Product Accountability – Appraise Products Like a Manager

Performance reviews, evaluations, or appraisals are awful, and we need more of them. it’s time to recognize the need for Product teams to evaluate themselves based on the performance reviews of their products. This is meant to establish the mindset that in order to evaluate a Product Manager’s and Product Team’s performance it’s not about [...]

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The post Product Accountability – Appraise Products Like a Manager appeared first on Mind the Product.

Jobs to be Done by Joe Leech

In this MTP Engage Manchester talk, using a simple example, Joe Leech demonstrates how we can employ the “Jobs to be done” framework, deconstructing company outputs and examining the importance of user stories.

Key Points:

  1. Evaluate the competitive space
  2. Don’t just think function – emotional and social job stories are significant
  3. You can’t rely on users to do your selling
  4. The hole is not the goal

Joe explains how he had a Job to be Done – he needed to hang a picture, therefore, he needed a drill. He started by looking up drills, reading specifications he didn’t understand; asking questions like “how many torque settings” and “what’s a torque setting?”. It didn’t take him long to realise that he didn’t want a drill at all.

While choosing a drill he recounted the popular adage: “People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole” and then dismissed it. “Nobody needs a hole” he explains, but what he wanted was a picture on the wall – “the hole is not the goal,” he tells us.

JOe Leech at MTP EngageJoe explains how, as a former “UX guy, now a product guy” he coaches teams to think in this way, helping them make decisions, interrogating what the user thinks they want (or what the company thinks the user thinks they want), to uncover the true needs. He helps companies “do the right things, in the right order, for the right reasons” and in order to do that you need to know your users and your competition.

Uncover your Competition

Joe describes a time when the Jobs to be Done framework was employed to the benefit of MoMA (Museum of modern art). They had a requirement to attract New Yorkers to the New York museum. Joe’s first question was: “who are your competitors?”.

To which they starting listing similar attractions:

  • The Met
  • The theatre
  • The ballet
  • The Tate in London

It was clear, as with many businesses, that we don’t always know exactly who the competition is. And even when we do one day, we can be wrong the next, and our users may have something totally different in mind. So Joe went out and asked real users about the Job to be Done – who’s competing for your time? What else would you be doing on a Friday night? The answer – Netflix.

That’s right, every Friday MoMA and Netflix go head to head. Sometimes it’s a different competitor, sometimes they win, but importantly, they are always in competition. It’s true for your business too, regardless of how secure you feel in your industry, you are always competing.

You can start employing the Jobs to be Done framework today and uncover your competition, but first, you need to tailor your user stories.

Consider Your User

Joe explains how the average power drill is used between six and 20 minutes in its lifetime…that’s a failure of the product. A consumer is presented with an opportunity for self-betterment – a chance to evolve and grow – and what they buy doesn’t meet that requirement, meaning they’re consuming but not satisfied.

This case is what Joe calls “the little hire”. Apps have the same problem, he explains, with 25% of downloaded apps being only used once, while most are built to satisfy more than a one-off Job to be Done. It’s a prevalent characteristic of startups which will offer a one-time purchase, providing only a short term fix. And while that’s fine for cashflow, it shows a lack of foresight and may leave customers only temporarily satisfied. You’ve presented your user with a hole.

Joe identifies the different kinds of jobs we can use to create a rich user story, allowing us to better sell, market, design and build our products:

Functional jobs

This is simply the goal your user wishes to achieve. In Joe’s case, he wanted to put up a picture, straight not crooked, and he wanted the room to look nice. In product, we often take functional jobs as our full user stories, because they’re the essence of the requirement, and we may prioritise speed and efficiency of function over all else.

Emotional and social jobs

These are based on how the user wants to feel/be perceived while completing their job.

Joe wanted to feel capable and confident in his abilities (even with no formal skills) and feel safe knowing his picture wasn’t going to fall down in a week. An emotional or social job can inform how complex you make something. It’s the part of the story that makes you consider, is this user-friendly? Will my user come back to use this again?

Joe leech at MTP Engage ManchesterJoe highlights the importance of being user-focussed, describing how you shouldn’t just look at competitors and features, obsessing over what everyone else is doing and copying it, instead, focus on your users and their needs.

In the end, he bought Unibond (plastic adhesive strips), to put up his picture. It wasn’t trying to be a drill, it didn’t come with 230 screws, it just put up pictures.

Evaluating the Competitive Space

Once you understand what your product does and how it can help your users you can start to analyze your competitive space, approaching it with intention.

Joe describes that you need to look at several factors when evaluating your product’s position. Ask your users and yourself:

  1. What’s happening now?
  2. What’s the latest solution?
  3. What is the perceived risk that it might fail?
  4. What attachments to traditional solutions exist?

Map your product as well as your competitors, consider whether you’re the new way and need to break attachments and reduce perceived risk, or to strengthen your position with loyal users and combat new competitors. What’s important is that you know how to compete and more importantly, that you uncover the hidden needs of your users.

The World of Whitegoods

Lastly, Joe describes the front room of a whitegoods store as a place that is designed with an awareness of job stories. The room layout is made up of fridges at the front, surrounded by space, with washing machines piled high at the back, barely in sight.

Joe explains how the fridge is often the centrepiece of the kitchen taking on many jobs:

  • A communication centre – holding vouchers, tickets, telephone numbers
  • A toy – covered in magnets or stickers
  • A gallery – with pictures and collages stuck to the sides
  • A visual element – a crisp clean aesthetic piece

What’s clear is a fridge has emotional and social jobs to perform, while a washing machine is function; you buy one when it’s broken down, you need to know the size and you want to know it works, you don’t care how it looks.

Looking at the John Lewis website, Joe identifies how all whitegoods are sold in the same way – a front-on picture. It’s plain and most of the screen is given to the specs. Joe scrolls past the fridge, straight to the reviews and sees one user describes how the product “looks beautiful”. The user is selling; they’re highlighting the product’s ability to meet their Job to be Done, even if the website isn’t marketing effectively.

JOe Leech on the MTP ENgage stage

What this illustrates, is how we should all look closer at the products we’re selling because however similar they appear, even if functionally different, they might be performing incredibly different emotional and social jobs. With that knowledge, we can consider how to promote, sell, ship and design those products. Jobs to be Done is getting businesses on board with user-centred focus, moving from output to outcome, identifying competitors through their users and then evaluating and targeting their competitive space.

The post Jobs to be Done by Joe Leech appeared first on Mind the Product.

The Product People We Want to Be – What We Learned at MTP Engage

This week (6-7 February), MTP Engage Manchester 2020 saw over 500 product people descend upon the iconic Manchester Central to immerse themselves in two days of product learning.

On Thursday, things kicked off with a range of deep-dive workshops and leadership discussions, followed by the conference on Friday. Let’s take a look at some of the many things we learned throughout the conference day.

