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Are you doing A/B Testing for your Hypothesis Validation?

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As promised earlier, this post talks about how A/B can significantly help in increasing your app’s conversion/sign up rate.

Let’s see how we can leverage A/B testing for increasing Mobile App downloads:

What is A/B testing?

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“Take the guess work out of the equation” – Mahuya 

What is A/B Testing?

It’s a powerful technique that allows one to test and experiment with simple UI changes or complex flows and features.  The end goal of this exercise is to determine which version is best or ‘works’ with clear and actionable insights. In short, it is the thin line between “we think” to “we know”.

It is one of the user research technique that is applicable for late stage projects, where you have fair amount of knowledge on the problem but you need more objective & quantitative data to base your decision.  

Here’s a visual representation of the various User Research techniques & where A/B testing falls:

Overwhelmed? Well, the good news is you don’t necessarily have to use all of these techniques in one go.  Depending on the maturity of the product & the kind of insight(s) you are looking for, you would need to decide on the relevant technique(s).

Wondering, how can you benefit from A/B Testing?

  • If driven by analytics, it can accurately measure actual human behavior under real situations
  • If the sample size is good, it can measure very small performance differences with high statistical significance
  • It helps to resolve product capability trade-offs with factual data
  • And oh! Did we mention that it’s cheap? It is actually!

So, how do you do it?

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – Leonardo da Vinci

If we had to put it simply, A/B testing starts with 2 versions of a prototype. Then you find real users to take the test. This obviously results in sample split and the behavior is recorded. The real time findings are then used to proceed to the next step in the product funnel. Ideally, the process should have the following basic plan of action:

  • Form a testable hypothesis with clear goals which can be analytically measured
  • Identify the testable variables
  • Test by user segment
  • Test visitor flow with a goal of measuring which screen drives the greatest impact on retention (i.e., less drop off)
  • Look for patterns and quick wins

Here’s an A/B Variations for a non-software product to determine which variation of the jacket will be more relevant for dogs to use during winter:

If you are curious to know how A/B testing can significantly increase software product usage, sales with real world examples & tools that experts swear by, then stay tuned for the next edition!

Roadmap – Do you Need to Make a ‘U’ turn?

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As Product Managers, we all may have come across fellow comrades showing complicated probabilistic or deterministic prioritization algorithms based on weighted factors like velocity, revenue impact, resources, complexity of features, customer acceptance etc. They might have also thrown in a macro-laced spreadsheet for good measure. And all because of coming up with the Holy Grail of “Product Roadmap”. Just to be clear, this is coming from us, not as victims but as accused as well.

So what exactly is a Product Roadmap? It all starts with a Product Strategy. If we don’t have a Product Strategy, then the Product Roadmap ends up being just a grocery list of inane features. An ideal Product Roadmap is like a story that has a beginning, middle and an end but with the end goal of realizing the vision we all have spelled out in the Product Strategy.

How is Product Roadmap done in most of the time as opposed to how it should be done?

We would like to conclude by admitting that building a solid Product Roadmap is indeed a challenging and intimidating task – one that would require right and left brain to work in tandem.  Products sell when the customer sees the value that gets translated into a product to solve a problem.  And at the center of this is the Product Roadmap that starts with a clear business vision along with a believable canvas explaining the customer and market forces.  

The Cross Connection: UI / UX

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Three Letter Acronyms (TLA) are here to stay and will make our lives as clichéd as it can be, but it’s the other, often used TLA that is even more confusing. We are referring to the Two Letter Acronym (TLA Again!). Once such “TLA Again” is UI (User Interface) and the other one is UX (User Experience).  Though both are connected and mutually inclusive, they are different. While UI is the space where interactions occurs between humans and a product; UX is how a human perceives something that is visual and has cognitive connotations.

Let’s look at the differences using a very simple example.

 

“User Experience is RELATIVE & CONTEXTUAL” – Mahuya

User Experience is multidisciplinary in the sense that it has been influenced by other disciplines such as graphic design, psychology, research and anthropology.  This of course is not exhaustive. But more often than not, UX is perceived to be just interface design and visual design. Typically, information design comes before interaction design and interaction design comes before visual design.

