The world needs more successful software.
It can improve our lives individually and it has the potential to create financial growth for our businesses and the wider economy.
And, yet, we as a community can still struggle with building and managing successful software products.
You know the statistics: 9/10 software startups fail, and 85 percent (or more) of internal software projects are either challenged or abandoned completely.
Below are just some of the unique tactics we’ve seen successful leaders employ to steer their companies clear of those damning odds. That’s no small feat.
Stay close to your customers, even the ones you don’t have yet.
“We care about our customers.”
Sound familiar? But be honest: in your last staff meeting, how much time was devoted to talking about your customers? How about your last scrum meeting? What about your last financial report to the board?
The leaders we work with who talk directly to customers deeply understand the problems they’re facing—and more successfully understand how their company can provide an indispensable solution. When you find your customers’ pain, and you will find the problem you need to solve.
Yes, this is fairly common sense, but it’s a surprisingly easy thing to lose track of, especially as your company hits new levels of success. CEOs who carve what time they can to sit in on customer service calls or personally answer customer emails are far more likely to remain lock-step with what their customers want and need.
In an interview with Drift, Toast CEO Chris Comparato says:
… I often start with the customer and work from that dimension when looking at the customer experience including what to sell, what to build or enhance, and the customer’s journey once they are on our platform. Today I still have several meetings and calls a week with customers. Some brand new, some old, some happy, some perhaps not.
Simply put, there is no growth without customers, and leaders with deep customer knowledge and empathy make better decisions for the future.
There is no “perfect” software, there is only “ready to ship” software.
This is one of the trickier, but more important concepts when it comes to working in software–it is never “done” and it will never be “perfect.”
Plenty of smart leaders have pushed off a release, waiting for a software product or feature to be “perfect.” We get it, it feels like the right thing to do. What you may not realize is that that delay inadvertently creates the space for your customers to settle on another solution.
Software is just that, soft, and the most valuable software will change and grow as your business and customers need it to.
CEOs at SaaS companies who are successfully attuned to their customer base have the hard-won confidence to step back and let their product live for a bit. This patience and space allow the customer to guide them to what needs to be tackled next—a key to cost-effective product management and development.
The product going live is just the beginning, not the end.
Hand your developers business goals, not just a spec sheet.
Most of the leaders we work with have come up through the ranks because they know how to sell and grow a business, not because they know how to write code. Lacking a shared vocabulary or common expectations with developers is, therefore, a natural blind spot for a lot of our clients.
It’s also one of the main reasons non-technical CEOs reach out to us, we help leaders bridge the gap of understanding between business vision and production tactics. Software development runs deep in our DNA, and we infuse nearly every phase of our Product Management practice with the driving mantra
“that technology should support your goals and provide a good return on investment.”
A leader who can help his or her developers understand the larger business context of what’s being built (beyond just a feature list or bug ticket) finds the fastest route to that good ROI.
Developers’ understanding of what the product is trying to accomplish, who will be using it, and why helps ensure true product-market fit with efficiently built, scalable software. After all, developers are often the last line of defense against unnecessary feature creation or poor software architecture decisions.
Leaders who give developers the bigger picture empower them to build the software that meets it.
Help your Sales team walk away from imperfect opportunities.
CEOs and Presidents who have a clear understanding of their target market are able to set realistic sales expectations and ensure their Sales team is spending their energy in the right places.
In other words, keeping Sales away from bad revenue.
It can be tempting for your Sales team to stray, even just a little, from your product’s core offering or service philosophy to close a deal. But smart leaders know that deals that are “close enough” can be miserable and costly, and they make sure their Sales team knows it, too.
The “close enough” customer is often the squeaky wheel that can lead a product astray with ad hoc feature requests. By creating the space to walk away from bad revenue, you avoid the time sunk in these accounts that can extend beyond sales, to your product and development teams. A losing proposition, all around.
Presidents and CEOs who empower their Sales teams to honestly tell “close enough” customers “No” or “Not right now” will better serve everyone in the long run. Those customers will either come back to you when the timing is right or send a referral your way who is a much better fit.
Consider the opportunity costs of pulling your team’s focus.
One of the hardest parts of leadership is balancing the resources you put toward growth with those required to keep the machine running and on-track.
Most leaders live in the future—thinking about staying a few steps ahead of the competition, or what would happen if they pursued the recommendations in that article about building software of tomorrow that blew their mind.
At the same time, the work their product and development teams are doing right now is critical to the organization’s ongoing success.
As a leader, you have to think about moving big pieces, whereas your teams are focused on fulfilling their accountabilities.
Leaders who realize that interruption stresses everyone out (and ultimately makes their job more difficult), often lean on trusted outside resources. As they come across the next great experiment they’d like to try, they’ll call on someone not responsible for next Wednesday’s goals to vet the new idea, thereby avoiding disrupting the internal teams.
There are plenty of seasoned experts who can help you evaluate your ideas, validating and quantifying a potential shift until it is well worth refocusing your team’s attention.
Your team, your product, and your customers will thank you.
Interested in learning more? Check out our Product Management process and let us know if you have any questions through our Contact Us form, below.