Adam Warburton at MTP Engage
There was a sigh of relief in the audience when it was revealed that all MTP Engage 2020 bananas had their tops on

In the morning, organiser Adam Warburton welcomed the audience to the auditorium with a quick retro of last year, satisfying the requirement of more amazing speakers, bananas with the tops attached (don’t ask!), no rain (total fluke) and a promise that this year’s event was not a Minimal Viable Conference. He then introduced the first of many incredible speakers.

MTP Engage Manchester
An eager audience settled into the day enjoying a fab talk from Janna Bastow

Define your debt vocabulary

Janna Bastow led the day’s keynotes by addressing the elephant in the room; debt. She identified how in tech, debt is both inevitable and necessary, whether related to development, design, process, admin, or culture. Drawing on her experience as a product innovator, she highlighted how trust is essential when accruing debt, and how, in order to build trust, we must work together to define new vocabulary. Talking, sharing and unpicking debt, she explained, will allow us to optimise it.

Janna Bastow at MTP ENgage
Janna Bastow kicked off proceedings with the first keynote of the day

Embrace the beautiful mess

Next to the stage was John Cutler who reassured us that “product is difficult everywhere” and that, in product, there is simply is no magic way to do things. As a Product Evangelist, John is often asked to pathologize product and find the secret of success. He highlighted how in order to succeed, we must embrace the beautiful mess and navigate change – it’s discontinuous and never a straight line, he explained. Instead, and in order to adopt change, you must take an idea (a possible magical solution), customise it to your context, progress it and adapt it before practising it. Then you need to get good at practising practice.

JOhn Cultler at MTP ENgage
John explained that product is difficult everywhere – there’s no magic solution…stop looking! (Image www.thisisdecoy.co.uk )

More jobs to be done

Joe Leech demonstrated how we can employ the “Jobs to be done” framework, deconstructing company outputs and examining the importance of user stories. He illustrated how seemingly similar products can have incredibly disparate requirements, and how, with a focus on functional jobs, we so often ignore the nuance of emotional and social job stories. These considerations, he emphasised, allow us to uncover “hidden user needs”.

Product management is people management

After missing her 6.16 am train from London to Manchester by just one minute, Mind the Product’s Chief of Staff, Emily Tate’s day got off to a slightly stressful start. Arriving in Manchester a fraction behind schedule, the surprises kept coming as she discovered she’d be hitting the stage a few hours later to take up the slot of Lauren Currie who had sadly lost her voice and was unable to speak (literally, not a whisper left!).

In her talk, Emily described how having a strong knowledge of stakeholder management can be the difference between being a good product manager and a great one. She explained how her biggest promoter once became her biggest detractor and discussed how transparency – a tool at times discouraged – is key to building stakeholder trust. While you may choose to use it tactfully, delaying a hard truth, you should always be mindful that product is a team sport. As such, encourage communication early and often, while letting data inform decisions and never shy away from taking full ownership of your work. Product people are best when they work with an awareness that one of their products is their process.

Emily Tate gave an inspiring talk on stakeholder management

Unlearning conflict aversion

Shaun Russell identified how from an early age we learn to avoid conflict at all costs. But whether your stakeholder is “the worst customer you have ever had”, or just an interested party, product people need to defy nature and lean into conflict. He explained that if you willingly adopt “Conflict Anti-Patterns”, taking roles such as the mediator, the intellectual, and the deviant, you will start to heighten risk and build unusable, infeasible and unviable products. Using reasoning, communication, and self-reflection to better our processes, we can now divide our interests. Because, how you divide the world is how you see the world.

Shaun Russell at MTP Engage Manchester
Shaun Russell explained how reasoning, communication, and self-reflection help to better our processes

The future of the industry is in your hands

Melissa Perri ended the day by offering a masterclass in career growth, defining the journey from product manager to product leader. The criteria, she explained, relies not just on navigating a transition from tactical and strategic roles to a more operational one, but also owning a deep understanding of the details and dynamics – skills you can start developing today.

It’s time to consider your journey, she told us – it’s unique, and now you can choose the best path based on your skillset. The right role for you will make you happy, confident, and kick-ass, whether it’s the role of the Enterprise CPO, the Startup VP, or the Scaleup CPO.

Melissa Perri at MTP ENgage
Melissa Perri treated the audience to her first new talk in three years (she’s been a little busy, you know…writing a book)

Sessions of Success

Away from the auditorium, 15 awesome sessions speakers on two tracks delivered engaging and thought-provoking talks to packed session rooms.

Huge congratulations must go out Oluwatobi Otokiti, Sally Brogan and Stewart Livingstone who took to the MTP stage for the very first time with great success, and, to all of our other session speakers who brought us not just a little, but a lot of everything.

Oluwatobi Otokiti
Oluwatobi Otokiti made her MTP Engage debut (Image www.thisisdecoy.co.uk )

Rakhi Rajani discussed how to create cognitively diverse teams while Itamar Gilad talked us through the GIST (Goals, Ideas, Steps, Tasks) Framework and how to use it to improve team morale and deliver better products.

Thor Mitchell painted us a picture of a great product manager, explaining that it starts with says that humility, while Rachael Shah drew from her experience at the Co-op to illustrate just how critical it is to think carefully about scaling the product team as well as the product.

Connection

Between talks, people took heed of Adam’s advice from the start of the day – to connect with each other, be it over coffee, during a Speed Networking session or simply while sat in the audience waiting for talks to begin.

“I would urge you to talk to as many people as you can today because, in this room, there is someone we can all learn from, perhaps even someone who could change your life,”  said Adam. ” It might be your next manager, a coworker or someone you can connect with outside of work.”

Speed Networking at MTPEngage
Attendees embraced the opportunity to network in our Speed Networking sessions

Until next year

It’s fair to say that everyone had a lot to take away from MTP Engage this year, and after all that learning, sharing and connecting it was vital that attendees, sponsors, speakers, volunteers and our awesome local organisers deserved a well-earned after party!

We’d like to thank everyone who made this conference possible including our sponsors, Yellowfin, Amplitude, ProdPad, Balsamiq, Code and Pendo, without whom, it would simply not have been possible.

Write-ups of the keynote and session speaker talks will become available on the site in the coming weeks. We also look forward to hearing what you thought of MTP Engage (you can send your own write-ups to editor@mindtheproduct.com) and hope you’ll agree that it feels as though our product community has never been stronger.

The post The Product People We Want to Be – What We Learned at MTP Engage appeared first on Mind the Product.

Practical Insights and Guidance at #mtpcon London Workshops

Product people descended upon central London this morning for a series of Mind the Product training workshops, kicking off #mtpcon ahead of tomorrow’s conference.

More than 400 conference attendees were up bright and early to join one of 14 workshops covering a range of topics from user research and stakeholder management to product roadmapping and OKRs for product teams.

From the 14 workshops there was plenty to take away. Here’s a very quick snapshot of three of them, led by Julia Whitney, Joe Leech, and Frank Qiu.

Managing Stakeholders

Leadership coach Julia Whitney offered practical advice and tools to help with a challenge faced by most, if not all, product managers – stakeholder management.

