To-business software: design your system for content contributors

Design software for business is complicated. It will involve lots of roles in target company.

For example, I worked in a software company to build and sell Business Intelligence software to enterprises. Normally there are the following roles in our target company:

  • CXOs: normally who make the final buy decision
  • Normal content consumers: most users belong to this category, who normally only read BI dashboard daily and do light analysis on those dashboards.
  • Content producers: normally data analysis will produce the BI dashboards for “norma content consumers”
  • Content contributors: A very small percent of “content producers”, who want to share the best practice (what they learn, how they do, what can be improved) back to our company, to other company.

Normally, it is a trap to make you think you should design business software for CXOs, as they are the final decision maker. But for ToB software, it is not a one-time decision, if you want to make longer business, you need to consistently provide value to your customers. If the content producers & content consumers are not satisfied with you product, you will still lose later.

For to-customer company, they are very eager to build platform, build ecosystem. As they know, the strength of one company is very limited, but it can leverage other people and other company’s strength, and finally build a huge business empire. This is also true for to-business company, if you only sell your own software to other company, then, you are disconnect with what customer do with your software, then, you need to consistently enhance your software by yourself, which is hard and which is slow.

But what if there are a lot of people help you improve your system, build other systems over your system, and educate their friends to use your system. This will make your company becomes much larger and much faster than what it looks like. This looks amazing, and who will make this happens: Content Contributors.

How to please content contributors

1. Content contributors are your power users, when you design a functionality, please also consider for your power users.

  • Provide consist APIs, so that power users can integrate your system into their workflows, their automations.
  • Provide extention points, plugin system. So that your power user can extend your functionalities themselves
  • When design some step-by-step GUI for “dumb users”, please also provide some advanced way, for example, power user can directly edit the JSON text instead of click several buttons.

2. Make easier communications. Normally, when content contributors want to provide some improve suggestion, he need to contact a Customer Support or Product Manager, but the number of CS/PM is very limited, so, there will be lots of improvements pile up, and it will never be done. Even CS/PM will finally report back the suggestion to Engineering, the information is lost a lot. And this is even bad for power users, since for power users, they are more familiar with our product, much better than our Customer Support employee. And once power user’s suggestion are ignored, they will not want to provide any feedback later. So, what need to improve this:

  • Build a community discussion forum, for example, by using https://github.com/discourse/discourse. So that brilliant ideas will accumulate and propagate there.
  • Product owners can book some zoom meetings at fix time every week, so power users can talk with you when needed.
  • Invite content consumers to your company’s office, and introduce them to your developers, so that when they later use your software, it will connect peoples.

3. Bring recognition and honor to your content contributor.

  • Make a market place for people to share their solutions, their plugins, so that your product will becomes more valuable, even without any core product changes.
  • Do recognize content contributors’ contribution to your product, for example, written them in your release note. Invite them to give a public talk about their great ideas.
  • Send them some small gifts to make them you remember them, like T-Shirts with your product’s logo, like certificate of merit, etc.

So, think about start to design your system for Content Contributors.

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