Consumer in charge? – Great Video

Here is a great video that I came across produced by Geert Desager of Microsoft – watch for yourself, it is fun !!

Wonderful customer experience – Fallon Clinic

My previous post was about how product managers should think more about customer experiences. I had mentioned about how I have had the most memorable product experiences when I bought my iPod and my iMac. Here is another one that is service related that has truly been enjoyable. For the last one year, we have been seeing doctors who are associated with Fallon Clinic. I am truly impressed by their service because of the attention they have paid to details. Everytime, I show up for my appointment, they print a page of labels with all the pertinent information – my name, my phone number, my address etc. on these labels. The doctor then uses the labels on all the forms, prescriptions that he writes. Not a big deal you think until you show up at the pharmacy or at the labs. I no longer have to repeat all this information over and over. I use the pharmacy drive thru, hand off the prescription and off I go – nothing else said – the label has all the information the pharmacy needs.

This is a classic example of walking thru the entire customer experience and then designing a solution. Fallon Clinic did not have to do this, they could have easily dropped this feature and put the onus on me – after all by showing up for the appointment, the clinic get its money. Instead, they chose to make my life easier – net result they have won a long term customer who is now spreading the word.

Customer experience – how often do you think about it?

Not often !! Think back to all the products that you have bought in your life – for how many of them has the buying/first usage experience been so good that you have remembered it. In my case – exactly two – iPod and iMac. In fact, I was so impressed with my iMac packaging, I took pictures while I was opening the package (see below). Setting up the machine was so much fun that I did not want it to end.


Horrible first use experience permeates both hardware products and also computer software. I think before any new products are released to the market, the executive management and product managers should watch some real people (not designers, not developers) try to use their product the first time. That should stop claims every marketing department loves to make – easy to use, easy to deploy (my foot !!).

Steve Johnson of Pragmatic Marketing in his blog post On buying and using describes his horrendous first user experience with a JBL portable player for his iPod. Such examples are everywhere – so why do great companies like Apple get it right – they take the time and give it the right amount of priority during design. They are not necessarily smarter than the rest of us, they just know that their products are going to be used by people who are very different from them and hence take the time to think how best to design the product to make it easy.

Steve points out how product packaging gets shoe horned into a one size fits all approach for all sales channels because one of the channels exhibits high incidence of product theft. Companies should start paying more attention to how customers buy if they want to make differentiation especially in product areas where all products are starting to look like. After all, good looks sell. Otherwise, you will have people like Steve and me openly writing about our horrendous experiences with products on our blogs for the rest of the world to read. Welcome to the new world of bad PR !!

What can we learn from the New England Patriots?

Over the last week, I cannot tell you how embarassed I have been to say that I am a New England Patriots fan? I have loved the Patriots since I moved to Boston in 1996. Them going to the Super Bowl my very first year here in Boston helped of course (though they did not win it all that year). Then came the 2001, 2003 and 2005 seasons where they won it all. The last couple of years were heart breaking, but there was something about this team that made it everyone’s envy. The attention to every detail, the team camaraderie and the strong work ethic of  coach Bill Belichick who was called a genius by everyone. Then all of this fell right apart this last week with what has now become famous “videogate”, “spygate”, “cameragate” ….

All the respect I had for coach Belichick went right out of the window when I first heard about the spying episode. I was mad not just because he cheated but because I never understood why he had to do it. Here was a team that was retooled with some of the best offensive weapons and favored heavily to win it all again this year. Why would the so called genius, such a great leader who could bring out the best out of his players, falter by making such a stupid decision to stoop so low. I even thought of not watching last night’s game against the Chargers, but then it is difficult to keep me away from a football game.

What transpired last night completely surprised me . The team rallied around their coach in what I consider to be one of the best Patriots game I have watched in the last 11 years. Both the offense and defense had an air around them that they had something to prove. They brought their best game all for their wounded coach and leader. The San Diego Chargers unfortunately did not stand a chance right from the word go. At the end of the game, they even gave Belichick the game ball to express their support.

