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Evolving Product to Deliver the Right Solution

Stephanie Ragozzino, Exec. VP of Product

What happens when your audience doesn’t use your product like you anticipated they would?

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What happens when your audience doesn’t use your product like you thought they would?

If you’re like Stephanie Ragozzino, you evolve your solution to deliver the right user experience. Stephanie is the EVP of Product Development at PERQ, which leverages Artificial Intelligence to help guide buyers through complex purchase decisions.

PERQ wasn’t always a digital product company, but they had a vision for how a product could elevate their existing services business. When Stephanie joined, she took this vision and turned it into a usable and marketable product. However, the journey to identifying and building the right product didn’t happen overnight. 

In this week’s conversation, you’ll hear how Stephanie was able to continually evolve PERQ’s product offering to deliver true value to its end user. She also shares her insights on how a great product may be great, but without the right support (i.e. sales and marketing), the product means nothing; it just becomes another tool. 

Full Transcript:

Stephanie: I need to do the research on the businesses to understand what their pains are, and make sure that the solution really solves those, or else I'm just like any other tool and not really a solution for them.

Anna Eaglin: Better Product, the only show that takes a behind the scenes look into how digital products are created.

Christian Beck: The businesses built around them, and how you too can innovate better product. I'm Christian.

Anna Eaglin: I'm Anna.

Christian Beck: Welcome to today's show.

Anna Eaglin: Today we're going back ... back to the beginning. But not really. We're talking with Steph Ragozzino, EVP of Product Marketing at PERQ. And I might have oversold that, because when I say we're going back to the beginning, we're really just going back to the beginning of when PERQ pivoted to become a product company.

Christian Beck: Yeah, so PERQ started as an advertising services company who had some technology wrapped around it. But today PERQ offers a marketing cloud for the high considered purchase market. The journey to get there is what this episode is all about. But first, what exactly is a high considered purchase market?

Stephanie: That is something that is an expensive item that you want to do research before, and that you then end up ultimately making ... You can buy it online, but you'd like to actually talk to somebody before you actually make a purchase. That's the high considered purchase market to us. So, examples of high considered markets that we're in are home furnishings, if you're buying a couch or if you're buying a washer and dryer, or if you're leasing an apartment. So, in multi-family space. Those are examples of markets that we're currently in.

Anna Eaglin: And the marketing cloud is all about enabling digital marketing managers with data, because they're making the decisions on how they spend their marketing dollars every day. At its core, PERQ focuses on website conversions.

Christian Beck: Okay, we've got that out of the way. Now let's get back to Stephanie, or Steph. She was the first hire they brought on when they being the co-founders Scott Hill and Andy Medley, went to transform PERQ to become more of a tech-enabled business.

Anna Eaglin: Right. Exactly. What I find interesting is that PERQ was able to use all the lessons learned from the services to inform the product they now have today.

Christian Beck: When Steph joined PERQ she wasn't even entirely sure what they needed to build.

Stephanie: So, Scott did a great thing in recruiting us, and put together his vision document. And so it was not necessarily around product but the pains or where he could see this going. And it started out from a business perspective and how it could reach all the way down to consumer. And really just painting a vision in order to get everybody excited.

Anna Eaglin: So she took this vision and said, "Okay. Where do we start?"

Stephanie: Those are some fun days with a lot of post-it notes and whiteboards. So we would lay out everything that we could possibly see that we wanted to do in order to get to a product that we thought would be good.

Christian Beck: They would build, take a step back, then pivot based upon what they were hearing and experiencing. Instead of getting into the trap of build and never release, they would draw these sort of lines in the sand, so they could test the product with clients. And in their testing, they would then prioritize.

Stephanie: We thought we would find customers who would log into our system and try to create their own stuff. We quickly learned that, that is not what the kinds of customers that we were going after or were looking for at all.

