In any technology-centric company, product managers, engineers and developers who have their finger on the pulse of customers have the highest credibility and respect. Over time they also have the most success in their careers.
This happens because their innate understanding of the customer is the most valuable currency there is to a development team. It is golden, and it makes the four walls of a business quickly dissolve to let in the voice of customers and their unmet needs permeate the most complex software projects. Key lessons learned from Scribe Software underscore this point.
In the many conversations I’ve had with enterprise software companies, Gartner, Forrester, and analyst firms, it is evident that personas are emerging as the cornerstone development and marketing. VPs of software development, engineers, developers and product managers are saying “finally! now we have a clear view of who the customer is, their needs, what they care and don’t care about”. Personas are liberating for engineers because it frees them from the endless debates of features, functions and specsmanship where comparison to competitors takes the place of customer-driven improvements.
How Software Companies Are Using Personas To Better Understand Customers
There is a wealth of information online on how to use personas to bring greater acuity, empathy, immediacy and relevance into new product development and marketing. One of the best sources of information on this topic is Pragmatic Marketing who has a wealth of information on how to develop and use personas. An index of search results from their site can be found here. MarketingProfs has 22,300 items on their website matching the term “personas”, which gives you an indication of how thorough the research is on this site. Their insights into creating and using personas for content and product development are worth looking into. Marketing Sherpa also has a wealth of persona-related research and insights, including case studies of how personas can be used for managing content strategies. If you are in product management, product marketing, corporate marketing or communications, consider subscribing to MarketingProfs and Marketing Sherpa. HubSpot also covers personas from a content strategy perspective as well.
Allison Bloodworth, Senior User Interaction Designer Educational Technology Services, University of California – Berkeley put together the presentation Using Personas to Create User-centered Designs which is packed with insights and information on how to create and use personas. Back in 2007 Forrester write a report titled Personas Drive Microsoft Dynamics UI Design which is available free for download, courtesy of Critical Edge Group. There are a myriad of resources on the Web regarding personas.
The paradox every enterprise software company faces daily in the development of new applications is how to take their depth of technological expertise and align just those aspects most relevant to customers. Personas are excellent at guiding this transition of technology to customer’s unmet needs, expectations and requirements. It’s not surprising that software companies are increasingly relying on them to set firm boundaries around needs, not allowing feature drift to occur.
IBM actively uses personas for defining their mobile device strategy, as shown in the following presentation from the ISACA Conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark during September, 2012:
Microsoft is an extensive developer and user of personas, using them across the entire spectrum of their applications. Here is an example of their Office365 personas that Microsoft has provided for the public to view. Note how Microsoft uses personas to also target competitors as well, with one persona dedicated just to Google. Their personas on Dynamics AX are the most complete I’ve ever seen for an enterprise application.
Persona Lessons Learned from Scribe Software
I recently had a chance to meet Lou Guercia, CEO of Scribe Software and talk with him about how his company is using personas to manage product and services development including Scribe Online. Scribe Online is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) integration platform that is multi-tenant based, enabling a on-premise to on-premise, on-premise to cloud, and cloud to cloud integration of CRM and enterprise systems. Integration tasks across Scribe Online can also be automated as part of a Web Service, which saves enterprises thousands of dollars and hours a year in administration costs alone. Scribe is a recognized leader in CRM Integration and regularly completes surveys to gain greater understanding of the market. You can find their latest report, Scribe State of SMB CRM Integration Report – January 2013 on SlideShare for download.
What makes managing the ongoing support and development of Scribe Online so challenging is the myriad of systems, options, approaches to defining integration, and decisions regarding ergonomics and usability. Prioritizing pre-build solutions for Microsoft CRM, Salesforce, Exact Target, and QuickBooks is based on market demand, yet fine-tuning Scribe Online takes an entirely deeper level of customer intelligence and insight.
Getting to the essence of what their customers need is essential for Scribe to stay in step with their customers. Scribe has devised a product development and management framework that guides all decisions with regard to existing and new products. It’s comprised of the four personas below. Which systems to integrate with, which versions, how the workflows will be supported, what the user experience will be like in the Scribe applications are all driven by these four personas.
The power of this persona framework is that it shows just how critical Scribe’s applications and services are to helping their customers accelerate the pace of business.
Lessons Learned from Scribe Software’s Persona Experiences:
- Ease of use for the line of business user wins out over depth and breadth of features in every one of the four personas they company tracks. This persona research shows that IT would rather have an application easy to implement and low maintenance first, not one that required intensive customization. This holds true across all enterprise software, but is especially important in CRM integration.
- Data integration accuracy and fidelity can galvanize a small business faster than any other single IT investment. Scribe has seen this in their research results from the latest survey and also in their daily contacts with customers. This gets beyond a 360 degree view of the customer to creating a single system of engagement corporate-wide.
- Personas report when a CRM system crosses 20 seats or more the need for information grows exponentially and time-to-respond becomes an issue if customer data isn’t available in real-time.
- 36% of SMB respondents to a recent Scribe survey said that the biggest IT challenge they face centers around data quality and data integration. Scribe’s approach using personas is capturing what aspects of data quality and integration matter most. For additional information see the Scribe State of SMB CRM Integration Report – January 2013 on SlideShare.
Bottom line: Personas are the future of enterprise application development and marketing due to their ability to bring greater acuity, focus and empathy into the development process.
Disclosure: I’m not a paid consultant or employee of Scribe Software. Lou Guercia and I had breakfast together recently where he shared his company’s unique approach to product development. Given reader’s interest enterprise software and development, I decided to share the insights gained.
(Cross-posted @ Enterprise Software Strategist)