We are working on a new product. Can you name it?

There is something to say about SolarWinds.

First, let me set the record straight. I have joined SolarWinds in January as Sr. Director of Business Strategy and I am probably still drinking the Kool-Aid. Having said that, one of the reasons I choose SolarWinds over an executive position at an early stage start-up was that I was very intrigued by their business model.

SolarWinds sells IT Management software to companies of all sizes without any sales rep in the field. They don’t even have a professional services organization. They market their products on the web and they close each transaction over the phone. We are talking a lot of them. Think big volumes.

This is quite different from the traditional enterprise software world I come from – lengthy sales cycles where most of the Product Marketer’s efforts are focused on enabling the field, writing up ROI documents and keeping its fingers crossed at the end of the quarter when the bulk of the bookings happen.

So what’s different about SolarWinds?

It starts with the product. Each product solves a very well-known set of issues for which users need a solution today. And they are very price attractive too. That makes the job for everyone else much easier. Marketers don’t have to come up with complex jargon or lengthy collaterals. They can focus on driving demand and customer acquisition. Sales don’t have to explain what the product does nor do they have to come up with fancy product demos. They can focus on closing each transaction, one at-a-time, all day long.

So how do you find out what issues your users need to solve today?

You ask them. SolarWinds Product Managers greatly rely on a community of 100,000+ users to identify needs and test new ideas. But it does not stop at the ideas or features level. At SolarWinds, there is a strong belief that you should not use catchy branded names because they don’t mean anything in and of themselves. Instead, they want the name of their products to be very descriptive because that’s how buyers will search for it on Google (obvious, right?). So they ask their users for suggestions : We are working on a new product. Can you name it?. And they get a lot of them. Why? Because SolarWinds users are also brand advocates. They truly have a say in the many aspects of product development and go-to-market strategy. Most importantly SolarWinds Product Managers are manically focused on making sure the product user experience is above the pack.

Why? Because at the end of the day it’s all about the product.

BTW – if you are on the set for a new adventure in Product Marketing or Product Management, and want to explore this fascinating business model, check the open positions they have, or shoot me an email.

 

Image Credit:  Photos by Mavis

groupon

Groupon Wants You To Punish Derrick

During the holidays, I went through my inbox and unsubscribed from the many vendors that over the last 12 months have continuously sent me offers with little to no value. The process to unsubscribe is usually pretty straightforward and uneventful.

Then came Groupon with this short video:

Needless to say that I did punish Derrick (it’s not you Derrick, it’s me).

The simple addition of this video actually got me to re-consider whether or not I should unsubscribe from Groupon. Well just for a few seconds.

Seriously how many more white teeth cleaning offers can I consume within a year?

Anyhow, this is a great example showing how  you can make a boring experience interesting. I would love to hear some other great examples that you’ve come come across.

Getting Your Customers to Stop Thinking of You

Dr. Art Markman talking about making your company a habit

This week I had the privilege of attending Forrester’s Tech Marketing Roundtable here in Austin, TX. As usual, Forrester put together a great discussion with fellow product marketers and shared some fascinating insights.

Forrester also invited a guest presenter for the discussion, Dr. Art Markman from the University of Texas. Dr. Markman’s topic of discussion was on how to make your company a habit (Side note -keep an eye out for Dr. Markman’s upcoming book,Thinking Smart. Sounds like a great read for Product Marketers.)

Your first question may be, why should you care about your customer’s habits?  Here’s one good reason from Dr. Markman:

In the end, the importance of habits inverts a common wisdom about successful businesses. You may think that you want your customers to think about you often. In fact, you often want your customers to act without thinking.

Customers have habits that involve routines and these routines don’t change easily. This can be a tremendous advantage if you can become part of their natural activities. This also means that if you are trying to replace a competitor’s product or service, you can’t assume that just because you have better features that  a customer will naturally switch.

I can’t think of a better example to this point than Microsoft’s attempt to get people to stop searching on Google and give Bing a try. Microsoft has done an admirable job trying to differentiate their product through design and around certain features (e.g. an innovative travel search) and has launched a multi-million dollar advertising campaign to drive awareness.

The cost of trying to replace a user’s default search? Right now, it  is estimated that Microsoft is losing over $1 billion dollars a quarter with Bing and has only reduced Google’s market share by two-tenths of a percentage point from the 65% it held when Bing debuted.

So, how do you make your company or product a habit?  Here are a few starting points from Dr. Markman:

  • Find your customer’s habits and insert yourself – once you know what they are actually doing you can design for their behavior.
  • Find a way to disrupt existing consumer behavior so they will consider something new – sometimes you need to disrupt their habits in order to get them to consider a new choice.
  • Don’t surprise people when it comes to change, let them know the site changes are coming –  as opposed to Facebook always surprising users with new features.
  • Look for the little things you can do to make your product become a habit – we often point out the big features but it can be the small things that make your product ‘automatic’ in your customer’s minds.
It is worth noting that finding existing habits is not a trivial task. Asking customers what they do will lead you down a different path than what they really are doing. The best advice, “Don’t just do something, stand there and watch” what they are actually doing to gather insights into their product habits.

