Innovation, Product Strategy, Product Thoughts

Ideas are a Dime a Dozen


I know: ideas are a dime a dozen (or perhaps cheaper with inflation these days). Yet the process of creating, nurturing, and executing on ideas is one of the most critical tasks we do. Getting ideas from start to finish (from inspiration to the point of execution) faster means that you can choose from more of them and learn faster. This is a simple list to help you start this process to create ideas and then decide which ones to act on.

You might use this process to decide on a new startup or product idea, to imagine what your ideal customer might want, or simply to rank a list of initiatives you’d like to try when resources are not infinite (that is to say, you should be doing this all the time ;)

Getting started: get inspired

Getting inspired might be the hardest part to getting started with a project. There are a million and one tasks that get in your way and it’s hard to focus on the task at hand and give it the mental space it deserves.

How do you gain a sense of wonder? Start with the things that matter to you. It could be as simple as recognizing themes in what you do every day. It could be a place you love to go or an activity you engage in. Or it could be a nagging sense that you keep running into the same problem over and over.

Then draw your solutions on a clean sheet of paper. If you prefer to use a whiteboard, that’s cool too – just take a picture of each when you’re done. Just do this in a non-electronic format: doodling or drawing opens up important creative areas of your brain.

Generate Solutions

Great! Now that you’ve thought of an area where you’d like to generate ideas, make a huge list. The longer, the better. If it helps pick a ridiculous number of ideas, like 100. Creating the ideas is more important than filtering them or thinking about why they will or won’t work.

If you think of the ideal person who would benefit from this idea and why they would use it, that’s great! And if that person doesn’t come to mind, write the idea down anyway.

Capture The Ideas

Now, arrange these ideas into a format that makes sense for another person. A good format might be a spreadsheet where you list:

  • A short summary of the idea
  • A type of benefit (e.g. save time, organize information, gain fitness)
  • A tangible goal – this should be an expression of the benefit, e.g. “Never forget to pick the kids up from an activity again”
  • A substitute – if the person didn’t use this idea, what would they use to get this done now? (The answer might be “nothing” or “duh. This is obvious”)
  • How frequently does the person do this activity?
  • Do they spend any money on this task now?
  • A ranking of 1 (Love It!), 2 (ok), or 3 (this idea is on the list but I don’t like it right now)

Note: use a list to organize your thinking 

Capturing the ideas is mostly an exercise to help you make a first cut and see if the ideas you generated previously resonate with you. Keeping them on the list even if they are sort of lame is important to remind you of your prior thinking.

Now, Sift the Ideas and Rank

There is a sad truth: you cannot complete all of your ideas in the time you have available. What you should do at this point is pick the best ones and start the process of really working on them to see whether they are good enough in the real world to pursue.

First, check the ideas that you said were really awesome and pick the top 5 or 10. If you only have a few top ideas or if you have a lot, find the one you like least in this group and move it to a “2 – ok”. Now take one of the ideas in the OK group and figure out a way to love that idea and move it up to “1- love it!”

Get Stuff Done

Now, go act on one of the best ideas. Get something done, go and do work for a limited amount of time, and then come back to your idea list. Knowing how long you’ll need to try to get results really depends upon the tangible goal.

Your interim goal might be conversation-based and should be quantified, like talk to 20 customers and get feedback using a 6 question survey that I need to design. And to get to that goal you might have to identify a larger input goal, like contact enough customers to generate 20 conversations in 7 days.

When you generate results from testing your initial ideas, you’ll have better feedback to evaluate whether they are immediate successes or need additional feedback. And that process of iterating through your ideas will also inform your opinion on whether this is a “good idea” or whether it should be stacked lower on your idea list.

Generating, refining, and testing your ideas is a practice and a skill. Improving your idea process is critical to being a better decision-maker – and fun too!

Customer Strategy, Customer Success

How to Build a Great Customer Success Team

image courtesy of Gainsight
image courtesy of Gainsight

When you are building a great business (particularly a Saas business), you need to devote extra time to taking care of your customers so that they not only are satisfied at the sale, but also on an ongoing basis. A customer may join you because of clever marketing, a consultative selling process, excellent product, or empathetic service – or a combination of all of these factors. They may also want to leave for many reasons that are (at least temporarily) out of your control. Keeping the customer, understanding their needs, and communicating those ideas to the product and engineering team is the job of the Customer Success team.

So what is Customer Success, really? I believe Customer Success is a hybrid of traditional ideas for support, account management, customer on-boarding, and sales. The best Success teams work hand-in-hand with dedicated Sales, Support, and Marketing teams to guide the customer from initial awareness through consideration to trial, buying decision, on-boarding and implementation, and ongoing success.

