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This chapter is from the book

Truth in Use

During the research for this book, I interviewed Ben Edwards, who is IBM’s vice president, digital strategy. Edwards described one of the most important tools for activating activists today in selling almost anything: Truth in use.

Consider the fact that buyers no longer solely consider slick collateral and spec sheets to be the tools to evaluate a purchasing decision. Buyers want to be part of an experience, not just fed information. The experience itself matters: how simple, how beautiful, how interactive.

In other words, the buying experience is now in the product or brand manager’s realm—the product must speak for itself.

The changing expectation has prompted marketers in both business and consumer markets to adapt quickly. For example, automaker Chevrolet introduced a “love it or return it” policy in the American market in 2012, which grants buyers of a new car a 60-day trial period. The car can be returned within that trial period if the customer is dissatisfied. Money-back guarantees are common with consumer purchases, but never before had a fast-depreciating asset such as an automobile come with no strings attached.

In talking about IBM’s opportunities with Edwards, he emphasized the importance of try and buy to the future of software and online services. Edwards mentioned trends such as the consumerization of IT, where end-user expectations of how computers should operate are set based on their access to and experience directly with more software as a consumer. Users then bring that experience to their business environment, demanding easy-to-deploy solutions with low barriers to entry. They also seek the ability to try software out first to evaluate it and then move quickly to a buying decision in as few clicks as possible.

Truth in use demands a change in product management. The product manager needs to be more attuned to word-of-mouth marketing as a desired result of the use of their product. Requirements may be driven not just by the benefit of the product itself but by how naturally it lends itself to advocacy from a buyer, publicly or internally.

Try and buy consumers are natural advocates for the solutions they purchase. They are personally invested in the success of their buying decision and seek to validate those purchases. Upselling or cross-selling opportunities can naturally be presented to these champions, who already have experienced the ease of doing business with your organization.

An important opportunity with satisfied try and buy customers is reference selling. Potential buyers, as every product manager knows, can be influenced by customer references. During my IBM career, I have used the principles of a sales methodology called “solution selling,” which focuses on pain points experienced by potential customers and how the product or service on offer can solve those pains.

As a product manager, the typical customer conversation instinctively gravitates toward features and capabilities. Solution selling advocates a discussion in the prospective customer’s language instead. One of the best ways to do so is to provide examples of how other customers have addressed their pains through purchase of the product or service. References thus take on a greater value when looked at in the context of a solution sale.

The social product manager has the opportunity to become a more active champion of both reference stories and potential reference customers. Because the main value to potential references is their recognition for making a positive purchase decision, highlighting such references through social media can increase the payback, while also accelerating influence.

During the writing of this chapter, I tweeted a link to an IBM customer case study that had just been published. That tweet was retweeted several times, but I also received a surprising reply, shown in Figure 6.1.

Figure 6.1

Figure 6.1. Developing a reference.

The partner organization that had submitted the reference story responded only a few hours after the tweet had been published. One simple broadcast had positively reinforced their decision to submit a reference story, and increased their influence as well as mine as a product manager.

In Chapter 7, “Tools of the Trade,” I further examine the various channels that the social product manager can utilize to engage with the marketplace.

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