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Most everyone has heard some common sayings at some point in their lives.
“If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.”
“I can sell ice to Eskimos.”
“A sucker is born every minute.”
In a lot of ways these colloquialisms can be equated to product development, sales, and marketing respective. Sure you can sell things people don’t really need or convince someone that they want something they don’t need, but to be really great, you need to build something great.
Inevitably, the most important thing in selling a product is building a good product that fills a real customer need. Sure, a company can have a great salesperson that convinces a client to buy an inferior product or to buy a product they don’t need at all. And sure, some good (or even disingenuous) marketing can convince a customer they really need the next great offering from your company even when the offering is not the best option or they don’t need it. And a great customer success organization can make sure customers are onboarded well and can help you keep some customers from leaving. But, what really makes a company is having really great products. Products that solve real customer problems. Products customers can’t live without. Most, but not all of the time better products win.
Let’s step back for a second and look at the big picture. Every company wants all the functional areas of their company to be working well, to be well oiled machines. Let’s talk about sales first. No matter what the quality of your product, a good sales strategy and a strong sales team will help you sell more. But how often do you hear, “I only bought because of Bob, the sales guy.” Does it happen? Sure. Can Bob occasionally outsell a superior product? Absolutely.
But the world is changing. Today, more and more of the buying decisions are being made before a customer engages a sales person. In fact today, 80% of customers are well down the purchase path before talking to a salesperson at all. And more and more contracts, especially in software, but elsewhere too, are monthly recurring revenue streams. While monthly recurring revenue streams are great for a lot of reasons, no big upfront license deals means customer retention rate and churn rates become of tantamount importance. Revenue streams that your company depends on are now a lot easier for customers to cancel.
So if customers are moving a lot farther down the sales cycle before even engaging with your sales person, that makes your marketing even more important, right? Absolutely. Hubspot, Marketo, Pardot, and Eloqua have all come about to help marketers in this Internet age. Those products will help you reach the customer really early with inbound and content marketing and they will help you nurture potential customers until they are ready to buy.
But you won’t be the only influence on your customer’s decision. We live in a world of instant information – A world of Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn. A world where customer’s employees are connected with their peers and can get instant information. A world of Amazon, Yelp, Angie’s List, and G2Crowd reviews, where customers can and do research what real users of your product are saying about their actual experiences. It is easier than ever to cut through the marketing hype and understand when a product performs and when it does not.
So sure, marketing can get the word out about your product, they can educate the customer about why they need to solve the problem your product solves, they can nurture a prospect along and they can influence the customers buying decision. But more and more, some of your best marketing is happy customers who take to the Internet to yell at the top of their lungs about how much they love your products.
What about retention rate? How often do you hear about someone who stops using a product because that product met all of their needs? Not very often. The best plan for customer retention is to build a product they love, that they can’t live without. Is it important to do a good job getting a customer started using your product? Sure. Is it important to nurture customers just like prospects and make sure they are happy and engaged? Absolutely. Is it important to develop relationships with customers so they will overlook some issues and errors and product gaps? Yes. Will this save some customers who otherwise would have left for your competition? Yes it will.
But a great product will make customer retention that much easier. A great product, coupled with properly teaching your customer to use your product on an ongoing basis is the best retention plan there is.
So let’s turn our attention to the most important thing you do: building great products.