Think about the ingredients that drive a product’s success in the marketplace. Salespeople sell on pain and/or pleasure (“With this product, you won’t have to work weekends to manually enter data!“). As a  product marketer, you market customer success (“This solution is designed to grow your bottom line within months!“). As a product manager, you have to keep a close eye on both of those factors. However, there is a critical third pillar, often overlooked during the product planning process….

User Success
Often times, product managers develop products based largely on customer success, rather than adding equal weight to user success. So, what is the different between customer success and user success? While their definitions vary for different products, markets, or user personas, these concepts can be easily applied to your products and services once you understand the fundamental difference. To illustrate the delineation, let’s breakdown these two concepts in a B2B context, since consumer product success take into account fewer tangible elements and user success includes more emotional and physiological factors.
Customer Success (or Client Success)
In the B2B world, customer success is the outcome of helping organizations achieve their goals. Decreased costs, more leads, higher revenue, more market share are all examples of customer success.
User Success
User success brings the success down to the level of the individual. User success is the ability for a product to enable people to do their jobs and accomplish their tasks with ease, a sense of fulfillment, and even enjoyment.
User success is a key component to a successful product’s customer acquisition strategy. I once joined a company to manage their “mature” SaaS product portfolio. It quickly became apparent through customer interviews and customer satisfaction metrics that customers had been deeply dissatisfied with these online solutions for many years. The sales and support teams placated customer with complicated workarounds. The development team took a not-my-fault approach claiming that the product “works as designed” and our customers can accomplish everything that they need to run their businesses.
In this example, the development team both during initial product development, and in enhancing the product through the years, focused almost exclusively on customer success and paid little attention to user success. It was acceptable for a process, that customers ran weekly using our software, to include 20+ steps if, in the end, the customer could eventually produce the report, reconciliation, or other organizational result they needed. While customers could meet their business goals using our software, users were not enjoying the experience, finding it neither easy to do their jobs, nor able to explain basic internal procedures using the software to coworkers. Consequently, users were not recommending our product to others in the industry.
How Important is User Success
The Brand Fast Trackers podcast recently interviewed the CMO at, Kendall Collins. During the interview, Kendall attributes much of Salesforce’s success to having a product designed for user success. His approach to product management and marketing places an equal premium on user success as it does customer success. User success is what creates raving fans. It is what drives people to tell their friend about your product. User success is a key pillar of customer retention.
Product strategies that focus on creating successful users are often more successful than competitors that offer similar levels of customer success. User success is a key differentiator. It is the difference between launching the iPhone’s iOS operating system and the Windows Mobile platform. Which do you and your friends have in their pockets?
Product Managers need to make user success and user experience a main stage gate in their product manage process. Always run ideas, prototypes, and requirements through you “user success filter” before beginning development or releasing a product. During market validation or user testing, it is not enough for users to be able to accomplish their task. Pay careful attention to what each user has to do to accomplish their tasks, the questions they ask, and the frustration on their faces.
As a product manager, I have had success with the “think aloud” methodology in both on-screen and paper-prototype environments. Bring prototypes along on a regular customer visit and casually spend 10-15 minutes conducting user testing. The data you bring back to the office will be invaluable.
Neglecting User Success Hurts Marketing and Sales
User success, especially in software and technology products, has proven to be one of the most important factors in successfully marketing a product. Like not knowing that you have under-inflated bike tires and wondering why the ride you did last weekend was less tiring than the same route you are riding today, companies that focus almost exclusively on customer success are working much harder than they need to in order to grow.

A large majority of the executives and product management teams are not aware that is it their product’s lack of user success that is a primary reason why they are not growing like they expect to (their tires are flat and they don’t know it, so they pedal faster).

Planning and developing products with user success at the forefront, pays dividends in decreased training cost, word-of-mouth marketing, and lower support overhead. If user success is not a flashing dot on the radar of Chief Marketers, VPs of Product Management, and CEOs involved in their product strategy, I would recommend taking immediate action to add it to your product management processes and dashboards.

How do you keep user success front and center in your product management and marketing strategies?