Anna Eaglin: Initially, their technology was designed to serve automotive dealerships. What they uncovered is that no one was using the product. So, the team at PERQ started using the tools as a way to flex their technology muscle and demonstrate to their target what was possible.

Stephanie: We used this technology platform that we built, but we called this a solution leveraging the platform. So our first solution that we created was a trade solution. So, we did integration with an ADA, we were like, "Okay, this is finally something that we think that an automotive dealer will buy. Let's try to go sell that to them."

Christian Beck: These solutions allowed them to create what she calls experiences, and the experiences are what their buyers wanted, which is not what they first thought.

Stephanie: And at this point we built this platform, and then we had worked on the solution, and we were about ready to give up on it, and the feedback started to come in from those initial [inaudible 00:03:51], and we're like, "Oh yeah, we can sell with these results." Because again, we started with the platform, and then we went with the solution, but we wanted to get some results from that solution. That's when the results started to come in and we're like, "Okay."

Christian Beck: They restructured everything around what they knew they could sell, and then continued to build their platform. And so, how did they figure that out?

Anna Eaglin: Take a listen, and be sure to hang out a few minutes after our interview with Steph and we'll break down the key points so that you too can build a better product.

Stephanie: Lots of good conversations with customers, right? And also what was going on in the market. For those of you familiar with automotive websites, there's no lack of calls to action on an automotive website. So the last thing we really needed to do was to pepper the site with more ways in order to be able to engage. The problem is, is that if you ever interact with automotive website, you click on a call to action, they all look exactly the same. Give me your first name, last name, and the questions are exactly the same. There's no return for the consumer whatsoever, right?

Stephanie: So for us, we were like, "Oh, this is an opportunity where we can do exactly what we did with trade", using our technology and give them an experience that allows them to do, "I'm interested in this vehicle, tell me more about it." And maybe they are not a place that likes to publish their price online, but we can put it in our experience and then show them the price as something that's valuable to the consumer, but the business still gets a lead in order to be able to follow up on that. And so we started to build out our website conversion solution in automotive to start.

Stephanie: So, we went from one experience ... There was a time when we thought that we still on this platform plane, and we were like, "You can build whatever you want. We have all these templates", and so we started to sell ... "We will custom build any solution for you, Mr. Automotive Dealer", and that was great. It sold wonderful. It was nearly impossible to deliver, because again, we found our success in selling results, and selling a solution. What happens is, is when everybody's a designer, the results don't all work out to be the same. So, I vividly remember one experience which was Woman At The Wheel.

Stephanie: There was this business that really wanted an experience called Woman At The Wheel, and they were very passionate about it. So, we built a whole experience for them, custom [inaudible 00:06:09] and it didn't ... I'm pretty sure there was maybe less than five leads the whole time.

Christian Beck: I can guess why, and I don't know what this thing is that you're talking about, but-

Anna Eaglin: Terrified.

Christian Beck: ... Woman at the Wheel? What is that?

Stephanie: From what I remember, it was supposed to be ... where women can be in charge of buying their own cars, going to be super easy, come work with us, because we like women drivers. There's going to be no pressure, and all that. But it didn't work on the site. So, we quickly realized, oh yeah, we can sell that. But then it's not going to work. So, we're not going to be able to keep and maintain those customers, right? Because we were selling on results, at this point in time.

Stephanie: So, we were still trying that platform play at the time. But we realized that, no, what's working is results. So, we need to go out with here's what will work in results. And really measure the results and say, "Here's what we're going to do on your website before. after you apply our technology, here's what the results are going to be."

Anna Eaglin: After you apply the experiences that we designed because we know they work.

Stephanie: Correct. That's exactly right.

Anna Eaglin: Okay.

Stephanie: So that's what we did. So we expanded, we started with one experience and then we have a different set of experiences. And that's really when we got started on website conversion.

Anna Eaglin: So when you think about the market, so you were very much tailoring toward the automotive market. How did you decide to go across with that? Like you said, the high consideration purchase as opposed to just leaning in automotive?

