In software or web product development, it’s tempting to test the full extent of your development team’s technical capabilities. However, one needs to keep in mind the users’ appetite for change or lack thereof. We should remember the story about boiling the frog when introducing new functionality. If you put a frog in boiling water, he’ll jump out. But if you put him in cool water and slowly turn up the heat, you’ll soon have a boiled frog because he won’t notice the gradual increase in water temperature until it’s too late.
One development project I had the privilege of leading a few years ago involved replacing outdated dial-up access software with a web-based delivery platform. Maintaining the dial-up network cost the company tens of thousands of dollars each year and the internet enabled us to implement several functionality enhancements. Another advantage of the web-based platform is that we could deploy enhancements and fixes as needed without requiring clients to upgrade. Finally, our support centers would be able to support just one version of software.
Despite the prospect of a significantly better tool, our user base had a mixed reaction as announcements of the coming new system went out. You see, we didn’t have the most sophisticated user base. This was 2004 and some still didn’t have full internet access. Many of those who did were not very comfortable with common internet interface functionality. They were happy with the old system.
What we did to avoid shocking 26,000 users at once, choking off our revenue stream and burying our support centers in the process, was to carry over some of the UI design features from the old software and migrate users in phases. Despite the product management team’s request for several post-launch releases, senior management approved one post-launch release to address any bugs that might slip by. This didn’t allow for a phased rollout of functionality. While desire and capability for more robust web design features was there, the decision was made to replicate some of the features of the old software in the new system. Turning up the heat slowly, if you will.
Despite these efforts, we still received quite a bit of push-back from the user base during the migration process. The end result, though, was the loss of only one client. The support centers were never burdened beyond capacity. Within six months, everyone had become accustomed to the new system. Some early detractors admitted preferring the new system. Our rollout was a success!
Ideally, we would have followed up the initial release with several introductions of new functionality over the months and years that followed. The reality was that one post-launch release became four and then development was shut down in favor of other projects. Five years later, the company embarked on a very expensive project to redevelop the delivery platform which also required another shock for the user base. In the years between the two major development projects competitors had developed more sophisticated interfaces that helped them to gain market share. It would have been cheaper for the company and easier on the users if enhancements were introduced gradually over time.
The growing popularity of Agile development is testimony to the importance of introducing new functionality incrementally. Frequent, incremental enhancements give the impression of consistency to users and allow product management the flexibility to respond to user feedback and changing market conditions.
Whether your company uses Agile or not, remember the frog and ease your users into the future.
Agile means “to be able to move quickly and easily.” It is a term prevalent in the discipline of software development, with specific elements for quick and easy time to market. But in this post I’m using it in its broad sense.
I’ve been talking to several small businesses lately, and I can see that they want to maintain a certain budget, but they also want to get their name out and grow their customer base.
I’m thinking a good way to start is with some basics of “Agile” marketing.
A – Awareness
Market Awareness: I have found that this is often overlooked, but a key necessity. Without it, you are marketing to “everyone” and spending time and resources to be all for all. And many times a message that is for everyone, speaks to no one. Define who you are marketing to and then, find out what their needs are.
Resource Awareness: Know your own strengths. Know your weakness. Know how much time a project or new initiative will take. Read the fine print, and know exactly what a vendor is offering. Know, in advance, how much you want to spend on getting new customers.
Budget Awareness: Create a budget for acquiring new customers. Your accountant and/or bookkeeper will file that as an “expense” in the books, but your mindset should see acquisition as an investment, as it will lead to revenue.
G – GoTo
Go to the Market, don’t wait for them to come to you. When you know your ideal customer, then find out how they’re searching for you. Let your passion be your guide. Are there online or offline forums, marketplaces or associations? Are there places where you could offer a promotion to get introduced to them?
Go prepared. Have target marketing materials, invitations to follow you on Facebook or other platforms, and follow up.
I – Innovation
Be resourceful with free or inexpensive tools and the skills you have on hand – your own, or those of your team. Learn the basics of Internet marketing, landing pages, SEO, couponing, Google adwords, and Facebook ads. Don’t sign up a vendor until you’re crystal clear on what you’re getting. Don’t sign up for traditional advertising methods without first taking a long look at it and its reach to your target market.
L – Light on your feet
Be ready to turn on a dime. If the business model isn’t working, be flexible enough to change it. Listen to advice and respond. Listen to your market, and respond.
E – eConnected
Be found online. Essentials are now a website and at least one social platform, like a facebook page. Make connections and share your knowledge or expertise. Don’t ask for anything at first, build a reputation. Follow through with suggestions or promises. Under promise and over deliver. Bonus: have a blog and build up followers.
What do you think? Is this a good guideline for small business marketing?
"Keep Horse Droppings from Falling on Your Head and Your Crapper from Exploding" by Greg White
Interesting note: the first draft was written on my Blackberry while sitting in the Starbucks at 4th and Seneca in Seattle.
