Creating a high-quality product is just one part of building a profitable business. The reality is that a myopic focus on product development can ultimately prevent you from achieving your business goals. Unfortunately, this notion is one that many growing companies don’t understand until it’s too late.
For most companies — and all early-stage startups — getting the most out of every dollar and hour is critical to survival. It’s tempting for many founders, especially those with engineering or other technical backgrounds, to adopt a build-first mindset. They hope a well-made product will be all they need to succeed.
To be fair, this isn’t the worst approach. Inevitably, your product will be at the heart of your value proposition, and an early focus on building it can pay dividends down the road. But if you’re hoping for any sort of long-term business success, you must strike a balance between product development and three equally important areas: marketing, customer service, and human capital management.
1. Consumers can’t buy a great product if they don’t know about it.
Marketers often like to say that nothing kills a bad product faster than good marketing. Thanks to the ubiquity of the internet, information travels faster than ever, and customer experiences with your product — good or bad — can go viral in an instant. This means that companies selling bad products will have a harder time convincing customers to buy them.
It also means that if you’ve built a product you genuinely believe in, good marketing can lead to explosive growth by amplifying word of mouth. Jennifer Tomlinson, senior manager of channel marketing at Microsoft, says, “The graveyard of failed businesses is full of companies that had excellent products and services [but] failed because the people running them didn’t pay enough attention to marketing.” Prioritize marketing early, and you’ll stay out of the graveyard. Fortunately, martech can help with that.
Today’s customers look for proof that you know them before buying. Martech tools can aid in your efforts to give customers a personal experience with your brand. For instance, some systems use AI to help segment and highly personalize your emails to customers, recommending the right time of day and best tone of voice to use for various audience segments. If you’re a small business working with a small marketing budget, don’t fret. Focus on finding a martech solution that solves a niche problem rather than an all-in-one product. If you take the latter route, you could end up spending more — and getting more features than you’ll actually use.
2. Customer service is a bigger draw than product innovation.
If you spend as much time focusing on meeting customers’ needs as you do on product development, you can turn customer service into a powerful differentiator for your company. That’s critical, as 88 percent of customers prioritize customer service over innovative products when deciding whether to do business with a company, according to a study conducted by Harris Interactive.
Truly prioritizing customer service may even mean that you ultimately refer a prospective customer to a competitor because your product isn’t ready yet. Doing whatever it takes to give people a positive experience with your brand can eventually pay off in the form of unwavering customer loyalty. In addition, there are numerous technologies that can help you provide customers with the service they’re demanding in 2019.
For instance, chatbots allow your company to be more available to customers, providing the constant communication and access they demand. In fact, according to one study, 71 percent of customers prefer to solve problems on their own through self-service options online rather than having to get a live person on the phone. Chatbots and AI have risen in popularity as a means for improving customer service, allowing your business to assist a customer even when your customer service team is asleep. The bottom line: Customer service should be a top priority, and tech can help you prioritize it.
3. Your people are your biggest value creators.
According to a study commissioned by executive search firm Korn Ferry, human capital is more than twice as valuable to global economic growth as physical capital. Still, many executives fail to grasp how integral their human resources are to company success. It can be tempting to view employees as expenses rather than value generators; according to that study, many CEOs are guilty of this.
But if you look at your team members as expenses to be minimized, you’ll never realize the potential value they could add to your business. Instead, create a culture that recognizes the important roles your employees play, and give your team the autonomy to solve problems and find more efficient ways to accomplish tasks. Offer employees the freedom to contribute in ways that stretch beyond what you pay them to do, and reward them for these unexpected contributions.
One way to give team members more autonomy is to allow them some latitude in where and when they work. Cloud-based calendar management apps can help remote employees schedule meetings and coordinate tasks with on-site employees and clients. Meanwhile, messaging platforms like Slack, Kik, and WhatsApp can keep the lines of communication open and facilitate collaboration. Another way to acknowledge your employees’ value — and increase it — is to encourage team members to take advantage of educational opportunities such as conferences, workshops, and internal or external training programs.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur working with a small team or overseeing product development at a Fortune 500, resist the “build it and they will come” mentality. Make an effort to give equal attention to these three business areas. You’re much more likely to achieve long-term success if you do.