Stephanie: So that was part of Scott's vision at the very beginning, right? Is this is going to be cross vertical. This was never intended to be a [crosstalk 00:07:37].

Anna Eaglin: Pivot.

Stephanie: We wanted to just get started in automotive. So a lot of the direct mail that we did was in automotive. We knew that buyer already. So we didn't actually go after the existing advertising services customer base. We started brand new, but we just knew how they bought. We knew what was important to them, and that's ... And the sales guy was from that space. So that helped, right? Who was our product marketer, in order to get in there. Our plan was always to go into more markets. The fund was how do you get to that next market? Right? I would love to say that we always do.

Stephanie: The next one was going to be home furnishings. That wasn't the case at all. We lucked into it when someone approached us of like, "Hey, could we use your technology?" Or for this home furnishing store? And when you're still excited about the platform player, like, "Yes, you can." Right? And so we built a couple of experiences for them, but on their website and we're like, "You know what, there's a market here." And so that's when we then we went back and said, let's actually do the research. Let's figure out what this whole ... What this market looks like, what are their pain points from a business side? Where their pain points from a consumer side? What does their marketing spend?

Stephanie: How much are they willing to pay for something like this? Would they see value in it? And then what is the addressable market? And that's more like, "Oh yeah, we can go into this space." And so that's whenever we built out the full solution in home furnishings. So [inaudible 00:09:02] what was our MVP solution, which I think included about six experiences total. So we went past from just the one trade and automotive and expanded and home furnishings. So when we started, we went with six experiences and then it expanded, I think there's over 20 now, and our home furnishings product.

Stephanie: So yeah. So that went great. So after we did that initial market research and we started seeing the results and we could sell with it, we hired a sales staff in automotive to go after that. And they were executing on that. And once we realize that there's quite an opportunity in home furnishings, the manager of that was also really good at helping us get that started, pulled him over into home furnishings, let that sales team continue to sell and he moved into the new market of home furnishings and helping us grow that. And so that's when we had dedicated product marketing to that and a sales staff.

Christian Beck: So if I understand it correctly, you lucked into somebody asking you to create a home furnishing solutions and you delivered it and it seemed to go pretty well. And then you did some research and thought, okay, there's opportunity here. So, I want to understand when you go back to your product team and the teams that you've been running, the engineering teams, how do you start spinning that up? What can you reuse or anything from the other product? Is it a new product entirely? Or I'd like to understand a little bit more about that.

Stephanie: So this is finally ... You're at the first point that the platform pays off. So all of that investment in platform. Finally, we have all this infrastructure, so we're not starting from scratch, right? I have these templates that I know work, because it's the same shopper that's on an automotive website, that is on a home furnishing site, right? I mean we're the same people looking for those two things. And so we know what works. And so we had all of these templates and experiences, and we just had to change out the graphics and the questions that we ask. And it really allowed us to go a lot quicker into that space.

Stephanie: Now, are there different integrations? Of course. Or are there different visuals that we want to do and tweaks and edits, but everyone still interested in the same thing, right? They're trying to figure out is there ... Because we had this in our platform, we built common assessment logic, where we can ask a series of questions, we can give ratings to different responses and programmatically give you an answer. And so because we had that platform, we could spin up quizzes like that.

Christian Beck: So is the time to get a product up in home furnishings shorter than it was previously an automotive?

Stephanie: Way shorter. Absolutely. So we can do that in product, but if you have a product that's great but not the appropriate sales staff and the collateral and the marketing support in order to do it, it's going to fall flat. There's more than just product when it comes to going into a new market.

Christian Beck: What new roles that you have to hire in a new vertical versus what can you sort of reuse? Sounds like the product is portable, but sales and marketing has to be new.