I've been to Seattle several times, but yesterday was my first underground tour of the old city. The story is a prime illustration of the importance of proper planning.
The original city was built on a tidal plain. The elevation resulted in tidal flooding which prevented the sewer system from functioning properly at high tide. When the Crappers, the original toilets named after inventor Thomas Crapper, were flushed, pressure from the up-hill part of town caused a violent back-flow into low-lying homes.
To raise the sewer system, city streets were raised by 8 feet or more. Retaining walls were built between the sidewalk and street. Fill dirt was brought in to raise the streets and sewer lines. This put the sidewalks and first floors below ground level. Getting around town became difficult, horse droppings fell onto the sidewalks during rains (Remember, this is Seattle!) and many falling deaths occurred. To rectify these issues, the city built sidewalks at street level, effectively sealing off the first floors. This spurred a rat population explosion which promoted widespread disease, prompting city officials to condemn the first floors of most buildings. A lost underground city was created.
The story of underground Seattle shows us what happens when we don't have a good plan for our products and allow outside factors to drive our product roadmap. Without proper strategic product planning, we end up with incongruous products and product components as well as infrastructure that doesn't efficiently meet market needs.
How much "duct tape and bubble gum" is holding your product or infrastructure together? How much more difficult does this make your job? Make life easier for yourself and your customers. Have the big picture in mind when you do your product planning. Don't let your Crapper explode because you failed to anticipate future needs.
Recently I’ve looked at a couple of websites from completely different industries, and both were actively seeking traffic through Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). What I was looking at mainly was “the offer.” Once you do grab the attention of your audience, and get them to your site, do what you can to keep them there and participate in a series of actions.
To do this, there must be a compelling offer. This is assuming your brand positioning is where it needs to be, and you are presenting your uniqueness in a clear statement or story.
An offer doesn’t have to be a discount – it can – but it doesn’t have to be. An offer is a compelling reason that I as a site visitor should “read more” or “click here to…” or even hand over my email address by signing up to your newsletter. An offer can be anything along the marketing funnel, like a free report, or a video, or a tip of the day, or an article, etc.
Notice I said “a compelling reason…” This is a great place to think of your target audience (or market). What is it that would be compelling or pleasing to them? As an example, I picked a rather general category, email marketing, and after conducting a search in Google with that term, looked at a few of their offers. I clicked on search results and ads, and if you do a similar task, you’ll see various offers presented simply and clearly on signing up for a free account, a free trial, or learning how email marketing works. You can see from this simplified research that the email marketing companies are targeting small businesses and individuals that are new to email marketing. The messages are targeted to offers that help the reader ease any concerns about how hard it might be, and break down the barrier to trying it by offering it for free.
Maybe email marketing was not the best example, because of offering services for free. I am not saying anything about offering your services for free (also called “freemium”) – that’s a topic for another day. I’m saying that your offer should be clearly presented on the home page or landing page when a visitor finds you from search.
How do you know when you have the right offer? The short answer is, when you are pleased with the number of people participating in it. It might take some testing of different offers to find the sweet spot of your audience.
I’ve spent nine years of my career in the credit information industry at Experian and FICO. This article is not reflective of any scores by either of these companies.
A Kolmogorov-Smirnov (or KS) test is a form of minimum distance estimation used as a nonparametric test of equality of one-dimensional probability distributions used to compare a sample with a reference probability distribution. The KS statistic quantifies a distance between the empirical distribution function of the sample and the cumulative distribution function of the reference distribution. The reliability of credit scores is often measured by the score’s KS value. The greater the KS, the more predictive the score model.
Nice information for a credit manager to know, but does he really care? Most credit managers are more interested in identifying risky customers and taking evasive action before they become delinquent. A credit manager is interested in reducing outstanding debt, charge-offs and operation costs. Most credit managers couldn’t care less about how a credit score model is created or measured.
If I told my credit manager customers that my scores have a KS of 35 when my competitor’s model has a KS of 30, they would say, “That’s nice, but what does that mean to me?” If I told them that we can help them to identify customers that are going to become severely delinquent in their payments before it happens, they’re interested. If I tell them I can also help them reduce their operating costs by automating manual processes, freeing up staff to focus on particular customers all while increasing the frequency of credit reviews from annually to monthly or weekly, they’re very interested.
Credit managers aren’t averse to formulas by any means. You just have to speak in terms of the right formulas. DSO is a very important statistic for credit managers in manufacturing and distribution industries. Days Sales Outstanding indicates how much money stays out on credit for how long. The lower the DSO, the better.
The key takeaway is that it’s imperative that you speak in terms that are meaningful to your customer and focus on benefits they can relate to, not features that are important to you as a product manager or developer. You can use industry jargon all you want within the walls of your company’s office, but once you go out to speak to customers, be sure to speak their language.
OCPM's leadership team plus guest contributors share their insights on product management, product marketing, professional development & personal branding.