How to Stay Sane During a Product Launch

A Simple Framework for Launching (and Managing) Products

If you’ve had the pleasure of watching a gaggle of five year olds play soccer, then – congratulations -you’ve essentially experienced a high-profile product launch.  Let’s run through the similarities: Multiple goals, lots of players, yelling on the field, concerned parents and a lot of folks running around without purpose or direction.  Occasionally, you’ll even get a few players break down into tears.

It doesn’t make sense.  Five year olds have a perfectly sound excuse: They’re five!  Product launches, conversely, are driven by fully formed adults.  So why does this happen?  Why is difficult to wrangle folks and get everyone to build out a plan, execute on that plan and eat their orange slices at halftime (whoops, analogy is falling apart).

If the above sounds foreign to you, consider yourself lucky.  If you’re saying: ‘Nah, not us.  We have a fully-staffed program management department and we all adhere to a framework’, well, to that one reader, this article probably isn’t for you.  I’ve seen really great program managers work their magic, herd the cats and still get overwhelmed and overcome by this tidal force of big egos launching big products with big stakes in very little time.

To that end, I’d like to share a very simple model that’s worked for teams I’ve been part of.  In fact, I tend to rely on this model in ongoing product management work too.  By no means will this model serve as a fully fleshed out program plan (there’s no Gannt charts. Sorry Gannt.), but it’ll get the planning off the ground.  If nothing else, it compartmentalizes the work, and sometimes that’s the most difficult part.

On more creative days I’d have a snazzy acronym, but today I’ll call it the “Build-Market-Sell-Support” model.  This model supports cross-functional product management where customer success is reliant on a performant, value-laden product coupled with a positive customer experience.  If nothing else, it’s overly simplistic, and purposely so.

The idea is to look across four different areas in managing a product launch.  How will we build the product?  How will we market the product?  How do we sell the product?  How do we support the product?

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I often hear about perceived gaps in this model like ‘Where does Finance, Design and Legal fit in?’  To that I ask: Who needs them?  Just kidding.  The true answer is that these pieces get embedded into the core four.  For example, Design could very well fit into the “Build” pillar.  Legal work could very easily fit into the “Sales” component.  Every action item has its place in this model.

If you’re willing to accept the four verbs (build, market, sell, support) as the pillars of product success, then the next step is asking questions.  The goal is to figure out how a successful product launch could be supported by each functional group.  Below are some examples.

Build.  Where are we in the development process?  Is there a beta pilot?  Do we have a demo environment?  Have we defined and validated the initial version of the product?  When is our launch date?

Market.  Do we have an outbound campaign set up (email, press release, call out)?  Do we have an inbound strategy in place (SEO, web assets)?  Do we have revenue goals set up?  Have we communicated with key customers?

Sell.  Are selling teams prepared to sell this product?  Do they have collateral necessary to be successful?  Is there a sales pipeline in place?

Support.  What is the support model for the process to support customers?  Is there a services offering we should consider?  Has the team been adequately trained to support customers?

Posing these questions early on opens up possibilities.  Step two is to narrow down the questions to action items that are relevant for the release.  What’s important to keep in mind is not every tactic should be included in the initial launch.  The laws of economics will eventually determine what scenes make the theatrical release versus what ends up in deleted scenes, or perhaps, a sequel.

The next step is assigning a point person for each to represent each function.  They may not own the work, but they’re responsible for defining what can done for launch and if it’s getting done.  If you have four owners, then you’ve essentially created a scrum team that adheres to the “two pizza team” (three pizzas with mozzarella sticks if I’m one of the four, by the way.)

It’s extremely critical that the four folks representing each area talk to each other … a lot.  Sorting out key dates, deliverables and dependencies is an art, a science, a pain in the ass and a requirement.  It’s also about business strategy though, and finding areas where one team can help another.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Can Support help identify upsell opportunities for Sales?
  • Can Product pass critical data to Marketing?
  • Can Sales provide ongoing feedback to Product?

One of the added benefits of employing this approach is that the model can live on as the team prepares for future launches.  The recurring meetings may not recur as frequently, but measuring success around the launch and calibrating product success in each area will have a pre-set owner who understands the customer experience and product goals.

