Your Product is Not the Product
Ash Maurya, author of Running Lean, was probably one of the first people to say, “your software product is not the product.” His argument is that your entire business model is the product. While I respect this philosophy and agree that 'your product is not the product,' I'd suggest that what you sell is the problem. This is not in and of itself a ground-breaking revelation. Many people before me have stated this - in fact, the quote “Sell the Problem You Solve, Not the Product” is quite popular. Seth Godin has also written a lot about selling the problem, not the product. The primary question behind this philosophy is that if your audience doesn’t know they have a problem, they won’t be searching for a solution - your solution.
Prior to launching DivvyHQ in 2011, even before we had the product, we were selling the problem. I guess if I’m honest, it was half accident, half deliberate. We deliberately wanted to know whether or not people were interested in a solution, so we believed we needed to start conversation about how people were solving the problem right now. How else would we have known that our biggest competitor wasn’t other content marketing planning softwares, it was Excel, and beyond that, a static, old way of planning content. That was our real competitor. That was also the problem. The questions that we asked to audiences slowly revealed the multitude of problems of using Excel for a content marketing calendar, while seeding the reality of the pain points in the eyes of our future customers.
What did we sell? Planning content with Excel is too hard. Excel doesn’t lend itself to collaboration, and as soon as you close the app, you forget the plan. All we did was talk about how hard it was to use Excel for content planning. Once we launched with the actual software solution, people wanted it because they were feeling the problem - and the business was born.
Be Willing to Ask
This is one of the primary ways we help our Brink Insights clients - we begin with understanding what their software product does. The real work is in helping them identify what the product actually is, (or what the problem really is). One real-life example of this is the strategy that we’ve implemented at Stackify. Stackify’s software product is an application performance management software with solutions for applications in any of the three software deployment environments: the development environment, the pre-production environment and the production environment. Retrace and Prefix, Stackify's software, software saves developers and devops managers TONS of time tracking down (and avoiding) errors in their code and performance issues in their applications. The tool itself is genius. But what is the product?
Honestly, this is not an easy question to answer - assuming you’re willing to ask the question. Stackify was willing, and under the wise leadership of the CMO, Max Hobbs, and other executive team members, they were willing to ask the question - and we spent the better part of 6 months discovering the answer. How did we get there? Not going to lie, lots and lots of honest whiteboard conversations, 100s of hours of research and data analysis and some trial and error. But once we landed on the problem - which, for them is “bad software makes you look like a bad developer,” it was glorious.
Think about it. If a software functions perfectly, people point to the CEO or marketing team and say, “wow, your software is great and we think you’re great.” If a software product is buggy, performs poorly, breaks or has stability issues - everyone blames the developer. AND, once you scale up to include the hundreds of thousands of users on some of the major software platforms daily, you can begin to understand the enormous amount of pressure that these dev teams face.
A Messaging Platform is Born
So, while the Stackify solution will solve the problems for these people in these situations - the “product” they really sell is "worry-free software.” So we can talk about things like, no more ruined vacations because the site is down. No more round-the-clock app babysitting, no more production pushes that turn into nightmares because it broke other functionality and no more stink-eye coming from top executives asking why the system is still buggy. This is the product. How did we decide to sell it? With a messaging platform we call, BuildBetter.
BuildBetter is a simple statement that carries a lot of weight and has a lot of extendability. It combines the problem and the solution. It suggests different things to our different audiences. It says to our developers, "avoid the embarrassment and hassle of bad, buggy code and make YOURSELF look like a better developer.” To our dev managers, it says, “help your devops team build more seamless transitions between environments and eliminate the daily fires you put out - making you look like a more competent manager.”
We’ve not only used BuildBetter as the rally cry and undercurrent for all our marketing messaging for Stackify, but we leveraged BuildBetter as a brand in and of itself for quarterly publications and other downloadable assets. With it, we’re able to establish and talk about the problems, so people become aware they have one - and therefore need our solution.
Again, I’ll stress that while this sounds so simple written here in this short article, this took months of searching, questioning, digging and strategic thinking. But once we had this aha, talking about the solution became much easier, and we ALL began to understand the product in a whole new way.
So how do you recognize whether or not you’ve figured out what product you actually sell? I’d suggest that if it feels hard to tell people what your product is, if you find yourself talking about features or functionality, or if you say, “let’s just do a demo so I can show you,” you may not know what your real product (or problem) is. This is a question worth asking and work worth doing. We’ve walked through it with countless clients, and they’re never the same after.
If you’re struggling with this. Let’s schedule a call. We want to help you find your BuildBetter.