23 Feb

What are you afraid of?

monsterUnderBed_smaller

You know that gnawing in the pit of your stomach when you have to face a difficult conversation, or a difficult truth?

You know the one I mean.

It’s the one that you felt in high school when you asked your friend to “find out if he likes me”, or when you were waiting for your acceptance letter from college and you asked your mom: “you open it for me.  I can’t look”.

It’s that feeling you get when you didn’t hear back after that interview for your dream job, but you can’t quite bring yourself to call them up and ask about it.

Ever notice how that how that feeling accompanies stuff that you care deeply about?  It comes up when there is a possibility of rejection.

Here’s something else about that feeling.

There is an overwhelming compulsion to avoid doing it.  Not only that, when we do address it, we often look to secondary sources of information.

You want your friend to find out if someone likes you.  You want your mom to open your college letter.  You call someone else to ask if your interviewer was dazzled or unimpressed.

But why?  Why would we want to outsource those most important conversations?

The answer of course, is fear.  It is human nature to avoid things that may result in unpleasant feelings: like rejection, or having to tell your boss that maybe this project isn’t such a great idea after all.

Anyone who cares deeply about their product feels this way about their customers.

When many companies want to do customer research,  they start by suggesting a survey, or looking at social media, or reading analyst reports.  Anything it seems, to avoid actually talking to living, breathing customers. 

But here’s what I have learned.  The thing that you are most afraid of is exactly what  you should be doing.  If you are afraid of it, that means it’s important.  If it’s important, you should be addressing it.

Of course, it is much easier to argue about features, or licensing models, or whether the brand color should be blue or magenta.  But those things don’t give you those nasty stomach flip flops do they?   That’s not what’s keeping you up at night is it?  It’s the big questions that do that.

“Does my product solve an actual problem?”

“Are people just buying from us because were are the lesser of two evils?”

“Are we doing this just because it’s the CEO’s pet project?”

“Are our customers really happy with us?”

These are the questions you need answers to.

So if you ever wonder where you should be spending your research dollars, close your eyes and ask yourself: 

What are you most afraid of? 

Photo Credit:  ShutterStock | Dmitry Koksharov

03 Feb

Don’t screw up your first date with your customers

unhappyCouple_smallerImagine you met an intriguing woman online and spent twelves months romancing someone on another continent.

Picture it.  You exchange witty emails, send her attractive pictures of yourself doing interesting and exciting things, and have long phone calls discussing mutual interests and plans for the future.   Then finally, you agree to meet in person.  At significant expense she flies from Australia to New York to meet you.  You are both excited to finally get together.

Wouldn’t it be weird if you didn’t bother to shower and look nice for the first date?

After all this time spent trying to establish a connection and deciding that there might be a future together, why would you fumble something as basic as making a good first impression?

Software vendors often make this mistake with their customers.

A B2B software vendor might spend 12 months wining and dining their prospects.  They show them sexy demos (I’m using a very loose definition of the term “sexy”). They discuss product roadmaps to see if they have a future together.  They offer “good faith” discounts.

Finally, after the customer has dropped a few hundred thousand dollars and arm-wrestled their infamously obstructionist procurement officer to make the purchase, what is the first thing they experience with the product?

An installation nightmare.

INSTALLATION

It is not uncommon for on-premise B2B software to have installations balloon from an estimated one week project to six weeks or even more.  To add insult to injury, the customer is sometimes required to foot the bill for additional professional services costs to boot.

This is the dating equivalent of showing up for the first date with bad breath, food stains on your shirt, and unkempt hair.  And then asking your date to pay for the experience.

Somehow “improve the installation experience” never makes it to the top of development priority lists.  The argument is usually that installation is a one-time event, and is therefore low in priority after the long list of stuff in your feature backlog.

However, that rationale means that you are willing to create a bad, or even a terrible impression as the very first experience your customer has with your product.  This can do tremendous damage to your relationship with them and jeopardize customer renewals or any word-of-mouth business.  This drives up your customer acquisition costs because  your business has to constantly invest in the long wooing cycle of new customers.

First impressions are critical and it is hard to recover from a bad one.

So consider making the installation experience better for your customers. They just might give you a second date.  Or at least recommend you to their friends.

Photo credit: Shutterstock | Creatista, Africa Studio