Let’s get back to our soccer analogy.  If nothing else, employing this model ensures that the players are spaced out across the field, passing the ball to each other and reliant on others to win the game.  At best, you’ll have players acting as a team and not as individuals chasing the ball around.  At worst, everyone will get a participation trophy.

Favorite Product Friday: Alicia Dixon on Philips’ Wake-up Light

aliciadixonAlicia Dixon has over a decade of experience building consumer and enterprise technology solutions, which evolved into a specialization in mobile apps.  She enjoys focusing on new product development, product strategy, and market research.  Alicia has held positions at leading companies including Hilton, UPS & Dell.  She is a proud alumnus of Howard University where she earned her Bachelor’s degree.  In addition, she holds an MBA from Baruch College, CUNY and an MS in Marketing from the University of Alabama.

So Alicia, tell us about your favorite product and the problem it solves.

I really thought about this and what I keep coming back to as truly my favorite product is the Wake-up Light by Philips, which I have had for years.  It is a lamp that simulates the sun rising in the morning to wake you up.  In the winter time when it’s still dark outside, it will gradually turn a light on inside my room, simulating the sun.  It starts off really dim and then gradually gets brighter.  It also has three different alarm sounds, the bird sound being my favorite.  The reason why I love the Wake-up Light is that it will wake me up without the jarring sound that a regular alarm makes.  You wake up feeling refreshed.  Before I had this light, I had a hard time waking up when it was still dark out.  Even now, when I don’t have it – for instance, when I travel – I definitely feel a difference.

What delights you about Wake-up Light? What does it do well?

Well, by comparison, I ordered a cheaper and newer model from Amazon and it only projects forward.  The Wake-up Light has 360 degree direction so light projects throughout the room.  The Philips Wake-up Light has a really good design and is aesthetically pleasing.  It fits into the room without being ostentatious.  It’s sitting on my nightstand and almost looks like a candle so no one asks “What the heck is that thing?”  I like the functionality and design of this product plus it works well.  I’ve had it for more than a decade and haven’t had to replace the lamp, only a lightbulb here and there.philips

This product is very simplistic and I commend Philips for not trying to throw extra features in.  It has three chimes, a clock, a radio and obviously the light.  They could have tried to do more, maybe with syncing or a more advanced display interface, but they didn’t.  They kept it simple and solved the problem it was supposed to solve.  They made sure their product did it’s job.

Product Managers love feedback. What feedback would you give to the team at Philips?

There are two drawbacks to the product.  One, if the power goes out the backup battery won’t last all night so I’d give it a better backup battery.  The second is there’s a switch on the side. This switch is used for snoozing and deactivating the alarm.  In trying to snooze it’s very possible to turn off the alarm when you’re half-asleep.  However, they say snoozing is unhealthy so perhaps the designer didn’t want to put a lot of work into promoting a bad habit [laughs].

As a product person, what elements of the Philips Wake-up Light have you incorporated into your work?

The main principle I try to follow is to not over-design.  Make sure you solve the problem without overdoing it.  It’s always tempting to do something new, but how much will it add to the product?  I work with a mobile consumer-facing app and get a lot of feedback from different people.  In trying to build a product, it’s important to focus on a core constituency and not outliers.  If someone doesn’t know how to use general features of a mobile device, then my app isn’t going to help them.  You have to remain focused on solving a problem for a specific group of people to be successful in product management.

 

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Favorite Product Friday July 21: Daniel Elizalde on Tesla Model S

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Daniel Elizalde, is an Internet of Things (IoT) expert with over 17 years of experience as a product leader, consultant, and software engineer. He is the founder of the TechProductManagement blog, and the creator of the IoT Decision Framework, a comprehensive method for IoT product management & strategy.  Daniel developed and taught his first IoT Product Management course at Stanford Continuing Studies.  After overwhelmingly positive feedback from students, and requests for an online version from all over the world, he developed The IoT Product Manager Certificate Program.

Daniel’s diverse background includes working at Fortune 500 companies and growth-stage start-ups, as well as product companies and services companies.

