A Business Technology Place

Software open feedback loops

What is the secret sauce?

What really drives new software features? Do we live in a world where the marketing department rules the day with ROI driven and profit making capabilities from within the software? To an extent, I believe the answer is yes. Businesses exist to make money. Business software is written to facilitate the flow of money either through sales or automation of processes. If a piece of software doesn’t help the organization to make money it won’t last long.Simple_Feedback_02

But software that is not used, doesn’t make money. No matter how good the idea, if the software is not used, the business justification fails. This is why an open feedback loop with users is critical to the success of the software and could be tagged as the secret sauce for software development. User input drives usage. Usage accomplishes the goal for sales or productivity.

Creating the WOW.

Service organizations like to create the wow factor with customers to drive brand loyalty. Good software has that effect also. I see people that are passionate about Evernote, OneNote, and Photoshop as examples. Evernote survives with paid subscriptions. With a free-version available, and many options for recording/capturing notes, they have to “wow” customers to keep the software in the market place. The Evernote blog is a good place to see user input and feedback. Users provide feedback in the comments section and are often cited in case-study like blog posts. New features sometimes don’t have a direct link to increased sales. But they do have a direct link to usage which has a direct link to sales.

I was pleased this week when I heard a product manager tell a steering committee that we have a good feedback loop in place with the user-base that is driving feature enhancements in a software tool. Some of the feature-adds were completely cosmetic. But they were added to drive additional usage on the site. For the site referenced by the comment, additional usage means increased cost reduction through productivity gains in the back-office. If we execute properly, we should position ourselves to deliver the wow factor for the users. That was exactly the point of the comment.

So I submit that the open feedback loop with customers is the secret sauce that helps software achieve it’s stated goals. Product managers and marketers have to find the balance between user input and needed features for ROI. Without usage, the software is just a heap of 1s and 0s.

Silly Marketers – Tricks are for Kids

trixrabbit1Sometimes marketing pieces catch my attention and create thought. I look at the message, call to action, and design elements of the marketing. I consider the effectiveness of the piece in my life and think about how it might be received by others as well.  In an effective marketer’s toolbox of tricks is the ability to create a perceived need for their products and services. But can we take back the prize from the rabbit or will we fall to seduction of the message?

Is data driven marketing like the creeper?

People like messages that are relevant to them. Someone once said to me, “If it can help my life then good, otherwise don’t waste my time.”  But is it a little creepy to think about how much the marketer knows about us? My wife and daughter comment all the time about online ads that show products they searched for a couple of days ago. They call it big brother. I call it big cookie.

A couple of examples of marketing in my life this week:

#1 – Acura Vehicle Buy Back

I received a letter via postal mail from the “Acura Vehicle Acquisition Department” this week. They’ve been after me for several years because they want me to trade-in my 2004 Acura for a newer model at a local dealership. What they know about me is that I purchased a 2004 model Acura from them as a pre-owned vehicle in 2007. I suspect, but I’m not sure, that they know I still own the car. (probably by-way of some public data record source on the vehicle VIN)  The letter uses variable elements of my name, the year/model of the car, thee closest Acura dealer to my home, and the sales manager’s name at the dealer.

This form of marketing at least takes an educated guess that I may be in the market for another car since the one I have is ten years old. But it ends there. The call-to-action and marketing offer say they’ll keep my payments the same on a newer vehicle on their lot. That of course would be a neat trick since I’ve owned the car for years.  Can they match $0 monthly payment?

I should also mention that I love the car. It’s been such a good fit for me that even at 10 years old and 145K miles I still love it! There’s a teenager in my life that will need a car soon. What should I do?? 🙂

#2 – Dollar Shave Club

A few weeks ago I wrote about subscribing to the Dollar Shave Club. It’s time for my first monthly supply order and I received an email from the company this week with notification. I was thoroughly impressed with the email. They informed me the date of my shipment, the contents of the shipment, and offered to put additional related products in the package if I notified them before it shipped.

Dollar Shave Club Reminder

That email is a great case study in both marketing and customer service. I like the cross sell for additional products with both product photo and price. The call-to-action is very clear with the big button for purchase. How easy could it be?

Certainly I’m aware that the company’s “shaving butter” is higher priced than my existing shaving creme. But the product does work differently from the creme and maybe I would pay a little extra not to have to pick it up at the store.

Thinking about the marketer behind this email I see several advantages they have. They use my  customer profile to establish the base of the message. (What I’ve ordered in the past and when the next supply ships.) But now, they are also starting to collect more data on my usage and interests. They know I opened the email. They know when I opened the email. They’ll track to see if I order any of the complementary shaving products and could use that for future offers.

Should we help the marketers?

The upside to helping the marketers is that gives them opportunity to craft more personal and relevant messages for us. The downside is that it requires sharing what many consider private information. So who wins the trick?

What I did for a close shave

I fell for a Facebook advertisement.

If you are a man, you’ve probably seen the ad on Facebook for the Dollar Shave Club. I finally gave in to the temptation tonight and I’ve ordered a supply of the 4X option. I never thought I would let Facebook influence a purchase, but it happened. The allure of the product was too strong and the investment risk is minimal. I’m hoping for the best.DollarShaveClub

Let’s do the numbers.

