I am Smart. You are Smart. Whose Opinion Counts?

By | September 5, 2012

thumb_argumentI’ve lived it many times…two intelligent executives arguing over who’s right and who’s wrong. Both with smart compelling arguments that are diametrically opposed, and neither one budging on their position. Or perhaps its the bright eyed product manager trying to sell through their idea to a stakeholder who questions every assumption they have made. When you’re working with smart people, smart responses are never enough. You’ve got to know whose opinion counts. Don’t let your company make the mistake of deferring to the highest paid person’s opinion. IT’S THE CUSTOMER WHO COUNTS.

During my five years of leading new product development initiatives at Leapfrog, a children’s educational software company, we never presented to an executive until we had customer feedback. LOTS of customer feedback. Our frequent interactions with children and parents to test our ideas, prototypes, and functional products led to higher quality products that hit the mark (and won awards), as well as a more streamlined approval process. In the making of “FLY THROUGH MATH: Multiplication and Division” for the FLY Pentop Computer we worked with nearly 500 tween toy testers throughout the year long development cycle and made adjustments according to their feedback. Most of these interactions were casual – one or several kids coming to the office to check out a prototype and answer some questions in exchange for a gift card. Other interactions were more formal using an off-site facility with a two way mirror and a professional facilitator.

The result was the same – when presenting to executives, we didn’t use theories and persuasive presentations to back up our ideas, we used data. And when data alone didn’t work, we showed video examples of testers interacting with and commenting on the product. There’s no better way to shut down the “I think…” statements that can chip away at the integrity of a product concept than to be able to say, “well, I talked to the customers and this is what they think…”

FLY Through Math

FLY Through Math

So, use focus groups and usability tests not only to make your product better, but to ease executive approval. Don’t make up excuses that you have no budget (you can always facilitate it youself and give away swag or $25 gift cards – everyone can afford that), or that you don’t have enough time. You’ll be amazed how much time it will save in the end to rid your executive staff of doubt.

After all, no one, not even the smartest highest paid person in the room, can argue with the customer…

Laurie Peterson published 8 software titles at Leafrog and launched 4 new educational gaming platforms. Her products received the following awards:

The first product to earn three toy industry association awards
Best Toy of the Year, TOTY
Most Innovative Toy of the Year, TOTY
Best Educational Toy of the Year, TOTY

Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award
Most Innovative Toy of the Year, TOTY
Best Educational Toy of the Year, TOTY
Toy Wishes All Star
Toy Wishes Hot Dozen
Toy of the Year, Nick Jr.
Best Software and Video Games, Children’s Magazine
The High-Tech Hot List, Family Circle

5 Stars – Amazon
Best Audio, other media – Game Audio Network Guild

5 Stars – Amazon
5 Stars – Children’s Software Review

iParenting Media Award

Best Pick, Computing With Kids Magazine

Best Educational Toy of the Year, TOTY
Toy Wishes All Star
Toy Wishes Hot Dozen
Winner’s Circle, the Today Show Toy Test
Recommended Award Winner, Parent’s Choice




Ivan Chalif on September 22, 2008 at 3:51 am.

I agree with your point about having data to back up your position, especially user data, but what are your thoughts on how to get executive buy-in at early stages of a product, such as prototyping or even just exploratory research?

Yes, you can do some of that below the radar, in order to confirm or refute your first idea, but in most smaller companies, the Product Manager has to get approval from either their own VP or the management team to move the project to the next phase. It may not be possible to get concrete feedback from users or members of the identified target group before having to approach the exec team.

Ivan Chalif


sfgirlblog on September 22, 2008 at 4:23 am.

Ivan you make an excellent point about the feasibility of testing in the early phases of the product. However, I still like to get some customer feedback prior to pitching an idea. In these cases, I find that an online survey is cheap, fast, and effective. I use surveymonkey for this purpose. Also, if what I am pitching is an update to an existing website, I look at the website’s traffic trends in order to determine the current user behavior and point to the potential benefits of the project. If you don’t have an existing userbase to survey, market research for comparable products can help.

There are some cases where you know there is a need to fill, and that it will take substantial research to determine how to fill it. In these cases, use your data to tell the story about the need and buy yourself the time to talk to your customers. It’s important to keep this discussion with executives high level, so that you don’t end up locking in to the wrong solution. This approach requires a great deal of trust from the executive team.


Jose Arocha on October 22, 2008 at 6:20 pm.

Great post and comments.
Without putting aside the business objectives, the competitive landscape and feature trends, I agree that starting with users and getting the user feedback along the full product cycle keeps the product honest to the ultimate determinant of its success: users. Whether you want to test a new feature or idea, or introduce incremental improvements or new designs, products are better off with the feedback at hand.

In my experience with small startups, your suggestion holds very true as well. Small creative teams will always have good, trendy ideas. And negotiating product priorities among executives could end up in decisions ill-informed. The unlocking factor in the process is the user feedback.


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