Why call it “Customer Success” instead of Account Management, Support, or Customer Service?

These department names and functions are well-known and often misunderstood. Customer Success implies the support and service offered by traditional Customer Service teams and the speed and flexibility of Account Management and Sales. “Success” in this model does not mean that the Customer is successful all of the time – it means that we are successful in finding an amicable (and hopefully awesome) solution whenever someone needs help. It’s not just the transactional “help” of “how do I find this feature that I’m looking for” but also the consultative relationship you forge with a great salesperson and account rep who can always seem to get you what you need.

How do you build a great Customer Success Team?

It starts with a lead who has done this sort of work before. It’s often possible for a Sales Leader to move into this role if she’s had past experience supporting clients, or a Customer Service Leader to add account management to his skill set. But the best head of a Success Team is someone who has been on the front lines bridging the gap between sales and service for a while, in a variety of industries, for a variety of account sizes.

The team that Customer Success Leader builds should have Account Management and Customer Service functions – that doesn’t always mean that the person will need dedicated teams for those functions. Jason Lemkin suggests that “most SaaS companies use a rough metric of 1 Client Success Manager for every $2m in ARR.” For a smaller average deal size you might need a few more people to keep things going and it’s a good metric to use to measure team performance.

What team do you need?

Think about Lemkin’s model of client success and consider using it to plan a “Team effort” for each $1m in ARR. For your first $1m in ARR, you will probably need only two people: one who focuses on Customer Service and content for new customers, and one person who manages the on boarding and engagement of new and existing customers. As your customer base grows, use the metric of about 50-100 interactions/daily for Customer Service and 100-500 Accounts for account management to size your team.

Equip your team with tools

You’re going to need a combination of management and nurturing tools to deliver service and account management. As your service volume goes up, you’ll want either a lower-end tool like Zendesk or Desk.com or a higher-end solution like Salesforce to manage your service interactions. For automatic and real-time engagement, I love Intercom – it’s a great hybrid of programmatic marketing tools and the quick touch transactional tools found in service desks.

Your goal should be “no customer left behind”

When thinking about how you manage that Customer Success team and make them a great team, consider how it feels when you get great service and know exactly who to call: it feels great. Whatever approach you use to engage customers and whatever policies you have to govern your customer interactions, the customer should be at the core of that experience. If you need to measure results (and you do), keep your eye on Net Churn. The results of keeping more people even while the top line customer growth increases really helps the team accelerate.

What results should you expect? Great customer teams are accretive to a great sales and marketing team. By keeping more customers and by helping the sales team with the critical task of expansion revenue and retention, great Customer Success teams deliver results.

Product Strategy, Startup

Why every app needs a “mark all as read” function

Every app and every web site has notifications. Whether they are push notifications, email notifications, phone call notifications, voice mail notifications, in-app notifications, or smoke signals, you are competing for a valuable and scarce commodity: the customer’s undivided attention. There are too many notifications to pay attention to, even if you just dip your toe in the information river now and then.

It must be a problem for a lot of people these days, judging from the number of retweets and favorites on a single Saturday afternoon tweet. Yes, you can turn off all notifications for an app or a service in the operating system of the phone, and this is a solution that may just leave the app unused. Surely there must be a middle ground.

markallasread

So how can you make your message the one that the customer reads?

B.J. Fogg, a Stanford Professor, suggests that “three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing.” (read more about it here).

The results of motivation are obvious – if someone wants to respond to your notification, they will. You can see the positive result almost immediately. Teasing out the reasons for the negative or null result is a bit more challenging. Did the customer see your message and ignore it? Did the customer never see your message? Did the mean to respond and forget? There are many reasons why this outcome might occur, so the next “why didn’t it happen” focuses on ability.

Does the customer know what to do? An extreme view suggests that notifications as a method are an anti-pattern – that is, they are a mechanism that contributes directly to the customer being unable to focus. When the notification happens so often that it becomes background noise, it’s hard to know what’s an “important” notification and the easy thing to do is to just ignore all of them.

If the customer knows what to do, why don’t they do it? They might not have the ability. The notification might make sense to the designer or the programmer who knows the intended behavior of the feature and the customer might not have the same mindset. Or there might be a bug in the system. Either way, when the customer encounters the notification, if things don’t happen right the first time their motivation will suffer, they may question their ability to complete the task, or they may more likely just say “that’s broken.”