Engaging the group from the outset, Julia asked attendees to think about who, in their organisations, they’d consider to be stakeholders. She then asked how, on a scale of 1-10, they would rate stakeholder management within their organisation.

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The majority of the group scored their organisations between 5 and 6. They identified recurring challenges to be such things as top-down micro management, communication with stakeholders from different countries and cultures, and lack of control.

This last challenge struck a chord with a number of people. Julia explained: “Not having control is an issue shared by most product managers. It’s an issue because we’re so interdependent on our teams and stakeholders. It can be very frustrating.”

The workshop also involved group work and self reflection to equip attendees with the practical tools needed to address their challenges, and to turn their relationships with stakeholders into productive and rewarding parts of their role.

Jobs to be Done

Drawing on his experience at organisations like MoneySuperMarket, eBay, Disney, Marriott, and many startups, Joe Leech’s workshop offered a practical, hands-on way to understand how to make the right product choices based on user needs.

He did this using Jobs to be Done – a framework, as Joe describes it, “containing the processes and tools to understand user needs and plan innovative products and product features to meet those user needs”.

In order to help them to go on to design the right things in the right order, and for the right reasons, Joe asked workshop attendees to think about the emotional, social, and functional elements of their products and why they should care about them.

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Using examples, including MoMA, No More Nails and even smoking, Joe quickly helped the group to answer this question and explained how and why they should be running user research to uncover the Jobs to be Done for their products.

Each attendee left the workshop able to:

  • Uncover the Jobs to be Done, map them to their product and understand where there is unmet user need
  • Advocate and evidence product changes across the organisation, from C-level executives to marketing
  • Design the right thing in the right order for the right reasons
  • Put Jobs to be Done into practice

OKRs for Product Teams

One door down, Frank Qiu, explained how to implement and use OKRs in a product team effectively, as it’s done in the very best-performing product cultures.

He began by explaining how to define effective OKRs, set them annually and how to break them down quarterly.

With those foundations set, the group was split into six and challenged to set three objectives for a specific example. Each team’s objectives were then presented, discussed, and challenged.

Frank Qiu’s group digs into OKRs

This quickly demonstrated that objective setting is purely the start of the process. With discussion, objectives can be refined and strengthened.

“Setting objectives is not something you can do in five minutes,” Frank explained. “You will need to make adjustments, to redefine and recalibrate, and you want your objectives the objectives you set to be aggressive but realistic.”

The work led to questions such as:

  • What if we can’t measure the most important things?
  • What if we miss our targets?
  • What if our outputs don’t generate the outcomes we wanted?
  • Can we adapt our OKRs?

By creating and developing OKRs throughout a simulated year-in-the-life of a product team, attendees learned how to handle things that go wrong, how to adjust course, and how to manage expectations.

What if you Weren’t There?

If you missed today’s #mtpcon workshops, fear not! Through Mind the Product Training you can access the insight of expert product managers (our trainers) through in-depth, interactive training workshops. We offer worldwide training, with public workshops for out-of-the-box topics, and our in-house training provides the opportunity to develop a curriculum to meet your specific needs.

For more updates, follow all of the conference action on Twitter using #mtpcon.

The post Practical Insights and Guidance at #mtpcon London Workshops appeared first on Mind the Product.

Five essential onboarding tactics for complex products

The ideal onboarding experience is an easy and frictionless path to finding value.

Consumer products perfected this by building onboarding experiences with maniacal focus on a single metric: Facebook’s 7-friends-in-10-days, or Pinterest’s 1rc7 (percentage of new signups that repinned a pin or clicked on a pin in the week following signup).

But some products include irreducible complexity. When it comes to software for businesses, users often have to install the software, invite their team or message their customers. All of these are high consequence actions that deserve care and thought, if not review and approval.

There are techniques that help to create the magic of a consumer onboarding flow in a complex product with considered actions. Here are five.

1: Provide immediate utility (or demonstrate it as realistically as you can)

For many complex products, the path to experiencing value requires designing customer messaging, onboarding a team, or installing software. These are high consequence actions, and a significant ask for a new user with little trust in your company.

To combat a long path to value, find ways to clearly demonstrate how you deliver on your promises. An effective demonstration of value is specific to the user, as close as possible to the final product. If your product is a widget on the user’s website, let them configure the widget on a mock-up of their website, instead of a sterile settings page.

many great image

For instance, Airbnb makes benefits tangible by showing prospective hosts a specific, location-based estimate of how much they can earn.

2: Organize your flow based on value, not technology

A common mistake companies make with onboarding flows is creating a tour of every feature your product teams have built. Brand new users are still evaluating your product, so your onboarding flow needs to be a compelling demonstration of how your product solves their problems.

It’s unlikely that your UI is organized in this way: features and screens in your product don’t tend to map neatly to user benefits. While it’s important to explain the hierarchy and organization of your product, it’s irrelevant if customers don’t complete your onboarding process. The ordering of steps in your onboarding flow should be based around the problems that your product solves, not simply which screens are adjacent in your Settings page.

many great image

We can see here how Turbotax asks you what’s important and aligns their flow to benefits.

3: Motivate users through the process by linking tasks to benefits

In any process of adopting something new, all tasks are subject to anxiety and inertia, as well as the noise and distractions of day-to-day work.

Templates, smart defaults and quality UX can reduce friction, but many tasks in the process of onboarding to a complex product are simply hard work. To keep users moving forward with your process, make sure the specific benefit of each task is clear.

Benefits are good (do this to get that) but even better are hard claims (15 minutes could save you 15% or more), or short testimonials that provide social proof. Each of these help to motivate new users to overcome inertia and anxiety and move one step closer to activation.

many great image

LinkedIn keeps their job database current by encouraging me to “strengthen my profile” so “people can find and connect with me”. Here, the microcopy explains the benefit to me of confirming my current title, rather than framing it in product-centric terms (e.g “Update your title”).

4: Reassure and come back to high-anxiety tasks

If your product is used in a business setting, it’s likely that at some point it will involve a highly visible step, such as inviting colleagues, or taking an action that affects customers. These steps are anxiety-inducing and in larger companies can involve internal review and QA.

In onboarding, delay is the enemy of success. You don’t want customers getting stuck trying to compose the perfect email during their first use experience, you just want them to be aware that this feature exists. So for potentially sticky tasks, explicitly let customers know that it’s okay to skip a task as they can always come back to it later. Or build in a way to reduce their anxiety.

many great image

The example above shows how Basecamp strikes a balance between enabling new users to invite colleagues, but reassuring them that they can also do it later.

many great image

In the example above, we can see how MailChimp provides a subtle ‘Send a test email’ when a campaign is ready to send, enabling users who want to double-check their work the ability to do so – and then move forward.