So Daniel, tell us about your favorite product and the problem it solves.

My favorite product is the Tesla Model S.  My area of expertise is in IoT (internet-of-things) product management and the Model S is a very well-executed IoT product.  With the Model S, we’re talking about a product that is connected to the cloud but is also an awesome car.

What delights you about the Tesla Model S? What does it do well?

Tesla delights me by solving a really important problem which is transitioning the auto industry off of fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.  It’s also a fast car that drives really well, making you forget you’re even in an electric car. The Model S is aligned with consumer market desires while still focused on a very important social cause.

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It’s interesting – Other manufacturers have competed by building products that were too futuristic and lacked features that drivers appreciate. The Model S is a car that you actually want to drive. Tesla went the other way saying “I’m going to sell you this very nice car that just happens to be electric.”  Of course, they also implemented cutting edge technology like self-driving capabilities and ‘over the air’ updates which provide value to the customer.

Product Managers love feedback. What feedback would you give to Elon Musk?

Well, that’s tough.  I don’t want to be the guy quoted as giving Elon Musk advice (laughs).  I think – in general – Product Managers need to step it up in on the strategic side.  Too often, Product Managers spend their time with engineering trying to build something instead of thinking of the strategic landscape.  I would like to see Tesla focus more on execution and speed to market rather than perfecting each model.  By doing this they can achieve greater market adoption.

As a product person, what elements of the Model S have you incorporated into your work?

There are really two things I’d say here.  For one, Tesla has amazing clarity of vision.  Their sights have been set on the adoption of renewables from the beginning.  I’ve taught some of their employees in my courses and they all are very aware of what the company is striving for.  Their people can tell you exactly what the company’s mission is.  At my company, I always make sure my team knows what we’re doing now and what we’re looking to do in the future.  I think it is the job of the product manager to make sure the rest of the company is aligned with the vision.

The second element is focus.  It is very common for companies to chase the new shiny object.  Tesla is different.  They’ve had an overarching goal from the beginning and have yet to stray from that goal.  That’s very impressive and is reflected in their products.

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Favorite Product Friday July 7: Andre Piazza on Prosper Daily

piazzaAndre Piazza is a Product leader that believes in shipping intelligent products, going to market with simple and authentic messaging, creating memorable experiences, and developing lasting relationships. He developed a reputation for having “The Energy of a Sales maker, and the brains of an Engineer”. He’s currently the Head of Product Marketing at iGrafx. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Andre, please tell us about your favorite product and the problem it solves.
I’d choose the Prosper Daily app. It allows the user to track their financials at a expense level, and then report in categories and visualize expenditure on a monthly basis.  The Prosper app keeps me honest around my expenditures and gives me the power to take control of my finances.

What delights you about Prosper Daily? What does it do well?
Here are some real-life examples.  I recently changed my wireless service and had assumed it was an apples-to-apples conversion.  Prosper flagged some of the before and after differences which helped me better understand and dispute the costs with the vendor.  Another example is flagging duplicated expenses.  Finally, we live in a digital, service-based ecosystem, Prosper can help identify situations where we’ve made a payment in what was supposed to be a free term.  This is a platform I trust.
Prosper Daily is simple to operate: you approve or flag expenses by sliding it right or left.  It is also agnostic to the financial institution.  Its interface can show expenses at an account level, or on the aggregate.  It is also an excellent platform to upsell financial services: “Now that I help you manage your finances, can I help you get a loan? Report your credit score? Protect your identity?”
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Product Managers love feedback. What feedback would you give to the product team for Prosper Daily?
Last November, I wrote a blog post on Prosper Daily highlighting adjacent, above-and-beyond use cases that could be surfaced such as credit management, budget management, financial loan recommendations and shopping tools such as rewards programs.  This would fully unlock benefits that the platform could bring to users to attain their goals.  In the context of Seth Godin’s “ABN model” (which stands for assets, boundaries and narratives), the Prosper Daily team would most likely have to be re-imagined or altered to add more features.

 

As a product person, what elements of Prosper Daily have you brought into the products you manage?

