Why Convention is Killing Your Product

Matt Darrow Matt Darrow

If software as a service is the promise of continuous delivery and innovation, why does it seem as if your product keeps holding back your sales?  Conventional wisdom and product development tactics are stifling your growth.

Acquiring your first customers for a new product offering can be the most exciting, albeit terrifying, time for a product organization.  The minimal viable product (MVP) worked; there is enough value for a customer to pay for the product, but now a sales organization is going to start pushing the product to market as fast as possible.  

What the team in the field does not realize is that to get the MVP out the door there were a lot of development concerns deprioritized.  Scale? Security? Usability? Testing? These can all be worried about later. By doing so, your product organization is setting themselves up to be one step behind from the day of the initial launch.  As sales is closing more customers, moving into larger and more complex accounts, the product team needs to balance a flood of bugs, refactoring the MVP code built by engineering, as well as establishing development processes to ensure a smooth build, test, and deployment cycle.

This can lead to feeling as if you are stuck in the mud after your initial release.

Compounding the problem, once a customer base starts to grow, the conventionally trained product organization becomes narrowly focused on customer demands instead of revenue generating opportunities.  This is a common pattern easily identified across companies of all shapes and sizes. Product management collects a stream of bugs from support, and since they do not have the time to address all product enhancements from customers they set up an “ideas” voting system specifically designed for customers.  Whichever customer “idea” crosses a voting threshold will be considered and potentially built by product management. Lastly, to shield product from dealing with gaps in the solution, a community forum is established for customers to provide self help and workarounds to common issues which will most likely never be addressed.  

You can probably witness this pattern play out across the vendors you do business with today.  This is where conventional product wisdom will get you and it’s no surprise that it leads to a poor customer experience and continuous friction with sales as it becomes difficult to build revenue generating capabilities.  

Below we will detail multiple strategies which you can use to break away from this conventional pattern of development and ignite growth for your company.

Establish a Development Process from Day 1

It can be difficult for sales to appreciate the complex process required to take a feature and push it out to every customer.  This is compounded in complexity when you have multiple developers, dependent features, and an existing customer base.

If you do not establish a smooth and scalable development process from the onset, the product team will be incapacitated by trying to build one in a much more complex environment.  Even if you only have one developer, putting rigor into the process as if you have 20 developers will ultimately let you move faster as you grow.

Start With a Clean Minimal Viable Product

In a rush to get to market before funding or budget runs out? Shortcuts are commonly made which ultimately end up in code that needs to be re-created or re-factored.  A task which becomes increasingly nightmarish when you have existing customers.

One remedy is to create a MVP that is well documented, both inside and outside of the actual code.  One which is complete with test cases, and has been thoroughly tested (albeit within its small MVP footprint).  This practice will establish a healthy kernel of a product which can readily be expand upon.

Build the MVP with the foresight that whoever is doing the build work will eventually be out of the picture.  They will leave the company, they will move on to new projects, or they will rise within management and be detached from the day to day build responsibilities.   

Prioritize User Engagement Tracking

The reason product teams so frequently rely on user forums, “idea” portals, and support bugs to guide usability and development decisions is that it was the only way to see the larger picture of what users are doing.  We are now to a point where embedding product user tracking applications within your own offerings can be completed in a single development sprint.

Defining the metric(s) which helps measure user engagement and then systematically tracking and visualizing user behavior will allow the product organization to move proactively and swiftly before any bugs or “ideas” even come their way.  If you miss the opportunity to build this into the product from the start this task becomes a challenging trade off to fight for. As more and more customers use the product, allocating engineering time to tackle an internal value project such as user tracking continuously gets deprioritized.  If this behavior can be established at the onset of the product launch you will not only reap the rewards but establish expectations for all development that what you build will also need to be tracked. Every delivered feature, from day one, will be ready for monitoring.

Focus on Revenue Instead of “Ideas”

In high performing organizations, the product team leads the sales team, not the other way around.  This is due to a deep understanding of the problem at hand and the ways to build product to capitalize on the market opportunity.  As your organization grows, and you hire product managers and engineers without the same depth of expertise as the initial founders it can become difficult to sustain product leadership to drive sales.  

The common approach is for a product team to solicit “ideas” directly from customers.  Seems to make sense. Who wouldn’t want to deliver what customers are demanding? This is a very dangerous road to follow as it will begin to fracture the product and sales relationship as well as your ability to effectively deliver the features needed to grow.  While the Product team is working to polish the existing product based on customer “ideas”, the sales team is pushing the boundaries of the product by working to close bigger deals across a wide variety of industries.

A more effective approach is to have sales quantify their sales opportunities in the context of product development opportunities.  What features or capabilities are prospects in different verticals of different sizes demanding? Which of those are deal breakers vs. nice to have?  The product team will never be in a position to be involved in enough prospect discussions to get a clear first hand picture of what can move the revenue needle the most.  However, product and sales can work with and rely on the presales team to collate this information for them. Presales can be an incredibly useful team for product to work with as they can formulate a big picture view of market trends to guide product development with conviction.  

Taking The First Step

We built Hero by Vivun based on our experience working with and building sales, presales, and product teams at companies of all stages of maturity.  Transforming the way product and sales work together is the single greatest key to igniting growth. Hero by Vivun was designed to help you operationalize the strategies outlined above and more.  Contact sales or request a demonstration to learn more.

Matt Darrow Matt Darrow March 15, 2020