5: Guide customers through non-product tasks too

Your onboarding process should help new users to snappily complete simple set up tasks, but allow them to tackle longer or more complex tasks (ie. creating content, installing software etc.) at their own pace. A great onboarding process guides customers through these non-button-clicking steps as well, for example using content that helps customers write a great email, or providing a QA checklist for installing a website widget. Doing this support ensures that your customers don’t get stuck on some of the hardest parts of the process.

If you map the customer journey for your product, you’ll likely see that the process involves a number of steps that happen outside of your product. For an email product, users need to figure out what to write and who to send it to. Any team workflow product involves actually getting those teammates to use the product (and ensuring they also understand why they should sign up).

Great onboarding proves to new users how your product does their job

Great onboarding flows are more than a checklist or a chronological walkthrough of your product. They should be designed to lead your brand new users to value as soon as possible, by demonstrating how your product helps them achieve their job to be done. And as your business grows and adds new features and types of customers, your onboarding flow will need to adapt with it – both adding new core features and removing those that become less critical over time. As my colleague Ruairi puts it, “you’ll never be finished working on onboarding.”


Intercom on Onboarding

The post Five essential onboarding tactics for complex products appeared first on Inside Intercom.

5 essential onboarding tactics for complex products

The ideal onboarding experience is an easy and frictionless path to finding value.

Consumer products perfected this by building onboarding experiences with maniacal focus on a single metric: Facebook’s 7-friends-in-10-days, or Pinterest’s 1rc7 (percentage of new signups that repinned a pin or clicked on a pin in the week following signup).

But some products include irreducible complexity. When it comes to software for businesses, users often have to install the software, invite their team or message their customers. All of these are high consequence actions that deserve care and thought, if not review and approval.

There are techniques that help to create the magic of a consumer onboarding flow in a complex product with considered actions. Here are five.

1: Provide immediate utility (or demonstrate it as realistically as you can)

For many complex products, the path to experiencing value requires designing customer messaging, onboarding a team, or installing software. These are high consequence actions, and a significant ask for a new user with little trust in your company.

To combat a long path to value, find ways to clearly demonstrate how you deliver on your promises. An effective demonstration of value is specific to the user, as close as possible to the final product. If your product is a widget on the user’s website, let them configure the widget on a mock-up of their website, instead of a sterile settings page.

many great image

For instance, Airbnb makes benefits tangible by showing prospective hosts a specific, location-based estimate of how much they can earn.

2: Organize your flow based on value, not technology

A common mistake companies make with onboarding flows is creating a tour of every feature your product teams have built. Brand new users are still evaluating your product, so your onboarding flow needs to be a compelling demonstration of how your product solves their problems.

It’s unlikely that your UI is organized in this way: features and screens in your product don’t tend to map neatly to user benefits. While it’s important to explain the hierarchy and organization of your product, it’s irrelevant if customers don’t complete your onboarding process. The ordering of steps in your onboarding flow should be based around the problems that your product solves, not simply which screens are adjacent in your Settings page.

many great image

We can see here how Turbotax asks you what’s important and aligns their flow to benefits.

3: Motivate users through the process by linking tasks to benefits

In any process of adopting something new, all tasks are subject to anxiety and inertia, as well as the noise and distractions of day-to-day work.

Templates, smart defaults and quality UX can reduce friction, but many tasks in the process of onboarding to a complex product are simply hard work. To keep users moving forward with your process, make sure the specific benefit of each task is clear.

Benefits are good (do this to get that) but even better are hard claims (15 minutes could save you 15% or more), or short testimonials that provide social proof. Each of these help to motivate new users to overcome inertia and anxiety and move one step closer to activation.

many great image

LinkedIn keeps their job database current by encouraging me to “strengthen my profile” so “people can find and connect with me”. Here, the microcopy explains the benefit to me of confirming my current title, rather than framing it in product-centric terms (e.g “Update your title”).

4: Reassure and come back to high-anxiety tasks

If your product is used in a business setting, it’s likely that at some point it will involve a highly visible step, such as inviting colleagues, or taking an action that affects customers. These steps are anxiety-inducing and in larger companies can involve internal review and QA.

In onboarding, delay is the enemy of success. You don’t want customers getting stuck trying to compose the perfect email during their first use experience, you just want them to be aware that this feature exists. So for potentially sticky tasks, explicitly let customers know that it’s okay to skip a task as they can always come back to it later. Or build in a way to reduce their anxiety.

many great image

The example above shows how Basecamp strikes a balance between enabling new users to invite colleagues, but reassuring them that they can also do it later.

5: Guide customers through non-product tasks too

Your onboarding process should help new users to snappily complete simple set up tasks, but allow them to tackle longer or more complex tasks (ie. creating content, installing software etc.) at their own pace. A great onboarding process guides customers through these non-button-clicking steps as well, for example using content that helps customers write a great email, or providing a QA checklist for installing a website widget. Doing this support ensures that your customers don’t get stuck on some of the hardest parts of the process.

If you map the customer journey for your product, you’ll likely see that the process involves a number of steps that happen outside of your product. For an email product, users need to figure out what to write and who to send it to. Any team workflow product involves actually getting those teammates to use the product (and ensuring they also understand why they should sign up).

many great image

In the example above, we can see how MailChimp provides a subtle ‘Send a test email’ when a campaign is ready to send, enabling users who want to double-check their work the ability to do so – and then move forward.

Great onboarding proves to new users how your product does their job

Great onboarding flows are more than a checklist or a chronological walkthrough of your product. They should be designed to lead your brand new users to value as soon as possible, by demonstrating how your product helps them achieve their job to be done. And as your business grows and adds new features and types of customers, your onboarding flow will need to adapt with it – both adding new core features and removing those that become less critical over time. As my colleague Ruairi puts it, “you’ll never be finished working on onboarding.”


The post 5 essential onboarding tactics for complex products appeared first on Inside Intercom.

Making things people want

The problems people encounter in their lives rarely change from generation to generation. The products they hire to solve these problems change all the time.

If you’re building a new product, it’s because you believe you can create a better solution that people will want to use because it delivers a better outcome. A strong understanding of the outcome customers want, and how they currently get it, is essential for you to succeed in product development.

Focusing on outcome … lets you understand your real competitors

Maybe your customers want to be entertained, or spend more time with their friends, or understand what projects teammates are working on, or maybe they want to project growth for their business. If the desired outcome is real then they are already achieving it through some product in some way. Your job is to improve upon that.

Sidenote: If you can’t find what product they’re currently using, the chances are that it’s a fictitious outcome (“Wouldn’t it be cool if…”) or an aspirational one (“Of course I want to lose weight”). Espoused behavior never reflects reality.

Focusing on outcome, rather than category, industry or product type, lets you understand your real competitors. The second a company focuses on “the industry it’s in” rather than the “outcome it delivers”, it loses touch, and shortly after, loses customers.
People want to pass messages discreetly
Newspapers, for example, believed they were in the “Newspaper Industry”, and as such struggled to work out why bored commuters had stopped buying their product. They would look left and right at their competitors and wonder which newspaper had stolen their customers. They would experiment with new formats, new layouts, lower prices, sharper headlines, but they couldn’t stop the rot. Had they instead focused on the outcome they deliver (bored commuters want to be entertained for short bursts of time with bite-sized articles), then their competitors (Twitter, Facebook, news apps) wouldn’t have been so oblique to them.

