How to use the Buy-a-Feature Model to Improve your SaaS Product

What is the Buy-a-Feature Prioritization Model?

One of many prioritization approaches product managers can utilize is Buy-a-Feature. It helps B2B SaaS companies, especially their product teams, identify the features that customers value the most. The product team interacts with a group of users to examine what features or upgrades those people would most love to see in the product. 

As the name implies, to play the game, you give each customer a set amount of ‘play money’ to ‘buy’ their most valued features (The money isn’t real money. You can use poker chips, jelly beans, Monopoly money, etc.). Finally, allow them to spend that money on the listed features. Consider each feature’s development costs as the basis for your pricing.


How the Buy-a-Feature Prioritization Model Works

There are several options for structuring and managing a Buy-a-Feature exercise.

Conducting this game includes four broad steps:

1. Create a list of features you’d like to prioritize and assign ‘price tags’ to each feature

Even though the framework’s name is Buy-a-Feature, your product updates may include fixes, performance improvements, and other things you need to consider. To avoid overwhelming your participants, pick only the initiatives that require collaborative input.

That means: don’t include features you were already going to add to your SaaS product anyway. 

During this phase, you’ll need to determine an asking price for all items on the list. Generally, it’s usually best to charge according to each project’s relative development costs. However, you may also charge based on complexity, risk, the effort required, or other criteria.

2. Give your users a budget and send them shopping.

Next is to gather your group of participants for your game and explain each itemized feature on your list to them. If you’re lucky to have a large number of participants, it’s a good idea to group them according to the features you’re prioritizing. For example, if there’s a SaaS feature aimed at bankers, send finance officers to that group, and so on. 

Here’s where the fun begins. After grouping, you’ll allocate a specific budget of ‘play money’ to each group (or person, if you have few participants). Then let them decide what features to buy with their money.

Luke Hohmann (more on him later below) suggests having at least one of the items on your list priced higher than the allocated ‘money’ each participant has so that no single person has enough resources to buy it. This will encourage collaboration to buy the features, which will also help you learn more about the customers’ true priorities and thought processes when it comes to your products.

3. Watch and learn as participants discuss, negotiate, and buy.

This is the point at which your product team can discover vital insights into your product group’s priorities and needs. Their discussions and collaboration activities will provide important information on what aspects of your product your market considers essential and why.

I recommend getting your product team to act as facilitators and getting into the conversation, answering inquiries, and clarifying the features for users.

Perhaps you’ve reached a roadblock on a particular feature that’s preventing them from continuing with the rest of your list (and using the rest of their money). If that happens, you may either assist or guide the discussion or simply give each customer a bit more money so that they can move on to other aspects of your product.

4. Review your participants’ purchases, and let them explain their decisions to you.

The game ends when your users have run out of play money or until all the features players want have been purchased. From there, it’s time to discuss their group decisions. You will learn a lot here about the thought processes of your customers.

This is when you’ll discover vital insights about your market as you listen to your participants discuss their choices – individually and as a group. Why did they pick one feature over another? 

Why were customers #3 and #8 willing to forgo an item that both considered essential to join forces with customer #5 and invest in your list’s most expensive feature instead? Why did group B totally ignore your cheapest feature? What was their rationale for doing so?

These types of questions will help you learn a great deal about what your customers think about your product – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

When Should You Use Buy-a-Feature to Prioritize Your SaaS product features?

When your product team has trouble developing a complex ‘feature wish list’ but has insufficient development resources, you can use Buy-a-Feature to segment what they should do first. Buy-a-Feature projects could help stakeholders who want everything all at once to understand their limited resources better.

This technique is helpful if your team has already tried other research methods, such as surveying customers, but the results weren’t of any use.

The goal of a Buy-a-Feature exercise is to get a sample group of your market to genuinely prioritize their wish lists for your product since they – like your own team – will have to utilize limited time and options.

Who is the creator of Buy-a-Feature?

Innovation Games founder Luke Hohmann described the game of Buy-a-Feature in his book Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play. 

His goal was to provide games that expose consumers’ hidden needs. Luke applies his marketing, product management, and development expertise and his study of human psychology in this game.


The Buy-a-Feature prioritization technique helps product teams better understand their stakeholders’ and customers’ wants, needs, and interests so they can improve their product. 

It’s also fun to work collaboratively with your customers while getting direct feedback for your product team to channel their time and efforts into creating a better product!

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