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I am frequently asked if it’s okay to share your product roadmap with customers and prospects. After all, companies like Apple are famously secretive about futures, and yet B2B companies in particular are constantly being asked for a preview of what’s to come. Why do customers ask and should you share?

Counterintuitive as it may seem, when companies ask to see your product roadmap, they are asking less about specific features and dates, and more about your level of commitment to them and companies like them. They hope to glean from the details of your future plans your direction and intent to look out for their interests.

So my answer is yes, you should share your product roadmap, but you should craft that communication to answer the questions being asked, not to reveal and commit to details that can and should change along the way.

Drop The Details

Product people have to manage many details, and their tendency when asked what will ship is sometimes to provide a lengthy list of specific features, fixes, and enhancements. This is great for the internal project plan the development team needs, as well as for the support team dealing with bugs. But it’s a huge mistake when speaking with a customer, and even more so with a prospect.

The last thing you want to do is promise a particular feature to a customer and then have to cut it for time near the end of the project. But if you’ve decided you need to work on usability, for example, you probably have 10 or 20 individual changes you hope to make that will get you where you need to go. Rather than overcommit your team, simply add “Enhance Usability” or something similar to your roadmap as an overall theme and leave it at that. Even if you ship only a few of your ideas, you’ve delivered on your promise in some measure.

Make The Benefit Obvious

A lot of product roadmaps consist of lists of random-seeming initiatives, many of which are designed to address internal or infrastructure issues. I’ve seen many such documents with items like “new platform,” “server upgrade,” or even “CRM integration.” This kind of work is inevitable and necessary — and will benefit customers in the end. The key is to make that benefit transparent to your audience.

So if you plan to support millions of configurable color options, customizable fonts, and upload of logos in your UI, for example, make it clear that the reason for all of this is to “reinforce your company branding.”

Keep Time Frames Broad

As many of us have discovered the hard way, promises about future enhancements can ruin your quarter by delaying revenue recognition. The key, according to revenue recognition.com is “the level of specificity and the anticipated release date of future deliverables.”

To avoid this unhappy accident — and also to provide yourself with flexibility to adjust delivery dates — keep your dates as vague as you can. Speak about phases, half-years, or at most quarters. Even if you think now that you’ll deliver in January, put Q1 on your roadmap to minimize your exposure and maximize your options.

If you can tell the story of how your product is designed to bring value to a particular market over time, you will be far less pressed to commit to dates and to particular features. If asked when or if you will have a particular feature, ask what problem the customer or prospect is trying to solve. If your interests and theirs are aligned, you can then reassure them you are hard at work on exactly that problem but that you don’t want to constrain your team’s options for how best to solve it. Research on the buyer’s journey already shows that marketers who align content to specific pain points and stages within the buyer’s journey see 73% higher conversion rates than those who don’t align. So naturally, aligning product roadmaps in a similar fashion capitalizes on this trend.

This approach also allows you to change your mind about specifics based on feedback from the customers and prospects you’re speaking with. And that is one of the other key benefits of sharing your roadmap. The feedback you get from these customer and prospect conversations is exactly the kind of feedback you need to tweak your roadmap – or discover you’re headed in entirely the wrong direction and need to rethink your plans.

Did you change your roadmap after you published it? Sure, in direct response to market feedback from customers like you. What better answer could you give to your market than “I am listening?”

For more information on crafting a compelling roadmap, see The Dirty Dozen Roadmap Roadblocks  on my personal blog.

Bruce head squareBruce McCarthy: A lifetime builder and innovator, Bruce McCarthy passionately pursues understanding customer needs in order to bring compelling solutions to market. Founding three companies, leading teams ranging from startups to market leaders such as Art Technology Group, Oracle, and D&B, and most recently, as VP of Product at NetProspex, Bruce has consistently demonstrated his leadership in areas ranging from marketing to acquisitions (on both sides of the table) to product management, development, and design. A dedicated evangelist for better products and product development, Bruce founded UpUp Labs in 2012. Through it, he helps product teams develop and launch products that make a difference, and applies his expertise to building innovative new tools like Reqqs, the smart roadmap tool for product people. For more of Bruce’s insights, you can read his blog ProductPowers.com,  follow him on Twitter — @d8a_driven, or connect  with him on Linkedin.

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