The IdeaExchange from Salesforce gets a customer-oriented makeover

Jenny Sacks from Salesforce recommends companies to embrace negative feedback and frustration from customers. During the recent update of the Salesforce IdeaExchange, the input of the community was crucial.

The IdeaExchange from Salesforce gets a customer-oriented makeover
Jenny Sacks from Salesforce recommends companies to embrace negative feedback and frustration from customers. During the recent update of the Salesforce IdeaExchange, the input of the community was crucial.

At Dreamforce 2019 in San Francisco, Bill Detwiler from TechRepublic spoke with Jenny Sacks, senior director of customer and market insights at Salesforce, about the company’s IdeaExchange. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Bill Detwiler: When it comes to product design, it is always important for companies to put the customer at the center of that process. I’m excited to be here and talk to Jenny Sacks from Salesforce. Tell me a bit about your role in developing IdeaExchange – what IdeaExchange is – and we’ll talk about what you will do with IdeaExchange in the future.

Jenny Sacks: Customer Market Insights is really just a great way to say the voice of the customer. My whole job is to listen to our customers, to the market, to ensure that we incorporate all that information into how we make decisions. The goal is to give a customer a place at the table with every decision, big and small.

SEE: Data analysis: a guide for managers (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

One of the great ways we listen is the Salesforce ID Exchange, which was launched 12 years ago. The vision for that was fairly simple. We wanted a way for our customers to tell us what they wanted to see in the product. Anyone with a Salesforce login could come to the site and say, “This is what I want to see,” and the community would vote. Over time, we got an idea of ​​what was most important to our community by looking at how voices changed, how ideas were recorded.

But – there is always one but in these stories – we saw an enormous amount of growth. Salesforce was smaller 12 years ago – luckily we are now big – and we had now captured 65,000 ideas. We have hundreds of product managers; Hundreds of thousands of customers have been added to our ecosystem. Over the years, we have made great efforts to scale up that experience. The past year has been real, how can we rethink the Idea Exchange to show our community more of that dialogue about our roadmap and where we are going, and really see how they influence and shape Salesforce.

Bill Detwiler: That is a bit of a criticism. When a company – not just Salesforce – brings a program like this to the people who provide ideas, I don’t know if they have realistic expectations about how long it will take before those ideas are implemented. How do you manage that with IdeaExchange? How do you set those expectations? Say: ‘We have all these great ideas, but there are only so many people. We cannot always come to things. ‘How do you manage those expectations?

Jenny Sacks: I don’t think we’ve always done a good job in setting expectations to be honest, and that was really clear last year when one of our oldest community members – his name is Steve Moelis – registered an idea on the IdeaExchange and said in Essentially: ‘I have some ideas about how to improve this thing. And it feels a bit like a black hole. I’m not sure where my feedback is going. I’m not sure what you’re doing with it. I don’t know what the expectations are of community involvement and Salesforce in these ideas. “

That idea received a lot of steam, caught the attention of our co-CEO Marc Benioff and he actually said: “What are we doing here?” We had to have a long conversation with us about if we want to keep investing here? What does that look like and how do we rebuild trust in our community? We had to start by saying hard truth: it’s broken and we have to solve it. We want to reinvest. That is really very important to us, but we do not necessarily know how to do that.

Instead of meeting our own expectations and placing them with the community, we have decided to ask them for help in determining what it should look like in the future. We went out – we did 22 cities, four continents, nine countries – to talk to our community. We set off with a number of ideas for IdeaExchange, received a lot of meta, and we said: ‘Here we are thinking. What do you think?’ What we heard from our community was, “We want you to build the things we want you to build.”

We started looking at the IdeaExchange and how it was set up, and logging ideas and votes doesn’t really tell us what is most important to the community. We had to build a mechanism that would allow them to put on their product manager hat and make the assessments and give priority to what would be built in the release. We decided to build an experience for them to do that.

Bill Detwiler: What was some of the feedback that you specifically received? What were those ideas that people wanted you to include in IdeaExchange? Just like those mechanisms to help set those expectations so that they can give you the feedback, they can understand where it is going. Talk me through that process.

Jenny Sacks: First we had to more or less overcome the frustration. We had to get through it: “You stopped listening” and that was really valuable to hear. I would rather a customer be angry with me than not to talk to me at all, so it was really great for them to start a dialogue with us. Once we were past that, we realized that IdeaExchange was not approaching our product planning process. Ideas come in and people log responses and add feedback, and the feedback stack grows. We only make a release schedule three times a year and when we make decisions for a release, it is locked. We moved on to the next one; that is locked, and so on. We did not take our customers on that trip.

