To live by the mantra "if you build it, they will come" is a dangerous gamble in the app world. With over 2 million apps in the app stores, competition is fierce -- over half of all apps aren't able to reach 1,000 downloads in their first year on the market. Yet that's exactly how most companies handle app development: a fragmented funnel that forces each team to work with very little communication between them. While the product suffers from this outdated method, it's the customer who ultimately pays the price.
After working with over 4,000 apps at Apptentive, a company that helps app publishers boost ratings and improve in-app communication, we've seen what development strategies do and don't work. And the companies leading their industries are putting their customers first by placing them at the center of their app development strategy.
If you want to see better outcomes, I suggest you ditch the delivery funnel and implement a people-first approach to app development. The result will be a better product that your customers will love. Here's how to transform your delivery funnel into a delivery chain:
The Funnel: In Its Current Form
The mobile app development process is complex, and there are many factors your team must consider before you start building. But the real problem -- and the reason so many apps fail -- is that the process of building most apps consists of a fragmented funnel, with each team operating as a silo.
Usually, the product team is at the top of the funnel. The product team consists of sub-teams, including user interface design, user testing, quality assurance, iOS, Android, etc. But even sub-teams get siloed. For example, UI designers might opt for what they think looks good versus what the user testing team has found is the best design, or teams may simply work non-concurrently, waiting for the preceding tier to "hand off" the product instead of working in tandem.
For many companies, the funnel stops there. Marketing and sales teams are usually involved only after development is complete. Consequently, the customer validation and market research done by marketing are never used to guide the app's development. And they are still responsible for app monetization. Unfortunately, most of the delivery budget may have already been spent on development, leaving the commercial teams to rely on cheap methods of organic customer acquisition.
Now we're at the bottom of the funnel; enter the customer success team. At this point, customers have had time to use and abuse the product, discovering bugs and design oversights. Customer success is left to react to these issues rather than working with the product team at the top of the funnel to prevent negative customer experiences.
The Chain: How to Transform Your Funnel
This funnel probably looks familiar to many companies. The challenge is in fixing the funnel and ridding the company of its existing silos.
Ideally, the customer sits at the core of the product delivery funnel. When the customer is the focus, the delivery funnel transforms into a delivery chain. In a delivery chain, each team is interwoven in a communication loop of constant collaboration. As a result, companies find a reduced workload, strengthened communication and accountability, shared ownership, and ultimately, a superior output.
Transform your delivery funnel to a delivery chain with this step-by-step process:
- Ideation: Bring marketing into the product planning process. Their market research and insight into customer behavior will help create a customer-centric product from the start.
- Validation: After ideation, prove there is customer demand for your idea before creating it through focus groups, customer advisory councils, participant questionnaires, surveys, etc.
- Reiteration: You've either proven or disproven customer demand for your product at this point. Use this time to act on negative feedback to align it with your customers wants and needs.
In a delivery funnel, subteams within the organization have different priorities and goals. In a delivery chain, all teams and individuals work towards the same goals and are evaluated on a set of associated metrics; which breaks down silos and increases efficiency.
Step 3: Restructure Internal Teams
There are many tactics you can use to restructure internal teams; figure out what makes the most sense for your specific organization. We recommend physically rearranging teams to bring certain departments close together to encourage more collaboration and communication. You can also create Tiger Teams--invented by NASA, Tiger Teams are comprised of senior-level leaders from each team who, when brought together, will provide a fresh perspective on all types of issues.
Step 4: Democratize Development & Operations
Bolster inter-team communication and accountability by making each team's roadmap, wins, losses, and metrics visible to the entire organization. By doing so, each employee is empowered because they can see how their individual responsibilities relate to the overall success of the project.
Step 5: Maintaining Feedback Loops for Continuous Improvement
Your product is a reflection of your entire business. Show your customers you are a people-first organization by incorporating clear channels for customer communication in your product. People-first means involving customers in every step of the process, from conception to post-launch. Think of it this way--it's not a process, it's a mentality. This mentality requires everyone to embrace the idea that they ultimately report to the customer. The idea is this: if you listen to your customers to design an app they love, revenue, downloads, and loyalty will follow suit.
It's important to remember the customer needs to be the guiding force in each link of the chain. Although you may have educated guesses, you don't always have the right answers when building an exceptional app. Fortunately, your customers do. All you have to do is make them co-creators in the process.
Robi Ganguly is the CEO of Apptentive, the easiest way for every company with an app to talk with their customers. Prior to Apptentive Robi worked at Yahoo! and built WebEx's pricing strategy. When he's not building Apptentive you can find Robi running, reading and on Twitter @rganguly.