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That’s Our Strategy?

The company I’d joined had just been acquired, and our new corporate overlords had seen fit to promote an Australian guy to Vice President. It was his job to take charge of [what was left of] our company — now a division of the org that bought us. They’d just laid off many of our peers. The remainder of our team post-acquisition was in need of some reassurance and leadership from our new captain. With the workforce scattered around the world, an in-person all-hands was impractical. We joined a web meeting, therefore, to hear his grand vision and strategy for our division.

After some introductions, he put up a slide with a picture of his kids. Overlaid on this image were four simple words: “easy easy happy happy.” Actually, that’s two words, each repeated. I thought: “This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. We were a publicly-traded enterprise software vendor. We had a bold strategy to build an end-to-end platform. And now we get trite slogans and cellphone pics of some guy’s kids?”

“I’m a simple man,” he said, continuing in his disarming Aussie accent. “I like simple things. And our simple thing is ‘easy easy, happy happy.’ If we make an easy product to sell, and if we’re an easy company to do business with, we’ll have happy partners and happy customers.” (I can still hear his accent in my head!)

There it was, our inspiring vision: Easy, easy. Happy, happy. I rolled my eyes, because I was in my 20s and I had an MBA, ergo I knew everything.

Turns out, he was entirely correct. It’s that simple. Here’s what I’ve learned as I’ve tried to apply this in every role since then and now in the businesses for which I’m responsible.

Easy Product to Sell

If your product/service/offering is easy to sell, that usually means a few things:

  • It’s easy to use
  • It’s [mostly] bug-free
  • It’s easy to understand
  • It’s priced well
  • It’s positioned well
  • It provides a great user experience
  • Its existing customers rave about it

Each of these is a separate discipline in and of itself, and there are master practitioners of each whom you can follow on Twitter and hear at conferences and listen to in podcasts. These various areas (user experience, quality assurance, pricing/positioning, case studies, etc.) are a part of nearly every business, yet they aren’t always considered in the aggregate: is this an easy product to sell, from every possible angle and as a total package?

Drew Houston, founder of Dropbox, introduced me to a new word via his brilliant Y Combinator application: orthogonal. As he used it, it means “in completely different directions” simultaneously and effectively. To be successful, Dropbox needed to execute orthogonally: equally well across different domains at the same time. The creation of nearly every great product or service has required a multi-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary effort. Marketing, sales, engineering, and finance — among others — all contribute to making your product, service, or offering an “easy product to sell.”

Are you executing well in all those areas? Is your product easy to sell?

Easy Company to Do Business With

To imagine what this means, it might be easier to imagine what it doesn’t mean. United throwing people off planes, sure. What about a website that requires an email address, phone number, credit card number, the name of your first-born, and a partridge in a pear tree in order to download a white paper? Or a company that makes you, a paying customer, wait on hold for thirty minutes on a toll line to resolve a problem with their product. I’m looking at you, Ziggo and more than one service company in the Netherlands.

When I first visited the Netherlands, the charming country where I now live, I learned this the hard way. Jetlagged and needing coffee, I stopped in a café one evening. The door was open, the lights were on, and I could almost taste the espresso.

Me: “Hi! Could I get an espresso to go?”

Barista: “Sorry, we’re closed.”

Me: “Closed? But your lights are on. When do you close?”

Barista: “6 pm.”

I showed him my phone. “But it’s only 5:45 pm!” Pulling out five euros and placing them on the counter, I said, “Look, I realize you’re about to close, but the lights are on, the doors are open, you’ve got coffee, and I’ve got money. Could you make me an espresso?”

“I can’t,” he said. “The machine is already cleaned and turned off.”

My voice went up two octaves. “But… why would you do that?”

He looked me right in the eye and said, “Because we’re closed.”

When I worked as a Starbucks barista back in the day, I was instructed to keep the door open until ten minutes after the posted closing time. Why? Because there were always those people who turned up late hoping to get a coffee, and the look of delight on their faces when they arrived five minutes after “closing” and still got their iced venti quad two-pump soy caramel macchiato showed the value of this policy.

You’re easy to do business with when you put your clients first. You’re easy to do business with when you align your processes with your customers’ needs, not vice versa. You’re easy to do business with when you proactively seek to reduce friction in every aspect of your interactions with your partners.

Are your policies designed to delight your customers, or are they about making your life easier? Are you an easy company to do business with?

tl;dr

Easy, easy, happy, happy. Make your products easy to sell. Become an easy company to do business with. When you do this, you’ll have — ahem — “happy pahtnahs and happy customahs.”

Matthew Miller is a Managing Partner of Biztory as well as the CEO of Northmark Software.

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