Let’s see how UX can make a person who prefers cookies with his/her coffee, really smile with delight.

As you can see, the thought process, visual strengths and design principles involved in creating the above product need both a UX Designer and a UI Designer. They all tie in together to create an unforgettable user experience that succeeds in taking a functional product to the next level.

Interestingly, a good UX can exist with a bad UI and vice versa. But it is extremely important to understand the difference between UI and UX as this is where innovation actually gets delivered.

Connecting the Pixels

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“User Experience is about reducing friction for the user to use the product/service and providing contextual information quickly” – Mahuya

1. Avoid use of colors in your wire-frame

Colors can be very powerful yet distracting.  If you must use color, use it wisely.  Focus on the user interaction and overall experience that you want to take feedback on.  Ensure that your discussion is not getting trapped into visual design.

2. Consistency is must

Wire-frames are meant to facilitate your discussion not cause distraction. Therefore, consistency is must.  Ensure consistency in typography, spacing, alignment and icons that you use in the wire-frames.

3. Use Demo Content

Demo content will surely help you tell the story better and also help the users relate to the wire-frame faster – hence, they would be able to provide adequate contextual feedback.

4. Don’t get attached to your wire-frames

Don’t get too emotionally attached to your wires – with rapid ideation, we must be willing to entertain change and pivot often.

5. Don’t be in hurry!

Start wire-framing and validation process early on.  We recommend that you start at least one release ahead so that you have enough data points to decide the best user experience.

There are many in the market but our favourites are the following prototyping and design collaboration tools (they also offer free plans/trials):

People often ask if we must have a huge travel budget to meet users for conducting usability research – well, not always!

Here are some platforms to find remote users and carry out your usability research:

Here’s our favourite UX Research note taking application:

We hope these simple wire-framing practices and easy to use tools help you to design an awesome experience for your product through rapid wire framing.

We would love to hear from you – let us know how it goes!

Re-Imagining Innovation Through Design Thinking

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The pressure to innovate and grow for companies is becoming relentless but the battle to tackle it is most often uninspired. A certain level of predictability and efficiency may be good for today’s bottom-line but is bad for tomorrow’s but thankfully there is a shift under-way in large corporations. This shift puts design at the center of the enterprise. More than aesthetics, this design-centric approach is for innovation, brand-building, service design, and the creation of meaningful customer experiences.

Big organisations across the globe are using ‘Design Thinking’ principles to innovate & build user-centric applications/services to ‘wow’ customers & stay competitive in the market.  Here are few examples of changing organizational mindset.

In comes, Design Thinking approach, built on a foundation that addresses user empathy, prototyping discipline, quick failures and iteration. We Conducted a Design Thinking Workshop to address the digital innovation mandate most people/organizations face today. The workshop provided an overview of the growing importance of “Design Thinking”, and presented the “UX Imperative” for creative problem solving.

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Frictionless Buying Experience for B2B SaaS Products

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If you are still writing checks to buy software, then read on. This is just for you! Most companies would now cringe at the thought of putting a check into an envelope and posting it. It is not surprising that some companies still do it but thankfully B2B SaaS product companies are making it easier. To think of it, orthodox buying methods do not make sense for purchasing SaaS products. You would agree that buying B2B SaaS products should be as simple as using the product itself.

We all are so familiar with e-commerce platforms that we expect the “Buy” button to provide the same buying experience even for B2B applications. And why Not? Google and Twitter are now letting you buy indirectly from search or from a Tweet respectively. That’s the kind of seamlessness and simplicity organizations expect when buying B2B products.

New age businesses demand new-age sales methods. It is absolutely important to create a frictionless buying mechanism to allow prospects become customers.

One of the most important reasons for the sky-rocketing popularity of B2B SaaS products is their ease of buying compared to traditional on-premise software products. Organizations are not at all comfortable with on-premise applications that have long lock-in period, expensive upgrade process and the fear that it will sunset over a period of time. B2B SaaS products score highly on the following:

  • Inexpensive and flexible subscriptions plans
  • Ease of configuration and use
  • Use till needed (with no long-term commitment)

However, the Buyer’s Journey for some B2B SaaS companies is still dotted with ambiguity. If the journey needs to be simple and seamless, then it requires clear-cut strategy that entails simplifying the process from first contact till first billing cycle to subscription renewal. This is true not just for new customers but even for existing ones.