Stephanie: So when we're pitching, we try to use common ways of describing what we're doing, right. Because again we're all shoppers. We can talk about the consumer pains that we solve the same way. The pains of the industry are pretty different. So we try to use the structure as much as we can across this the same. So that includes the pitch deck, right? And how we pitch. Because we know what's working already. And again, there's a lot of ... We can just change the business problems that we're doing so we don't have to do that. A lot of the same collateral and follow up is there, right? That we can use.

Stephanie: But we definitely have to tweak it to the market because that's what we're selling. We're selling something that we know their business pain. So could I spin up a new experience in a couple of weeks? I could. But I need to do the research. I need to do the research on the consumers to understand what the consumer pains are. I need to do the research on the businesses to understand what their pains are, and make sure that the solution really solves those. Or else I'm just like any other tool, and not really a solution for them.

Anna Eaglin: Again, I'd be curious, how did you decide then getting into ... Becoming a marketing cloud, getting into lead nurturing, I mean that's another step beyond what you're already doing. How did you decide that, that was the right step to take?

Stephanie: So to answer, how do we decide it? Scott put this master plan out and he figured out that master plan by talking to a lot of people, he does a lot of industry speaking and then listening to our clients. When we hear things on those quarterly business reviews of pains that we're creating, we need to make sure that we squash those pains and there's a lot of different ways that we can do it, and one way is with technology in our solutions.

Anna Eaglin: You were the first product hire at PERQ and one part of your success there is the team that you've built around you. So what was your strategy going in? How did you decide what roles to go after first and who to go after?

Stephanie: So for me I knew that if I was going to go build a product, I needed a product manager that could help bring any visions that I had or anybody else had delight, right? And my background is in product management, but I know how critical and important that role is. And so it's super important to get one. I didn't need to hire a team, right? I just needed one who is going to help me get started. And so that's where I started there. I also needed somebody on the business side, on the product marketing side that I can use, because I am not a salesperson, right? I love talking to sales people, but that's not my thing.

Stephanie: So, really partnering with finding somebody in sales who definitely thinks like a product person. So that was then ended up being my first product marketer. And so I started initially with ... And then I inherited a product manager, which was a pleasant surprise. When you walk in and they haven't necessarily been a technology company, you're thinking, "Oh, well are we starting from scratch?" And so a lot of it which is talking to a lot of different people and you can really hear a lot from in a conversation of like, "Oh, you think like a product person." And so I was able to steal somebody who had great business knowledge of what we've been trying to do at PERQ, in order to be able to come over.

Stephanie: So I had somebody who had a lot of experience building enterprise products before. I had somebody who knew the business really well from the advertising services side of things. And then I had somebody who was a great salesperson in order to really help us kick it all off.

Anna Eaglin: What do you mean someone who thinks like a product person? How did you recognize that? You said about your product marketer too?

Stephanie: So what I mean by things like a product person is, whenever I look at product, I can see all the goods in it and I can see all the opportunities of how it can get better. And that's what I think it means you think like a product person. So, you have to be able to be critical, but you have to be able to see all of the problems that it can solve for somebody. And so, a lot of times it can be cool and that, but if someone can say, "Oh, I like that. How about we did this and this and this, because that would make that even better." Or "Oh, you know what? Somebody would love that. I could see how they could use that, right?"

Stephanie: And really being able to build on that. That's what I mean by thinking like a product person. So when Scott asked me to do this role, he did not have a product description, he had no idea what he was looking for, right? Because they're not technology or product guys. Which is a blessing and a curse, right? So the blessing was, is that it was a blank canvas, right? And that I could use what I had done and what I thought worked well and then bring it in. But at the same point in time, explaining to them why we needed to invest in some of these things is a little bit harder of an explanation because they haven't necessarily built product before.

Stephanie: So in my original team, I had that a product management corp, I had the product marketing core. And then I knew that I didn't have the need for a full time. I needed to get started with user experience, and we were building this platform and it was super important that I put the core infrastructure in place, but not necessarily hire somebody, because I did know where it was going to go, right? So for full time. So I'm pretty sure I was one of the very first user experience customers have of Innovatemap, which was super critical for us, because it allowed me to jumpstart that without having to get somebody new and train them up on that.