What people want

Let’s look at some jobs that, like boredom during a commute, have stuck around for years, through hundreds of technological advances.

People wanted to pass notes and messages, without fear of other people seeing them…

People want to pass messages discreetly

People still want this

people still want to pass messages discreetly

People wanted to store photos in a safe place…

People want to store photos

People still want this

People still want to store photos

People wanted to put their favourite photos in a prominent place, so everyone could see them…

People want to share photos

People still want this.

People still want to share photos

People wanted to collect scrapbooks of ideas…

People want to scrapbook

People still want this.

People still want to scrapbook

People wanted to post their friends and loved ones newspaper clippings…

People want to share articles

People still want this.

People still want to share articles

People wanted to leave nice reviews, and tips for other travellers…

People want to leave reviews for others

People still want this.

People still want to leave reviews for others

Making things people want

There are literally hundreds of examples like the ones above and there’s a common trend in all of them. Making things people want involves understanding a longstanding human or business need and then using technology to:

  1. Remove steps
  2. Make it possible for more people
  3. Make it possible in more situations

The first approach, removing steps, is the most common for start-ups. Pick a need where the existing solutions are old, complex and bloated, and find the simplest smallest set of steps possible to deliver the same outcome. Arranging a taxi in a city used to involve calling many numbers until you find a company with availability, then a lengthy dialogue about your location, destination and required arrival time. Today you press one button and a car shows up.

Jeff Bezos is famous for saying ‘Focus on the things that don’t change’

The second approach usually involves reducing the cost (in time or money), or barriers to using a product so that more people can use it, thus expanding the market. Not so long ago ago, if someone wanted to get their writing online they had to rent a linux server, download a .tar.gz file containing the source code of a blogging engine, upload it, run a series of weird commands to unpack it and give it write access, and then configure it. Today you can do the same job in two clicks with Medium.

The third approach involves removing common situational limitations on a workflow. Accepting payment used to involve bulky machines with rolls of thermal paper, faxing paperwork to banks, ISDN lines, and batch transaction transfers run nightly. Today you swipe a card through a phone and you’re done.

Jeff Bezos is famous for saying “Focus on the things that don’t change.” The problems that people and businesses encounter don’t change often. The ways they can be solved changes almost yearly. So it stands to reason that making things people want should start with the “what people want” bit, and not the more tempting “things we can make”.


Remember: It’s easier to make things people want than it is to make people want things.


The post Making things people want appeared first on Inside Intercom.

Bob Moesta on unpacking customer motivations with Jobs-to-be-Done

Why does someone switch from one product to another? It’s rarely the first reason they’ll offer. You have to dig deeper to find out, and that’s where Jobs-to-be-Done comes in.

Bob Moesta pioneered the Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework in the mid 90’s, alongside Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen. In short, JTBD is a research process that helps uncover a customer’s motivation for buying your product – the “job” your product is“hired” to complete.

Today, Bob is President and CEO at The Re-Wired Group, a consultancy that’s helped develop more than 3,500 products and services. They helped us uncover the exact jobs our products were used for in Intercom’s early years, a process that resonated with us so much that we wrote a book about it.

Bob’s appeared on our podcast to talk JTBD previously, and I welcomed him back to talk about how we can continue getting better at unpacking customer motivations. If you enjoy the conversation check out more episodes. You can subscribe on iTunes, stream on Spotify or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice.

What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the conversation. Short on time? Here are five quick takeaways:

  1. Customers don’t randomly switch products. Either a better option comes along or something disrupts their routine, and understanding these forces not only helps you acquire users, but retain them as well.
  2. For larger companies to best utilize JTBD, you have to filter buyer behavior into quantitative data sets.
  3. The way you package and market your product will change over time, but the jobs your product is hired to do should be timeless.
  4. The progress your users are trying to make is the same; however, they’ll use very different language to describe it. This is where personas come into play.
  5. The greatest single step you can make with JTBD is to talk to somebody who recently purchased your product and somebody who recently quit. What drove their decision?

Des Traynor: Bob, welcome back to Inside Intercom. You’re probably best known for Jobs-to-be-Done. What is it?

Bob Moesta: The basic premise of Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) is that people buy things to help them make progress. There’s nothing random about somebody buying an Intercom product today, for example. There’s something that caused them to do that: an outcome they seek or some better state they want. JTBD exists to understand both the context a customer is in and the dominoes that have to fall for them to say, “Today’s the day I’m going to buy.” What’s the outcome that sets their expectations? When are they actually switching? It’s the notion of really focusing in on those moments through space and time. What can you do to help people understand when it’s time to sign up for Intercom and to make sure you satisfy them so they’ll stay?

Des: It sounds slightly magical. How do you begin to learn what these moments are?

Bob: I usually start with interviews to understand the difference between what they say and what they do, and to understand the things that happen to them or the things they want to happen – what we call the “causal mechanisms.” From qualitative interviews, you’re able to actually see behaviors, and you can look into the data analytics and actually see what’s happening. It’s almost like theory development, to understand how to look at big data. That’s how we end up being able to see it and size it, and then we can decide how to actually build better experiences to actually deliver on the jobs.

Finding underlying causality

Des: It sounds like people will say why they buy something, but that’s not really why they bought it. Can you give an example?

Bob: I have a great story: the other day I was at dinner, and one of the gentlemen had the new Google phone. I asked what made him decide to buy it, and he said, “I looked at the iPhone X, and I looked at the notch, and that notch is the thing that caused me not to buy the iPhone and to buy the Google one.” And I said, “I don’t think so.”

You have to get past the surface crap people tell themselves.

All of a sudden, we start to talk through what’s wrong with the notch, and then talk about what else was going on, and I learn that he actually needed to build an Android app. He had to buy an Android phone to begin with. The notch had nothing to do with the story, but it’s an example of the easy thing, or the lie we that we can tell everybody else and that everybody will accept. It’s really not the underlying causality, so you have to get past the surface crap that people tell themselves.

Des: One of the techniques I’ve seen in your JTBD interviews is that you sort of freeze time. If someone tells you they just bought a mattress, you say, “You don’t just wake up out of bed saying ‘I need to buy a mattress’ or ‘I need to install Intercom.’” When you press people enough, they say, “Well actually, the spring dug into my back,” or “I got this shitty email report that wasn’t good enough, and I needed something better.”

Bob: Someone might tell you: “I went to give a report, and all of a sudden my bosses went crazy because it wasn’t the right data, and they made me look bad. So I have to find something better.” It’s usually the things they blame themselves for. They don’t say it’s about the product; it’s a separation between their experiences and product. You have to dig deeper than that: it’s really about seeing how products fit into people’s lives.

