WHERE Customer <> End User

In the nuances of marketing, the terms “Customer” and “User” are most often used interchangeably. “Customer” invariably is the person who writes the check for a purchase and “user” is the one who uses it. The difference is too small and ignorable in traditional marketing due to the nature of the product-consumption relationship. It is quite usual to self drive a Lexus once the buyer makes the payment. In case of Institutional sales and enterprise relationships this equivalence breaks down. Consider this as an example. Everyone in my company uses a Dell made computer. These are all bought by the IT department and handed over to an employee when she joins the company. The IT department buys both desktops and portables and the employee chooses one depending on his requirement to compute while on the move. Situations like this break the equivalence relationship of the customer (IT department) and user (employees). This phenomenon has particular ramification in Product Management. In fact, the phenomenon if not treated appropriately holds the potential to disintermediate Product Manager and end users with grave consequences. I see this happening a lot in Thomson Financial where the contacts for sales in an Institution reside in the technology department/Information Library responsible for market data. The focus for that group is to get the cheapest content from a source and make it available to the end users. Rarely do they actually sit down with users to understand the systems they should be buying to help in improving either productivity or decision quality of investment processes.

Product Managers often rely on customer facing personnel of the company to establish contact with the end-user. In the case of an equivalence break down between customer and end-user the objective of the interaction is never achieved. To my mind, this has been a major reason why companies like Thomson Financial and Reuters have remained “content” or “market data” companies and never have been able to build cutting-edge applications (other than acquiring some). We have solved the customer’s problem (get me good, reliable market information) while completely missing out on end-user demands. I strongly believe that the phenomenal success of the Bloomberg terminal has a lot to do because it was built by an end-user. If the big ones like us at Thomson Financial and our friends on the eastern shore of the pond do not wake up this reality we will always have small companies floated by ex-bankers make the best applications that the end-users will love to use (Jim Toffey broke off from CSFB and built TradeWeb, which is by far the most popular electronic Fixed Income Trading platform).

I am trying to get around this cruel disintermediation and make my product managers reach out to users as much as I can. Sitting in India – in Bangalore specifically – doesn’t make my task easier but I am trying as best as I can. For me, disintermediation from the end-user is the first step towards obliteration.

At the foot of the Tower

When mankind wanted to build a tower that would reach the heavens it incurred the wrath of God. To ensure the project got scuttled He did something very simple – He made people talk in different languages while at work. The resounding success (or failure, depending on whether you are a glass half empty or half full person) of this technique manifests in the 21st century as people try to build software products. Product development is akin to a closely coordinated orchestra in which everyone knows the bars and when to step in and how. Interestingly, they all stare down at their sheets that have a uniform representation of the music score. Such compelling camaraderie is sadly not replicated in the software product development process.

Software products may look simple after they come out of the works but making them is a complicated process (or the process has been made complicated). Construction of the simplest of products has at least three teams involved – product management, development and testing and finally sales and marketing. It is absolutely fascinating to see these teams work towards the same objective but with different focus. It is the differing perspective that hauls the spanner into the works.

I stumbled into Product Management almost by accident and thereafter have watched with fascination this world that I’ve called my own for the past seven years. I hope to share some of my thoughts with you through this blog.