In February 2020 I landed back home after an extensive business trip across the US. The news was already gushing about a new virus originating in China, with first infections spreading in America and Europe. At the time, our largest clients were car rental companies, one of them was planning a massive capital investment into upgrading its physical operations, including the installation of sophisticated camera surveillance systems. Ravin.ai was planned to take part in the project as a provider of AI-based car inspections. A few weeks into what became known as the COVID-19 crisis, my phone rang. My counterpart, a senior executive, told me that all capital expenditures were suspended. Instead, they asked us to consider a low-cost solution that did not depend on fixed camera installations. Luckily, our team had already been working on a mobile app that could be tested within weeks. It took some time to actually get the product up and running, but we were able to quickly pivot, demonstrating responsiveness to our new reality.
A high degree of trust is paramount to success in enterprise sales. Getting to a point where your customer sees you as a true partner is typically correlated with product stickiness, which ultimately translates to long-term retention. On a relationship level, this means your customer feels that you are truly listening and responding to their needs; you advise them in making critical business decisions, and you are reflecting their priorities in your own product roadmap.
For example, in the automotive industry, our clients - car manufacturers, dealers, insurers and fleets, have all witnessed unprecedented change, both through long term trends such as electrification and connectivity, as well as short-term disruptions like COVID and the micro-chip crisis. Some are introducing new business models, like car sharing, others moving their physical operations to completely digital (See KAR Global’s recent acquisitions of BackLot Cars and CarWave).
To remain relevant, you can't just rely on personal relationships. It is ultimately about keeping your product flexible enough to support your clients’ changing needs. Easier said than done, especially for startups that need to manage their resources. The incentive to ‘focus and simplify’ is significant, but I'd still urge you not to compromise on a few principles in your product strategy.
Configurable user journey
As a vehicle inspection platform, we have built it such that individual components can be configured differently for new inspection flows. This means, for example, that we’re able to offer just a free-flow 360 filming of the vehicle for quick, casual inspections, such as a shared car return, but we can also create a 27-point inspection which includes the undercarriage, under the hood, and even the spare tire. It was extremely tempting to hard code certain components to deliver faster, but every time we did that - the penalty was costly!
Professional vs. novice users
Consider that your product might be used by professionals repeatedly, meaning that it needs to work seamlessly within their daily workflow, but also by novice users (in our case: people who are renting a car or filing an insurance claim for the first time in their life!) requiring some hand holding. Removing or adding guidance, whether it's on-screen or before using the product, should be a key requirement.
In a world where everything is moving digital, try to avoid forcing specific equipment installations. In Ravin’s case, being able to process images from multiple types of CCTV cameras and mobile phones for vehicle inspections is critical to enabling different workflows and changing needs. Once again this may sound straightforward but in reality so many vendors see themselves as agnostic when in reality it is so hard to achieve. And once again, every time you compromise (many times, your own tech team will urge you to limit your supported hardware) - the change in your client's industry might force you to broaden up.
If you are part of a bigger workflow, access to your system should be as easy as possible. Clear API documents, stable services, and the ability to tweak them to enable new use cases, are critical when your client's business is turned on its head.
In summary, your ability to truly support your customers in a changing business environment requires product flexibility on multiple fronts. You will then be wise to harness this flexibility to craft a compelling business case based on your customer’s needs, and continue to be relevant even in the hardest of times.