Clients are Impatient

3 01 2010
  • How much time do we spend making the customer experience simple?
  • Is the customer on-boarding process painful, or straight forward?
  • Do customers get lost in our beauracracy, our legal needs?
  • How many customers do we lose in those final steps?

We spend tremendous time developing technology – whether externally for paying customers, or internally for process improvement.  Yet, we often spend very little time planning for the adoption phase.

What do our customers want – stuff just to work the first time, to be easy to use and provide the value they paid for.   If we are spending millions, if not billions on product development, why do we not start with the end in mind (see Jonathan Becher’s – Manage by Walking Around blog)?  Especially in the age of the internet, people need to be able to sign up and get started without complexity, nor mind-numbing data entry.  There is a time and a place for each of those, and it is not necessarily right after “hello”.

One great shiny example is Apple.  Most of their products are far more simple to operate than their competitors.  Think of how easy to use each of their products are, then think about using them as part of a network of parts and it gets even more simple to use.





Telling a Story

28 12 2009

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate” Luke in Cool Hand Luke (played by Paul Newman)

A friend of mine sent this video along to a number of friends in the Business Intelligence space, saying we need to be better story tellers (Thanks Katie McCray).  We do spend an enormous amount of time talking about data structures, common data dictionaries, ease of use, speed, consistency, etc.  What we typically fail to do is tell our clients how to create information, to tell the story in a convincing enough manner to create attention, and more importantly, enable action.

As analysts we typically spend more time talking about data discovery, and the calculations we used than starting off by making our point.  We try to create 50 charts to explain everything, and not the one chart that most simply illustrates our point.  This not only wastes time, but we lose our audience.

Watch the next couple of presentations you sit through and watch the number of slides that build up to the point trying to be made.  What happens is that with each slide our listeners pay less and less attention as they have lost the point trying to be made.  As learners, we need the point to be made first.  We need to see how it all comes together, then have it explained how to get there.  It provides the context for the point to be made.  People now understand what to listen for and why they are listening.

On a slightly different note, last week I wrote about the housing market and the Dangers of Leading Indicators.  I had to update the post due to a new story with a different viewpoint that ran in the Globe on the 23rd.  Amazing how story tellers can tell such dramatically different things.





Product Complexity

19 10 2009

Jonathan Becher of the Manage by Walking Around Blog last week wrote about “Less is More.”  While he starts out with an attack on PowerPoint presentations, he then broadens his commentary to software.   His point is spot on and while I can not think about specific example in software, there have been a couple of interesting technology gadgets that could answer his question.

The most obvious to me is the Flip video camera.  They started with the premise that you don’t need all the special effects, and gadgetry that bloats R&D, wastes battery life, and ultimately increases the cost.  They provided just a video camera with a USB connection to download the film.  No more, no less.  And surprisingly (and telling) in the age of endless features that are rarely used it was an immediate hit.

  • In your space, are there customers that are over-served by the functionality of the competitive product suites?  If so, could you use this as a little Blue Ocean styled opportunity to address a new market?
  • How much of your product’s features are truly used?
  • Are the core functions of your product complicated by the rarely used features?
  • Do you run the risk of over complicating your product to its own demise?

I think it will be interesting to watch Flip grow over the next few years.  Will it attempt to morph the product to compete with the more complex video cameras?  Will it lose it’s identity as it does?  Is accessorizing the Flip a step in complexity, or merely a nice personalized touch?

Too Much

If we take Jonathan’s initial question a step in the opposite direction, can you think of a company that got too complex for its own good?

Here I think we can come up with a great many examples.  A clear example is Social Networking.  The initial idea behind LinkedIn was fantastic and it was easy to see why everyone bought in.  Lost former co-workers were easily found, and we could maintain a single repository for our network.  No matter when they changed jobs, everyone updated their profile.  Now, in an attempt to do more, LinkedIn is at risk of losing their audience.  Groups were a great idea, but their were no controls, no rules on how to use them (or not use them).  Now there are groups in every direction and people are using LinkedIn as a database marketing tool for pushing spam.  Facebook is perhaps beginning to fail under a similar complexity.  We all have friends that put their entire lives into Facebook (which may create its own problem) and send out virtual drinks, winks, pokes, games, flair, etc.   I would love to periodically hear what my friends are up to, but I can no longer find that out unless I spend a tremendous amount of time to design and manage the environment.





