This topic is relevant to more than just Idera and it comes from experience working for and with multiple software vendors in multiple industries. The simple realization is that certain customers seem to know how to gain advantages beyond the purchases and products they own. So I am revealing the secrets that those select few have discovered on their own.
The thought of revealing software vendor secrets makes me feel a little like the masked magician of “Breaking the Magician’s Code” who earned a backlash from fellow magicians for violating the rule against revealing the secrets behind common illusions. While I hope I won’t suffer a similar backlash from product managers, my guess is I am safe. The reason is that most product managers, the good ones at least, would love customers to put these “secrets” into practice.
But before we get into it, let’s talk a little about what we are not doing in this post.
There isn’t anything wrong with measuring ROI and I recommend you look for ways to quantify value. But I am not simply looking for a different spin on return on investment from software. If you are looking for something like that then I would recommend reviewing these blogs on related subjects.
These approaches are good as far as they go, but they look at software as a product commodity for you to maximize quantitative return. They do not examine the qualitative aspect of the relationship you have with your software vendor beyond that of a customer.
That qualitative relationship I reference in passing is the key component to getting the most out of your software vendor. Specifically, the term “relationship” is not used lightly as that is the unifying idea behind all the other advice offered here. Regarding the choice of software vendor as a partnership as opposed to simply an exchange of goods opens up worlds of opportunity for the end users as well as the organization itself.
And I am not ashamed to admit that although all the advice offered here will work to your long term benefit, it also works to my long term benefit as a product manager. But don’t regard it as a hidden agenda but rather a win-win scenario that will work to everyone’s advantage.
That famous plaintive plea from Jerry Maguire is more than a cliché to a good product manager. We ask for your help because we want the product to help you succeed. We know you are busy, but the time you invest in providing feedback in all forms will pay off in products that meet your needs better. And you also will be involved directly in the planning process in a real way.
I am not just talking about feature requests. Feature requests usually come in the form of simple product changes that suit personal preferences or make some small task easier to accomplish. Those are certainly useful, but they must be balanced against hundreds of other simple product changes and evaluated for whether they benefit all product users and relative impact.
Beyond simple requests are those high value ideas that we can shape into investment opportunity. These ideas help create products and product categories and help you by alleviating high cost tasks and solving high risk problems.
So you might be thinking, “I see how that can help you but I am still not sure how it helps me.”
Back to the partnership theme, we have a mutual interest in making the products you own more useful to you and building new products that you (and customers like you) will find so useful that they take off in popularity. But beyond that mutual benefit is the benefit of being an insider.
The benefit of being an insider is that you get a much louder voice in the direction of the product than the average user. Remember those hundreds of simple product changes I whined about having to sift and prioritize earlier? Well guess which requests are likely to be top of mind when those decisions are made? That’s right; product managers play favorites is one of those secrets I promised earlier.
Product decisions are prioritized by revenue, market appeal, competitive impact, and strategic fit as a rule. But none of us are beyond giving special consideration to those key customers who have helped with information when we needed it.
That is Product Management and Product Marketing Management. If you want to be the first in mind when a new opportunity for community participation comes or when a new product is planned then make sure you know the names of those people in the organization and they know your name as well.
One easy way to establish that relationship is by participating in beta tests. Participation means a commitment on your part both to give the release a test and to provide timely feedback. We know that commitment is a time investment for you, but that investment will pay off in products that evolve to be more useful in helping you do your job.
Do you have a unique application of a product or have you customized it in a unique way?
Have you added value and integrated the product in some way with a process or internally developed application or report?
Would these same innovations be useful to others? Are you tired of maintaining the custom code yourself even though it is useful?
Share those innovations if you are willing and they may become a standard offering in the product that is easier to use and maintain than your customization.
There are lead customers out there using products in innovative ways with practical application. While most customers bring problems that they expect us to find ways to solve, some customers have also been effective in finding ways to solve them directly. And we want to tap into those innovations. (Yes, I have been reading “Outside Innovation” and I am a believer.)
While we truly do want to find ways to help you whenever we can, please keep in mind that it is always “a profit deal.” Whatever you are asking needs to make long term sense to the business. So that may mean we can’t support that SQL Server 6.5 instance you are stuck with supporting even though we sympathize with the predicament.
Keep that in mind when providing feedback and making requests. You know why your needs make sense for you; help us understand why it should also make sense to the business.
There are other relationships that can benefit you other than with the software vendor themselves. You can find ways to network with fellow customers through the community and directly if you will share information. You can also share indirectly by proxy through product management and sales.
If you describe a problem and we know another customer who solved that problem then we will gladly share that information to help you along.
Do you want to raise your status in the technical community?
Your software vendor will often give you a platform to do so through online community, whitepaper publishing, and even a sponsorship sometimes to attend conferences.
I know a few consultants who nurtured a reputation using the sponsorship of software vendors along the way.
This piece of advice may not come naturally to some of you. If you are like me, you shop trying to be careful not to make eye contact with lurking sale associates at mall.
But the situation is different with software vendors if you want to nurture a long term relationship. And I contend you all should be seeking such a relationship to your advantage.
You will find no single person in the organization that is a bigger advocate for you internally to the software vendor than your own sales representative. That includes product management and technical support, although both also advocate for customers in their own ways.
Keep that in mind when you are dealing with sales. They need to get paid just like you do, but they will always do all they can to make sure your needs are heard.
If you are interested in learning more about how you can be more involved in any of the ways mentioned. Then send me your information and I will reach out to you.