First to Market or First to Customer

Making customers happy in Business Intelligence

Allow me to set the tone. It's Las Vegas, the venue is packed with almost twenty thousand screaming adoring fans, the light show is spectacular, fog on stage, screens hanging from the ceiling, a disk jockey on rotating stage pumping auto tune lyrics. Only this isn't a rock concert, it's a Tableau conference. The main attraction isn't U2, but instead, developers on stage. Like, real developers.

As I sat in the VIP section of this phenomenon, once again I'm struck by how engaged this audience is, I mean it's a tech conference! Aren't all the presenters supposed to be at least slightly boring while most attendants check out and look at their Facebook feeds on their mobile phones while simultaneously checking office email? What's probably more fascinating to me is that as new features are announced, the audience is ecstatic, even when I've seen these same features in other products years (and at least in one case a decade) earlier? How can a group of people be so mesmerized and excited about functionality that has existed elsewhere for ten years? The answer came in a conversation I had with Tableau CEO Adam Selipsky. 

I mentioned to him that many companies have a Tableau strategy, creating products to specifically compete with Tableau. “Who are you competing with?” I asked. “What competitive products are you releasing?” His answer was simple and profound: "I don't run my business that way, we listen to the customer and give them what they want and need."

That one statement says a lot, and it explains a lot as well. In that one statement, Adam has provides the blueprint to not only a tech business but any business.

Know Your Customer

There are many tools in the marketplace that enable us to know our customers. Some companies, such as Netflix, do a marvelous job of using analytics to know their customers.  Their original content is successful because it's based on data gathered with the intent to know their customers.  

Too many companies make almost no attempt to know their customers. It's why my LinkedIn inbox is full of people telling me what they do, but neglecting to ask any questions to ascertain whether I am a potential customer.

Prior to Tableau, many BI and OLAP tool firms focused on the technical user—the developer, the architect, the designer—but not so much the end-user, such as the marketing person or finance clerk who would actually use the tool.

Listen to Your Customer

It's been said that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason, we should listen twice as much as we talk. This includes our customers. It is reported that around 90% of features in software go unused. I've personally seen development teams that judge their success on the number of features delivered. Those same teams don't have a metric on the number of features used.

Doing something for the sake of doing something isn't usually a good way of running anything. Learn to listen to your customers. This is applicable at all levels including, help desks, BI teams, DBAs. All of us could probably stand to listen better to the people we serve.

Respond to Your Customer

It doesn't do any good to know the customer and listen to them but not do anything about it. A puppy can listen to your problems and sympathize, but it isn’t going to bring your girlfriend back, nor is it going to give you a 12-step program to get you through the pain. We need to be responsive and act on the info we get from our customers. In two words, DO SOMETHING.

In this high tech world of cloud computing, big data, AI and personalized user experiences, it's easy to forget the simple, less technical things that still work. We are all human beings with the same needs as our prehistoric ancestors, such as the need to be heard and responded to. Some things don’t change. 

The reason Tableau users are so excited and engaged is that they know they are being heard. They know someone is listening. The reason they become ecstatic over a new feature that I may have used five years prior is because it's the first time they've seen it. New to you is new, no matter how old it is. It was new because of who they were listening to. The customer’s ear was tuned to the person that was tuned to them. Just like the old paper cups and wire communication, we're only listening to one voice and what that voice has to say.

In this sense, it doesn't matter if you are first to market, just learn how to be first to YOUR market, YOUR customer.  That means know who they are, listen to them and respond to their needs. In your quest to be an industry leader keep one thing in mind: the path to that greatness is lead by, created by, and consumed by your customers. So act accordingly!

DeWayne Washington

DeWayne Washington is a senior consultant with 20+ years of experience in BI and Analytics in over 2 dozen verticals. He is the author of the book More About DeWayne Washington