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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

The benefits of being your own best customer

If you build technology or design solutions for others, take a closer look at how your own teams use those tools for comparable tasks.

The benefits of being your own best customer
[ivanko80/AdobeStock]

One of the first lessons marketers learn is not to assume their customers are the same as they are. However, one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as a business owner is that when your customers’ experience does overlap with your own, you owe it to them to share what you know. You can take the guesswork out of how they apply your solutions and help them get to a winning approach faster.

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Not every business gets this opportunity, because not every business follows the same path as the people it supports. If you’re a small business designing enterprise security solutions for large IT teams, then there’s not a great deal of overlap between your experiences and those of your customers. Your own example isn’t the best, most relatable explanation of how to use your solutions—and it won’t tell you that much about the value they can bring to your target audience.

However, if you’re running a business that’s grown from startup to enterprise-level by developing and using your own software, then nobody knows more than you do about how to turn that technology into growth—and that’s true no matter what stage of growth you’re talking about. You’re not just an example of how a business of a certain size can use your solutions, you’re an archive of examples relevant to businesses of every size.

THE INSIGHTS THAT COME FROM BUILDING YOUR OWN TOOLS

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From the start, we made a conscious decision that we would build the tools that our company needed to grow rather than buying them in. It meant that we moved a bit slower to start with, but it gave us an invaluable understanding of what our products solve for and the addressable market for those solutions. If we could grow our own business with these tools, then we could talk with credibility about how they would drive growth for others.

This guided our view of our market in important ways. It’s easy for technology providers to assume that small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are simple businesses with simple problems that need one-dimensional, pared-down solutions. Our own experience taught us that the opposite is true. SMBs have the same complex challenges that larger enterprises face. The only difference is that they lack the resources to solve them in the same way. The experience of running and growing an SMB told us that we needed to provide tools for other growing businesses that were simple to use, but by no means simplistic.

The decision to make ActiveCampaign our own best customer influenced the development of our platform in other important ways, too. We found ourselves naturally distinguishing between the areas where we’d get more value from developing new solutions entirely in-house, and those where there would be more value in working with partners. This guided us toward a stackable ecosystem, which ensures we’re giving customers the best possible solution in each use case.

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It also guided the product development process itself. As a business, we iterate everything. We’re always testing and pushing to see what our functionality can do. Letting our internal teams loose on our new features first is a vital part of this process. It means we have real substance and insight to share with customers when we start to market our new functions. The commitment we made to continue to build in this way makes us confident that our customers will never outgrow us—because we’re making sure that we won’t outgrow our own products.

THE PLATFORM INNOVATION HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT

In recent times, we’ve realized that there’s potential in this approach that we’ve been neglecting. More and more of our customers have come to us to ask what we would do (and what we actually did) in their situation. When we looked for the answers, we found that there’s a lot more to our own experience of our platform than we’d shared publicly so far.

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The more closely we looked at how we use our own platform, the clearer it became that there were important aspects of this story that we hadn’t fully appreciated ourselves. We had hundreds of salespeople using our CRM to sell, success teams using the platform to manage customer relationships and monitor customer health, and marketing teams designing different automations for engaging and nurturing our prospects and customers. Every layer of the onion revealed another use case that our teams had developed. Every use case offered a path for customers to get more value from our platform. The fact that our teams had already done the groundwork in figuring out how to build and connect automations to fit these use cases could turn each of these paths into a shortcut.

It’s been a journey of discovery in ways that we didn’t expect, and it’s a journey I’d urge others to take. If you build technology or design solutions for others, take a closer look at how your own teams use those tools for comparable tasks. Chances are, you’ll find more than you expect: insights for where to go next, new use cases to solve, and examples of innovation that were hiding in plain sight. It’s inspiring, challenging, and very worthwhile.


Founder and CEO of ActiveCampaign, the Customer Experience Automation (CXA) category leader.

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