This is to me is what great teams are made of. I still do not approve of Belichick’s unethical ways and I don’t think I ever will. But as a product manager, I am very impressed how the team rallied around their wounded leader to pick him up when he was down. Maybe that is what true teams are made of. It would have been very easy for the team to throw stones at their own glasshouse, but no – what they did last night is probably what sets the Patriots apart from the rest of the league.

After all, it is what it is. They moved on and continued doing what they do best – winning football games.

Remove the unnecessary so that necessary can speak !!

This morning, while walking through Terminal 3 of the San Francisco airport to get to my gate, I happened to notice the design museum display near the moving walkways. The museum is titled “From Prototype to Product: Thirty-three Projects from the Bay Area Design Community“.Behind each display, were quotes of some famous people.

One of them caught my eye – it said ““The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak”. After getting home, I googled it to find that it is a quote by Hans Hofmann. The reason I find this quote very interesting is because it captures what good product design is all about. Designing a good product involves spending more time deciding what features NOT to include than deciding what features to include. I would bet that designers of iPod had all the pressures to add a zillion features to it – an AM/FM radio station, ability to add/edit/delete songs etc. But they did not – because adding all of these features would have destroyed the elegant design. The end product does not do everything, but what it does it does very elegantly. To this day, I would be willing to pay more for a remote control that would do the five things I want to do – play, stop, forward, rewind, power on/off, instead of the other 500 features it has making it impossible to find these features. The office phone is another example. Try doing a conference call.

To do this right, you need to understand who your target user is and then saying no to features that are not needed by target users. You cannot listen to sales, they will tell you that you need everything under the sun. You cannot listen to just your existing customers, they will ask you for more and more features. What you need to do is get out and talk to real people who want to use your product – especially people who have not yet bought your product. Observe them struggle using the current products (your products or competitors) and then figure out what you can do to simplify their lives. It is not easy, but good things never come easy.

Who is a customer?

I was visiting the Nilgiri’s coffee shop on Brigade Road, here in Bangalore when I came across the following quote of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Indian Nation. I thought this was one of the best definitions of a customer that I have read:

A customer is not an outsider to our business. He is a definite part of it. A customer is not an interruption of our work. He is the purpose of it. A customer is doing us a favor by letting us serve him. We are not doing him any favor. A customer is not a cold statistic; he is a flesh and blood human being with feelings and emotions like our own. A customer is not someone to argue or match wits with. He deserves courteous and attentive treatment. A customer is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. A customer brings us his wants. It is our job to handle them properly and profitably – both to him and us. A customer makes it possible to pay our salary, whether we are a driver, plant or an office employee. – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Keep your customers informed !!

Many a times you may have to let your customers know about some bad news – implementation taking longer than expected, your inability to deliver on a committed feature on time, a bad bug in the just released software patch. In all these cases, be upfront with the customers on the real truth rather than some massaged varnished message. Honesty with customer pays and lets you keep their trust !! But don’t wait till the eleventh hour to break the news. When you get an inkling of trouble ahead, let them know and keep them updated from time to time. Explain to them what caused the problem and what steps you are taking to prevent this from happening again.

There is something all of us can learn from some of the airline pilots in this regard. I have always been tolerant of flight delays when they keep me informed of these delays caused by mechanical failures, weather delays, air traffic congestions. My worst flights have been those where they have kept me in the dark without any information. There is an interesting blog entry from a SouthWest Airlines pilot that explains how he keeps the customers informed. Definitely one worth reading.

Voice of the customer – Tip#7 – Tackling the language barrier

Language BarrierUnless your product is used only in the US, you as a product manager should make sure that you are listening to the “global” voice of the customer. Customers in other countries typically have vastly different needs than customers in the US. Localization of your product is something you should account for in the very first release if you know that your product will be sold in non-English speaking countries. Even if your first release product launch plan is limited to the US market, you should make sure that R&D accounts for localization such that when you do decide to sell in the non- English speaking world, you will not have to rearchitect your product. Localization is not cheap, nor is it easy to implement as an afterthought.

