Conventional wisdom: “No one cares how the sausage is made.” I’m sure you’ve heard this before as well. Maybe it gets followed up with more assumptions: “The consumer cares about the product. They want the solution.” However, that’s not really true either. They care about their pain. The solution is irrelevant unless the pain is relieved. If you’re really great, you replace pain with pleasure, and build a lasting relationship that your customers are excited to tell others about.
So let’s talk about this proverbial sausage. When you are hungry at a game and a sausage wrap stand is the only food or you’ll miss the entire game? No. You probably don’t care about how the sausage gets made. You care about your hunger. You care about the solution. You care about the price.
Luckily, we don’t live in the local monopoly conditions or restricted logistics of that example. There are true artists of the craft, solving new pains everyday.
Have you seen how a master chef makes tantalizingly delicious and unique sausage from scratch? If you love sausage, you do care how it’s made. You would buy recipe books, watch reality shows, do factory tours, and attend sausage festivals. There is a huge difference between being an artist with a following versus a monolith with a secret. Which company are you building? Naturally, I didn’t write this post to discuss sausage (though after talking about it so much I’d really love to fry up a batch now). This is really about sharing your product backstory and software delivery methods.
Think about a great chef. The kind that writes recipe books, heads up gourmet restaurant chains, blogs about food, hosts a show, and even gets invited as a guest to cook on other people’s shows.
Imagine Martha Stuart or Emeril Legasse teaching their audience about homemade sausage from scratch. They smile and cook with their pre-measured bowls of colorful ingredients, hand-grinding the sausage. The sight and sound of the fire, and sizzle of butter in the pan make you certain you’d want to eat not just any sausage – that sausage. The great chefs care how the sausage was made whether you care or not. They make the best sausage they can and teach others to try their methods even if most people will never bother to make it the same way.
So, even though what we are really discussing here is either 1) ”no one cares why your product was made” or 2) ”no one care how your software is developed” – I think that’s drastically incorrect. More importantly, when someone says “no one cares how the sausage is made” to me, I know it’s a symptom of something terrible in the prestige economy of the superorganism that could someday bring it to its knees, never to rise again.
Now we can qualify that old saying…
“No one cares how a faceless factory makes boring sausage.”
Don’t let your factory remain faceless. No matter how boring the boots-the-ground element of your product delivery may seem, those are people who are representing you. You can either take the Ice Road Truckers and brewery tour approach to your product delivery or you can hide it away. Even the most faceless factories have tour guides. They have a script, sure. This is a marketing opportunity for your customers who are most likely to give a referral. If they show up to see how the sausage is made, give them a taste of the experiments that you aren’t mass-publicizing yet. This let’s you find your early adopters. That’s a special relationship that you should encourage, invest in, and keep personally engaged.
Go take a tour of a big beer factory and a small craft brewery, compare the two and imagine what a “brewery tour” of your software company would look like. The big beer companies have a loyal fan base and brewery tours. The ingredients are well-known. You can even try it at home. Operational effectiveness, consistency and quality, and reliability are the big beer maker’s keys to success – not proprietary ingredients.
Don’t be afraid to demo upcoming features before they are finished. Your opportunity to learn and from customer interviews during an alpha release cannot be understated – give them a tour before you make them work for you. Don’t just make a website, make a fan page too. Show people you care about what you build as much as they do. Make the digital delivery part of the human dialogue. As it turns out, you can’t make people get interested in you by yelling “I’m interesting!” Telling people your product is the best (today) doesn’t say much at all. Showing them that real people are making sure the product will continue to get better, teaching them what you wish you knew 2 or 5 years ago about the pain you solved and how they can solve it too – then they might be interested.
“No one cares what the ingredients in the sausage are if they can’t see and hear the artist who uses them, the special process for preparing and cooking it, and insights in why decisions were made.”
The individual lines of code you write aren’t proprietary. Maybe one or two shouldn’t be public knowledge for security reasons. The rest are meaningless without the rest of the code base and all the people that create viable product-market fit. Your accounting KPIs, eCommerce analytics, or SDLC aren’t that special on their own either. Your templates are common knowledge to anyone with experience.
Your people – coming together to do something bigger than themselves -THAT’S special, and while you can lose that no one can steal that. I suspect there are some companies that would never approve a marketer posting a photo of coding-in-progress on Instagram for fear contents of the screen is proprietary. Yet, any developer would tell you that turning frameworks into a worthwhile platform people can reuse is incredibly challenging. No, nobody cares what your product planning meetings or your Scrum process is, unless the people who make it special are front-and-center. You can make an official statement – like so many companies – that your people are your greatest asset; but when you hide your people and how they work from the public eye, the message is clear, not only to your people but to your customers as well: you don’t take any pride in the sausage-makers, so the sausage probably isn’t that special.
This is the difference between posting on Twitter “My apple pie is made with 20 apples” versus a video explaining which apples to use and why, the process you use when you pick them out at the store, why you bought them where you did, etc. Teaching the generations coming up behind you makes you matter, not protecting a secret that isn’t even a secret worth stealing.
“People don’t care how the sausage is made unless they trust you share their love of great sausage.”
The difference between having consumers and having an audience is sharing their pains, pleasures, fears, and passions. Don’t sell to people, mentor them. Don’t market to people, teach them. Is it possible that some people want to know how you make gumbo but not how the andouille sausage was made? Absolutely. That’s the line between retention and referral – if you say secret to great gumbo is making the sausage yourself, the real advocates who trust you as an artist and an expert will pay to learn your sausage-making methods. The opposite is true too. If you don’t share the passion or demonstrate your expertise, no one is going to listen. They can spot you as a fake from a mile away. They know sausage isn’t a priority for you and nothing you say about making sausage is worth sharing with their friends.
“No one cares how you make the sausage if YOU don’t care how you make the sausage.”
This is probably the most on-point. Teams who think no one cares how the software is made also don’t have much pride or faith that their process is worthwhile. Sometime the biggest challenge is just showing the engineers how great they are. As the leader, you have to be like a head chef: It’s not just that you love and take pride in the craft, it’s your time-in-the-fire and belief in the process itself that give people the confidence to follow you. Sure, your customers may not want to sit and watch code being developed for hours on end, but throwing a montage, hosting meetups, YouTubing behind-the-scenes footage, and some exciting reality show commentary is something people love and look for as part of the complete package. That type of messaging let’s people know you care about the work it takes to solve their pain. By giving some visibility into how much diligence, care, and work is put into the next release, your customers can feel they were part of the experience and have a better appreciation why updates and new features can take awhile to release.
If you want the inspiration I had when I wrote this, go read these books:
Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered
Photo via The Digital Marketing Collaboration