Frictionless Trial Conversions

Free trials are the most popular way of onboarding new customers or prospects. The mere fact that prospects are able to try out a version of the product to see if it fits their business need is enough to appeal to the buyers. And in some cases, the icing on the cake is that the trial is free, easy and quick to use with no commitment and marginal interaction with sales team.

Free trial is not a magic wand that works by itself. It can bring some traction but cannot guarantee conversion if the prospects are not nurtured till they become paying customers. Each of the phases of trial should be designed carefully to work their magic. The following figure illustrates one of the engaging ways to make the buying process as simple as possible.

Different trial strategies work for different products. For some, trial access to a full working version for a limited time works. While for others, a toned down version is enough to pique the interest of prospects. It takes some time to study and find out what works best for your product.

Seamless Payment Mechanism

Whatever be the trial strategy, at any point, the buyer should be able to upgrade without having to go through the lengthy negotiation process that includes, complex pricing plans and contracts. This step of the buyer’s journey is the most important one and keeping is as seamless and frictionless makes or breaks the entire experience. To keep interaction with sales as minimal as possible, the pricing model and structure should be simple and transparent. This is opposed to making it look like a labyrinth of hidden costs.

Selling (and buying) Never Stops

Existing customers are as important as acquiring new ones and that’s why the B2B SaaS companies should also give considerable focus on upsell as this plays a significant part in revenue growth. If the value provided by the product is huge, which warrants the needs for buying additional licenses, then the buying process should be as low touch as possible. This frees up the sales team’s time to focus on new wins.

When we say low touch, it should ideally not entail any calling or emailing but as simple as single-clicking on the “Buy More Value” button to get more licenses. This way, both the customer and you as a B2B SaaS company are happy.

All said and done, it is absolutely important to analyze the entire buying process to find and eliminate impediments that slow it down. Fine-tuning this step of the buyer’s journey will ultimately justify all the effort that went into creating the SaaS product.

Design Thinking + Customer Community = Social Innovation

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When competition tries to decimate companies, the only thing that stands between them and annihilation is customers. We mean loyal customers! It costs roughly 5X more to acquire a new customer than it does to generate recurring and new revenues from an existing happy and loyal customer. Not only do these happy customers give more business but they also are responsible for referring others. A recent survey corroborated the fact when 75% of the respondents admitted that 20% of their new business came from current customers (Source: Loyalty360.) Customers are important. Listening to them is very important. Making customers engage and talk is of utmost importance. Period!

When customers have the option of switching between any of the B2B SaaS product, it is important to engage them by opening channels of communication. And what better way to open up the dialogue than Customer Communities. Did you know that support costs can be significantly reduced by having a customer community? And that’s just a start.

It’s given that the more active your community members are, the more actively they would be using your products. B2B SaaS products companies can just build a customer community and forget about it. But would it work?

Nothing works by itself. Community engagement can be encouraged through regular blog posts, videos, webinars and sharing product tips and this will allow customers to engage and discuss how the application is being used differently but efficiently. It is this sense of being engaged that brings ownership and customers take pride to invest in the discussion. Needless to say, it leads to churn reduction & higher NPS score.

We are not going to lay down the guidelines on how to create a customer community, as it’s a tried and tested formula. But there’s more to these communities than brand building and customer service. What we shall be focusing on would be using design thinking to nurture a culture of innovation in a customer community.

With lightning fast product cycles, widening market and access to smart people, it doesn’t take much time to either jump into the B2B SaaS product foray or lose an existing competitive advantage. What really can stand the test of time are product innovations.

