Practically every business, no matter its size, must evolve or risk becoming stagnant or, worse, irrelevant. Take, for example, Amazon. The company started out as a bookseller but over the last two decades has become a virtual one-stop shop for everything from Apple Jacks cereal to Zippo lighters, a streaming music and video service, and much more. This week the company unveiled Amazon Payments, an online payment system that will compete with Square and Intuit’s GoPayment.
The point is that Amazon was never content to be just the world’s biggest bookseller or even a mega marketplace. While most businesses will never reach Amazon’s scale, all businesses must figure out how to offer new products and services that will meet the needs of existing customers while at the same time attracting new ones.
- give some heads-up
- grandfather in as many features and benefits as possible
- listen to the data
- continue to support previous services, if possible
- use expert positioning and content marketing to bring users up to speed
- confuse your existing customers
- focus on new shiny clients at the expense of tried and true clients
- give up too early
- change everything at once
No matter what kind of business you’re in, you probably have lots and lots of customers who love what you do. So the last thing you want to do is take your products or services in a new direction without giving these loyal users some warning. If possible, give everyone a little bit of advance notice and really play up how the changes will make their lives easier/better.
Bottom line: taking things away from people makes them mad. When you shift directions, make sure that you leave as many beloved features and benefits intact as possible. In our case, when we revamped our product we made our Facebook integration an optional step (and no longer available on our lowest priced plan). In part we made that decision because we were encouraging our users to join us in the move away from Facebook. But based on feedback we got from many users in the first weeks after the change, we returned Facebook access to everyone.
If you don’t pay attention to how user behavior changes when your products and services do, you risk a mass exodus. During the weeks following the unveiling of our revamped platform, we watched every moving part we possibly could, 24 hours a day. Making inferences about what was going on allowed us to plug holes and make changes, like the one mentioned above, asap.
There will always be handful of loyal users who love your product or service as is and want to coast along. Why force them to come along with you? Imagine if all of a sudden Chevrolet only offered compact sedans that got 50 MPG. They might attract a handful of new customers, but there’s a good chance they’d lose the ones who refuse to drive anything but a Silverado. The truck-driving fans would just buy Fords or Dodges instead. The point is, if people are happy with what you offer, keep them happy by keeping Silverados in the showroom.
Ideally you are using some type of content marketing to help people learn to use your product better. For example, use a blog and create lots of additional materials (including webinars, YouTube videos, help documents, etc.) that help people use your product more confidently. When you pivot, having supporting content already circulating helps with customer education and reduces confusion.
You don’t want to confuse your existing customers, even though you are excited about a new product launch. For example, when you launch your new product, you will be wanting to shout about it everywhere. You might be so excited that it is done and want everyone to love it as much as you do. You presume that people who already used your previous products would immediately want to upgrade their accounts so they could have access to all your awesome new features. However, you neglected to tell them that the upgrade is only optional. It was implied, but you should have made it more obvious. Ultimately, you will have increased cancellation rates since your existing users liked what they had and didn’t want to upgrade.
Bottom line: if you had been more clear that upgrading was optional, those cancels could have been avoided. Be sure to explain all existing and new features or rules in your new launch so as not to cause confusion and potentially lose existing and future customers.
Your existing users/customers are the ones who have been paying the bills. They’re the ones who’ve made it possible for you to invest in new products. It can be tempting to focus on feedback from new customers and let their input influence your decisions disproportionately. Make sure you balance the needs and wants of your tried-and-true people with the feedback you get from the new folks.
There are some people who operate by gut instinct and some who go by the numbers. There is a happy medium. Plenty of signs (aka, revenue data) might be telling you to go back. But if you have a gut feeling, perhaps it says there is a learning curve that you have to get through and that you should refine what you are doing, rather than retreat. If everything works out, you will be glad you stood your ground because you will have learned a lot. In addition to all the lessons you’re reading about right now, you will learn more about what is important to your existing customers, what is important to new customers, and the best path to follow in the future.
If you completely change your product and your logo and your website and your blog, etc. all at once, you will have been difficult to find. Instead, make a big change to your platform and more subtle changes elsewhere. Continue to make changes and refinements to the product, but do it over a long period of time.
Change can be scary but it’s also exhilarating! If you’re thinking about taking your company, products or services in a new direction, plan ahead and make changes in a thoughtful way. That way you’ll move onward and upward without losing sleep!