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Wednesday, November 24, 2004

People Are Not Design Elements

ongoing: People Are Not Design Elements

This made me cringe. It reminds me how good some marketing folks are at projecting a very slick, sophisticated image, yet miss the boat entirely about establishing a real relationship with customers.

Everyone knows you must listen to your customers, but obviously "listen" means different things to different people. And it's not enough just to call up a customer and ask them what they think, a company must also be publicly open and upfront as much as possible, let development and customer interact, and here's the big one: encourage criticism. Many marketing folks just don't seem to get it, they are stuck in a very structured customer engagement model apparently never realizing how much they are handicapping development.

For example, if your marketing folks won't allow hosting a public discussion forum where customers, development and support can interact, they don't get it. Your own customers can give you tons of useful feedback, such as "Your product stinks, here are the reasons why..." And you might get a useful list of technical gripes and nitpicks that a sales guy would never, ever get out of customers. Or they might actually push you to that "Oh shit!" moment when you realize the fatal flaw in your plan. The faster you hit that the better, you might be able to avoid a complete disaster. Just the act of allowing a forum for criticisms will project an image of strength.

So why are some marketing folks against opening floodgates of communications? Well, when asked why they won't allow it, they may say because they want to carefully manage the customers and their expectations, or some such bullshit. Watch out for the marketing non-speak, where lots of words are uttered but little is actually said!

This is one area that Lotus/Iris got right. As long as I can remember Notes and especially Domino products had dedicated public forums where customers and development could interact. And having been on both sides of it (I’ve been the customer and the development) I can say it’s a huge benefit all around.

And when you don’t have that open communication? You’ll probably end up building something that customers don’t want. Good luck marketing that.

I don’t know if marketing folks are like that because of hubris, insecurity (not believing in the company), petty politics or even peer pressure (why else do so many corporate websites look alike?). All I know is the ones who want to project a really slick image are the least likely to provide a place where potential customers can see what others really think, and the least likely to let the socially unsophisticated development staff talk to customers. And they think that's a good thing!


Anonymous said...

Damien, I just read "The Innovator's Dillema" and that has some very good, insightful reasons when NOT to listen to your customers. First of all customers might say things, lots of things, but what they do (ie BUY) can often be a different story altogether. There are quite a few historical examples given, and when established companies listened to their current customers particularly about new technology ("disruptive" and not "sustaining" technology, as described in the book) but little to zero interest was shown. And most likely the companies you're upset with, ie the Fortune 500s would definitely fit this mold most of all. They instead gravitate upmarket, to better deals with higher profit margins.

This creates the "dillema" because as you suggest, marketing people are "stuck in a very structured engagement model" but it even goes to the value chain itself, and they are unlikely to bite the hand that feeds them. In fact the book describes established companies as having very good, effective idea-killing mechanisms in place so there is more focus upmarket, where bigger hands with more food to feed from are (and that's probably why they've been around for as long as they have).

I like to study business processes... these are things that provide uniformity, consistency, etc. but they are formed by the money chain, and once they get set into place, require less and less thinking by the people working the system.

and btw those people in IT advertisements portrayed as design elements or whatever never had much effect on me-- I always looked at them and knew right away that people that beautiful don't know or care jack shit about the technical work they're supposedly involved in.

That said, I do agree that the feedback forums work great for Lotus/Iris.

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