Analyzing the final product: staring at the scoreboard

Let’s say you’re building a product, and you do some competitive analysis to see how others have addressed the same problem. Sounds reasonable, right?

Here’s the trouble: if you can only look at the final product, and can’t see any of the work that led up to it, you’re missing most of what’s interesting. What trade-offs did the team make based on what they learned along the way? What’s planned for the next release? How did they arrive at their design decisions?

It’s like staring at the scoreboard of a baseball game after it’s over. If you didn’t watch the game, you won’t get much out of it. You missed all the action.

Photos courtesy of Eric Kilby and Keith Allison

Revolutionary products still meet existing demand

Your product can be the newest, coolest thing around, but it still needs to serve existing demand in the market. Even the iPad was introduced by listing the activities people already do that it improved upon:

  • Web browsing
  • Email
  • Photo management
  • Watching video
  • Listening to music
  • Playing games
  • Reading eBooks

By itself, the list borders on mundane.

Ash Maurya, a leader in the Lean Startup community, made this great point on the latest episode of the Jobs-to-be-Done podcast. Check that out for more.

Your app inside Salesforce is like a Starbucks in China

Our work with clients often involves rewriting their Java or .NET on-premise app to run inside Salesforce.com. We’ve noticed, however, that dropping the existing app concepts into Salesforce wholesale does not work well. Salesforce is a development platform, but also a suite of robust apps—not a blank slate. Those apps are already there and customers are used to them. Designing the “Salesforce version” of an app involves reworking the ideas to deliver the same core value proposition in a new setting.

It’s not unlike how Starbucks found success in China by adjusting for local tastes. The classics are still on the menu, accompanied by Chinese tea and red bean beverages. It’s still great, just different. BusinessWeek reports that “China will replace Canada as Starbucks’ second largest market by store count and sales” sometime this year.

The Wall Street Journal contrasts this with “businesses that have failed to grasp the local culture, importing alien models.” Both Home Depot and Best Buy closed all of their China locations after failing to meet local demand.

“We don’t do one size fits all,” said Starbucks’ China president. They adapt, and thrive.

Addressing anxiety and switching costs when installing solar panels

It’s common practice for product teams to focus their efforts on the features that “beat the competition.” Unfortunately, more and better features usually isn’t enough for business success. (See this previous post for more details.)

SolarCity became the hot supplier in solar panels by addressing the forces that move customers away from their new solution—and wasn’t about features. Their innovative financing options and guided installation process took the hassle and up-front cost off the table.

Bottom line: if customers aren’t adopting your solution, your features might not be the problem.

Google released a set of design guidelines called Material Design at this year’s Google I/O conference. I suppose their theory is that by describing what a well-designed Android app looks like (and how it behaves), developers will follow these guidelines and the quality of third-party Android apps will go up.

Sadly, I don’t think this will move the needle.

The Internet already contains a staggering amount of information on software design; this just adds to the pile. People who smoke and eat junk food aren’t lacking information about healthier alternatives. Knowledge, by itself, does not change behavior.

These developers have to want to change. They have to be interested in design and shipping well-crafted apps. And if they were, they probably would already have more than enough information about how to do so.

I wrote about this a while ago, actually.

Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go.— Clayton Christensen (@claychristensen) August 3, 2012

Google released a set of design guidelines called Material Design at this year’s Google I/O conference. I suppose their theory is that by describing what a well-designed Android app looks like (and how it behaves), developers will follow these guidelines and the quality of third-party Android apps will go up.

Sadly, I don’t think this will move the needle.

The Internet already contains a staggering amount of information on software design; this just adds to the pile. People who smoke and eat junk food aren’t lacking information about healthier alternatives. Knowledge, by itself, does not change behavior.

These developers have to want to change. They have to be interested in design and shipping well-crafted apps. And if they were, they probably would already have more than enough information about how to do so.

I wrote about this a while ago, actually.


  "If only we could get more customers, this thing would really take off."


Why hasn’t that happened yet? Well, it’s partly because no matter how cool your product is, there are forces conspiring against you.

The Four Forces

There are four forces at play when someone makes a decision to buy or use your product (shown above).

Many companies make an implicit assumption that if their new product has more/better features than a competing product, customers will transition to them. That’s simply not true; features aren’t nearly enough. You need:

Push: The consumer needs to have some problem or dissatisfaction with the solution they’re using now.
Pull: Your product needs to have a compelling feature set, ideally one that speaks to the problem they’re having.
To address Anxiety: Customers won’t implicitly trust you and your offering, and will worry about what bugs/issues they’ll run into.
To address Inertia: People have built up habits that will be hard to break. Installed base, existing integrations and behavior habits are all working against you.
Let’s step though an example to see how this works.

Switching from Android to Windows Phone

Microsoft realizes they’re behind in the smartphone race, and that many new users of Windows Phone will have to be former Android or iOS users. Android seems like the better target, with 22% of Android users surveyed in September 2012 saying they would switch to the iPhone 5 when it was released.