I believe there are two notions that are valuable to any Product leader.  For one, product managers should always strive to deliver simplicity in intuitive ways.  Two, we should challenge the status quo of our industry to deliver fresh value. Who says you can only track financials through individual institutions? There’s someone that is doing this, in a safe and friendly way, at no cost to the user.

Favorite Product Friday June 30: Buffer’s Suprasanna Mishra on the Product “Things”

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Suprasanna Mishra is a product manager at Buffer, a tool that helps small businesses, agenciessuper and publishers get their voice heard on social media. Before, he was the cofounder of a company called Capstory where he dove into and found and a love for all things startup and product! He’s currently working remotely from Columbus, Ohio.  Give him a shout on Twitter at @suprasannam.

Suprasanna, what is your favorite product and what problem does it solve?

It’s hard to pick one overall favorite so I’ll give you one that is a recent favorite of mine.  I really have been enjoying using Things to manage everything I’m up to. For me, it solves the problem of being able to only focus on one thing at a time but needing to remember a dozen things a day.

What delights you about Things? What does it do well?

There are so many parts of products that need to function for it to be awesome – aesthetics, reliability, ease of use, functionality… the list goes on. Things does all these really well but the one that stands out to me are the aesthetics and ease of use.

This is a product that their customers need all day, everyday so it’s important to consider that X factor of making the user feel good using it. As rational as I try to be, it’s undeniable that – other things being pretty close to equal – I’d prefer to use the thing that makes me feel good using it.things

I’ll send you over a video.  Just look how calming and smooth simple actions are. When competing against literally hundreds of other to-do apps that all have very similar functionality, differentiating based on design is both smart and effective.

Product Managers love feedback. What feedback would you give to the product team for Things?

The default for any product is more. Any product being used out there is constantly getting feedback, new feature ideas, etc. and even more so for one in a competitive B2C market like to-do apps. So it’s actually pretty amazing how much Things has been able to resist adding in features that they could easily justify as useful but would undoubtedly take away from the intuitiveness they have today. So with all that said, rather than any feature, the biggest piece missing is more guidance around how others have successfully set up projects and labels within Things – sort of an answer to the question: “How have others like me found success getting the most out of this product?”

As a product person, what elements of Things have you brought into the products you manage?

There comes a point when building any project where everything works. It’s functionally there and you can complete all of the actions a user would want to through the product or feature. Products like Things serve as a reminder and as inspiration to me to remember that this is only about 50% of the ‘done’ mark, not 95%.

At Buffer, we build a product that slots in somewhere during a busy day for a social media manager or business owner – having it be purely functional (but not a delight to use, difficult to figure out or unhelpful when you’re stuck) would not feel good enough to us or our customers. That courage to rely on both data and feelings to decide when something feels done is a tough balance to strike but I think our designers do it really well and, from what I can tell, so does the team at Things.

Thanks for having me on here, was fun to reflect on a product like this!

Favorite Product Friday June 23: Visible Measures’ Emera Trujillo on Buffer

Which products win the hearts of those who manage products for a living?  Welcome to “Favorite Product Fridays”, where seasoned Product professionals talk about their favorite product discoveries and what they’ve learned through their experience as a customer.

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Emera Trujillo is a senior product manager at Visible Measures, an advertising technology company that provides an end-to-end solution for capturing consumer attention.  Her passion project is Boston Women in Product (BWP), a community that empowers women to be influencers in their role, inspiring them to make a difference and grow in their career.  She hopes to see you at their next event!

Emera, please tell us about one of your favorite products and the problem is solves.

One of my favorite at the moment is Buffer. Buffer helps me manage social media channels and schedule posts across those channels. Using Buffer, it’s very easy to set up content for Boston Women in Product (BWP).

What delights you about Buffer?  What does it do well?

I have used a few social media management tools in the past and find that Buffer has the most elegant interface for both desktop and mobile use. Through the desktop I schedule posts in bulk, where I can use the mobile interface if I have ten minutes to spare on the train. And I am very impressed by how seamless the transition feels.

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The setup and scheduling features are very intuitive. I’m using the free version now but I’m an inch away from upgrading. They do a good job letting me get a lot of value out of the tool while still making me aware of the paid features throughout my experience.

