There are two questions I’ve gotten from prospects during product demos that made my heart sink in the past:

The first is “Can I export this to Excel?” Much as I love Excel, it’s a bummer when the first thing someone asks when you show them your analytics product is whether they can get the data into another tool. But that’s the game, and fortunately a CSV export is an easy feature to add if you haven’t already.

The second question is “Are you integrated with Salesforce?”

(Replace Salesforce in that sentence with Omniture, Hubspot, QuickBooks, Workday, PeopleSoft, Workday, Marketo, SAP or one of the other major digital “hubs” companies rely on and you get the same idea).

If your answer to their question is “no,” chances are it’s not a quick fix. Product integrations mean spinning up business relationships, learning your way around someone else’s API, having meetings…you’re looking at a more significant amount of work.

if your product doesn’t fit in with the systems your target customers depend on to run their business, then selling it will be an uphill struggle at best and futile at worst.

We know this, and yet it’s one of those mistakes that even experienced product managers make sometimes.

Ecosystem > Features

In my experience, it’s not that product managers are unaware of the importance of the ecosystem to our product’s viability. Rather, accounting for it is inconvenient.

Validating a widespread problem in your market is an exciting thing. We all want to “move fast and break things” when we find an opportunity. It’s what makes us lock ourselves in a conference room for a day or three. It turns out that delivery food, coffee, whiteboards, and product geeks mix really well together.

Unfortunately, systems integrations often require the opposite of moving fast. Even in the API-rich world we live in, you often still need credentials, approvals, and some information from the other site. That means getting people involved – you know, those inconvenient things that take weekends off, go on vacation, and answer emails slowly.

Involving other people and companies slows things down when you want to go fast and start building stuff and implementing the UX and features you dreamed up back in the conference room. And while rapid prototyping is great, those projects often have a way of becoming more resource-consuming than intended. (“Just another few weeks…hey, the demo got pushed, so now we can add x, y and z…we need another week for QA…“) When developers’ hands are on keyboards, everyone feels more productive…until you get the integration question and realize you spent a lot of cycles on the wrong things.

In B2B especially, suites win. Point solutions need to integrate with the systems of record for their part of the business to be viable.

Bottom line: However cool the features, if your product can’t stay in synch with the systems they count on, it’s just demoware. Slow down if you need to and account for the ecosystem. 


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