With this in mind, Microsoft released an Android app that scans what’s installed on your phone and recommends a substitute app for Windows Phone. In doing so, they’re addressing the forces of Inertia (“can I do what I’m used to with my phone?”) and Anxiety (“what will I be giving up?”).

So here’s one way the forces could play out:

Push: “This old Android phone as a very glitchy touchscreen.”
Pull: “Wow…this new Nokia is really elegant. It’s very smooth to go from screen to screen.”
To address Anxiety: “I wonder how good the reception is. I’ll keep an eye on that.”
To address Inertia: “Ah, perfect…I can still use Pandora to listen to music.”
If the Push and the Pull are greater than the combined Anxiety and Inertia, then the customer will switch from Android to Windows Phone. If not, they don’t switch. This example also illustrates how the forces play out differently for every individual.

Placing Your Bets

Even though each person experiences the forces in their own way,   most of the time you will only release one product. So how do you position your offering for maximum switching?

The good news is, you will almost always see patterns in customer behavior (“everyone hates the glitchy screen”), and you can have some confidence you’re investing in the right areas. Even better, the patterns can emerge with less than 10 customer interviews. But the only way to tease out those patterns is by talking to customers.

You can’t rely on traditional market research, since it focuses on people’s feelings towards the product/brand and does not dive into usage patterns. Interviewing or observing customers is the only way to reliably map out the Push, Inertia and Anxiety your product will face as it enters the market. Don’t you want to know what you’re up against?

In Econ 101 terms, this comes down to understanding everything around the demand for your product. Framing this in terms of supply and demand also helps you see why you shouldn’t iterate your way through this problem. It’s wasteful to simply build something and obtain feedback, since that’s focusing on what you can supply instead of the demand. To gauge the demand, you can focus that more precisely. Figure out what people are doing now.

"If only we could get more customers, this thing would really take off."

Why hasn’t that happened yet? Well, it’s partly because no matter how cool your product is, there are forces conspiring against you.

The Four Forces

There are four forces at play when someone makes a decision to buy or use your product (shown above).

Many companies make an implicit assumption that if their new product has more/better features than a competing product, customers will transition to them. That’s simply not true; features aren’t nearly enough. You need:

  • Push: The consumer needs to have some problem or dissatisfaction with the solution they’re using now.
  • Pull: Your product needs to have a compelling feature set, ideally one that speaks to the problem they’re having.
  • To address Anxiety: Customers won’t implicitly trust you and your offering, and will worry about what bugs/issues they’ll run into.
  • To address Inertia: People have built up habits that will be hard to break. Installed base, existing integrations and behavior habits are all working against you.

Let’s step though an example to see how this works.

Switching from Android to Windows Phone

Microsoft realizes they’re behind in the smartphone race, and that many new users of Windows Phone will have to be former Android or iOS users. Android seems like the better target, with 22% of Android users surveyed in September 2012 saying they would switch to the iPhone 5 when it was released.

With this in mind, Microsoft released an Android app that scans what’s installed on your phone and recommends a substitute app for Windows Phone. In doing so, they’re addressing the forces of Inertia (“can I do what I’m used to with my phone?”) and Anxiety (“what will I be giving up?”).

So here’s one way the forces could play out:

  • Push: “This old Android phone as a very glitchy touchscreen.”
  • Pull: “Wow…this new Nokia is really elegant. It’s very smooth to go from screen to screen.”
  • To address Anxiety: “I wonder how good the reception is. I’ll keep an eye on that.”
  • To address Inertia: “Ah, perfect…I can still use Pandora to listen to music.”

If the Push and the Pull are greater than the combined Anxiety and Inertia, then the customer will switch from Android to Windows Phone. If not, they don’t switch. This example also illustrates how the forces play out differently for every individual.

Placing Your Bets

Even though each person experiences the forces in their own way, most of the time you will only release one product. So how do you position your offering for maximum switching?

The good news is, you will almost always see patterns in customer behavior (“everyone hates the glitchy screen”), and you can have some confidence you’re investing in the right areas. Even better, the patterns can emerge with less than 10 customer interviews. But the only way to tease out those patterns is by talking to customers.

You can’t rely on traditional market research, since it focuses on people’s feelings towards the product/brand and does not dive into usage patterns. Interviewing or observing customers is the only way to reliably map out the Push, Inertia and Anxiety your product will face as it enters the market. Don’t you want to know what you’re up against?

In Econ 101 terms, this comes down to understanding everything around the demand for your product. Framing this in terms of supply and demand also helps you see why you shouldn’t iterate your way through this problem. It’s wasteful to simply build something and obtain feedback, since that’s focusing on what you can supply instead of the demand. To gauge the demand, you can focus that more precisely. Figure out what people are doing now.