Stephanie: And it was really truly the third leg of the stool for me and being able to bring the product to light. Then, at a point where we got big enough and it was like, "Okay, we're ready to hire that." Then we could easily transition that.

Anna Eaglin: It sounds like what you're saying that, in the beginning you had a need for a resource and that, I mean, Innovatemap was that. It helped fill that spot, but it was just ... You couldn't justify the full time hire at that time, and you weren't sure, like you said, where the product was going to go. So, that was ... You said the third leg of the stool.

Stephanie: It's so important that those three pieces work so closely together, because if they don't, it doesn't come to life, right? Those three pieces are super important, at least in my opinion, because if we're in unison, whenever we have that teammate, then in engineering, then whatever we're our vision is, then they can go and execute on. But that's-

Anna Eaglin: Will you repeat what this three legs of the stool are?

Stephanie: For me, it's somebody in product marketing that can interact with sales, talk with sales, can be your first salesperson, right? And really do that side of it. Help kick off a new market. Somebody in product management that can take that idea and actually turn it into requirements or something that we might actually be able to deliver on. And then the third is the user experience because in our world and product management, because we do have this consumer side, we are not the best ones to create a good looking consumer experience. So those three things together, need to happen so that we can have a solution for a business that also works for our consumer.

Anna Eaglin: What does better products mean to you?

Stephanie: A better product is a product that solves a pain point. Whether you knew you had the pain point or not it, it solves that pain point in a way that the value that it brings to you is undeniable.

Christian Beck: That was Stephanie Ragozzino EVP of product marketing at PERQ. That's P-E-R-Q that you can check them out atperq.com. Okay Anna, let's talk about what Steph just told us because she took us on a really long journey.

Anna Eaglin: A whirlwind of an adventure.

Christian Beck: So, the first thought that I had was, "Wow, they've pivoted a lot of times." But I don't know if pivot is the right term to use in PERQ's case. It seems like it's more of an evolution.

Anna Eaglin: How would you differentiate the two?

Christian Beck: Well I think a pivot ... why I literally think of like ... Well you played basketball, we both played basketball.

Anna Eaglin: It's true.

Christian Beck: You have a pivot foot and you keep pivoting on it-

Anna Eaglin: When you're a short person you have to pivot a lot.

Christian Beck: ... yeah. So, you have to pivot, but you can't lift the pivot foot. So-

Anna Eaglin: Once you pick a pivot foot, stick with the pillow foot.

Christian Beck: ... right. So, product is a lot like basketball. You can pivot, but you just can't keep pivoting, or you just keep going in a circle. And so, what's interesting about PERQ is that even though you could look at this and say, "Oh, they pivoted." I think it's been an evolution. So let's start at the beginning of their journey. PERQ was a services company. I mean they had technology, but that wasn't their main thing. And then from services they said, "Oh hey, we can build a technology platform off of this and sell that." So they had this platform [inaudible 00:19:58] were nobody's using the platform.

Christian Beck: I think that's where it ended. Nobody's using the platform. At that point where they look at it and say, "Nobody's using the platform. Let's pivot." I don't feel like what they did next was quite a pivot. It was, but deer point, they'd already pivoted from a services company to a technology platform company. I think all they found out when they sold the platforms is nobody who's using it, but they were using something else, which I guess is a pivot. But it feels a little bit richer than that. It feels like they evolved a little more than pivoted.

Anna Eaglin: Yeah. The experiences were built on top of the existing solution, right? So I guess in this maybe a sales strategy way, they pivoted but from a product perspective, they built that infrastructure. It was all there. It's just instead of having the dealerships build the experiences, they're building the experiences for the dealerships realizing they don't want to get there and do that themselves. And so really they built themselves an internal tool, to enable them to sell these experiences to the dealership.