And every time there is a “that’s broken” moment the effectiveness of the trigger declines – the reason you wanted the customer to interact in the first place – and you have to have a “one in a row” moment before the customer trusts that the notification is worth responding to in the first place. A great way to save a “that’s broken” moment is to understand when it happens (ideally before the customer does) and reach out and let them know you’re working to fix it.

As for the problem of too many notifications and overall cognitive overload? There is no way to control what’s going on in someone’s phone or in someone’s head. Giving the customer a pressure relief valve like “mark all notifications read” is one way to alleviate the problem before there is a fine-grained solution. Designers might say that adding such a feature is a mark of failure, and readers on Twitter who clearly deal with this problem frequently in apps might just say, “thank you, app developer.”

 

Customer Development, Customer Experience, Startup

How to Hire an Awesome Community Manager for your Startup

3152173431_4725e83dab_b

photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/evilerin/3152173431

Who will be successful as a community manager?

I love coming across new community managers who say, “I guess I’ve been doing this my whole life.” It’s a light bulb that goes off in them and they’re excited for the rest of their career to get started. -Jenn P.

Many brands are searching right now for a community manager and it’s hard to know what sort of person will be successful in the community role at your company. Job descriptions (and the environment and the customers) vary wildly, so it helps to know what’s involved in the role, what kinds of behaviors mark someone as a good candidate, and how to “know a great community manager when you see them.” Everyone wants a great community manager even though they are not quite sure what that role should be. Because interviewing people for the role of a community manager can be difficult, we decided to ask some of the smartest community types we knew for their opinions.

Why should you pay attention to us and to our opinions?

Both Thomas (@thomasknoll) and Greg (@grmeyer) have been hired in to community roles and hired others into community roles, so we wanted to share two different perspectives fromboth sides of the desk. We’ve thought a lot about this challenge and wanted to get your opinions too.

Here are some of the other people we asked:

This is not an exhaustive list, and any of the folks in this group have great perspectives on building and maintaining communities – you should talk to them to get even more nuanced feedback on these questions.

When is it time to hire someone to focus on community full-time?

The first question we wanted to ask was an obvious one: when it is it time to hire someone to focus on “community” and to do it full time? Many companies and startups by their nature ask a founder or an early employee to do this, and works! (For a while.) At some point the value of the community or the time demands on that employee make it pretty obvious that you either need to ask that person or someone else to run the community show all the time.
Here are some perspectives from the group:

Before you think you need a community manager, you’re going to need to find some awesome people to share your brand with the world. Think about what you want to present if you were able to “talk to the customer” without actually being there. If you have something to say, you need an amazing community advocate.” -Greg M.

Early on, the founding team should be involved in the process of building the community before hiring someone to take primary ownership. And, whenever possible, recruit from the community itself.” -Thomas K.

“Ligaya Tichy would say it should be the 5th hire. I don’t know if there’s a right answer here but all I know is once you have customers, you have an opportunity to start building a community that will improve their experience with your brand and product. You can be learning from your community from day 1 in order to improve your product. If you don’t have a community minded founder on the team already, finding someone to focus on your customers should be a priority.” -David S

What’s your favorite community question or hack?

Sometimes the most obvious and simple answer is the best one – that attitude and technique matter to the community manager.

It sounds completely like a no-brainer given the career path, but enthusiasm is one of the greatest things a person can present when going for a community manager role. -James M

Who do you think our audience is, and what do you think is important to them? (Follow up: Assuming you got the job, how would you go about discovering these answers, and how would they factor into or drive your overall strategy? -Rachael K.

What’s the difference between customer engagment, customer success, support and community management? Which one are you? -T.A. M.

Determine the last time they helped someone independent from work – are they naturally empathetic and action-oriented? -Laura G.

How does a great community manager behave?

When I say ‘Enthusiasm’ – I’m not just talking, walk into the job interview smiling, laughing and using the words ‘I’m really passionate’ an excessive number of times. I’m talking SHOW the interview you’re enthusiastic about the role. An relativity easy task is to take a look at the companies website. From your point of view, does it harbour community as it stands? If not. Print off a screenshot and DRAW all over the damned thing! Don’t just “Tell” the interviewer how you’d help develop their platforms, physically SHOW them. A good CM would look around their competitors and other community eco-systems, pick up on where the company is lacking a little ‘something’ extra, and show the interviewers your plans and YOUR ideas. I did just that and fought off people with tons more experience than myself to land here at Sumo today :) -James M.

