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🎉 No One is Coming to Your Feature Release Party

Why user activation is getting harder, and what product enablement teams can do about it
Jonathan Anderson
4
min read

From drama to drumbeat

Once, a feature release was an anticipated event. Would the annual release be a tremendous success? A colossal failure?

Today, the latest and greatest release barely registers.

What changed? Agile release cycles have helped software developers course-correct sooner, and there’s no resting on our laurels when the competition is releasing continuously too. The net effect is that we can churn out features at an unprecedented clip.

This speed should create more value for your users. But as anyone who has been dropped into a complex piece of software can attest, the ‘build forever’ strategy has its drawbacks.

As you expand your offerings to capture new users and newer use cases, you increase the likelihood that any incremental feature won’t meet your user’s core need. More is more until it’s too much.

This dynamic creates a tricky balancing act: Our drive for growth demands an ever-expanding feature set. But the more we build, the less well we can serve any individual user.

Our dramatic moment has become a drumbeat. And, that drumbeat is creating a lot of noise.

The race to first value

The feature-building balancing act boils down to this: It doesn’t matter what your products can do in theory. What matters is what an individual user can do with your product. Will she get to value before giving up?

The moment when a user first realizes your product’s value is “activation.”

This is why customer and product teams need to be so focused. They have to identify why a user came to your product, help that user understand how your software will meet that need, and then remove any friction that stands between that user and getting that promised value.

As if that weren’t enough, users have come to expect that they will get value without investing much effort. And, with so many tools, your users are increasingly unwilling or unable to devote significant time to learning any individual software package. Gone are the days when we could trust users to pour over meticulous release notes, sign up for elective certification courses, or attend webinars.

Users now expect software to be intuitive, turnkey, and (dare I say it?) delightful. Certainly, that is what your competition’s marketing site would have them believe!

Don’t be distracted by bells and whistles. It’s the race to first value that really matters.

Activation isn’t just a B2C problem

Enterprise applications may feel insulated from these pressures, but they aren’t. Thanks to the consumerization of tech and bottoms-up sales strategies, ease of use has become a key buying criterion. When it comes time for renewal, if your users aren’t using your software, you’ve already lost.

Unfortunately, B2B software providers can’t simply borrow the B2C data-driven playbook. To start, there likely isn’t enough data to run a true A/B test. And in the enterprise context, there’s rarely a singular activation event that involves just one user. Instead, activation is likely to be a series of events involving multiple user types. This introduces delays and noise that complicate our efforts to define what it is that activation means — clouding our attempts to optimize a funnel.

B2B activation is hard. Consumer teams can rely on ruthless feature prioritization and intense funnel optimization. Meanwhile, enterprise teams must check-the-box on features, and yet don’t have the traffic for a true A/B test.

From feature announcements to feature discovery

Companies are adding product enablement teams to tackle the one-two punch of raising user expectations in increasingly complex products. These teams, with a little boost from powerful in-app software, can help users with wide-ranging needs activate without compromising on delightful feature additions. It’s not clutter if you love it.

Instead of presenting the kitchen sink of features, users should be welcomed with content that meets them where they are — matching their needs and skill level with the features that can help them with their immediate need.

And once that initial need is met, product enablement teams should empower users to get deeper into your product. The role of product enablement teams in onboarding is to lay out the path of what’s possible and then to sit back, letting users find their own way forward.

As it turns out, the best way to keep ahead of the competition is to let your users set the pace.

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