Trying to look at your customer through your product is like looking through a peephole in a fence. You can only see the little interactions they have, as opposed to getting above it all, looking at their life, and seeing how you actually fit in. That’s where the interview takes a turn, because most people always think you’re going to talk about the product. Instead, you’re talking about them.

When a lot of companies first start using JTBD they think, “I need you to ask about this feature and that feature.” I don’t care about any of those things. I only care about what was going on in their life that made them say, “Today’s the day.” Those are the pylons and the foundations by which people do things. They don’t think it’s part of your world as a product person, but they are the actual foundations by which you get pulled into their world.

Des: For business owners, startup founders, and anyone from designers to product folks, JTBD is a way to understand the situations and motivations that would trigger your would-be customers to evaluate your product. If you learn those things, you can lean into them. You can try to trigger that motivation earlier, right?

Bob: There are two flavors of jobs out there. One is the outcome driven-innovation. This is Tony Ulwick’s stuff. To me context and outcome go together, as pairs, as sets of data. I focus on the the progress people are trying to make, as opposed to trying to make the best product in the world. People might say they want this great outcome, but the fact is sometimes you just have to give them a half step to make the progress. As David Heinemeier Hansson said, “You’re better off with a kick-ass half than a half-assed whole.”

Adding quantitative data to the JTBD mix

Des: As communities and theories expand, there can be a range of misunderstandings and misapplications. There’s also positive progress as more people get used to using it. What have the past few years been like for Jobs-to-be-Done?

Bob: A couple things have happened. We’ve gotten some tighter processes. For example, we now we have a very formalized JTBD interview debrief process to extract the data. Each interview is about a terabyte of data, and we pull out a range of things: pushes, pulls, anxiety, habits, hiring, firing, trade-offs. We put these into a piece of software that enables us to codify and see the patterns through math. It allows us to move from a 60-day process of doing all the interviews and analyzing them to a one-week process. This also allows fairly large companies to actually build their own training programs and scale them.

Des: On the math, what’s the process for quantifying a statement you hear in an interview?

Bob: There’s the qualitative side of how we actually find the jobs, and then there’s quantitative side of which jobs are happening when and where. You can actually start to codify a big data set by the theories you have. There’s a really cool way to take a current data set and lay the jobs theory over it. For example, one of the jobs when we were working with Basecamp was “Help me think it through.” You see people putting a lot of tasks in and inviting a lot of people to collaborate, lots of conversations, but never checking anything off. They were trying to make sure they were thinking about the project correctly, but then they wouldn’t actually do anything else after that. The product can do a lot more, but the reality is that’s what they use the tool for and that’s what helps them make progress. Now you can see it in the data.

Des: So the job provides a lens, which then can reasonably approximate the data you should see. One example is that Intercom is more popular on a Monday. Why is that? Well, you have a backlog with customer support, but also our marketing products are more popular on a Monday because people are checking reports to fill in their spreadsheets. We can see that in the behavior.

Bob: The trick is manifesting that back into the data. Another example on the quantitative side is a book I have coming out with Michael Horn about choosing a college. It’s about the struggling moment when an 18-year-old and their parents figure out which school they should go to, and there’s often a mismatch between the jobs the students want and what the institutions are actually delivering.

We did a quantitative study where we took all the pushes that people had talked about, and we asked, “What caused you to say, ‘Today’s the day I want to go to college?’” They’re not your usual set of answers. We used a MaxDiff analysis of what had the most influence versus the least influence. Then we asked, “What are the two or three things you’re actually hoping for when you go through college?” We had the same result, and out of it you can actually start to see the jobs.

We looked at 1,500 students during their first year as freshmen at University of Maryland, Baltimore. If you asked the administrators what they thought was going on, they thought everybody was there for what we called “the ideal college experience”: help me find out who I am, help me figure out a major. It turns out that the majority of people  coming in were thinking, “I have a little extra time, I want to learn something new, and I want to better myself.” All of a sudden, you have very different sets of orientations.

Push vs pull

Des: That’s the classic ‘person’s not buying what the company thinks it’s selling’ scenario. Do you see the reverse, where people think they’re applying Jobs, but they’re not actually applying it? I constantly see software folks, people building startups, struggling to know where to stop. They do their JTBD interviews and they learn that Johnny wants marketing data. Why does he want it? Maybe he wants to be a good employee, so he can get promoted so he can earn more money. Then when the startup writes up the job, they say, “What does our product do? It does everything: It gets people promoted, it helps them have a happy marriage, it even exports to Microsoft Excel!” All of those things are true at different zoom levels, but they don’t know which one to anchor on. Any guidance there?

It’s the struggling moment where they can’t do something that causes them to take the leap.

Bob: I always think about it as a level of abstraction. What is the underlying energy that’s actually motivating them to do something? Nine times out of 10, it’s as much about push as it is about pull. It’s the struggling moment where they can’t do something that causes them to take the leap. This is the difference between what I call supply-side innovation, “I have this technology, what job can it do?” versus demand-side innovation: “What progress do customers wanna make, and how do they value it?”

Where does the product’s responsibility give way to their responsibility to follow through? That’s a hard point to find, and there are clearly points where people are extrapolating way beyond the consumers’ scope, focus or attention. You can try to extrapolate that, but it’s going to scare them because they haven’t thought about it. To me it’s really about what people can actually talk about or articulate – or what’s just over the edge of what they can articulate and have no language for. Making the leap of, “I’m going to hire Intercom and get my promotion…”, you can wish there were a direct connection, but there’s not. It’s the results Intercom gets you that will get you promoted.

Des: Some background here: Intercom started in 2011 as a single product. All we wanted to do at the start was to make internet business personal, but what we were building specifically was a way to make it really easy for people who run internet businesses to talk to their customers, and vice versa.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and what we had was a monolithic Intercom with a single piece of software that could do a lot of things. I first contacted Bob in 2013, because we didn’t know what to say on our marketing site. We didn’t know how best to articulate all of the weird ways Intercom was being used. So we spoke to 15 customers and came to the conclusion that people were using Intercom in four different ways, which we called Observe, Learn, Support and Engage. The customers were saying four things:

  1. “Help me see my users”
  2. “Help my users talk to me”
  3. “Help me provide timely responses”
  4. “Help me to get people to do the right thing at the right time.”

Next, we produced these job boards to split the product up notionally. We ran multiple marketing sites for each of the things we did, and we priced each of them differently. The whole project was a massive success.

Bob: But at this point you’re not actually marketing the jobs so as much as you are presenting them like use cases, right?

Des: The use cases still tie to the jobs. You’ll see that we have use cases called Support and Retain, Capture and Convert and Onboard and Engage. All of that research still holds true, because one of the core ideas about a Job-to-be-Done is that it should be timeless. It should represent a persistent need, not something that’s temporal. That has certainly been true for us. As to how we package, we still find ourselves in a situation where significant parts of our product are used for different purposes.

