Letting the User Take Control

SugarCon spotlighted a kit of positive results that come from building an ecosystem, and by being part of an ecosystem. The most evident manifestation of that may have been the App Throwdown, in which six SugarCRM partners presented really neat new integrations – the kinds of things that made you sit up and think, “I could use that – now!” They weren’t locked into a SugarCRM walled garden; a couple of the integrations are available on other CRM platforms as well. But they all benefitted from the user-partner-vendor ecosystem that Sugar helped cultivate.

They got to show their stuff on the main stage in front of a panel of tough judges: Paul Greenberg, Brent Leary, Esteban Kolsky, Denis Pombriant and SugarCRM’s CTO Clint Oram. John Mertic, SugarCRM’s community manager, coordinated the pre-screening, choosing six from a large field of applicants, and those that made the cut surprised (and, at times, shocked) the judging panel with the cleverness, creativity and underlying business practicality of the entrants.

Here’s John himself, with his impressions of the event:

Last week at SugarCon we had an event that has become a pretty darn memorable one for me, the first ever Sugar App Throwdown. What we did is give six folks from across our technology partner community, whether ISV, VAR, or third-party developers, a chance to showcase the amazing applications they have built to make Sugar users more productive. And we had acclaimed industry analysts there giving feedback on what they saw, tweeting and blogging away on the innovation they were seeing in front of them.

But it wasn’t your run of the mill demo stage. We gave each presenter three minutes to show off his or her app. For those product managers that are reading this, you are probably thinking we were nuts. “There’s no way you can give an effective demo in three minutes!” they’d cry. And yes, I know that, and made it that way on purpose for two really good reasons:

  • We didn’t want to bore everyone with six demos stretching across 2+ hours. Even if there were one or two really compelling presentations, the other four would put the audience to sleep in a heartbeat.
  • We didn’t want product demos, we wanted user experience demos.

Let me breakdown that last one a bit more. How many times have you gone through a demo of an app that was showing a solution, but never identified the problem? Or even worse, a problem was identified, but the solution lacked practicality, as if they invented a problem to sell a product. We didn’t want that. We instead challenged each person showing off their application to structure the demo as less of a product demo, but more as showing how what they built enhances the user experience. We wanted to not only show that what they produced was “cool,” but also relevant to the average user.

Contactually’s Tony Cappaert demos at the App Throwdown. Jan Sysmans, the Emcee, and judges Paul Greenberg, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, Esteban Kolsky and Clint Oram look on.

What’s the big takeaway for this event? I see two things:

  • The user is the focus, bar none. You sell to management but the user determines the success or failure of the implementation, so you might as well save everyone’s time and solve the problem for the true decision maker (i.e. the user ), lest you find yourself product replaced.
  • The ecosystem is your best asset.

Again, I don’t want to gloss over that last statement. The end-user-to-software relationship, no matter how hard vendors try to make the best decisions for them, always boils down to a square-peg-in-a-round-hole dilemma, which leaves the user pounding the peg in there and dealing with the gaps. Why not instead give them the chisel and wood filler to make it fit cleanly? Why not let people who have solved problems that are outside your core use case solve them? And even better, why not promote the fact that they have? All of these things are assets to your users and help build a community. The goal is to do this less around a monolithic product that does just OK for everyone, but instead by trying to grow partnerships with everyone (users, developers, software providers ) to solve problems and make people successful.

When we did the Sugar App Throwdown, it wasn’t about just ourselves, or just our ISV/VAR/developer partners, or just our users, but it was about all three together. None of us were throwin’ it down alone, but throwin’ it down together. And that’s what a successful community is all about.

One thought on “Letting the User Take Control

  1. Pingback: Is the End User the End-All and the Be-All? | Levementum's Blog: "The Open Source Pragmatist"

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