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.

Not ROI Advice

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.

(Not So) Hidden Agenda

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.

Help me, help you

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.   

Be an Insider

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.

Establish a Relationship with PM and PMM

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.

Share Innovations

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.)

Be Reasonable and Rational