So, no product is perfect and product managers love feedback. What feedback would you give to the product team at Buffer?

There’s definitely something within the day & time scheduling that causes a little bit of friction. However, I read an article around good and bad friction recently so, maybe it’s a good friction that prevents me from scheduling something too quickly?  That would be the one thing I’d ask the product manager about: Is that a feature or a bug?

In terms of the free versus paid model, they could have probably taken away the mobile access and I would have upgraded.  Also, the free version provides a specific allotment of posts to schedule.  If they dropped that number, I’d probably upgrade.

What elements of Buffer have you incorporated into your work as a Product Manager?

My company is in the B2B space and our product is accessed via a desktop browser, but Buffer has me wondering how I can build a mobile experience for our customers that will be relevant to their needs. Our competitors aren’t doing this today, so there might be a great opportunity.

“How do I Get into Product Management?”

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I recently stumbled across a thought-provoking question posted on the Boston Product Management Association group page. Justin asked: “Is an MBA a pre-requisite for Product Management?” I thought that was a fascinating question. My instinct was to reply “No, of course not!” But then again, if you look at any job description for a product role, an MBA is either a pre-requisite or preferred qualification. I thought about Justin’s question more broadly: How does one get into product management? I’ve been asked a thousand times. In fact, I struggled with this same question during my own career transition just a few years ago.

Ultimately, I think there are four baseline skills befitting of a product manager, in which a new product manager should possess at least one. (Note: These attributes are in addition to having strong leadership, communication and prioritization skills.)

  • An empathy for customers and their problems
  • A penchant for successfully solving problems
  • A foundational business education
  • Mid – deep industry knowledge.

Empathy toward a customer is extremely important and the main reason client support professionals become very good product managers. Folks with a support background can focus on the problem instead of the solution and are adept at putting themselves in the shoes of the customer.

Of course, recognizing a problem is only half the battle. How can one fix it? New product managers must lead teams in solving the problems, usually with fewer resources than desired. This is why engineers sometimes often morph into product managers. They understand how to effectively and efficiently solve problems. For myself, I came from a project management role where I was familiar with working across different groups to reach business goals.

Speaking of business, a business education can help shape those goals. A business background helps product folks prioritize problems by attaching ROI (return-on-investment) analysis onto each piece of development work the team does. The aforementioned MBA is a shortcut to gaining the business knowledge needed to start or grow a business. Ideally, a product manager would have started their own venture successfully. However, recruiters aren’t going to ask for this credential given that a successful ex-founder won’t be seeking an entry-level product role.

The last group are mavens within a particular industry. This allows for product manager sourcing from an unlikely well: customers. Serving as a core customer can lend itself to both industry and product knowledge, making for a smooth transition into the field. Of course, customers aren’t the only group with industry knowledge. Virtually anyone working within a particular field can add value to a new organization with a fresh set of eyes devoted to solving a mutually-understood problem.

For those looking to enter the product management field, it’s best to understand what will be asked of you: availability at all hours for product releases or (gasp!) support escalations, understanding the motivations and needs of different teams, constantly changing variables, undergoing a master class in building a business. It’s exciting, but amplitude of product management in terms of happiness can be quite a rollercoaster. Still interested? Then pursue experience in at least one of the four areas listed above and you’ll be ready to start the journey.

One misconception is that earning these skills will result in an immediate product management gig. Maybe, but not likely. What’s more likely is a drawn out pursuit of the right role. There’s a couple ways to do this: vie for a PM role outside of your current position or pick up product management experience on the side by helping the product team at your current place of work. There are very few – if any – product managers who aren’t over their heads in stuff to do, and a good portion of work to be done could be passed off to someone junior. To that end, volunteer to help out in exchange for some experience.

Here’s my (abridged) story: I worked as a project manager for several years, learning how to make deadlines and operationalize a successful project team. In parallel, I earned an MBA at night over the course of three or four years. Finally, while working as a project manager at Intuit, I was drawn to the product side of the house. I asked to shadow a PM and not one but two product managers took me up on it. Through their leadership, I was able to take on valuable tasks: write user stories, map out our customer experience and eventually became the product owner on a scrum team. When it was time to depart Intuit, my resume was bolstered with product management experience. Eventually I landed a fulltime gig doing product and now have a team of my own, helping others start and/or grow their careers.