As an example, you can use our Inbox product to talk to sales customers – in which case, all you care about is your Salesforce integration, fast replies, lead qualification, etc. However, the whole right-hand panel of that same inbox will turn into a customer support column, which shows: “Here’s Bob. He has seven projects open. He’s struggling on project number eight. He’s paying us $49/month.” The same technology powers that, but it’s used in a different way.

If you want Capture and Convert, we will sell you our Messages product, so you can start conversations with visitors, and our Inbox product, so you can actually reply to those conversations and manage them at scale. In the case of Support and Retain, we’ll sell you a knowledge base, and an inbox. So that’s the kind of shift that we’ve made: we market solutions, but we sell products.

Bob: To me, jobs are use-case sets: there may be five or six use cases for the product, but the jobs are universal, like you said. Sometimes people can talk about the problem, or sometimes they actually walk in with the solution. But it might be the wrong solution, and you can help them understand why they might need two things instead of one (or a different set). Eventually, they have to be pulled into the job context so they can actually say, “That’s me. I want that. I’ll come.”

Understanding how people buy

Des: When I was working with the marketing team at Intercom, one of the big a-ha moments for me was seeing the many ways people come looking to us for what we would call our Capture and Convert solution. Some people say that they’re looking to increase website conversion, and that’s something that our product does. Other people will say that they need to replace their existing live-chat tool, so they’re searching for an Olark alternative, and we need to be able to put our hand up for that as well.

A customer might be looking for live chat for reasons like, “I have a problem,” meaning that they want to increase conversion. “I have a broken competitor,” when they mean that they’re not happy with my current offering. A third one might be, “I know the type of solution I need, and I’m here shopping.” Sometimes you have to teach the customer and draw a line for them between your product and their problem. Other times it’s as easy as them saying: “I know you guys do live chat. Where’s the buy button?” You need to be able to cater for all of these with one marketing site.

Bob: But the underlying premise is that the progress all of them are trying to make is the same, even though they’re using different language. This is where personas come in. I might have somebody really sophisticated, who knows what they’re doing and knows the vocabulary. They’ll say, “I want to increase conversions.” Someone else might say: “I’m new to this whole thing. I just want live chat. I don’t even think about conversions.”

People don’t buy jobs, they buy products.

The job is that foundational piece. I put personas and demographics underneath it. I may have to use different ways to capture them, but underlying causality is the same. In some cases, they don’t have to know about the job, but in other cases they might be really explicit and know everything about the job. That doesn’t mean you turn a job into the marketing; you have to be able to look through the job and through different persons to discover how to market better. People don’t buy jobs, they buy products.

Des: That’s a key insight: you have to understand your buyer personas, which might be of different levels of maturity, experience or naivety. You need to know who they are. Your job is a fixed thing, then your marketing site is a lens through which all personas should be able to see the solution you’re offering in their own language or with their own experiences.

Bob: Or in a range of languages – you might have different landing pages for the personas. But the fact is, whether they say “help me convert more people on my site” or “I need a chat tool”, they have the same intent.

Des: If you’re a startup founder, what’s a single step you can take with Jobs?

Bob: The greatest single step you can make is to actually talk to somebody who recently purchased you, and talk to somebody who recently quit you – or quit the competitor that you’re going after. By understanding these switching moments, you’re pulling a thread. And then once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it; you’ll see it over and over again.

The first step is always a set of interviews. I’m not talking about surveys. Literally get them on the phone and ask the basic question: why was today the day they signed up for this product? The thing you have to realize is that it’s not random, and you have to dig as hard as you can past the bullshit stuff they’ll tell you upfront. There’s always something deeper, because nobody really wants to switch. Habit is the strongest force of all, and people will just keep doing what they’re doing unless something gets in the way or something better comes a long. There has to be enough energy for them to stop something and start something.

Just go talk to your customers. That’s where this all began.

Des: It’s like detective work. I’ve seen you do it, when you say to someone, “You’re saying ‘cool.’ Unbundle that for me. What does this word ‘cool’ mean to you? Oh, it means ‘useful.’”

Bob: And then you ask, “What does useful mean?” You get them to tell you what’s not useful because sometimes they can articulate better in negative space than in positive space. It’s about playing with the words. The English language kind of sucks, because the same word can mean five different things – or five different words can mean the same thing. I often have to say, “I have no idea which meaning you’re using, so let’s just take it down a notch.” I can’t design product without fully understanding this first.

The post Bob Moesta on unpacking customer motivations with Jobs-to-be-Done appeared first on Inside Intercom.

Why Dale Carnegie, the grandfather of self-help books, endures in the digital age

Very few non-fiction books have had the long-lasting impact of Dale Carnegie’s 1936 classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

The title alone was a meme long before memes were a thing – the phrase became shorthand for the cultivation of a winning personality, especially in the pursuit of professional success.

So how has the book remained such a bible for sales and marketing professionals? Can advice based on rambling anecdotes about figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Al Capone hold much value for the entrepreneurs, salespeople and marketers of today?

Principles for success

The truth is that the grandfather of the modern self-help genre earns its place on every business person’s bookshelf because of the fundamental integrity of its advice. Carnegie, an aspiring actor who found great success as a public speaking coach, captures an earnest early 20th century American optimism, full of virtuous principles and upstanding advice.

Underlying all Carnegie’s principles
are two fundamental insights.

Carnegie breaks down his advice into 30 principles divided into a number of sections: 3 fundamental techniques in handling people; 6 ways to make people like you; 12 ways to win people to your way of thinking; and 9 principles to be an effective leader.

Amid all of the principles is plenty of folksy wisdom, emphasizing the power of smiling, the importance of listening rather than talking and the value of showing appreciation rather than offering criticism. Cumulatively, those 30 principles add up to a very effective formula for achieving what the famous title promises.

Underlying all Carnegie’s principles, however, are two fundamental insights, which every sales and marketing professional should internalize.

Develop your empathy

The first core insight that underpins many of Carnegie’s principles is the observation that people tend to be pretty self-centered and only by understanding the extent of that self-absorption can we hope to have an impact on their way of thinking. That was true in the 1930s, and it’s probably even more true in the selfie-obsessed 21st century.

Always make the other person feel important.

Whether you’re on a marketing team trying to capture people’s attention or a sales team pursuing leads, Carnegie’s book argues that appealing to other people’s self-interest should be a cornerstone of your strategy.

“Always make the other person feel important,” is his cardinal law. He spells it out by saying: “The only way on Earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it.”

At another point Carnegie goes so far as to write: “If, as a result of reading this book, you get only one thing – an increased tendency to think always in terms of the other person’s point of view, and see things from that person’s angle as well as your own – if you get only that one thing from this book, it may easily prove to be one of the stepping-stones of your career.”

That might sound like a truism, but modern frameworks such as Jobs-to-be-Done are basically formalized processes for incorporating other people’s point of view. Considering the jobs our customers are hiring us to do forces us to consider not our own strategic needs, but rather how we can address our customers’ needs instead.

Ultimately, you must develop an empathy for others in order to best understand how to serve them.

