Creating “Must Have” software products using gamification and other techniques
People buy on emotion and justify with logic
There are two kinds of sales in the world—mandatory and discretionary. Mandatory ones are things like taxes and utilities: if you have a house, you have to buy sewer service, and you typically don’t have a choice of providers. The local water treatment company does not have to work hard to get sales.
All other sales are emotional to some degree—even food. In the US, most of us are fortunate enough to have choices in what we buy for food. So why this brand of pasta versus another?
Software, including enterprise software, is also typically a discretionary purchase. Think of any business software you use. If that software were taken away, would you be upset? If the answer is ‘yes,’ that’s great news for the software provider: they have created “must-have” software. If the answer is some form of “wouldn’t care,” “would use something else,” etc., that creates a challenge for the vendor.
For large companies, that challenge can be in the form of rapidly lost market share when a competitor builds a better product. This has happened over and over again—think of how fast Dropbox took over from most other cloud storage products or how quickly Apple’s iPod captured the music-player market.
For startups, this can often be an existential issue. Many tech startups have great technology that objectively solves a meaningful problem (otherwise, the startup likely would not have been launched in the first place!). Still, they struggle with sales—particularly getting rapid adoption and easy sales. In those cases, the challenge is not the technology but rather the product.
The distinction is essential. Technology is the core of how something works. Product is the complete picture of how that technology is brought together in a customer experience, how it’s sold, and how it is positioned and marketed. There were plenty of cloud storage companies before Dropbox—why did Dropbox succeed where others struggled (including Microsoft)? The core technology of file storage was common across all those products (ditto for music players).
The answer is emotions! There is a famous saying: “people buy with emotion and justify with logic.” Why did you buy that brand of food? That type of car? And even in enterprise software, why that cybersecurity offering versus another? Why that CRM tool versus another?
When you dig into the history, the wildly successful technology products during their growth phase all had something to them that triggered delight in their early customers. Delight that translated into strong word of mouth, increased purchases, strong renewal rates, and so forth:
Dropbox did two things for delight: One, it just worked. Recall that most other solutions were notorious for being flaky and missing files at the time. But the real win was its sharing feature. It took off like crazy with salespeople because now, for the first time, a salesperson could easily share files with a customer without having to go through a lot of hassle with the central IT department.
Tableau is, in many ways, a company that should not have existed. Microsoft Excel can produce graphs from data, after all! But Excel has seen little dramatic improvement for nearly thirty years—the charts and graphs are so boring and staid! But if you show up to a meeting with your boss and peers and you have Tableau graphs, you look like a rock star. The graphs are beautiful and dynamic; you can easily click to drill into more detail.
Office 95 / Microsoft Word introduced automatic spell-check and autocorrect. Spell-checking was not new—it had been around since the 80s. But automatically highlighting issues as you type (and often just fixing them) created a mini “wow” moment. Going back to WordPerfect (at the time) was painful, with its separate spell-check interface.
Figure 1WordPerfect 2007 Spell Check
Video Games. While there are many more examples in the business world, the gold standards are wildly popular video games: everything from Fortnite to World of Warcraft. Popular video games are thoughtfully designed so that you are always “five minutes away” from the next level, the next +1 magic sword--essentially, the next dopamine rush.
Creating an Emotional Product
There is a growing field of study on creating these emotional connections, from gamification to growth hacking. I’ll list several resources at the end of this paper, as there are entire books on this topic. In brief: the core of the ideal product design boils down to three things. Any one of them by themselves can be sufficient for breakout success, and a combination of all three is typically a blockbuster:
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