The Best of 2016: The Top Six Posts from the Growth and Grit Blog

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More companies are beginning to grasp that the customer experience (in and out of product) can make or break a business.  At the start of 2016, we felt it was an appropriate time to explore the art and science that goes into building truly great products and businesses that customers embrace and advocate.  Thus, the Growth and Grit blog was born in January 2016.

Here are six blog entries from the previous year that our readers especially enjoyed.  Enjoy and please sign up for our mailing list so we can share more posts in 2017!

1. User Experience, Customer Experience

2. We Just Refreshed Our Product UI: Seven Lessons Learned

3. 40 Critical Touchpoints to Map in the Customer Journey

4. Brown Guacamole and How to Leverage Journey Maps with Unhappy Customers

5. Why Now is the Right Time for Right Time Marketing

6. Our Customers Deserve Better: Introducing A New Approach To Mapping The Customer Journey

Thanks for reading,

John

 

Why Your Company Needs a “Journey Room”

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A few years back, I was working at a mid-sized software company and part of a project team looking to overhaul our pricing and packaging.  The initial stages of the project involving speaking with customers, researching the competition and performing the math necessary to hone in on the correct pricing.  Then, we built packages around the pricing which was a way of bundling features, products together at an aggregated price to meet customer needs.  (Note: The most difficult part of this exercise were the names themselves.  Like most companies, we were boring, using the periodic table to find the right precious metals to name our packages.)  With these hurdles leaped, we believed we’d hit the homestretch.  However, when we began buttoning up the customer experience around the forthcoming changes we realized we’d only hit the tip of the iceberg.

No one across the organization seemed to be thrilled around the execution of the pricing rollout.  Sales wasn’t keen on our communication strategy.  Marketing needed to make website changes.  Product didn’t trust the current upsell/cross-sell machinations for the new stuff.  Support freaked out over the whole darned thing.  The pricing/packaging looked great.  The customer experience was going to be a disaster if we didn’t get our act together.

So, we mapped out the customer journey …on paper.  We jotted down every known detail on a whiteboard and then invited folks to review and provide feedback and questions.  We did many rounds of this, often with the same people.  The more we met with different teams in our little huddle room, the more we added to the customer experience mapping up on the wall.  Before long, we needed a bigger wall.  Hey, would the Red Sox mind if we hung a few items from the Green Monster during the all-star break?

Ultimately, we created what we called a “fishbowl” (which I’ll refer to as a “journey room” for the sake of this article) in the middle of our office.  The journey room was a common area with a series of white boards where we published the entire customer experience as a series of workflows and diagrams (this was somewhat intimidating and looked a little like a circuit board upon first glance).  We provided post-its to encourage our coworkers to leave suggestions, questions, ideas, corrections.  Our UX design team assumed the role of journey room owners.  They’d answer any questions and take action on feedback.

It didn’t take long for various folks from various teams to congregate and contribute. Having the customer journey posted in a physical, central location meant folks saw it every day.  They saw their friends hanging out.  They debated and worked together to tackle problems.  Most of the office contributed.  For all we knew, Matt Damon came by after hours to mop and figured some stuff out.

As changes were made to the board, pieces were finalized and individual teams took away action items to implement in advance of the changes.

Before long, we’d optimized the customer experience and successfully completed our pricing rollout.  Then something interesting happened: The journey room stayed open.  As new insights were made or projects started, folks used the room to further improve the lives of our customers.  Then we started charging money and people came from far away to see it!  Okay, I made the last part up.  However, the journey room did serve as the record of truth and a living document of our customer’s experience from their first website visit to product adoption.

We are in the midst of a digital revolution and its remarkable how we can get closer to and further from the customer at the same time.  How many websites do you visit today where online assistance is provided through a chat window?  How confident are we that “Susan” is a real person and not an algorithm guided by artificial intelligence?  Personally, I’m less confident but only because “Susan” recently mentioned lunch with her friend “Siri”.