Focus on sincerity

Understanding other people’s self-interest, however, can only bring you so far. The second element that is key to finding success with Carnegie’s book is a simple-sounding but surprisingly rare quality – sincerity.

Carnegie’s entire playbook is predicated on being genuine in your regard for others. While it’s certainly possible to merely mimic some of his recommended habits and principles, it’s impossible to master his formula for success without an authentic interest in and engagement with other people

The difference between appreciation and flattery? One is sincere and the other insincere.

For instance, Carnegie recommends that people show their honest appreciation for others, but warns against the risks of flattery. “The difference between appreciation and flattery?” he asks. “That is simple. One is sincere and the other insincere. One comes from the heart out; the other from the teeth out. One is unselfish; the other selfish.”

That dichotomy, between the counterfeit and the genuine, is at the heart of all Carnegie’s advice.

That appeal to the power of sincerity is no less critical in an era of online business. Just because you are dealing with leads over live chat, say, rather than meeting them for lunch or even talking to them on the phone, doesn’t mean that an authentic connection isn’t possible, or desirable.

There’s a reason our mission here at Intercom is to make internet business personal – it hinges on an implicit assumption that the personal is positive, no matter what scale you’re operating at.

Pursuing something priceless

The book is emphatic about the need for genuine empathy. Convincing people to buy your product or service, goes Carnegie’s logic, is almost entirely dependent on you actually caring about solving their problem.

Carnegie’s sincere generosity of spirit is never clearer than in an amusing little vignette in which he compliments a weary post office clerk on his fine head of hair. Later, challenged as to what he was trying to get out of the clerk, Carnegie admits to an ulterior motive: “I did want something out of that chap. I wanted something priceless. And I got it. I got the feeling that I had done something for him without his being able to do anything whatever in return for me. That is a feeling that flows and sings in your memory long after the incident is past.”

That’s Carnegie and his book in a nutshell. How to Win Friends and Influence People is about kindness, about generosity, about empathy, and ultimately about finding success through rigorous selflessness. His lessons, it’s safe to say, are both timeless and timely.


Want to learn more about how to build your brand and sell more products? Download a copy of our book, Intercom on Marketing:
Download our book Intercom on Marketing

The post Why Dale Carnegie, the grandfather of self-help books, endures in the digital age appeared first on Inside Intercom.

Start your marketing with why: Getting your story right

No matter how good your product is, if you can’t tell a cohesive, compelling story about it, you’re going to have a very hard time getting people’s attention when you actually do take it to market.

Companies like Amazon understand this well and are rightly famous for their “work backwards” philosophy. You start by writing the press release, to articulate how the world will see your product, and then work backwards until you get to the minimum set of technology requirements to achieve your goals for the product.

Our approach to crafting a story begins with asking “Why?”

Why are you building this product, and why does it matter? People don’t typically discover and buy a product just because of its features. They buy a product because it solves a problem for them and delivers value in doing so. That’s why it’s really important to think about the end-to-end story you need to tell to capture attention and motivate action, before you build anything.


People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
– Simon Sinek

For decades software was sold using feature-based marketing: start with what the company wants to sell, and then tell people why they need it.

But SaaS has changed that. It’s easier than ever to build a product, which means the market landscape is increasingly competitive. The result is that differentiating yourself on product alone is harder than ever. To succeed, you need to reverse your marketing.

Sinek's Golden Circle

The “why”

Why does your company exist other than to make money? Many people can’t succinctly answer that question, which is a problem for marketing. In order to tell a compelling story about your product, you need to have a crystal clear idea of what your company stands for.

Make internet business personal
– Intercom’s why

This story starts long before you’ve designed or coded anything. It’s written as soon you decide you’re going to build a company. It’s the pitch deck you’re giving to investors, the application you’re sending into Y Combinator or the story you’re telling to the person next to you on the plane. When I joined Intercom, the first thing I did was to sit with the founders and try to understand the mission and vision of the product: Why did they create Intercom? What problem were they trying to solve? Why does that problem exist?

Marketing, at the end of the day, is not just about a company’s mission. It’s about understanding why a customer would care about that mission, and translating that understanding into a story that will compel someone to start a trial and ultimately make a purchase.

The “how”

As the Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt put it, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” People don’t care about you,  people care about themselves and their problems. A good story is a lot like the strings on a piano: when it hits something of the same frequency, it resonates and your story sticks.

Jason Fried tweet

To start with, you need to have a clear understanding of who your target customer is. From there, you need to understand what problems you can solve for them. These have to be real problems they are looking for solutions to, and you need to be able to clearly articulate a world in which using your product or service solves those problems for them, in a manner better than anyone else has.

For example, around the time Apple launched the iPod, MP3 players were a dime a dozen. The problem was marketing. Everyone else was saying “1GB storage on your MP3 player” – falling into the feature-based marketing trap we discussed above – but nobody was talking about how their product would make customers’ lives better.

Apple went ahead and focused on the customer benefit: 1,000 songs in your pocket. By deliberately avoiding talking about the tech (the storage capacity), they enabled people to avoid having to figure out what 1GB actually meant for them. At a time when MP3 players were competing with CD players and 1,000 songs on a device was a novelty, customers could clearly see the advantage the iPod would bring.

Jason Fried tweet

The “what”

Once you’ve sold someone on your story and shown them how your product can solve their problem, you should back it up with hard claims about how effective your product will be in solving their problem to accelerate their decision making.

Take buying a car: You might understand why you need a car spacious and safe enough for your family, but when it comes down to a split decision, you might select the one with the heated leather seats, or the one that gives you 100 miles to the gallon. Features can often connect the dots and put a story into a greater context. They do this in two important ways:

  • Justification: In B2B SaaS, you’re stressing “bottom line” results that can be achieved by applying your product’s features to solve a particular problem. If you can demonstrate that the customer will be a hero because your product will save their company $120,000 a year and help them achieve better results, you’ve got an excellent shot. Show them how customers like them have actually achieved those results with your product.
  • Differentiation: In a crowded market, your features can help you stand apart from the competition. Take our conversation ratings feature, which is our way for businesses to measure and understand customer satisfaction. What’s most compelling to a buyer isn’t how they can measure customer satisfaction, but rather how they can take specific actions (or not) based on that insight. They can set new messages to be triggered based on a customer’s satisfaction level, or decide to put customers who are dissatisfied at the front of the queue. Features help us back up our story in a compelling way that our competitors can’t do.

Product and marketing are two sides of the same coin. A pizza delivery service that promises pizza in under 30 minutes can’t have customers waiting an hour. A bank that says it cares about its customers can’t have 20 people waiting in line with only two tellers on duty. Create your story in isolation of product, and customers who might be interested initially will be ultimately disappointed. Get your marketing and product teams in sync and you’ll have created an advantage that nobody else can copy.

Want to learn more about how to build your brand and sell more products in a non-spammy way? Download your copy of our book, Intercom on Marketing:
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