Ask any product leader, and they’ll agree that engaging users is essential to understanding unaddressed user needs and areas of friction/opportunity in your product. At Parlor, we refer to this process as ‘Discovery’, a catch-all term to describe product teams’ efforts to engage and understand what matters most to their users. However, there’s one aspect of user engagement and feedback that we, as product leaders, don’t always admit: not all of our users are equal.

Imagine that your 15 highest-paying customers request a specific feature, but 100 of your free tier users request a different feature. Whose feature should you commit to building? Straightforward as this example is, it’s important to acknowledge that not all users are worth the same to our companies or products. We need to keep this in mind when evaluating the insights we gather from our different users. 

Over the last few years, we’ve had the opportunity to support many product leaders in their Discovery efforts. We’ve seen the different ways these product teams recruit, manage, and engage their different customer councils. While their approaches may differ, the best product teams share one key thing in common: they identify and segment their users into distinct and meaningful cohorts which they can consistently engage in their Discover efforts.

How to Create Meaningful User Cohorts

Teams who do this well tend to take two different approaches to creating their user cohorts:

  1. Form user segments based on type
  2. Form user segments based on usage pattern

Segments based on type would create a customer council either based on a degree of engagement (e.g. ‘Quarterly Users’, ‘Power Users’, etc.), lifecycle stage/subscription tier (e.g. ‘Free’, ‘Highest Paying’, etc.), or some proprietary end-user role (e.g. ‘Designer’ or ‘Admin’). On the other hand, segments based on usage pattern focus on interest in or interaction with specific product functionality. Interestingly, teams who create user segments in this format often refer to them as “product panels”, rather than customer councils. 

The 5 User Cohorts We Recommend

At Parlor, we’ve experimented with a variety of approaches to find the one that works best for us. Today, we rely on the following 5 distinct user segments which we consistently engage in our ongoing Discovery efforts:

  1. Customer Advisory Board – A small number (5-20) of our highest paying customers who are critical to our business. They have high expectations regarding the role their voice should play in the evolution of our product. They also view their inclusion in our Customer Advisory Board as an indication of how important they are to us as customers.
  2. User Research Council – A larger group of randomly-selected or invited users from our general user population. By design, this group is not highly focused. Instead, it allows us to capture insights that represent our larger user population without having to actively engage the entire population in our Discovery efforts.  
  3. Power Users – A small to medium-sized group of highly engaged or knowledgeable users. They are intrinsically motivated to provide feedback, so they’re the perfect group to engage when we’re trying to work through more nuanced or complex concepts.
  4. Beta Testers – A group of friendlies, early adopters, or generally more understanding users. They are a great group to share early ideas with in order to solicit general impressions. They tend to be more approachable and forgiving than other groups, so we often engage them much earlier in the process than others.
  5. An ad hoc, need-specific group – As part of our work, we’re often trying to explore a very specific point of friction or opportunity and need to quickly engage users with whom that is relevant. These short-term, highly focused and flexible groups are designed to help us address those instances. For example, we might want to engage specific users who completed onboarding in the last 30 days to determine how recent changes have increased or decreased the perceived difficulty of our onboarding flow. By opening this targeted but short-term line of communication, we are able to quickly get feedback from the right users.

Analytics Platforms are Not a Replacement for Engaging Customer Councils

Staring at an analytics platform is easy, but it will rarely provide the same insight into roadmap validation or need discovery as consistently engaging your user groups will, and it will never ingratiate your company to the people who actually use your product like ongoing customer collaboration. Engaging with users is essential to any product team’s Discovery efforts, and these five segments are a great place to start. Tailor your groups to your specific product and engage each of them in your Discovery efforts. When meaningful, compare the results of your efforts across multiple groups to make more actionable decisions.