I recently co-authored an industry report for marketing managers that probably won’t appeal to you unless you’re managing paid search-marketing campaigns. But since you’re spending most of your time creating software, you may be interested to know that even marketing people can tell the difference between software companies that have adopted agile development practices and those that haven’t.
The report, entitled “The 2010 PPC Management and Optimization Report,” was produced by PPC Summit. It is really a buyer’s guide, but it also has a lot of analysis and identifies a number of trends about pay-per-click marketing. One of the things that struck me as the principal analyst was how obvious agile development practices are becoming to the average business consumer.
Most of these non-technical observers talk about agile development in terms of its effect. They’re noticing that some platform providers are rolling out releases every two weeks while others are rolling out releases maybe one or twice per year. The paid search platform providers who have adopted agile development practices are seen as more in tune with customer requirements and also more in tune with Google’s constant modifications to its algorithms.
The difference in release schedules is affecting software provider preferences and, ultimately, sales.
Agile development is also affecting customer loyalty. No one wants to be aligned with a dinosaur, particularly when the part of the industry you’re working in is moving at light speed.
Customer loyalty also plays out in terms of customer requirements. Since the dawn of software, users have always had something to say about how it could be improved. The difference is, more agile tools and platforms are allowing companies to more easily adopt and prioritize customer requests if not transform them into stories.
Some of the marketers interviewed for the report were flattered and impressed that their platform vendors were actively listening to them, and even more impressed when the vendor had morphed one or more of their requests into product features. For the less egotistical, the new features were the sign of a good and dedicated business partner. For the narcissists, it was like a Windows 7 commercial. “I’m a PPC (marketing manager) and I invented [my favorite platform vendor].”
The companies getting the most praise were mostly the new companies with considerable venture funding. That’s not an absolute, though. There was one privately funded company whose CEO had been named by at least half of his customers for responding to some requests late at night, even though he has a decent-sized staff. He’s actively soliciting input, as are some of the venture-funded companies, and this CEO is offshoring like crazy to remain competitive. Customer happiness is his goal, and who knows what the market wants better than customers?
Finally, agile development practices are being viewed as a form of customer support, particularly as it relates to product features. Customers are asking for things, and vendors are delivering. It’s like asking where a package is and getting a quick answer. Of all the things vendors are judged on, support rates No. 1. The human element above all things shapes the lifetime value of customer relationships, at least among the people interviewed for the report. Features are nice, price is nice, but in the end, if you don’t have a partner you can rely on, the rest doesn’t matter all that much.
In my mind, it’s definitely a sign of the times when once-esoteric software disciplines become something your kid sister might notice. It’s called market maturity. Sure, market maturity is theoretically predictable, but still, it’s fascinating to watch how trends actually unfold in different industries. Like the butterfly effect, a developer taps his keyboard, and on the other side of the world, a customer smiles, knowing her idea has been commemorated in software.
Lisa Morgan is a contributing writer to SD Times, and is also the founder of Strategic Rainmakers, a marketing consulting company.