29 Jun

3 Big Ideas For B2B Product People: Mark Amszej – CDK Global

Mark AmszejIf you haven’t heard of CDK Global, don’t worry — it’s not exactly a household name. But if you’ve ever bought a car from a dealership, chances are good that you’ve been touched by their software without even knowing it.

From marketing, to insurance quotes, to pricing, to integrating with every car manufacturer you can think of it, CDK’s suite of car dealership workflow software pretty much does it all.

Managing such a vast suite of functionality for such a diverse group of end users isn’t easy – selecting and communicating your priorities is crucial. Here’s how Mark says he makes it all work.

1. The best place to understand your user is on-site.

Focus groups and big data gathering are all well and good for learning about your customers. But nothing beats seeing them in their own environment. At CDK, visiting the dealerships that use our software is a not-so-secret weapon that we try to put to use as much as possible.

Is it more time consuming and expensive to travel to individual dealerships instead of just running a survey? You bet. But so many things aren’t captured in a survey: The frustration of a sales rep dealing with a bug that hasn’t been patched yet; or the way your software is actually used in the heat of a crowded Saturday afternoon.

If you’re trying to get deep insights about your user so you can design a better product, do yourself a favor: Whenever possible, go to the source and go to where your product is being used heavily.

2. Know your strategy and what “mode” of business you’re in.

Before you develop a strategy, it’s important to know what “mode” your product is in.

Not all products are at the same stage in their lifecycle, and the difference matters. Are you in “growth mode,” just looking for more customers? Are you in “harvest mode,” an established player doing everything you can to maximize profits? If you’re in “land grab mode,” trying to expand, are you doing it by making more products or acquiring existing ones?

Each product in your portfolio needs to have a well-thought out strategy, and everyone working on that product should be well versed in how that strategy affects what they do on the day-to-day.

3. Communicate your strategy internally.

Once you’ve developed a strategy, it doesn’t do you any good if it’s not well communicated. Nowadays, there are hundreds of different ways to “socialize” information, whether that means putting it on a SharePoint site or sending it in an email memo or hosting numerous webinars.

I’ve noticed though, that no matter how interconnected our communication tech gets, the people seem to stay the same. In other words, they’re not likely to adopt an idea just because you posted it somewhere.

The solution? Good old fashioned elbow grease and conversation. Yep — infusing your strategy within your team’s core takes time and often one-on-one communication. If you have an important message to deliver (hint: your product strategy probably falls in this category), take the time to speak about it — and I mean really hammer it home — in person, with your team.

Great tips, Mark! I love how his interview shows that, no matter the industry, the same principles apply: Listening and talking face-to-face is almost always the first step to a better product.

That’s all for today. See you next time, and hopefully your next car purchase will be ever smoother, thanks to Mark and his colleagues!

20 Jun

Weed Your Customer Garden

DandylionA few weeks ago, my neighbor Sophie cornered me while I was taking out the garbage.

“Dandelions are pretty bad this year, huh?” she said, nodding pointedly at the yellow heads littering my front lawn.

“Umm… yeah… really bad,” I stammered back.

This is the part where I explain that Sophie’s lawn looks like a lush green carpet. You know, the kind you see pictured on a big box of grass seed at the hardware store.

Our lawn, in embarrassingly striking contrast, has more, how shall I put this, “biodiversity”.

After a few years living in suburbia, I have come to learn that your merits as a human being are highly correlated with the quality of your lawn. Personally, my view is that dandelions are kind of pretty and lawns are a silly way to communicate your status to the world. So I haven’t really paid much attention to ours.

Plus, having a health crop of dandelions allows me to indulge in the fantasy that I will one day make healthy dandelion green salads and dandelion wine.

Until that happy day arrives, however, and not wanting the neighbors coming after me with pitchforks and torches, I decided to suck it up this year and put in the yard work required.

You’ll be happy to learn that in the midst of my weeding, watering, top-seeding, and compost-spreading, I had many hours (many, many hours) with which to reflect on the similarities between lawn care and customer experience.

When you take care, people notice

While out there with my weed-puller, I had many neighbors pass by and strike up a sympathetic conversation about the perils of weed management. As they saw me there, day after day in the early morning and evening, they would comment on my progress and cheer me on. “You’re winning the battle!” They would enthuse. (I wasn’t.)

The same is true when you take care of your customers: People notice. You become known as an organization that listens and pays attention.

If you don’t deal with the root problem, it will only get worse

In previous years, I never bothered to pull up the weeds by their roots. I just mowed them down (pathetic, I know) or sent my kids out to snap the flower heads off the dandelions. The results were predictable. Not only did the problem not go away, the weeds multiplied and spread. Soon my entire lawn was overtaken.