Accidental or strategic innovation may or may not come from inside and that’s why product companies should look beyond the traditional and tribal knowledge fountain head and make it an open and collaborative process. Customer communities are one of the ways to integrate customer insights and feedback into a continuous innovation loop. B2B SaaS products companies can de-risk their product value hypothesis by:

  • Exploration of the current situation and framing the challenge (the “What is)
  • Generating new possibilities for growth and innovation (the “What if)
  • Testing assumptions and refining and prototyping the concept (the “What wows)
  • Enrolling customers to shape it into something that can be executed (the “What works)

This approach makes product companies to shift from exploration mode (the “unknown unknowns”) to collaborative problem solving mode (the “known unknowns”). When a design thinking approach is applied strategically in a customer community, it can definitely foster a “way of life” of innovation. These phased approach of running with an idea; validating and prototyping it; failing and trying again can help product companies get demand insights, design insights and system insights and these insights are the ones that lead to the discovery and co-creation of a path breaking innovation. To give credence to this fact, there are myriad case studies on how Tableau and TriNet innovates together with its customer community or how Starbucks reinvented itself based on innovative ideas from its customer community.

Given the level of ambiguity and uncertainty associated with certain innovations, it requires utmost care to incorporate design-thinking approach to see patterns in creativity in the customer communities. Like in most cases, some of the innovations can be serendipitous and some may come through a managed innovation process. Nurturing a customer community facilitates interplay between external (i.e. customer) perspectives and the product company’s capabilities. We need to put in a caveat that not all ideas generated by a customer community can pass muster on the grinding wheels of strategic innovation.

Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and Clayton Christensen would surely disagree with the above hypotheses but their polarizing statements cannot discount the importance of customer communities and how they can be used to break the four walls by solving problems with an emphasis on need identification (through ethnography for instance), visualization (through storytelling), prototyping, validation and iteration.

From Lame-storming to Design-storming

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We’ve got a lot of offline requests after we wrote “Design Thinking: The Continuum of Innovation” asking us to elaborate more on the Design Thinking Approach – so, here you go!

The concepts of Design Thinking are extremely useful in creating new products or enhancing an existing offering. It is equipped to provide a multidimensional solution by considering human-centric experiences that add and provide value.

Mahuya Ghosh

The first step of the process involves discovering the particular problem and associating it to relevant and concrete experiences. This leads to the research phase wherein we try to analyze and understand the underlying issues and complexities of the problem. The idea is to start with in-depth research with special emphasis on understanding the nature of the problem and studying human behavior. This helps us build out our observations.

After the observations have been collated, the next important phase of synthesis kicks in. This is the phase wherein; we start converging on different ideas and start to develop them further. This process transforms the ideas from abstract world and then synthesizes them to identify insights and areas of opportunity in the real world. This results in a vision that would ultimately serve as a platform for the final concept generation.

The vision based ideas from synthesis phase needs to be bounced off others. This is what the reflection phase is all about.  As the stakeholders reflect on the ideas, contradictions emerge and help in discovering new elements that were not seen or observed before.

The penultimate phase is Launch 1.0. This involves placing small bets having short feedback loops. This is in line with the last phase of evolution wherein heavy iterations take place. We start listening to users, prototype, fail early and then pick up the pieces and launch again.

Design thinking based Product Management involves executing a combination of design, development and content creation to bring a product to the market. It is an on-going process of testing, refining, creating an optimized plan to analyze performance and fine-tuning, till the final product hits the market. Having reached the final product launch, the product manager would have sufficiently tried, tested, failed and re-tried to make the product or solution in line with what the actual users needs (not what buyers’ just want)

Mapping out a Buyer’s Journey in SaaS World

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When it comes to B2B SaaS products, optimizing the revenue growth is the most difficult job for sales and marketing. Set aside the pipelines, funnels and all sales related plumbing and what you have is an unpredictable buyer behavior. We should note that the Buyer’s Journey is often non-linear and that’s because there has been shift from selling to buying, proliferation of connected devices to allow social interaction and channel agnostic behavior.

Pipelines and funnels always existed in the sales cycle and organizations still rely on them for revenue growth predictability. But in reality, the concepts of pipeline and funnels should be relegated to plumber’s toolboxes (no offence to Plumbers). There are many variables at play that affect visibility to buyers and that’s why the entire buyer’s journey needs to be reimagined to get insights into sales predictability. Now you’d ask as to what changed? Quite a lot in fact! For instance, we cannot rely on past history of customers buying pattern and that the existing paradigm of buying experience is out of sync with the non-linear journeys taken by the buyers of today. These are few of the variables that impacts traditional or conventional sales or marketing channels (not an exhaustive list but you get the drift).

