• Ilkka Huotelin

Know Your Maximum Viable Product

Updated: Mar 31, 2021

In the start-up world one of the key targets for the new companies is to find a Minimum Viable Product – a solution that excites customers but with a minimum set of functionalities. Minimum because a start-up needs to be super focused, avoiding any unnecessary costs or diversions. And once there is traction, they add additional functionality to stay ahead of the competition.

My recent experience of searching for a new CRM solution for our company made me think of a Maximum Viable Product – a set of functionalities beyond which you should add nothing more.

We had been using a certain CRM provider for years. While we were not super excited about it, we had got used to it. And it was only when a mistake in one of their invoices had occurred and we had no way of correcting that we were prompted to look for alternatives.

While shopping around, I had found out that there were dozens of possible CRM providers for small companies. I had chosen a couple to try out. Signing up was easy, but getting started with the service turned up to be a nightmare. All we needed was a service that would allow us to keep track of our customer contacts and leads within the sales team. However, the providers offered an overwhelming number of features that, at the moment, were of no use to us. In addition, it was not easy to find a way of setting the dashboard so we could immediately see what is needed without every time going through several menus. The platforms offered lengthy video tutorials to learn about all the amazing features available. Watching the tutorials, however, required a substantial time investment on our side which we were not prepared to make. So, when our previous CRM provider had corrected the mistake in the invoice, we decided to revert back to their service. It is not the perfect one, but at least we do not waste time learning how to use it.

What could the CRM providers in question have done better?

To start with, they could have asked me a couple of simple questions during the signing up to assess the needs, so to display on the dashboard only what was relevant to me. Then, they could have had the additional items of less relevance offered in an expanded menu to avoid clutter, and once in a while promote them to me. Instead, they displayed all possible and irrelevant options, thinking they are offering more to the customer only to end up creating confusion.

Several studies show that when presented with too much choice, people tend to get overloaded and, in the end, choose nothing. When it comes to customer experience less is often more, and the simpler the better, provided such approach meets the customers’ needs.

How can companies know if they have exceeded the Maximum Viable Product threshold?

One of the ways is to study the usage of service. In case of digital products, it is fairly simple to see who uses which feature and how often. For other types of products, observing and surveying can provide the needed insights.

Typically, there are groups of customers that use the same subset of available features. These features can be bundled together. For those customers who need extra features, an ‘expert’ option can be made available. That some features are rarely, if at all, used, can mean they are either too difficult to find or are irrelevant to the service provided, in which case they should be dropped.

For customers, the cost of using a certain service is not only comes from its monetary payment but also from how much effort is extracted while trying to use it. It may sound counter intuitive, but companies should regularly check on the following: ‘Are we beyond the Maximum Viable Product threshold?’ If so, perhaps it is better to offer less in order to be more attractive to customers.

Ilkka Huotelin is the CEO and a co-founder of Be Customer Smart that helps companies to identify what drives customer satisfaction and loyalty using operational data and AI.

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