The same holds true with customer dissatisfaction. If you only address the symptoms after they occur, you may pretty things up for a day or two. But these types of band-aid fixes don’t address the root cause. Soon – very soon – the problem will grow and spread.

To have a nice lawn, you need to create the base conditions for excellence

Pulling up weeds is all very nice, but if you’re looking for lasting impact, you’ll also need certain fundamentals in place. That means nurturing and taking care of your soil – by aerating, fertilizing, watering and applying compost.

With customer experience, it’s likewise fine to do nice things like running conferences or offering promotions and giveaways. But here too, if you don’t take care of the fundamentals – gathering and acting upon customer feedback – you’ll forever be putting out fires, spinning your wheels and making little progress.

Consistency matters

In the land of top-seeding, the mantra (so I’m told) is “If they dry, they die”. That means you need to keep the lawn moist, every day, for 14-28 days. This requires consistent dedication. Even a single missed day in the hot sun can lead to dried out seeds, forcing you to start over.

Your customers are no different. Those big events – customer appreciation conferences, user group panels, etc. – are vital. But unless you keep those relationships wet, I mean nurtured, you’ll find yourself forced to start over too.

Keep these simple but powerful, customer experience concepts in mind as you plan your time, staffing and budgets. As with lawn care, there’s a lot going on out of sight and beneath the surface. A little extra attention now will save you effort, money and the disapproving eye of neighbors in the future!

Photo Credit: Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/ahCuht

05 Jun

3 Big Ideas For B2B Product People: Jeff Stanier – Adobe Systems

Jeff StanierMeet the one and only Jeff Stanier. In case you aren’t lucky enough to have crossed paths with him, Jeff is Director of Product Management over two Adobe Systems products: Adobe Experience Manager Forms and Adobe Connect.

With a job that hinges on understanding his customers at a deep level, Jeff — and Adobe’s — success relies on customer insights. But not all customer feedback is created equal. Read on for Jeff’s thoughts

  1. Don’t listen to every customer.

If you work in B2B — or any industry, for that matter — you know that listening to your customers is the only way to create a product that truly delights and meets their needs. But, there’s a trap many fall into when they start a Voice of Customer program.

Customers have a tendency to voice what’s on their mind that very moment. And while it’s true that many times this feedback can represent your customer base as a whole, it might also simply reflect a singular need or desire that isn’t shared by most. If you rush headlong down every one of these rabbit holes, you’ll quickly find yourself resource-strapped and without direction.

Luckily, there’s an answer — focus on the data points, or customer stories, that you see pop up again and again. At Adobe, one of the ways we find best to identify this big-picture, directional feedback, is to host a “Customer Advisory Board” several times each year. At these laid-back conferences, customers talk and we listen — all the while keeping track of overall themes that help us prioritize our roadmap.

       2. Focus on listening, not selling.

At our Customer Advisory Board sessions, we invite about ten senior-level managers who use our products. As they talk about their experiences and sometimes, struggles,

I’m always tempted to put on my sales hat and explain how great our products are.

After all, we put countless hours of hard work into developing them.

But, I’ve found that the most meaningful insights come from biting my tongue and simply listening. Instead of jumping in to show a customer how they could use our product better, we observe their current struggle and think about what we could change that would have eliminated the roadblock in the first place.

The customer stories we hear at these sessions are invaluable — we record the most representative ones, share them with our team, and use this feedback to influence the direction of our development. Designing for a user gets easier when you can picture the real person you’re helping on the other end.

       3. Think about how you can create radical changes for your customers.

At Adobe, I oversee the product development of Adobe Experience Forms, a digital documents and forms platform. If you’ve ever filled out a form online (and I’m willing to bet you have!) it’s very possible you’ve used our software.

At first glance, handling forms for a business doesn’t seem like something that could be radically improved. After all, it can be boring stuff. But after spending time exploring the needs of our customers, we were able to help in some pretty transformative ways. From using machine learning to digitize paper forms in ever more efficient ways, to rationalizing redundancies in their forms (in some cases reducing forms needed by 80%!), we’ve discovered opportunities for incredible upgrades in our customers’ daily experience.

If you listen deeply to your customers, and are able to sort out the underlying themes from the clutter, you can do the same for your business and products.


Impressive stuff, Jeff! As a final question I asked, “What keeps you up at night?”

I loved his answer: “I’m always thinking about how the way we interact with systems is changing. With products like Alexa or Google Home, the Internet of Things will change our lives. Who knows — it may even affect how we fill out forms!”