Before you lay down any code.
I’ve been witness to what happens when you jump in head first into writing code without any product direction or target user fit. It’s literally like diving into a shallow pool — you can do it, but it will hurt afterward.
First, invest the time to understand the solution at hand that you plan to integrate with. I know, this sounds obvious, but it’s possible that they are already doing something that you plan on writing code for. Just because your users have asked for such a ‘feature’, it doesn’t mean you should be the one to burden the time, money or other energy to make it happen.
Second, perform intense customer and market research. And by customer research, I mean both understanding your users and the other company’s customers. You should know them better than they know themselves. That is, you should be able to articulate their lifestyles, demographics, current pains/benefits, ‘reaching’ demand towards your solution. You might also want to scope out a few of their competitors to better understand how the company fares in the market so you can tailor your messaging. It would be prudent to assume slow, steady growth — you never want to bank on “40% of their users would use our solution within a year” without having even a modicum of evidence supporting that fantasy.
Tip: When determining your target market, start small. So small, it almost demotivates you, but you are able to fully execute in a masterful way. Greg Head, CMO of Infusionsoft, elaborated on this concept in his blog.
Third, remove yourself from the equation. This is toughest part — I mean watching any episode from Shark Tank will show you that nearly all entrepreneurs are the most bent about their ideas. Pretend a VC who is about to drop some serious money on this integration — will Mark Cuban realize a 5X or a 10X return? I know money isn’t the only reason why you choose to create integrations, but it has to make financial sense otherwise you’re working for free. If you’re friends with an investor or another established CEO/CMO/CTO (CxO), consider bending their ear to this idea and get their feedback. You’re not digging for a pat on the shoulder, you’re digging for strategic questions that you need to consider.
You can bypass these steps when you—that’s right, you can’t bypass these steps. Believe it or not, software companies are following the exact same steps themselves. Software development isn’t cheap; investing a few more dollars more into product management so they can become laser-focused on customer and market research is a wise and prudent investment.
My opinion is that the “fail fast, fail often” ideology is the byproduct of a lack of research and misguided execution. With customer and market validation, you won’t need to waste costly cycles of software development.
I’m not suggesting that you need to be so risk-averse that it paralyzes you, but gather some intelligence on your customers, the other company’s customers and what their needs are. Measure twice, cut once.
During your integration efforts.
Great, at this point, you should have identified the core benefits that your solution will provide your prospective new audience. This is the time to refine your messaging, positioning and to fine-tune your pitch. While this tends to be a “marketing” job, but you need to do it.
I already see you shaking your head, “I’m not good at marketing.” I have some tough love for you: figure it the !$&# out. You don’t need to be flawless, but you need to have a general idea on how people will perceive your solution and how it helps them.
After hearing pitches from a lot of startups (and even a few very established firms), here’s how to keep your pitch strong and tight. I’m on your side, mind you:
- Don’t dive right into your app. I know it exists. Tell me about you, your passion and about 30 seconds on why you do what you do.
- Start with the problem. And don’t make it theoretical. Make it real. I want to see a name, a face, and a proven problem or pain. Just like how I could describe to you that I want Pandora integration in my car and you could gather evidence to make this case, you should do the same for your target customer. Example: I could show you how many people buy 3.5mm audio cables for their cars and plug them into their phones. I could also show you that Ford has a partnership with Pandora via their SYNC platform. I could also show you that there is a growing/established market for Bluetooth audio products for automobiles.
- Know your positioning. There are a few templates out there that work well. Steve Blank advocates for ,“We help X do Y by doing Z.” Dave McClure shared a deck on the subject of pitching. He summarized Mint beautifully, “Mint.com is the free, easy way to manage your money online.” Know this and you will succeed.
- Show me the customers. I’m very interested in the specifics. Show me the money. Show me that you’ve done your homework. Show me that you know our customers. Why? If you’ve done this, then I can elevate our discussion to a more mature, constructive level. If I have to articulate demos of our customers or our target market to you, then it’s a sign that you didn’t perform enough research.
- Ask questions! Never assume. Never assume that the company you plan on integrating with will stay the course forever. While I toe the line between sharing public and privileged information, I can give you an idea of where we are headed and if that is conducive to your integration.
- Sell the solution, not the widget. I think this where some developers get lost. Sell the benefit, not the minutia of how to get there. Yes, I know it’s a sexy interface, yes I know it works, but don’t neglect to answer, “So, what?” Here’s a practical example: if Infusionsoft helps small businesses save time, generate leads and close more sales, then your integration should help users save time, generate leads or close more sales. (If not, you ought to have a compelling case for it.)
I think you see my point here. This is the time to craft your positioning for how your solution helps users. Practice it, test it and nail it. Now is not the time to be mediocre. Get some proven use-cases and show there is demand for it. This will help you not only sell it to me — but to sell it to your customers tomorrow.
After your integration is complete.
After you have developed your initial integration, became solid on your positioning and have users consuming your integration, this is where the real work begins.
Build it and they shall come, right? This isn’t 1998 anymore.
I admire the hustle. The hustle, to me, is defined as finding these customers on your own, educating them about the problem(s) they have and how your solution solves it. This can be done in any number of ways, including content marketing, social media, advertising (risky!) and of course, being visible throughout organic search. You can also get into more guerrilla marketing tactics like attending that company’s user conference and starting conversations, throwing an after-party or other chill meetup. Lastly, it’s to identify influencers among other customers — simply ask around and you’ll find them.
Why? When you can get your solution in the hands of some of the most active, passionate customers, they will recommend you to others with similar pains.
When you have an active group of users, then you should re-engage into customer and market research and iterate on your integration. Either expand it or even narrow it down. You’ll discover who is the ideal user and you can adjust accordingly. Users don’t necessarily translate into ideal customers — consider their lifetime revenue, cost per acquisition, churn, and satisfaction.
The bottom line here is that once your integration is complete, you should then go out and acquire more users. You can be creative, crafty and experimental.
I wrote this up not to discourage you. I think it’s more discouraging when I hear of your months of development efforts and you aren’t able to be successful. That to me is more painful. I think you can use any and all these points to help you integrate your solution with any other companies.
I want to be clear — I want to attract a diversity of developers and solutions to Infusionsoft. To do this, you got to be able to have your solution stand on merit that engages and impresses users. This post summarizes my advice to help you accomplish this.
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Do you have an app that serves small businesses and you want to integrate with Infusionsoft? Let’s talk: [email protected].