finite, and therefore limiting. Tesla’s Ludicrous Button is a design ethos that will keep drawing customers. Because they know exactly what future state of the art they are buying into.

It’s amazing how much time a product and sales team will focus on tactical capabilities or agonize around pricing options of current products to make its past as attractive and available as possible. Yet they will guard their future plans by restricting access to the roadmap like it’s the secret sauce.

Well the customer facing roadmap is the secret sauce in your sale.

Executives know that they, nor you, can predict the needed solutions of the future. All they want to be convinced of is that both they and you will be aligned on the same problems that need solving. That’s the only constant.

Expressing your roadmap is the basis for competing effectively. And this needs to be ingrained in your key product management, product marketing, sales enablement and sales execution processes.

It’s a hard slog to make your number based on your current features. So consider selling your roadmap. I’m convinced that it’s like wearing flippers to a swim meet.

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