Customer transitions are funny and exciting beasts in the enterprise product world!

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By Saikrishna Chavali – You learn the power of status quo, and the challenges our power users face within their own firms. Product teams at vendors are tripping over themselves trying to get customers to use the latest products and features. But not everybody thinks as such. Not because customers don’t want the “best experience”. Yes, early buyers are more likely to want the best product. However, the majority mainstream buyers focus on the best combination of a product and its’ complementary products and services. They want the best experience, not necessarily the best product.

This came up on the BPMA Slack community as my product line is in the middle of transitioning our enterprise customers between two B2B products. John Zilch, Senior PM at Validity Inc, concluded his “neck hurts from nodding [in agreement] so voraciously [at the Slack conversation]. Now, I’m simply following Yoda’s advice: “Always pass on what you have learned”, when he tells Luke as he dies in the Return of the Jedi!

In my firm’s case, we serve two fast growing segments in cybersecurity: young and hip DevSecOps and large and mature vulnerability management. The challenge is serving both through a single user experience and product when we served them through two separate products previously. Jim Berets, Application Ecosystem Director at RedHat, started a similar transition at his former employer. His advice was to compare product features between legacy and new product. “If you are trying to move customers from A to B (to eventually phase out A), you need to analyze the feature sets in B versus A and my suggestion would be to look at moving the customers in the intersecting feature set first.”

Collaborating with sales, services and engineering, we prioritised the use cases we fully solve today and less touchy customers in the earlier phases. Bruce McCarthy, Founder – Culture and CEO of UpUpLabs, put it best: “make sure you are adding some significant value in the new product to make customers want to move. This will save you all sorts of foot dragging”. Sound the Silicon Valley phrase of being “10X better”? We all know of cases where large enterprise products are being phased out without valuable substitutes, leaving customers in the lurch. I’m thrilled we are closer to the “10X better value” camp in at least a few areas.

Even with such planning, we recognised the outlier customers using our product in non-ideal ways and the unprofitable customer segments. Dan Chapman, Principal Product Manager at Waters Corporation, recommended opening up paths to transition “by osmosis”. Essentially encourage “champions within the customer base that you can then leverage to drive the change at the end user level”. As an example, our users at customers without an active subscription will see the new product & its features as greyed out UI options on multiple screens.

Still, exiting unprofitable customer segments is very tough. The customers may be getting value today and sales and services may be banking on those renewals. Working with your largest customer’s account teams well before renewals (in our case 3 or 4 months before product launch) has been critical. This reduces the possibility of “bad press in the Sales org” as Bruce cautioned. In fact, our transition was also a turnaround job for this product line. We’ve been hyper sensitive to dealing with any ounce of bad press.

We’ve not yet completed our transition journey. But my colleagues and I in my firm have grown in thinking beyond the product and about the whole experience. Would love to hear more of your experiences, good and bad! Comment below.

Saikrishna Chavali has been harnessing and securing the power of the web for the past decade. Currently, Senior Product Manager for application layer Information Security products. These products help infosec professionals and developers make the everyday websites we use more secure. Prior to this, harnessed the power of web in digital search advertising, just as the programmatic advertising revolution was taking off.

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