You as a product manager should also plan on visiting these customers to understand their requirements before you build the product. Even users in the English speaking world have different needs – assuming that customers in the UK have the same needs as those in the US would be making an assumption to your own detriment. One way to figure out who or how often to visit non-US customers is to look at the percentage of established customer base (or potential market for new products) in the major geographic market segments. Thus, if 45% of your revenue comes from the North American market, 30% from Europe, 10% from South America, 10% from Japan then you should plan on visiting customers (prospects) in these countries using the same ratio. You should then use market segmentation based on verticals to figure out which specific customers to visit.

In my experience, on-site customer visits in countries outside of US/Canada are best arranged through your local rep. This will help you overcome the language barrier and also driving in these countries. This will also help you establish a better rapport and expectations with the aid of the local rep who is more in tune with the local culture.

In certain countries like Japan, it is difficult (if not impossible) to have high level discussions on the customer’s goals and tasks. Often, you meet with folks in the trenches who use your product everyday as opposed to management folks and hence your discussions usually revolve around a laundry list of specific enhancement requests. You should try nevertheless to set expectations and send them a discussion guide long before the meeting so that they know how you would like to structure the meeting. Here is where the local reps can really help overcome the language barrier. After all, whatever you want to send to the customer will need to be translated before it can be send.

Listening to the “global” voice of the customer is not easy and not cheap. But it is something you cannot afford to neglect if your product is sold internationally. With some careful planning, it can be done. If you are going to do this for the first time, make sure you budget enough time, money and resources for couple of “learning trips” before you can fine tune to get the most out of these international visits.

Top 11 things I learnt at SolidWorks in the last 11 years !!

After 11 fun years at SolidWorks, I am leaving to pursue a new career opportunity. I consider myself lucky to have worked at such an awesome company during a time when it grew from a startup to a force in the CAD industry. In 1996, it was the second job of my fledgling career and I don’t think I could have done it any better. I learned so much during these 11 years, got to contribute to a product used by hundreds of thousands of product designers, worked with some of the smartest people I have met and made so many friends over the years amongst my colleagues and customers alike.

Now it is time to move on and do the next big thing in my career. It is hard to leave a place where I knew so many people who shared the good and bad times during the different business cycles. But I believe that I will never know what I will find next unless I try. It could be the next big success or failure, but the learning cannot continue unless I try. I wish all my colleagues the very best in personal and business success for years to come.

I thought this would be a great opportunity to list the top 11 things that I learned at SolidWorks (yes, there is a lot more than 11) in the last 11 years that will guide me for the rest of my working life.

1. Hiring is the most important thing you do at work and always hire people smarter than you: Team success is what will determine your business success, so why not have people smarter than you working for/with you? If you have to micromanage someone or babysit them to do the tasks, why hire them? Hire slowly and make sure you have done due diligence.

2. A manager’s success is all about making his/her reports successful in what they do: Once you are a manager, it is not about “you” anymore. It is all about your team. Your job is to ensure that you are making your reports successful in their job. You have to ensure that their strengths are fully utilized. You will be judged by your team’s success.

3. You cannot move up in the company unless you train your replacement: You have to make sure that you are dispensable by training your replacement. Otherwise, you cannot move up and take up another position within the company. Pay attention when you are hiring – can your new hire replace you one day? Thanks to Aaron Kelly for teaching me this. I would not have made my move from Product Definition to Strategic Marketing without Bruce Holway.

4. It is all about “relationships” and not “products”: This is true whether it is with customers, colleagues, partners and resellers. When someone buys from you or when your colleagues work with you, you are winning their trust and they are making an investment in you. Trust once broken, cannot be repaired. Relationships you build will outlive any technology or product. In other words, it is all about “people” and not “products”.

5. Only viewpoint that matters is that of the customer: The answer is not in the building. You have to get out and talk to real customers and understand their “pain points”. In fact, none of the people in the building will buy your product, only your customers do. So take the time to figure out what your customers need and then solve their pain points with a kick ass solution. Worry about the competition, but worry more about what customers need. Respect the customer.