In the end, finding out what your customers are doing without thinking can help make your product a better experience and make it even harder for competitors to replace you.

13 Tweetable Insights from WikiBrands

Over the last month, I have been doing a lot of research on brand development, customer engagement, and community building. After going through half a dozen of the latest books on the subject, one has really stood out – Wikibrands by Sean Moffitt and Mike Dover.

I like how the book covers strategies and tactics along with plenty of example of businesses that are succeeding by co-creating branding efforts with their most engaged customers. If you are looking to build a brand community or for ways to improve your social business, this book has a lot to offer.

The following are some quick insights from the book that I wanted to share (format inspired by Dharmesh Shah’s review of the Lean Startup):

  • The litmus test for a thriving business in this marketplace is, “Does your brand deliver genuine participation?”
  • How businesses create value through brands will be transformed by the relationships and experiences these businesses have with their customers.
  • In today’s economy, building brand value has become more a function of what you actually do rather than what you say you do.
  • Wikibranding is about something larger than social media or new marketing, it’s really about “social business” – a business imperative.
  • Your CEO really wants to lead a wikibrand; he or she just doesnt know it yet.
  • Wikibranding requires a shift in company focus from top-down consumer communication to consumer collaboration.
  • The companies and brands that lead in customer collaborative spaces tend to have a driving ethos that makes their people and fans go the extra mile.
  • Good wikikbrand efforts represent a mixture of an organization’s perspective and a mosaic of customer views.
  • Language and content are the special ingredients that grease the wikibrand conveyor belt.
  • Big companies are like the high school prom queen - the don’t flirt with anybody because they don’t think they have to.
  • Once you have attracted from the world out there, the influence meter starts over.
  • The best customer communities are neither brand dictatorships nor radical experiments in open source development.
  • Wikibranding cannot be a siloed functional exercise.

Would love to hear if any of these points resonate with you or any others to add?

 

Image Credit: ausnahmezustand

The Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question

Having a system in place to capture customer feedback is essential to understanding how your customers feel about your product offering. I am a fan of the Net Promoter feedback approach and would recommended the book on the topic, the Ultimate Question by Fred Reichheld and Rob Markey.

That’s why I was excited to hear that they are releasing a new version of the book and were recently on the HBR IdeaCast podcast to talk about the update. While the basis of their framework, “Would you recommend us to a friend?“, hasn’t changed,  it has been over five years since the first edition of the book. The 2.0 version not only addresses the amplification of feedback through social channels, but also incorporates the evolution of the framework by companies that have deployed it as part of their feedback efforts.

The podcast is a great introduction to the Net Promoter methodology and well worth the twenty-minute listen. However, there was one really great point that I wanted to highlight from the discussion.

Here’s what Rob Markey said in response to the question on how companies turn their customers into promoters,

..by instilling in their employees not only the goal of creating more promoters and less detractors, but also putting in their hands the tools to do that.

That’s such an outstanding point. It is one thing to capture the input. It is another to track it as a trend over time. And it is a completely different thing to empower your team to make the changes necessary to improve.

You often hear marketers give advice such as,”always listen to your customers”, but that’s only part of the equation. The real trick is having the ability to act on the feedback before it is too late.

So, are you listening or are you listening and acting?

Image Credit:  sean dreilinger

Building The Line

It was turning out to be a great year. The product I had planned and launched was hitting the market to fantastic results and the sales team was close to doubling their forecasts. Additionally, the market research that I had spearheaded had resulted in the success of two more products in our portfolio.

I thought all was going swimmingly well but that was not the case. Bonus checks arrived and despite my shaking the envelope as hard as I could, there was nothing extra to make up for the extremely light check.

While my team’s part of the portfolio had performed above average, the company had missed their financial goals for the year. There is no extra credit for almost being successful.

John Moore recently posted a summary that perfectly describes the biggest mistake our business had been making,

Too many marketers are living for The DOT and not The LINE.

The DOT being a “One Day Big Bang” approach to getting people talking. The LINE being an “All Day Every Day” way to becoming a talkable brand….As marketers, it’s our responsibility to give consumers reasons to talk about brands, products, and services not just for one day… but rather, for a series of days.

Our company had become too focused on one-off tactics to get the market interested in our products while the overall portfolio was not that interesting. The idea that you could have a “halo” product to generate buzz did not make up for the blandness of the rest of the portfolio. Overall, our products were not meeting customer expectations and the results were clear in our market share and financial performance.

