B2B Companies Need To ‘Taste-Test’ Their Own Products
Car salesmen drive their dealer’s cars. Avon ladies wear their brand’s lipstick. Software developers use their own product instead of a possibly superior, competitor’s product. They’re all drinking their own champagne. (The metaphor used to be ‘eating their own dog food,’ or ‘dogfooding’). No matter what you call it, it has been proven to work and some companies that you may not have heard of are running away with their successes one great sip at a time.
Larry Alton, writing for Huffington Post, notes, “Uber does it, Twitter does it, and a number of other companies do it. It’s called ‘drinking your own champagne,’ and business owners in the consumer products industry are strongly encouraged to do so. Only through using the very products they’re selling can entrepreneurs truly gain credibility with customers and colleagues.”
In the SaaS world, this practice has long been routine because it puts the emerging product into the hands of employees who can discover problems before it goes public. It can also build confidence among the development team while everyone gets an early look at user problems up-close and personal.
Another aspect of this approach is that if you don’t use your own stuff, you cannot expect that paying customers will. It’s visible proof you practice what you preach.
Writing at UXM, Neil Turner points to four positive outcomes:
- Empathy: “Understanding the user’s perspective; walking a mile in their shoes… is a great way to help build empathy for users.”
- Experience: “Using the company’s own products also helps to build product knowledge and experience within the company.”
- User Base: “Encouraging everyone in a company to use the company’s products also means…You’ve got a way to quickly and relatively easily get feedback and insights from users.”
- Enthusiasm: “The final reason why it’s a good idea to encourage everyone in a company to use the company’s own products is because it can help to build enthusiasm, dare I say even love, for those products within the company.”
Jason C.H. Chen, Ph.D. at Gonzaga University’s School of Business explained: “A company that demonstrates commitment to its own products by using them exclusively should gain useful insight into the products’ actual performance in realistic settings.” But he also raises the question of whether this is a predictor of product success.
Following are three examples of how to win with this strategy. Which version could work for your company?
SaaS Product Development
SaaS for B2B success depends on product quality. According to Ashley Dotterweich writing for Rainforest, “Business audiences have a low tolerance for poor quality software that might prevent them from being productive.” SaaS developers must optimize their testing strategy to meet and exceed user base demand. While early users appreciate that your product is in development, but they also expect it to function.
The development team can only proceed when there’s enough internal quality to function against unit tests and coding checks. Dotterweich states that, “dogfooding will help you determine its reliability and usability, which will be key for business clients.”
It may be too early for regression testing or edge cases. But, “Even in the earliest phases of use, catastrophic product failures can lead to catastrophic company failures. Focus your testing on catching and resolving major issues, rather than anticipating less common ones.” Dotterweich continues, “You don’t need to perform your own exhaustive load and penetration tests. It’s also too early for user acceptance tests; everyone knows your product is still a work in progress.”
For startups, regression testing, integration testing, user acceptance testing and load testing come with additional funding, with each round of funding leading to additional testing. And, as you pursue an IPO, you would pursue edge cases, penetration testing and security testing.
With the dogfooding experience, you have the resources necessary for continuous testing, incremental feedback and agile response to ensure that you’re keeping customers happy and helping their business grow.”
Property Management Industry
Doug Brien and Colin Wiel, Founders of property management technology platform, Mynd, agree. “When the company launched, I became Mynd’s first customer,” says Brien. “Until I was completely satisfied with the operations and management, our service was not going to be opened up to others.”
The technology Mynd has developed allows their team of property managers to collect and make sense of data to inform real estate investors on how their properties are performing. Over time, the data not only serves as a system of record, it helps forecast the performance of future investments and equips clients with better decision-making prowess. “By sharing the same mentality as your clients and understanding their needs and frustrations, you’re able to continue polishing iterations of your products and services to ensure client satisfaction,” explains Wiel.
User testing is the cornerstone of refining products and services. Mynd’s founders continue to test their products and services on their own real estate properties to measure performance and efficiency. By doing so, they’re able to provide bona fide feedback that results in an elevated user experience for clients.
A Living Laboratory
Jo Hoppe, CIO at Pegasus, tells CIO.com, “We’ve essentially become a living laboratory.” She distributed the Pegasus BPM software so internal users could design their own apps without doing the coding. This aligned the IT engineers with the business users.
As a result, Human Resources created an application to link open positions and promising resumes. The Training Department built an application to register customers for training sessions. Making internal business users part of the process gave them ownership of the experience end users would have.
Back in 2011, Pavley.com took the opposite position. He argued, “Dogfooding doesn’t work, or at least it’s not sufficient, because it’s not a good predictor of software success. Some software that is dogfooded is very successful. Most software that is dogfooded fails.”
He feels it only entrenches bad product design. Developers and users get acclimated to faults and assimilate the pride and spirited enthusiasm in the rollout. Somewhat cynically, he claims one reason dogfooding fails is the software business is a business of imitation. Most of the dogfood is plagiarized from competitors.
Scrumology.com argues that dogfooding is counterproductive, suggesting, “When poor quality software is propagated throughout an organization it can have a huge effect on the organization’s ability to quickly and easily release software.” Internal customers naturally resist patches and upgrades and are tempted to use fixes with unapproved tools or management authorization. It leaves management to drive acceptance and process acceleration with negative impacts.
They don’t completely oppose the drink-your-own-champagne process, but warn that it shouldn’t excuse poor quality, stating that, “Releasing poor quality software into the food chain results in dysfunctional behavior that makes it more and more difficult to release high quality software.”
There is probably merit to both sides of this argument, but if feeding your own products to internal customers improves the product, builds corporate spirit and educates the developers and users, the approach has succeeded. Even if testing, feedback and correction only lead to dumping the product, your company will still come out on top.