6. There is a big difference between products that customers will “buy” vs. products customers “like”: You should only be solving problems that customers are willing to pay money for (in some cases, you make money via the network effect that is generated by solving problems – eDrawings, 3D ContentCentral are prime examples). After all, business needs to make money to stay around (there are no two ways about it !). It does not make business sense to solve problems customers don’t care about. Never get enamored with technology and then start looking for problems that the technology can solve. Do it the other way. Find the real customer problems and then find the best technology to solve these problems and then make money out of it.

7. Be “market driven” and not be “marketing driven”. There is a big difference: Never thought how big a difference adding “ing” to a word could make.

8. Have technical and business arguments with colleagues as long as none of it turns personal: Make sure that all perspectives are considered when devising the best possible solution for a customer’s problem. Have heated technical/business debates if you want, but never ever make any of these arguments/disagreements personal. When you have these disagreements and then make a decision, you at least know that you have considered all possible solutions and picked the one that is the best. After all, the customer does not care whose idea it was, to them the idea came from SolidWorks. Either all of us are going to look like heroes or a bunch of idiots. Which would you rather be?

9. Have meetings before the meeting: If you are asked to present to a large group of people meet with the key stakeholders one on one before your big meeting. You do not want to get ambushed because you did not do due diligence on the material you are presenting. Meet with them one on one before hand and make sure to get their feedback on your thinking and ask specifically for any concerns they may have. You would then have time to do more research to address those concerns or list them as risks. If you do this right, the final meeting should be one of consensus and no “surprises”.

10. Trying and failing is a lot better than failing to try: All successful people have failed more than they have succeeded. No one writes about their failures. Failing to try is trying to fail. Never forget the lessons you learn from these failures. There is no better learning method than trying and failing, but never fail the same way twice. I have to thank SolidWorks for all the wonderful opportunities over the last 11 years to try new things and having the luxury to fail and learn from these failures.

11. Execution is the key to being successful: History is filled with people/companies who had great ideas and got nowhere because they did not execute. Devil is in the details. Many times, flawless execution can compensate for any flaws in the idea as long as you quickly iterate and continue to execute. Execution is the key.

Hear the “user vocabulary” – Voice of the Customer Tip #5

How many times have you read marketing brochures, datasheets etc. shook your head and really wondered what the product that is being described is meant to do? Marketing collateral is full of “flexible, scalable, reliable, robust, next generation, empowering, state of the art, ….” – you get the idea. I have always wondered if the folks who write such stuff understand it themselves let alone their customers.

One of the key things to do while listening to customers is making note of words, phrases they use – the vocabulary they use to describe things. If you don’t understand these terms, ask them to explain. Once you start seeing a trend of what words are commonly used, incorporate these terms in your product UI, documentation, in your presentations, in your marketing materials and so on. Communicating to your customers using terms they are familiar with helps you to immediately connect with them. Companies that do this will be able to differentiate themselves (agreed that this is not going to compensate for an inferior product). It is amazing to me how the vast majority of these companies don’t do this. Communicating benefits of your products to your audience is going to be so much simpler if you pay attention to the user vocabulary. It is such common sense to me to do this, but hey who is it that said that common sense is not that common.

2.0 Mania?

By the way this is Gopal Shenoy 2.0 writing this blog? I felt that if I don’t have a 2.0 next to my name, I am going to be considered old. There is a 2.0 behind everything these days – Web 2.0, Marketing 2.0, Where 2.0, Business 2.0, PR 2.0, XYZ 2.0, you name it. Brings back memories of late 90’s. Was’nt this when we experienced a similar craze of .com and we all know how that one went.

I am a big proponent of Web 2.0 principles, but this 2.0 behind everything is driving me crazy. 2.0 by itself anything is not going to get us anywhere. 2.0 behind inefficient processes is not going to be a magic wand. But it sure feels that way – “2.0” has surely become a buzzword now. Customers have not changed their needs overnight from the 1.0 days to the present 2.0 day. Yes, they have new needs, but there are certain things that have not changed.