Transformation of buyer’s journey is the wake-up call that is making organizations sit up and go for B2B SaaS product buyer experience redesign. The broad categories of halts that a buyer takes in their journey from being a casual prospect to the time they are on-boarded are full of uncertainties. Design thinking approach is ideal to minimize these uncertainties and in some cases, eliminate them entirely.

At all stages of Awareness, Research, Try and Buy, a combination of information and nurturing is required to bring home the deal. One of the reasons for crisis in confidence in Awareness, Research and Try phases is that the content marketing success is measured by how much content is produced and distributed in the shortest amount of time instead of how effective it is at facilitating sales.

Even before marketers start drawing up a list of the various targeted content that is required for each phase, they should make sure that the content adheres to the tenets of “Experience Marketing” in the following sense:

  • Be Human: The tone of the content should be human, real; using conversational language over formal tone.
  • Go Visual: Making use of visual content like videos, visual notes and infographics over plain text to focus on value propositions being demonstrated over told.
  • Curate and Fine-Tune: Experiment and experiment regularly with the content. If needed, make A/B Testing part of your daily content marketing mantra.
  • Be Agile: Take feedback and constantly improve the content & landing page design.

The very first step starts with the buyer realizing that they want a change to fix an issue. This is where they recognize the pain points and come to terms with the fact that the existing impasse needs to be broken for proceeding to the next step.

The buyer now explores the options that exist to solve the issue and then shortlists potential solution providers. Design Thinking should kick into this phase by justifying the investment. This justification is not the feature-set but the quantified indicators of the value that the solution brings to impact bottom-line and ROI. Sellers bring out your crayons and start storytelling to drive home the value.

Design Thinking approach for the Try and Buy phase is extremely important for conversions and sustained revenue inflow. Some of the things (but not limited to) that we feel are important for these phases are the ones that may be seemingly small at the face of it but are real value-additions since they make the approach human-centric.

For instance, the website landing page of a B2B SaaS application is just like the reception area of a restaurant. If it clicks for the customer, then they will have an enjoyable evening and would even come back. If the landing page is a put off, then we have seen the last of that customer. Testimonials are like you are talking about your product but through the face of a credible customer. They are more important than stock marketing images or even whitepapers.

Entice your prospects with targeted value propositions and just when they are ready to be hooked, present the “Trial Registration” page. In B2B SaaS landscape, trust is a huge factor: Trust that you are delivering what your product promises so profusely in your marketing materials, trust that customer-support exists and trust that the actual product is as good as the trial looks. The focus should be on making the registration process as simple as it can get by asking very basic information.

Next dimension is on deciding how long should the trial be: 14 days, 30 days or 60 days. We would not go into details of what is the right duration of trial as it is a topic in itself that has no right answer or formula. Simply put, it depends on the nature and complexity of the product and the sales cycle.  Another variable to consider is whether you are using the “Trial” as a lead generation tool or a lead conversion tool.If you are using the “Trial” as a lead generation tool and believe that 14 days is what it would take for a prospect to evaluate your product – then that’s your answer!

Once the prospect logs into the trial, you should start the show. Based on the profile of the prospect, the trial should create a seamless and ‘wow’ first impression showcasing the value proposition of the application. Context sensitive help, Jeeves like application Butler and helpful but non-intrusive overlays are some of the things that create this ‘wow’ factor. All through the phases, it is absolutely important that communication is in a form that nurtures the relationship but then there is a thin line between the right level of communication and spamming.

Handling the Buyer’s Journey is an art that not many can master and that’s why there should always be a feedback loop to tweak and fine-tune the content delivery. For instance do you think that a SaaS product would benefit if they changed the call to action from a focus on payments to a focus on value and convenience? It’s actually a very good idea to constantly take feedback from customers so that the product messaging and the product itself can be bettered over time.

The idea is to reimagine your Buyer’s Journey by treating it as a set of personas, using visual storytelling and even ethnography approaches. There is no correct or single method to create the best journey but a framework should exist for understanding it so that a targeted strategy can be devised for the engagement touch-points. And that’s a tall order!