For starters I typically get over one month from the same blade with my current marketing hyped multi-blade cartridge. I do this by keeping the blade dry between uses. After a shave, I make sure to dry the blade by shaking-out excess water and using a towel. Then I store the blade pressed against a silica moisture packet. If you haven’t tried this then I encourage you do so. It’s the secret the blade marketers don’t want you to know.

With my existing blades, I can buy 8 cartridges for $26. If I get 4 weeks (conservative with my drying method) from each cartridge then that is 32 weeks for $26.

For the 4X option in the Dollar Shave Club I will receive 4 cartridges per month for $6. So for 32 weeks (8 months) my investment is $48. That’s almost 2x the cost as just buying a cartridge locally. However, I’ll have 32 cartridges in that span of time. If I cancel the monthly subscription after 8 months. I should have 24 remaining cartridges in supply which is enough to last me another 2 years!

Thinking of it another way my cost per cartridge (also my cost per month) with my existing method is $3.25. With the Dollar Shave Club my cost per cartridge after 8 months is $1.50.

Of course this assumes the product works.

I bet the blades will be fine. I still can’t believe I fell for a Facebook ad. But I’ll do anything for a close shave. Or maybe I just like squeezing another buck in my favor. Kudos on the product marketing by Dollar Shave Club team.

If you want to check out their options and start your own trial then follow this link.

 

Update July 13 – 

I looked more closely at the Dollar Shave Club site today and noticed they have options to lessen the frequency of delivery as well as an option to pause delivery. This is a great feature for customers like me who may want to extend the life of a cartridge beyond a week.

Repeating software processes. To attract and repel.

Are we attracted to repetition?

Yes.  We all are. It touches every facet of our lives. As a few examples, we eat the same types of foods each week, we watch the same TV series, and we read books that belong to a series. A study and report from Alix Spiegel of NPR captures the power of repetition in music that attracts us. Spiegel reports that “90 percent of the music we listen to is music we’ve heard before. We return again and again to our favorite songs, listening over and over to the same musical riffs, which themselves repeat over and over inside the music..” She then gives the result of a study that shows how people preferred music with repetition over the same song without repetition.

Repetition in Software Development.

Software development has the same draw for repetition. Managers spend time and thought to create a software development lifecycle (SDLC) that fits their company culture and team skill sets. They want something repeatable to drive efficiencies of a process, consistency of work output, and reliability of estimates. These are the attractiven features of a SDLC.

There’s an entire business industry built on repetition in software development. Books, training, and consultants feed us new ideas and different ways to think. But the end game they seek is adoption to a standard method that works within the framework of our business culture. This is all for good reason. As a professional in the world of software development, I recognize that we must be disciplined. I recognize that we have to think and find more efficient ways to produce software so that we can stay competitive and drive results through the business.

But there is a repelling force to repetition as well.

There are two danger zones that software managers should consider with repetition in process. Both of these creep-in an organization silently. Ironically they destroy the very things that repetitive process can build.

  1. Repetition can stagnate creativity. When we follow a script, we don’t think much about the ‘why’. We don’t think about better ways to do things. We just follow the process because someone already did all that thinking. Worst of all is that we don’t see it. We think we are accomplishing our job because we followed the steps.
  2. Repetition can become the end goal. When checking the boxes on the process flow becomes more important than the final product then the process has become the master. If employees are consumed with following every detail of a process and only satisfied when they mark steps as complete then the process has become larger than the importance of the end result. You’ll recognize this in an organization when the meetings about the process outnumber the meetings about the solution, the who, and the why.

Watch for it!

Watch for it in your organization and life. It’s like two magnets with forces that attract and repel. We have to find a way to both pursue and guard against the powers of repetition in the workplace. This means constant examination. It means living with shades of gray within process. It means we need write with a pencil, allowing for a both a sharp and dull point. The eraser is nice to have also.  🙂

 

 

Play it again.

Repetition in youth.

That song was awesome! Play it again. Rewind-stop-play-rewind-stop-play-forward-play, call the radio station for a request, press repeat. These actions are all part of my memory as a youth. Back in the days when I spent a fair amount of my income on cassette tapes and CDs. It was that song. It was my favorite song. It was our special song.  It represented something of value in mood, a feeling, a lyric, or a sound. Whatever the case when I found it, I wanted to do it again. Play it again and again.

Repetition in business.

The year has changed. My daily routines have changed. My friends have changed. But one thing that is still there is an attraction to repeat what works in business. Play it again! When a project or implementation goes well we talk about “lessons learned”. Sure we record the bad, but we also record what went right. Then we try to do it again. We want to replicate the secret formula for the same good results.

But software projects are all different. The requirements change. The people may change. The customer may change. Repeating success is not as easy as hitting rewind-stop-play. We could different results holding all but one of those variables the same.

Magic in the interpretation.

Two musicians will play the same song differently. It’s their interpretation, their emphasis, and their feeling. Software programming can be the same way. Two different programmers will create distinctly different programs that accomplish the same goal. The results may be visible in the UI or noticed by different workflows and program speed. It’s all part of their interpretation and skill.

Programmers “play it again” when they establish repeatable processes and procedures. It’s the software development life cycle (SDLC). Strictness to process is encouraged, but the real magic happens when the programmer is allowed to interpret , feel, and create on the edges.

So yes, play it again in business and software development. But play with feeling. Play from the heart. Find that unique rhythm. Create a one of a kind. Stop-rewind-play.