Building, marketing and selling software over the years has convinced me that the single most underutilized component to driving growth is the roadmap.

In SaaS or consumer products monetized from an enterprise budget, the current feature set helps companies make sales numbers. 

However, when product and sales teams present a roadmap that explains not only a compelling present, but a bright future for the customer, they surpass their quarterly quotas. 

The Cheapest, Most Effective Form of Marketing

When done correctly, the product roadmap expands the number of entry points to bring in more customers and dramatically raise the value of deals.

In the formative stages of building and selling a product, the current feature set is absolutely vital. However, at the growth stage, an in-market product is more of a proof point than a product itself. 

At the growth stage, your product roadmap is the cheapest and most effective form of marketing and what’s going to attract senior executives making three-, four- and five-year bets. With continuous deployment and daily, weekly or monthly releases, the in-market version is obsolete by the time it delivers value to the customer.    

Elements of a Customer-Facing Product Roadmap

A roadmap used during the sales cycle is not necessarily tactical and solution driven, nor a litany of features broken out by quarter for the next year and a half. Rather, it is: 

  1. The ethos of a business that guides choices to enrich the offering. A good design ethos employs collaborative models to go after the white spaces left behind by traditional transaction software to deliver big efficiency breakthroughs for customers’ employees, customers and partners.
  2. A thematic illustration of the problems you will keep solving. Commit to solving thematic problems that your target customer base consistently struggles with. Create an executive-ready, sales asset to help customers drive revenue, reduce cost or mitigate business risk. Jared Spool and Bruce McCarthy astutely describe themes as a “a promise to solve problems, not build features.” These themes must remain consistent or you will have missed the mark. 
  3. A robust dose of tactical capabilities. In the program owner’s mind, the solution is always five to 10 features away from completeness. The program owner needs to know whether you are aware of and plan to address these elements. If you don’t plan to, you should be clear about that. An overarching goal is for the program owner to be comfortable that she can get quick wins with the purchase. However, while it’s a needed component, it isn’t one that expresses the strategic thrust behind your offering.

Elon Musk epitomizes this. He presents the problems he will keep solving in the coming 24 months. 

Take speed: Elon markets the Ludicrous Button. Stated top speed is a feature that is finite and, therefore, limiting. Tesla’s Ludicrous Button is a design ethos that will continue to attract customers because they know precisely what future level of knowledge and development they are buying into.

Selling the Future's Potential 

It’s hard to make your number based on your current features. Yet product and sales teams spend vast amounts of time focusing on tactical capabilities or pricing options of current products. These same teams will guard their future plans by restricting access to the product roadmap like it’s the secret sauce in your sale. In reality, the goal is to make the future — not the past — as attractive and available as possible. 

Executives know that neither they nor you can predict what solutions the future will demand. They only want to be convinced that you will align with them on the problems that need solving. 

Expressing and, essentially, selling your roadmap is the basis for effective competition. This must be ingrained in your product management and marketing and sales enablement and execution processes. 

The customer-facing roadmap is the secret sauce.

Title image Iswanto Arif