Dan Pink predicted it a decade ago. His book A Whole New Mind made a strong case that design, empathy, quality, and customer experience would be trending hard. And that’s precisely what’s happening these days, especially in the world of software. Even the most traditional institutions preach that focusing on your product — and specifically on how your customers experience it — is top priority.
At FullStory, we believe that this really is the new normal: software companies whose products are the best will win on average.
Here’s how this works, stated as plainly as possible.
- Software products are now part of the fabric of everyone’s daily lives. Your daily life.
- If you like a product, you’ll say good things about it. If you don't, you’ll say bad things about it.
- Information gonna flow. It is as easy to publish your opinion on any topic as it is hard for other people to avoid encountering it. If you internet your thoughts (and you will), others are sure to see them.
- When you choose new products to incorporate into your life, especially your work life, you’ll start by researching and reading reviews. You’ll be drawn to the products that most people seem to like the most. You’ll probably pick the most-loved product.
- Thus, the most lovable products will attract new users most successfully.
Is that different than, say, 10 years ago? You bet it is. Back then, there was no place to find a consensus of authentic opinions coming from people who were actually using a product. You were stuck trying to believe a company’s own marketing materials and sales pitch. If you were lucky, you’d find an independent review, but it’s still a pitifully small sample size and wrought by reviewer bias.
Now, though, product opinions are more likely to reflect the wisdom of crowds and more accurately reflect the actual lovability of the product being reviewed. Yet there’s a good chance many of our business intuitions are still calibrated to that old world, and upending them will change an awful lot about how companies need to operate.
Influence Has Shifted
Perhaps most importantly, let’s think about who is internetting about your product. It’s the people actually using the software day after day. The people voicing an opinion are those who actually know it best. They know what it feels like to use your product. If your product is effective, frictionless, and fun, then positive sentiment will abound… and if your product is riddled with issues, the opposite will be true.
Notice whose opinion is absent, too: the traditional “decision makers” that salespeople would sell to. In a hierarchical organization, a powerful executive might be convinced by an elaborate sales pitch to make an expensive investment to adopt a product that becomes mandatory for teh underlings at that company. However, that same executive isn’t going to be using the product, and therefore won’t be praising or bashing the product online. Whose opinions will new prospects encounter as they research that product as an option? They’ll see teh underlings’ opinions.
Thus it will become increasingly hard for a high-touch, top-down sales approach to overcome the stigma of a badly-received product.
Lovable Products Market Themselves
To put it bluntly, concentrate first on making your product lovable. It’s the best way to win in a world crowded by software startups, many of which have seemingly similar product offerings. In this world, you differentiate yourself from, and pull ahead of, your competitors by having the product with the most widespread positive online sentiment.
The product itself, however, is the true multiplier for marketing.
At FullStory, we talk about increasing the exponent. At our stage of growth, we find it necessary to do some traditional marketing, but we recognize that input versus output of paid marketing is linear. The more dollars we invest into advertising channels like Twitter and AdWords, the more click-throughs come out. The product itself, however, is the true multiplier for marketing. New customers who love our product will talk about it on social media or share it with their friends, thereby amplifying our marketing efforts exponentially.
(On that note, we’re awfully proud of our Wall of Love!)
You’re probably familiar with some products that have a great exponent. The near-ubiquitous Slack, for example, has (largely) eschewed the top-down sales approach by delighting their everyday users with an experience that feels intuitive, polished, and complete. As a result, Slack has outperformed its closest competitors in social media hype with only a tiny investment in paid marketing.
GitHub follows this path as well, relying on some of the most discerning customers on earth — software developers — to use, love, and evangelize their product to colleagues and managers. According to co-founder PJ Hyett, “The first (and most important) thing we have going for us is a product that sells itself.” This attention to building a product people “just want to use” has placed them as the leading co-development platform in the world — without the need for a traditional sales team.
Here's the Message I Hope You Take From This
Regardless of whether your customer acquisition strategy is sales-heavy/high-touch or marketing-heavy/self-service, the primary differentiator will be the actual customer experience of using your product. This is why today's most innovative companies are prioritizing experience and operationalizing ways to optimize it cross-organizationally—to build the kind of products that delight their users ... and win.
Updated May 2, 2019. Originally published May 26, 2016.
A beloved computer science professor at Georgia Tech named Gus Baird used to say, “I love English because you can verb anything.” I agree. ↩︎