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EdTech Companies: Do You Really Want Our Input?
July 18, 2011 - 8:45pm

Do you get asked by edtech companies to provide input on product features and platform enhancements?

Perhaps you've been asked to participate in a webinar under NDA, or a meeting during a professional conference such as EDUCAUSE. Maybe you've been asked to sit on a product advisory group, or to participate as a beta user.

The ability to influence the product roadmap is extremely important and useful for EDU technology buyers. We use your tools, platforms, services, and devices everyday - and have many ideas and requests for features and design elements we'd like to see developed. It is in our interest to get a seat at your product development table.

But all too often, I've found that requests for "product feedback" are really thinly disguised selling opportunities. The edtech vendor's interest is more in identifying the campus decision maker and setting the grounds for a new sale or an up-sell, rather than getting actionable product feedback. Therefore, I'd like to propose a set of guidelines for edtech companies to follow in cases where they are looking to bring in outside inputs from the world of academic users:

Get Executive Sponsorship: Requests for product input to campus based technology professionals should come from the highest level possible in your company. If the person running the division or managing the product requests our input we know that your company is serious about the engagement.

Be Sure You Really Want Advice: Be sure that your management and your team is really on board with wanting our advice. Find out if this effort is being driven by sales or the product team, and don't go forward unless community input is truly in your product development roadmap.

Be Truly Willing to Share Your Plans: If you get a group of us EDU folks together, make sure that you are really willing to show us what you are planning. It is fine to make us sign NDAs (we'd worry if you didn't have us do this), but you need to return our time and effort with trust and openness.

Create a Cohort of Campus Based Advisors: We are much more likely to join a product advisory board or to spend time with your product team if we do so as part of a group of colleagues. Recruiting a good mix of decision makers and campus tech leaders is critical if the EDU campus recruits are going to stay engaged.

Have the Right People in the Room: Make sure that your decision makers and your developers are in the room during discussions of future products, features, or design. Campus EDU folks really don't want to talk with the marketing and sales folks (although we like these folks very much), instead we want to hear from the product managers, engineers, and product champions in your company.

Find Face to Face Opportunities: If you are serious about bringing in a cohort of campus EDU people to advise your company it is necessary to make the investment to get us all together in one place. Sometimes this can be done at conferences, but other times it makes sense to bring us all together to your offices. The level of investment in the meeting will signal to us how valuable you think the input and discussions are.

Follow Up on the Discussions: Once we all meet and talk about your future product roadmap it is crucial to follow-up. Keep the participants informed about decisions coming out of the meetings, and make sure a channel exists for regular dialogue. Have the follow-up meeting planned with an agenda to go through previous discussions and decisions, as well as the future product roadmap.

How can these guidelines be improved?

What companies already do this well?

Have you cracked the code of developing productive working relationships across the vendor and campus communities?

If you work for an edtech company, what is your strategy to include the EDU community in your product roadmap discussion?


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