Community management is one of those skills that’s difficult to teach. Given the right attitude and checklists, almost anyone who engages socially can be a *good* community manager. Great community managers – like unicorns – are remarkable because they do things that good community managers don’t do in their position. What behaviors do these great community managers demonstrate? The ability to think big, think small, and to make every customer feel like a rock star.

These community managers also know how to deliver negative news in the best way possible.

Here are some more thoughts from the group:
Find people who are already engaging as community managers and talk to them (online or offline). Learn more about what makes them tick. Imagine the person in the role and see if you can imagine trusting them with the responsibility to communicate your vision and mission to the world. Every day.

It helps if they’ve done the job before. If they haven’t done the job before, look for evidence that they know how to write, how to express their ideas, how to speak in front of people without freaking out, and that they have *fun*.

Also, look for a person who exhibits “lazy programmer” characteristics – meaning that they go out of their way to automate a problem that annoys them so that they can spend more time being “lazy” and thinking about the next problem to solve. -Greg M

There is certainly a significant level of strategic knowledge that only comes through experince. But most community building tactics can be taught. What is nearly impossible to teach is empathy and supurb communication skills. So, I make that a primary filter for the process.One of my favorite interview questions is to explain the interest in throwing a party and what the group will be like, and have the candidate talk through the process of determining the best venue, music, food, activities, invites, and how they would manage and host the party during the event itself. There isn’t really a right answer, but the types of questions they ask, and the way that describe their decision process will give a lot of insight into how they would think through gathering the members of your community, making them feel welcome, and “managing” the experience. -Thomas K.

Where do you find your next community manager?

We’ve talked about how to know that you might need a community manager and how to identify them by the behaviors they demonstrate. But where do you find the real people? An obvious answer might be: “engage in a community and you’ll find the community manager.” And it’s a bit more than that. You need to find people who are already doing community work – and they might not be in the tech field – and to engage with the people who best match the style of your brand and your customers.

Look in the most unexpected places. Look for people who don’t know they’ve been a community manager all along. Someone who’s a natural event planner, someone with a personality that people flock to, and someone that’s entrepreneurial and starts groups based on hobbies or interests. -Jenn P.

If you find one good community advocate, you’ll find more. Look for the places where they talk to each other – this could be a local meetup, a conversation on Twitter, or in a piece that they publish online. Finding a great community type is a bit like a unicorn – you might not know where to look immediately, and you know one when you see them (or talk to them) – so it might require a bit of unconventional thinking. Or you might find them in the usual places – engaging with customers. – Greg M.
Even though the number of community professionals continues to grow, there are not many people who have been doing this job for 15 or even 5 years. But, there are a lot of great professions to recruit people from. Teachers, social workers, therapists, event planners, and people from top-tier-service organizations tend to be amazing at transitioning into community management. -Thomas K.

This may be counter-intuitive, and these are definitely generalizations, but there are several roles that tend to be very difficult to transition from. People from support can jump too quickly to solving everyone’s problems, rather than helping the community support each other. People from marketing can treat the conversations and relationships a little too transactionally. Social Media Rock Stars and Social Media Ninjas can have a little too much trouble stepping out of the spotlight, to let the community and its members shine themselves. -Thomas K.
Depends if you need them to create the strategy, or just execute the strategy. You’ll need someone with experience to really put together a thorough strategy. You can either hire them full time or bring them in as a consultant to put the pieces in place. The day to day execution can be done by someone entry level. A great first place to look for this is in your own community. Who has naturally established themselves as a leader? Hire them. -David S.

What questions should you ask to evaluate a Community Manager?

Community management positions are hard to hire. Behavioral questions that help the CM to tell a story are a great place to start. When you ask the candidate to convince you as if you are a member of their community, you’re seeing them do similar things as they would when actually in the job. So be skeptical – to a point – and let them charm you. The best ones will.
Some great questions to consider asking:
  1. What’s the best customer experience you’ve ever facilitated?
  2. What’s the best customer experience you’ve ever see someone else deliver?
  3. Tell me about a time when everything went wrong and you fixed it anyway.
  4. Tell me about a time when everything went wrong and you couldn’t fix it.
  5. What do you like to read or do when you’re not talking to customers?h
  6. What are some of the best communities you participated in?
  7. Which artist do you think has the best community?
  8. How would you plan a party for 60 of our cusotmers who have ________? (see above)
  9. Ugh, users are so dumb… am I right?!

How is community management different in a B2B or B2C world?