They said a little, “We know you’re doing this, but we’re not really part of it.” We had to connect the points there more directly. What we are doing now is that we open a two-week window with every release cycle, just like our product managers. We say to the community, here are the top 10 to 15 ideas from the IdeaExchange; you have a budget that represents the resources that our technicians have and you can allocate your budget to what you are most excited about. Whatever the cycle wins – we call it the priority cycle – we will build in our product.

We have given them that direct line from your feedback to what we deliver. We have piloted it in the past four releases. We just did it manually before we had the product to support it, and it was great; it’s a great exercise. We tested it; we figured out what did and did not work and were able to tune it. The product we launch – the new IdeaExchange we launch tomorrow – reflects all that feedback. It is not a smashing surprise release. It’s one, “here’s the thing we’ve built together, ready to remove and keep giving us feedback.”

Bill Detwiler: Was that a difficult process internally? You sometimes say that it is difficult to take that negative feedback and to do something constructive with it. Talk about that a bit, so that people who do that in their own company might learn from what Salesforce went through during that process.

Jenny Sacks: A big advice I would like to give is not to be afraid of the bad feedback. Like I said, I’d rather shout at a client and be angry – at least because they engage in dialogue – than not let them talk to us at all. If they talk to someone else about their problems, we cannot resolve this. What we did was really try to channel their energy, their frustration, to help us make the solution.

Internally it was a difficult few months that we felt like, first we abandoned our customers, and that is a dirty feeling. We still have a long way to go, but in the end – for me – this was my favorite year at Salesforce. I have been with the company for nine years and it was great to change the ship from a negative to a positive one and to make our community a real part of it and feel that it belongs to them. I would say to anyone experiencing a similar situation: embrace the negative feedback, embrace the frustration and work it through with your customers, because then they will be more interested in being part of the solution and helping you to make the new wins. to celebrate.

Bill Detwiler: What feedback did you get during the pilot program from people using the new IdeaExchange instead of the old one? What has been their reaction?

Jenny Sacks: We went out with it and I think we first had to just inform people about our product planning process. We realized that there was no training gap.

Bill Detwiler: And were they surprised?

Jenny Sacks: They were surprised. I think they thought we would just fix the mood they were used to, the site they were used to. When we came out and said, “We actually need something new.” They said, “Oh, okay.” Once we finished it and tested it with them, I think they were really starting to see how it made a more direct connection of their voice with Salesforce. We essentially devote part of our roadmap to what they want, really – no exceptions. That was incredible to see them. We went through a number of iterations for a while. We had a price next to every idea, so you had to pay the price.

We found out that customers said, “Well, I wouldn’t leave any money on the table, so I’d buy things I didn’t even want to spend all my money on.” That will lead us on a road of building things that you are not so enthusiastic about, so we had to repeat the model based on how they dealt with it. We joked that we became experts in game theory and tried to figure out how we could stay one step ahead of our customers in terms of the ways they could play with the model, or make it work in a way that didn’t allow the real voice of the community to get through. The whole goal is to raise their voice as a community in how we plan Salesforce products.

Bill Detwiler: Talk a bit about customer-focused design – when it comes to product services, user interface, whatever it is – how important that has been for developing IdeaExchange, this whole process of how Salesforce builds products in general and how people do the same thing in others companies – whether in technology or in consumer products or whatever it is – how important is that customer-focused process part of the design?

Jenny Sacks: It is great to see ideas that come in and then the product that comes out. In many ways, we consider the community around a specific idea to be a mini-advisory board because we sometimes capture an idea and a product manager will say, “Okay, you ask for a faster horse. How do I give you a car? “It creates a really great dialogue, but our customers sit at that table to say:” This is how I would use this in practice. Here’s how I would use it in the real world to serve my users. “That has really become invaluable for our product managers to have the feeling that they have that input:” This is how I would take this thing that you thought up in a laboratory to my users. ” It allows changes and adjustments.

We will often introduce IdeaExchange ideas into the product as a beta, and we will say: ‘Play with it; beat it up, “and they will come back and say,” I like this. I like that. This didn’t work for me at all. “We have some time to adjust before it becomes generally available in our product. It was great to see them really play that active role. It is really in our DNA. The IdeaExchange is one of the ways we listen. Every year at the beginning of our fiscal year in January I take Brett Taylor, our Chief Product Officer and all his leadership towards something that we call product roadmap tour, where we essentially take his annual plan for products to serve our customers and say: “Prioritize it; to rank; take something off; add something that is not there. “

We provide a range of visionary advice throughout the year in which we bring our customers – about 20 – to a room, and say, “Let us imagine the future together.” We do not show slides; we are not talking about Salesforce. We only say: ‘What is the future of the staff? What is the future of app development? ‘It enables us to build the future together. We always try to listen in very large and small ways, but make sure that our customers stamp every part of the journey so that they go when it arrives for them: ‘Yes, I see myself in this product. It was built for me. “

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