Price of Distraction

21 07 2009

Over the weekend, I was telling the story of Informix (now part of IBM) and the number of databases it tried to market and sell.  At one point in time, Informix marketed the following databases:

  • Standard Engine (SE) /OnLine 5 / IDS 7 / IDS 9 /RedBrick

It then aquired Ardent Software and added two more databases, UniVerse and UniData.  While the company was looking to build a data warehouse focused organization, the database was taking less and less focus.  There were a number of problems the company was facing.

  • There were not enough people at that time who could sell the complex technology well
  • The market was not really ready for the high end product
  • Each change in leadership elevated a different product to the forefront
  • A confused customer base
  • A skillful competitor in Oracle
  • A little SEC troubles

Informix itself is a great case study.  At one point, I simply asked the question “what if we sell OnLine 5 and SE to remove the distraction?”  Both OnLine 5 and SE were great products in their day, unfortunately those days were long past.  Both products still did somewhat well in the VAR space and were highly profitable the late 90’s.  My rationale was that we only made $10 million a year on each and most of that was profit.  We were shooting for the $1 billion plateau in annual sales and a $10 million product was a rounding error.

At the time I was the product manager for all of the legacy products, which accounted for approximately 50-60% of the companies revenues.  I answered enough requests for OnLine 5 and SE to understand that they were a distraction to the sales force.

Going back to the Seth Godin blog on “don’t sell to bar owners” this is a perfect example where the sales force was not equiped effectively enough to sell the product line.  And most importantly, the customer was confused into what they needed to buy.

  • Is your product strategy consistent and in line with customer needs?
  • Can your sales and marketing teams, concisely explain the positioning of each of the products?
  • Does the customer get what they need, or what the sales rep wants to push?
  • Do sales compensation plans align with customer need?

In the end, the lack of performance resulted in the company being aquired by IBM.  All companies reach stall points, make sure your don’t create your own stall points.  And if you do, recognize your actions and work to minimize the distraction and inconsistency.





Clean Up

6 07 2009
  • When was the last time you cleaned up your reporting environment?
  • When was the last time your reorganized you computer files?
  • How many versions of old files do you keep in multiple back up files and how much space is littered junk?

Most BI environments and network file structures are collections of everything we ever used.  We have files that are used daily sitting right next to files that have never been used.  We have mulitple drafts of things with the same name in the same folder.

When you were designing the folder use, did you think about the lifecycle of that folder (or system) and the things within it?  This is why we end up with things we no longer need and it makes finding the things we need all that more difficult.





Simplicity and Creativity

21 06 2009

Often the best messages are the most simple and straight forward.  If you want a perfect example, check out Common Craft.  They simply explain things – there is no PowerPoint, there are just simple visuals that clearly articulate their points.  The visuals are borderlining on a junior high art project, but I am sure you will see that doing the same thing in PowerPoint is just not the same.

And while I am at it, if you wanted to learn about Twitter, Blogging, Social Networking, etc they have some great samples.  And if you want a short video to explain what you do, they just might be worth contacting.  And no, I do not represent them in any manner.  I just thought they were a great example of performance.

If you are trying to create a presentation to convince the executives to alter course, rethink the tired old PowerPoint and bar chart approach.





Complexity

21 04 2009

Think of all the complexity we have created as organizations. Whether data, process, people, and of course politics. We time stamp everything we can, we empire build, we work in silos, we do things to do things. Or even worse, we do the things that are easy, or that we like to do. And because of all this complexity there is no way to identify that those activities aren’t helping.

As a company or organization grows, this continues to add to the complexity. We get further and further away from understanding what creates value.

  • What would happen if we started to unravel the organizations complexity?
  • What if we created a new type of organizational hierarchy focused on value creation?
  • What would happen if we just focused our efforts on the stuff that matters?