When you’re looking for a great community manager, you’ll want to make sure that the person has experience driving a community that uses a similar business model as the one you’re engaging in. Many community managers can handle both the “business to business” mindset and the “business to consumer” mindset, and some have a preference for one model over another. The basics of community management are the same in both worlds, and the implementation can be different by night and day.
b2b = businesses who want you to be able to hit their problems with an “Easy Stick”. They want you to give them solutions they can use over and over again and implement with little effort. They may place less importance on building an emotional relationship and more emphasis on building a pragmatic, business driven solution.
b2c = wants you to save the day. The customer would also like you to make the process as easy as possible and is not crazy typically about doing work to get you there – though many customers will help. The b2c customer would love to trumpet you to the skies when you deliver a WOW experience to them. -Greg M.
at their core all communities are exactly the same. Yes, they are going to play out differently for b2b vs b2c. Yes, you’ll likely have different goals and KPIs and metrics for b2b vs b2c. Yes, you’ll likely want to adopt different strategies for b2b vs b2c. But, ultimately all businesses are h2h: human to human. And the characteristics of community are the same: shared purpose, sense of belonging, an appreciation for dialog and the pursuit of shared truth. -Thomas K.

What now?

Now that you’ve learned a little more about our perspective, you should go ask the people on this list for the best community types that they know. You should engage online with the communities most similar to yours. And you should pay attention to the people who respond to you online – they just might be your next community manager.
Life Hacks, Startup

5 Steps to Surviving and Thriving in Startup Life

Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/nomadicentrepreneur/

 

On Climbing the Startup Mountain

Life in a startup is a non-stop business. Whether you are aware of it or not, your work-life balance suffers, your relationships are strained, and your personal health and motivation may waver. Yet it’s the most amazing rush in the world.

Working in startups gives you the freedom, opportunity, and responsibility to build an uncertain product for am uncertain customer in an uncertain market. There is more change in a startup day (and sometimes, intraday) than most businesses see in a week or a month. And that change brings stress, excitement (sometimes anxiety) and an intense need for resilience.

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.” 
-Nelson Mandela

Failure Happens. How do you get up?

We often fall in startups. And we need to get up stronger and faster to make the changes that prevent the same mistake from happening again.

With that in mind, here are 5 steps to help you survive in startup life as you scale new heights:

Continue reading

Agile, On Writing

Getting to the next big small thing

Startups are a constant tug between hyperbole and reality. One day you might be wearing many hats and completing a series of tasks that you didn’t know were on your plate that morning. Another day you might be thinking of the Next Big Idea. Which is real?

Both of these things are very real every day. When you work in a startup, the team is the sum (and occasionally, multiplied by) the individual actions the team does every day. The clock is always ticking toward the next big small thing.

One way to deal with the ups and downs of startup life is to treat every day as “one in a row.” Help your team. Move stuff forward. Repeat. It may sound trite and on the days when you’re less sure how to move things forward having a routine helps.

When you get a success story, celebrate! And keep moving things forward to the next big small thing you can affect today.

Marketing Strategy, Product Thoughts, Startup

Entrepreneurship Starts with Asking Someone to Buy

bracelets

Remember to ask for the sale. You’ve probably heard these words of advice many times – whether in the context of a prospective deal, a request for a favor, or in an interview prep – and the first time you made the ask it was probably really scary. Asking for the sale is the first step to becoming an entrepreneur. When you ask someone to buy what you’re selling, you really know whether they will vote with their wallet and trust you to provide them with value.

My son has been talking about selling the friendship bracelets he makes for months. I heard about many potential business models. There was the “set up a stand at the end of the road” during the summer, the “find people at school to buy it” model, and several other less promising ideas. And the one that won the day today was “Mom? Can you give me your phone to take some pictures? I want to sell my bracelets to people I know and I hope you can post the pictures on Facebook.” The simplest business model sometimes is the best.

When you face a challenge, it’s really easy to say “I’ll think about it tomorrow” or “it’s not quite right yet” or “I don’t have all of the answers.” It’s really important to take the biggest small step you can take to move toward that goal. You won’t get it right, but one step forward is better than no steps at all.

My son is now getting orders for his bracelets, learning how to fill orders, take commissions, and deal with inventory. He is selling these bracelets for a goal – earning enough money to buy a concert-level trumpet – and he’s also learning about the details of small business. (I believe there is some side negotiation with contract labor and his little sister.) What stopped him from doing this before? Inertia. Today he decided to ask for the sale and people are buying.

“I think it’s so cool that you would do this for me,” he told his Mom today, “thank you so much.” Very soon I think he’ll figure out that he did most of this for himself. We enabled him to take the first step toward starting his business – and I hope it won’t be his last one.