1) Customers are still looking for products that solve their needs the right way.

2) Businesses have to be profitable to have long term success. (Ok, youtube did not make one cent before they got bought out by Google for a zillion dollars, same thing with flickr. I could list similar acquisitions during the .com craze too and hence I am not going to use these successes as the new way of doing business)

3) Customers are still looking for companies that will treat them with respect, listen to their new needs and solve them.

4) Businesses need to continue to innovate and stay ahead of the competition.

None of these fundamentals of doing business have changed. “2.0” to me is a new way of doing business, new way of reaching out to customers, new way of empowering customers (wikis, blogs, forums etc.) and a new way of listening to the authentic opinions of customers. Doing all this requires a fundamental cultural shift in companies. Unless this shift happens, no “2.0” or “100.0” methodology is going to make one bit of a difference. In fact, failing to make this cultural shift will leave companies behind.

One of the larger shifts “2.0” has brought to the table is that consumers are now in control of what word gets spread about a product. Vendors can no longer control what gets said about their products. Consumers are now looking for authentic user opinions on products, avoiding vendor websites where rosy pictures of products are presented. Unless companies are willing to embrace this feedback, listen to it and take immediate action to fix the issues, they will fail. This is a lot more of a cultural and less of a technology shift and hence is a lot harder for some companies to digest and change.

As a consumer, I love it. As a marketer, I need to be ready to make the shift myself. Embracing 2.0 without a game plan to quickly fix what annoys consumers will not work. “2.0” has given consumers the biggest megaphone they could ever hope for and companies better embrace and act quickly or be fearful of being left behind. Products need to work as advertised, your service needs to be courteous, timely, otherwise the whole world will soon know.

“2.0” principles are solid, but I sure hope this mania will not end the same way as the .com mania.

Handling social media – Authenticity is the key

Social media – no matter what you read, you are bound to hear this term. It is the popular “phrase of the current times” – is it a buzzword though? I do not think so. Given how blogs, user reviews have influenced my purchasing decisions over the last couple of years, I am true believer that is indeed a trend that is beneficial to the consumer. I do not buy products without reading user reviews (not company’s product review or some expert analyst’s review) on multiple sites. If a product does not have a real user generated review, I am skeptical about how good the product is.

Given this trend, now companies have got into the act as well by using social media to their advantage. Press releases are issued with search engines in mind, employee blogs are on the increase, CEO’s are starting to write blogs…. But if this is not done right, this will backfire. Companies cannot do all of this with their marketing agendas in mind – “authenticity” is the key. Consumers can sniff out “marketing agendas” in no time. The right way to do this is by empowering the users to get started and then sitting back and be willing to listen to good and more importantly the bad news. If there is something “bad” that is mentioned about your company or products, quickly take action to fix the issue and then report back to the user community. This will buy you tremendous credibility because you now have the social media as a large “megaphone” to broadcast to the entire world that you listened, took action and fixed the issue.

Unless companies are willing to embrace the “authenticity” in social media, they cannot expect to use this to their advantage. Rules have changed, users now control your marketing and PR, it is no longer in the hands of your marketing or PR departments. Come to terms with this, embrace it and turn it into a competitive differentiator and you shall succeed.

Word of Mouth – #1 influencer in B2B purchasing decisions

Keller Fay Group last week released the results of a study on influencers in B2B purchasing decisions. The study was based on an online interviews with 700 executives in the US and UK conducted between March and April, 2007. The results indicated that the #1 influencer in B2B purchasing decisions was Word of Mouth (surprise, surprise).

What surprised me most was that 75% of these “word of mouth” recommendations among executives was happening “offline” as opposed to the digital world. Emails only contributed 3% and blogs just 1%.

The study also calculated the net advocacy scores (% of positive recommendations – % of negative or mixed recommendations) for some major product categories such as Financial products and services, Computer hardware and software, wireless hardware, telecom providers and cable companies, automotive and healthcare.

The lowest advocacy score was for computer software (score of 3) and the highest was for financial investments (52).

More details can be found at Jack Morton’s website.

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