Customer-centricity is strangely both “top of mind” and “under attack” in the digital world.  Documenting, publishing and maintaining a consistent, effective customer journey reinforces the importance of customer empathy.  So, find a room, map the customer experience and see what happens.  You’ll be surprised who shows up.

User Experience, Customer Experience

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My wife and I are shopping for a new car.

We research different makes and models from friends, family and the internet of course. There is a lot of data in the wild, which simplifies our buying journey to the point that we are able to hone in on the exact model we’re looking for.

One fall morning, we visit a local car dealership. Upon arrival, we’re “greeted” by two folks who sit slumped behind a large counter and pay us no mind until we interrupt their conversation and ask for sales help. Had I been throwing money in the air as I walked in, I’m not sure that they’d react any differently. (This may be a really good indicator for our economy.)

We finally meet our salesperson, Tyler. He’s unkempt, bleary-eyed and before long he admits he’s “looking to get out of sales”. ‘Perfect,’ I think. ‘We’re looking to quit driving automobiles.’ This is a match made in heaven!

We provide him with our personal information although we’re unsure why he asked or why we acquiesced at this point in the process. Anyway, he has my driver’s license, social security card, ATM card, credit score, shoe size, list of fears, recent prescriptions and a copy of my passport. So that should do it.

Our salesperson asks if we’d like popcorn. When I stand up to retrieve some from the popcorn machine he remarks “Assuming we made some today.” That is a fair disclaimer. (There was popcorn.) We discuss the car we’re interested in.

Finally, we reach nirvana, or a sea of new, shiny cars neatly organized within a giant lot. Our salesperson walks briskly five strides in front of us. We assume he’s walking us to a car and not walking home. He casually mentions more than once that he’s going to “just use Joey’s keys”. Joey: If you’re reading this, Tyler has your keys.

When we find the car we’re interested in, we’re pleased with both the exterior and interior: Smart/sleek design, comfortable seats, practical features and the requisite new car smell. So far, so good. It meets our requirements and even provides us with pleasant surprises we weren’t expecting. Overall, our expectations of how the product would look and feel have been exceeded.

Before long, we are cruising down the highway, doing our best to assess something that we’ll have for the next ten-fifteen years in ten-fifteen minutes. The test drive is a resounding success. We even have an opportunity to open the windows and really take in the driving experience. Both my wife and I take turns test-driving and can see ourselves owning, driving, enjoying this car. We loved the LS model!

This is the LS model, right? Over the next thirty minutes we’d sort through the different variations with Tyler. Apparently, various combinations of letters and numbers correspond to different features and prices. Once we sort this out, we move on.

Back in the dealership, we return to Tyler’s desk. It is time to negotiate pricing. Tyler logs into his computer and begins querying. He reads out the inventory, corresponding pricing and then potentially plays a couple games of solitaire as we follow along like a pair of cats watching tennis on TV. Tyler seems to want to stick with the MSRP price. We advance the negotiation by using the average costs we discovered online. Tyler reacts like we either asked for a free car or stabbed him with Joey’s keys. We hold firm, confident our request is reasonable. Eventually Tyler exits stage-right to find a new actor for this nine-act play.

We then meet “The Closer” (who calls himself “Bill”), Tyler’s counterpart. Bill ambles over with a printout offer. The only problem? Bill’s offer reflects the list price of the car (also known as the MSRP), which is exactly what Tyler offered. No one in the history of car-buying pays the MSRP price for a car. Now, we are in a state of shock.

Discouraged, we politely decline the offer and get up to leave. Before we can escape, Bill scurries back to see if “they” can do something about the offer. It was unclear if “they” was another level of sales management, the Banker from ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’ or the Illuminati. When Bill returns, the next offer is better. Unfortunately, we are still traumatized (and almost offended) from his original offer. We politely decline and say we’ll think about it. The Closer remarks that it’s the end of the month and that he has “40 more customers waiting for him”. He walks off. Tyler is daydreaming about his life as an Uber driver.

As users of a product, we seek incredible product experiences. As customers, we expect incredible human experiences.

My wife and I are still shopping for a new car.