25 Nov The Secret of Success: Listen To Customers
Lately, I’m hearing a lot of talk about customers. Calling on customers. Securing first customers. Customer trials. It’s refreshing, really, after so many years of loose talk about brand building that somehow ignored the very real fact that customers establish the brand reputation as much as the vendor does. Indeed, customers are back in fashion.
For two incredible software companies, customers never really went out of fashion. I was reminded of that in two separate conversations last week. Intuit’s Scott Cook took time out of the annual QuickBooks “line show” to talk with me about the company’s renewed focus on “customer-driven innovation.”
How, I asked Scott, did Intuit manage to continue to innovate after all these years? The secret today is the same as it was in the company’s earliest days: Follow the customer home, watch how he or she works, then create products that solve well the important problems the customer faces.
Indeed, this is how important new features were added in the new release of QuickBooks. The product manager joined a start-up design firm in its earliest days. From that vantage point, he saw the company narrowly avert a payroll crisis because cash flow data didn’t accurately reflect cash on hand. The product manager returned to Intuit and designed very useful reporting and cash management features into this year’s QuickBook upgrade.
If you’re not talking to customers, Cook reminds us, you “don’t uncover a lot of opportunity, you just keep upgrading” and adding in features that customers may not want. “By living the life,” he says, “you can learn a lot.”
Tucked away in Bozeman, Montana, CRM software company RightNow Technologies is definitely living the life. The company has just celebrated its 18th consecutive positive quarter, and it’s winning business that once might have gone to Siebel. How does a software company in the middle of nowhere become so successful? By talking to customers, says CEO Craig Gianforte.
Gianforte effectively bootstrapped the company in its earliest days (the only way to build a company, he contends) by designing a data sheet and taking it out to potential customers. “I asked customers if they would buy the product, and if they said ‘No’ I asked them what they would buy.” After enough conversations, Gianforte knew exactly what features to build into his product.
Years later, RightNow maintains its tremendous momentum by holding regional customer forums eight times a year. The company has no agenda for the meetings. Rather, the customers drive the discussions in roundtable talks and open Q&A with the CEO. If you’re thinking of buying from RightNow, the company will invite you to one of these meetings and let you mingle freely with other customers. How many enterprise software companies are confident enough of their products to
allow that uncensored access to the client base?
When you listen to customers, you can have that confidence.
That’s the lesson from the success of these two companies, one old, one still young. That’s the lesson too easily forgotten and so necessary to remember.
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At DEMO 2003, CastBridge was a two-person show with a big idea and a high-profile early customer. Less than 10 months later, the company has closed a $2M series A round, co-led by Mobius Venture Capital and Clearstone Venture Partners. Founder Kumar Thiagarajan has moved to chairman and CTO, making room for new CEO Emerick Woods. The company is now up to seven people and the new funding will be used to build the staff and support general operations. . . . Another DEMO veteran, Zinio Systems, has signed a deal to deliver the weekly digital version of U.S. News & World Report. The December 1 issue will be the first to be available in Zinio’s digital format. . . . In other publishing news, Tira Wireless – a DEMOmobile company – announced with Hearst Corporation the debut of Cosmo Mobile and CosmoGIRL! Mobile channels on the AT&T mMode service. The channels extend the online offerings of Cosmopolitan and CosmoGirl magazines by offering downloadable games, ring tones, magazine covers, and wallpapers.
Chris Shipley is the executive producer of NetworkWorld’s DEMO Conferences, Editor of DEMOletter and a technology industry analyst for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at email@example.com. Shipley, has covered the personal technology business since 1984 and is regarded as one of the top analysts covering the technology industry today. Shipley has worked as a writer and editor for variety of technology consumer magazines, including PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and InfoWorld, US Magazine and Working Woman. She has written two books on communications and Internet technology, has won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, and was named the #1 newsletter editor by Marketing Computers for two years in a row. To subscribe to DEMOletter please visit: http://www.idgexecforums.com/demoletter/index.html.
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