I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Heather Margolis, Director of Marketing, and Yoshi Watanabe, Principle Software Engineer, of Kadient, Inc. Kadient has already been the topic of two previous blog posts I've written, but I was so impressed by how they go about doing business that I asked if I could interview them by telephone.

Kadient makes sales coaching and enablement software that makes the lives of salespeople easier by giving them the content they need, when they need it, depending upon the situation they are in.

One of the constant problems sales executives experience is that their sales people often don't actually use sales support software provided by their companies. If they perceive that the program is too awkward, too hard to learn or gets in the way of actually making sales, most employees will stop using software and go back to doing things the old way.

Mr. Watanabe spoke about how the company in general, and the development teams in particular, underwent a paradigm shift that is unique among technical companies. Traditionally the emphasis is on product excellence. The thinking is that if a company makes the very best, most technically advanced product, the market will come to them.

He said, "It is not uncommon for developers to create products with no idea of how it is used and who is using it and what problems they are having."

This, of course, made me think of the old expression, "Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door." Perhaps this is a great idea in principle, but it ignores the reality of marketing and the necessity to open up two-way communications with customers. It also begs the question of whether the mousetrap is better in just its creators' eyes or in the eyes of those people who are intended to use it.

Mr. Watanabe describes how Kadient's paradigm shift began. "We asked ourselves: Ok we've built our software (the first version). Does it really help the users solve their problems? And after getting feedback from users, we had to admit that the answer was no. It was confusing and cumbersome to the users and didn’t solve some of their major painpoints."

The system, they realized, was the center of their focus – not the end users' needs.

So Kadient shifted their thinking from just product development to "User Stories." They brought together people who had daily contact with actual customers and users, product managers, developers and the marketing team for a two and a half day session.

Everyone who represented users and had contact with them were given index cards to describe what users wanted, not just when it came to the product, but also in day to day life. For instance, a sales rep is working with 20 prospects at a time and may not remember every status. They may also be a young professional always on the go and needs things to be quick and easy.. At the end of the session they had produced 100s of index cards with statements about what their users wanted.

These wants, of course, were then shown to actual customers, users and buyers within the companies they serviced for further refinement.

This led to an understanding that some users wanted some things while other users wanted different things. With this understanding, Kadient created several different "buyer personas" to help them make each of these buyer needs more personal.

For example, one of their buyer personas is a sales rep named "Anya." Anya is a successful sales person for a financial services company who has been in the top 10% for the last five quarters. Her goal is to do less of her own administrative tasks and free herself to spend more face time with actual customers.

"Luke" on the other hand is a 25 year old with sales talent but is not achieving the company's expectations for him. He needs a system that will help him build a better pipeline of prospects and needs help understanding these prospects' needs.

Obviously, Kadient has many other buyer personas, but Anya and Luke illustrate how they have put effort into personalizing the needs and goals of two types of end users. But it is what Kadient does next that really seems to set them apart.

Ms. Margolis said, "We segment a market, but then we go a step further above and beyond."

In company meetings it is not uncommon to hear conversations that begin with, "What would Anya do?" or "What would Luke do?"

In other words, they don't think of their buyer personas as mere segments of their marketplace, they think of them as actual people. Composites of many similar users, but people nevertheless.

They have created life-sized cardboard cutouts of Anya and Luke that get moved around within Kadient's building. One day they can be in a conference room, another day in the lunch room, and another in someone's cubicle. The idea is to get to "know" Anya and Luke as if they were real people.

And it is not just the marketing people who are tuned in with these personas. "The thing that I am the most impressed with is how the engineering and product development people have embraced the concept of buyer personas and user personas. It makes our sales, marketing and development teams much more in-tuned with each other," said Ms. Margolis.

So what kinds of results have these ideas delivered? The day before our conversation, Ms. Margolis was interviewing a buyer with one of their customer companies. This customer will save $500,000 that couldn't have been realized if the product wasn't actually being used.

The feedback she gave Ms. Margolis was that, "They employees keep talking about how easy Kadient's software is to use."

Perhaps that is the greatest testament Kadient could have had.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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Really, very interesting text & business analysis. You have a nice blog. Keep it up!

6:10 AM

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