At most enterprise software companies sales and its largest customers dictate product requirements. Product managers and engineers usually just execute against these “requirements.” These enterprise systems are rarely successful because the people setting the requirements – sales and its largest customers – are mostly confused (or don’t care) about what the users of these systems actually need to get their job done effectively.
eBay is one of the very best Internet stories. They built a global marketplace that created economic opportunity and work-life balance for millions of people. Very few Internet services come close to that kind of economic impact. Ultimately though eBay got “enterprised.” While I never worked at eBay I know many who have and they basically tell the same story Ben Foster a former product management leader at eBay explains well here:
The fear of ruining Ebay’s “secret sauce”. Products could be vetoed by the heads of various functional units if it threatened “the community”. But no one really knew what made the business so successful, and so there was major resistance to non-organic change. Our most vocal and successful community members were the very same people who benefited from the inefficiency of the Ebay platform. So we had major disincentives to innovate.
Seller focus. Sellers paid Ebay the money, so the company focused innovation on them. We listened to sellers that said that they wanted feature X, Y, or Z. But we missed what sellers really wanted. What sellers really want is for buyers to think of Ebay FIRST when they want to buy something.
This reminds me of one of the best quotes on product innovation: “Your customers won’t tell you everything, so you need to invent on their behalf” – Jeff Bezos CEO and Founder of Amazon.com. If you are a product manager and sales comes rushing to you with a list of requirements don’t cut and paste those into a product requirements document. Big mistake. Listen to customers and listen to sales, but then go and do the hard work of innovating on their behalf.