How Good, Great, and Elegant Is a Product that No One Uses?
Yesterday while I was talking with @MichaelPort about solid.ly the software system he’s developing to support his Book Yourself Solid System. He told me about a conversation he had with venture capitalist who asked him, “What makes you think you can move from writing books into developing software?” I was taken by the perfectness of his answer. It was something like …
“I’m hiring the best people to do the development, but I know and care about the people who will be using it.”
That lead us into a discussion of what a product developers job is.
I spent almost 3 decades developing products for teachers — books, CD-Roms, websites, videos, audios, and others. During that time, I learned a lot about how products were made — what works, what doesn’t, and that the great idea that hasn’t made it to the market probably isn’t there NOT because someone hasn’t already thought of it, but because
- it’s too expensive,
- too labor intensive — to build or to use
- or no one really wants it.
If I can’t afford it, don’t have time to use it, or don’t want it, it doesn’t matter how elegant, great, clever, cutting-edge, award-winning or beautifully you produce it.
10 Steps to Consistently Develop Highly Viral, High ROI Products
But the most crucial thing I learned as product person was that no matter how much I thought about my products, I had to think about my customers more. My role wasn’t to produce great products, but to produce great products people wanted to buy and use. Those are the products that folks buy again and tell their friends about. Here’s the secret I discovered …
It’s not my brilliance that makes a product irresistible. It’s not the awards the product might win that makes a products go viral and gain loyal long-term fans. It’s understanding my role as the product person is to know, love, and serve the customer.
Most of my intelligent customers could do or learn to do what I do.
But if they did what I do, they wouldn’t have time to do what they do.
My job is to make the customer’s life easier, faster, more meaningful and, if possible, more fun.
We turned around a failing company by developing highly viral, high ROI products by getting as close as we could to our customers. Here’s a few ways to do that before you even start planning that product execution …
- Know and live with the people you’re building for. Talk to the people you want to use what you’re building. Live in their natural habitat. Know the issues of their lives. Know the little things that bring joy to them. Know the prickly things that they don’t even realized irritate them daily. Know the influencer group of your customer group. Know the folks who understand both groups intimately and best. Invite the most interested from all three groups into your process as participants not just advisors.
- Use measurements appropriately. Data supports how people do things but rarely gets down to the why they do or the patterns of what moves them emotionally. When you think you know something, then, test and measure it. Don’t build a profile of customers through measurement only. Think about what companies would get wrong about you if they only used the quantitative data and scores from your medical check ups and school reports about you, without ever finding out about your personality.
- Respect the products that your customers are already using. Don’t fall into the trap of only seeing the faults of what’s already out there. That product you see so many flaws in has already solved a huge number of problems for your customers or they wouldn’t be using it. If it’s so bad, why does it have 100,000 or a million people using it? Ask people what they love about it. Be careful not to build something that takes away something they’ve made a part of what they’ve come to enjoy and they’re regularly doing. Lose what they hugely love and it won’t matter if you offer something that fixes a minor irritation.
- Start with a small offer built to your highest standards. Respect your customers’ time. Make the first release your best work, not a beta test. If you know your customers, if you’ve lived with them and invited them into the the development process, you know what works for them. Deliver it. Don’t play with their time or ask them to work out the bugs for you. That’s your job. If you want to attract the best, be the best.
- Simplify until there is no learning curve. Simple is not only elegant. It allows us to focus on why we got the product not learning the product first. Apple has mastered this. They can put the entire manual for using a product in a pamphlet that no one reads because we can pick up the product already knowing how to use it.
- Get paid for your product. Free samples are fine. Free products are not. The model of building things for free costs those who build products more than we might think. We release things unfinished at standards less than our best. We don’t build the appropriate support or service into them and we ask too much from our “free” customers who take us for granted. We work with people on promises. We lose money, reputation, and if nothing else, time we don’t have. Ever seen a tweet the equivalent of, “I’d gladly pay for Twitter if they’d guarantee service.”
- Systematically and strategically build your customer base as you build your product line. We no longer need to build a huge department store and fill it will products to prove we exist. We don’t need to stress our resources, cash, or infrastructure like that. Release one product that does one thing well for one audience. Let that product and that customer base finance the next. One customer group well served is better than 12 products less well defined — and one product is easier to market and easier for our friends and networks to share on our behalf. Know, love and serve that first group and they’ll tell their friends. They’ll also tell you what they want next and what group of their friends are your next best bet.
- Learn the life cycle of your product and know when to revise. Every product has a life cycle. It seems the way of the Internet to let the product die a slow death. Know how long that product is likely to sell well, then just after the peak selling point, carefully revise it to add new features. Once you’ve got a history to rely on do this on a predictable schedule. If your product life cycle is 9 months to a year. Plan your next revision at 11-12 months. Be careful not to revise out the features that customers love and not to add features they don’t care about. Look to make your product even easier, faster, and more meaningful at doing what it does. .
- Release new products on a predictable schedule. High tech companies might be slaves to the fast-changing conditions, but not every company is. If you can provide a predictable release schedule get fully behind that. It will build discipline into your infrastructure and your process. Predictability also builds trust. Customers will come to know that they can look forward to something knew from you when they’re planning their budgets. .
- And go back to Step 1 by getting to know your customers even better after they buy from you. Think of that first purchase as the first date in a long-term relationship. Value the customer who’s already shown a commitment above all others. Respect them by giving the best offers to them, not to the “potentially new” customers who haven’t been listening to you. .
These 10 steps work. I know because I’ve used them successfully and two well-respected financial guys have put their names on that fact.
It takes two things to win a loyal and growing customer base,
- products customers truly want that live up to their promise
- and more opportunities to get those kinds of products from a business they can trust..
Simply being that business who knows, loves, and serves their customers better than anyone else can save those customers the time of having to look in other places when they need what you offer. Who wouldn’t value that?
Have you had any experience with a company that consistently builds highly viral, High ROI products.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Work with Liz on your business!!
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