How do product teams leverage user feedback to get organizational buy in?

by Linda Escobar
August 22, 2017

As product teams run experiments on testable hypotheses, user feedback and behavior reveal which ideas are misguided and which are potentially lucrative. In a perfect world, that would suffice – all relevant stakeholders would contextualize the organization’s mission and resources and align around the validated opportunities that fit accordingly. But as anyone who wasn’t hired yesterday can attest, getting buy in isn’t nearly that straightforward. Industry leaders that we interviewed recognize that user research must be accompanied by careful diplomacy and showmanship within the product and feature development decision-making process.

Once a business grows beyond a small group of people, data alone is no longer enough to inform decisions. Processes emerge, stakeholders vie over competing objectives, and initiatives splinter into different directions. At that point, user insights need to be packaged and presented, says Mark Uttley, the former VP of Global Insights at Spotify. It’s a delicate process that requires more than a carefully worded email. As is the case with most things in product management, it begins with empathy.

Know your audience

Product and research teams should familiarize themselves with the gatekeepers that unlock key checkpoints throughout the product development process, beginning with initial funding and continuing to staffing. Uttley recognizes that each group has their own jargon and preferences, and recommends that teams present accordingly.

“Marketing teams love videos of users,” Uttley explains. “But when you’re trying to get funding, it’s about sample sizes and confidence intervals.”

Victor Yocco, Research Director at EY-Intuitive, agrees and applies similar thinking to his agency’s output.

“We had a client that was advocating for an initiative within their organizations, but first needed justification,” Yocco explains. “They had to go to a competitive annual conference held by executives to get funding.” Realizing that deliverables can be just as, if not more, important than underlying data, Yocco’s team heavily focused on highlighting the branded interactive prototype and the depth of research that was available.

But intermediary team check-ins are of significant importance as well.

“Once we have any data, we immediately go back to the client’s objectives,” he says. When Yocco’s team makes recommendations around next steps, they always think about the client’s brand, risk tolerance, and stakeholders. “For example, we make sure to do something as simple as making sure that minority viewpoints are represented,” he says.

It’s the little things that endow insights with impact.

Give it sex appeal

While aligning messaging with stakeholders is the first step, there’s also the matter of mojo. It’s not unusual for organizations to invest more heavily in form over function.

“It’s all about bringing the customer to life,” Uttley argues. “It’s important to feature them talking about the problem they want to solve, and why certain things we tested did or didn’t work for them.”

To do that, Uttley often utilizes ‘sizzle reels’ and well-designed materials to bring consumer insights to life. Reflecting on his experience leading research departments across Spotify, Bloomberg, and Sony Music, he explained how funding and buy-in to new ideas often depends on how well you communicate consumer feedback on the idea. That reality contradicts many aspirational product management practices though.

For example, the modern zeitgeist dictates that product and research teams get feedback on low fidelity mockups. In practice, that may not always work. “You need to evaluate the organization’s culture and mindset,” Uttley says. “If you show someone something and want to get a good impression, sometimes you really need to tell a powerful story about a new idea through design and video.”

Even when presenting the underlying data, pixels matter. Yocco’s team will work with a designer to transform standard Excel charts into polished versions with the client’s branding.

Further, Yocco emphasizes the narrative aspect. “You need to have a story about the user, but also a story about your research methodologies,” he says. “Explain why you studied what you did.”

Defend your data

Of course, while showmanship is critical to getting buy in, you can’t leave your king totally undefended. At the end of the day, everything needs to be backed up by data.

Both Uttley and Yocco discussed their rigorous research practices at length. They cited numerous considerations, from samples sizes to survey question design, and from in-person interviews to remote unmoderated sessions.

In my next article, I’ll outline their recommendations and best practices for generating actionable user insights. Until then, it’d be wise to brush up on your PowerPoint skills.

Linda Escobar