If your product/brand/company is to be successful, it must evolve and as John put it, deliver over a period of time. Building products that people love is a great place to start but if you don’t do your part to maintain the relationship over time, don’t be surprised when your customers walk out the door. Building the line means keeping your product relevant and making sure you are delivering on a complete customer experience for the long haul.

Build the line and your customers will follow.

Image Credit: jypsygen

micro recorder for product management interview

Start With The Customer Prodcast #4 – Unvarnished Feedback

In this week’s edition of the Start with the Customer Prodcast (a product focused podcast), I am honored to be joined by Tim Johnson, of It’s About Value, and Scott Sehlhorst, of Tyner Blain.

Our discussion covered two main areas – the opportunities and challenges of trade shows and customer experience. For trade shows and conferences, we started the discussion on how to capture value from these events and finding the right events in the first place. Moving over to customer experience, we focused on what it takes to make products people love.

Hope you enjoy the show!

You can listen here:

or download from iTunes.

Show Notes:

Run time: 43 mins

Trade Show and Conferences

  • Unvarnished Feedback
  • Competitive analysis
  • When is a booth worth it?
  • Tim’s post on the RSA conference
  • B2B vs. B2C and the challenge of ROI
  • Network, network, network

Customer Experience

  • User experience and making products that people love
  • Scott’s post on user center design
  • Zappos, Nordstrom and looking at customer service as the experience
  • B2B and product storytelling
  • Flip/Tivo as an innovation/experience example
  • Making it awesome vs. making it suck less
  • We didn’t get to ease of use so will save for another conversation (great post for the next discussion – http://buyuselove.com/2011/05/17/when-and-why-is-ease-of-use-important/ )
start with the customer marketing podcast on product marketing and product management

Start with the Customer – The Podcast

Welcome to the first episode of the Start with the Customer podcast!

I am a big fan of podcasts and have been listening to several for a couple of years now. You just can’t beat the education and the convience of listening on your way to work or on the road. Plus the fact that all of this is available for free is absolutely incredible.

I had been kicking around the idea of putting together a “prodcast” to talk about marketing, product management, and product marketing for sometime now. I convinced  Jon Gatrell, of the Spatially Relevant blog, and Scott Sehlhorst, of the Tyner Blain blog, to join me for a trial run to see how it would work.

We picked a couple of topics, hit record and close to 45 minutes later we wrapped up the first episode. Would love to hear your thoughts on the podcast and what you would like to hear more/less of in the future.

Enjoy!

You can listen to it here or download it directly from iTunes:

 

Show notes:

 

Harvard Business Review Gone Wrong: When You No Longer Preach What You Teach

Last weekend, while perusing the magazine rack at Barnes and Noble, I noticed that they were now selling full magazine subscriptions to the Harvard Business Review (HBR). I was surprised to see that the in-store price at B&N was only $69.  Last time I checked, HBR was usually north of $100 so this seemed like a great deal.

I didn’t pull the trigger at the time, but left thinking that at $69 it was too good a deal to pass up.

I had subscribed to the HBR in the past so it was no surprise that later in the week I received an offer in the mail to resubscribe to the magazine.  What was a surprise was the rate.

I was being offered a “corporate discount” that was the “LOWEST RATE WE ALLOW” for the bargain price of $79.

Really?

Technically, the $79 offer did include a free “bookmark” and “leadership guide” but why wasn’t the “LOWEST RATE WE ALLOW” the same or better than the in-store offer?  Why didn’t they offer me an option without the gifts for the same $69 price?  Oh, and as far as the “LOWEST RATE WE ALLOW”, right now Amazon is offering the same HBR  subscription for $79.

The fact that HBR would offer a total stranger, who has seen not been a subscriber, a better deal, at a much great cost to them (when you take into account B&N’s margin), makes no sense at all.

While I really did expect a different experience coming from the Harvard Business Review, as a marketer, I do understand the challenges of aligning the different market channels – web, retail, direct mail, etc.

Creating a customer experience across channels is hard work and I would say requires maniacal discipline.  Adam Richardson (writing on one of my favorite blogs, the Harvard Business Review Blog) talks about this challenge and why so few companies deliver when it comes providing a great customer experience.  Adam comments,

Crafting a great customer experience requires enormous amounts of collaboration across groups in a company that often work independently and at different stages of product development. In many cases marketing, product design, customer services, sales, advertising agency, retail partners must all be working in concert to create even a single touchpoint.

I wouldn’t say HBR lost me as a customer, but I don’t feel like their marketing channels are aligned and I am definitely not feeling special.

What Is Marketing? (How To Turn A Birthday Party Into A Birthday Experience)

I came across this video earlier in the week and just couldn’t resist sharing.

While meant to be taken lightly, the video does an outstanding job of illustrating marketing strategy. All it really takes is three little steps,

  1. Determine your end goal
  2. Use the best tools for the job
  3. Don’t forget the mini-pony

Enjoy and have a great weekend!