Anna Eaglin: So I agree. It doesn't feel like a pivot, but like you said, an evolution or really it feels like they are responding to the market, responding to the customers. So it feels like that's a really good thing, a really good thing that they did that they were able to do that and shift and not say, "Oh, nobody wants this platform. Let's just throw the whole thing out." And that's what ... More often than not, when people pivot it sounds like they had an assumption that wasn't right and now they need to completely change course, but this I think was more of just like, "Oh, we'll just change the degree to which we're interacting with buyers and users."

Christian Beck: Yeah, I think it's a really good way of putting it. I think about the story of Instagram when it started as Bourbon, way back in the day, and it was competing with Foursquare and something else. It was location based whatever, and I can't remember the reason it wasn't doing well, but ultimately when they looked at their usage they found a lot of people are using the photo feature and photo filter and that's like a pivot to me. To go from you're competing with Foursquare to then becoming Instagram feels like a massive pivot. You took something that you had, and build something new around it.

Christian Beck: To your point, they had an assumption that people would use this thing but their fundamental assumption wasn't wrong. It's that people found value out of it. It was just out of a slightly different piece and they didn't ... Instagram threw away a lot of the other piece, some of the technology for Geo locating, they kept with it, but they really changed that from Bourbon to Instagram, totally rebrand it. PERQ didn't rebrand and do all that. They took that technology and actually just brought the platform and changed the users from people on the outside to their internal team using the platform to make experiences.

Anna Eaglin: Yeah, and I think Steph mentioned that there was this vision, I think Scott had outlined the vision for the product, and it sounded like they never really ... That, that vision was still being executed. So it really didn't stray from the original vision. It's just how they got there. It was a little bit different I think than they expected.

Christian Beck: Yeah, and we don't have to get into this semantic conversation, but I think it's important because, when you think about a pivot versus evolving, they still made a really pivotal decision where they said, "Nobody's using this technology platform. What do we do next?" And I think it takes a lot of courage to actually not completely abandon that and find something that worked, but I think what's really important for them, to your point, Scott Hill's vision didn't change. They continue executing toward ... They just changed the way that they were doing it, and in doing so I think they shifted.

Christian Beck: They first were a services company, and they were trying to become a technology company, now it feels a little bit more like they're tech enabled. Still tech, but they're using tech to enable them to do something else.

Anna Eaglin: One thing you can't discount as part of this process is their ability to release MVPs. I think Steph talked about it consistently over and over again. They're so good at drawing a line and say, "This is exactly what we're going to release. We're going to put it into the world." I think she said they deliver, they see progress, and then they test it. And if they are actually delivering the value that say they wanted to, then they will get that feedback, and then they will continue on. And I think that process is what has enabled them to so easily evolve to what their customers are asking for.

Anna Eaglin: Because again, they don't hold a product inside for three years, test and then released into the world. They're very deliberate about what they're putting out there, getting that feedback and then coming back and changing it. And they're so responsive and receptive to customer feedback. I think that has played a huge part in how they've evolved the product.

Christian Beck: I'm glad you brought that up because we don't talk a lot about process and the organizational side, but the way you're talking about it reminds me that Steph is a very savvy and experienced product person and everything we've described about pivoting or evolving is not possible without somebody like her in the role to instill that process, and have some discipline about it. Otherwise they could just be pivoting and then they would travel and then it would be a turnover to the other team.

Anna Eaglin: Oh, we're back on the sports thing.

Christian Beck: Yes.

Anna Eaglin: Sorry. I'm back.

Christian Beck: Back to sports.

Anna Eaglin: No, you're 100% right. Having someone, it's like you get that flexibility. I think from the rigidity of a well managed process, and a well managed backlog really.

Christian Beck: And it seems like Steph has a really good read on the vision and knows how to carry that through the product so, when they're faced with this issue of nobody's using this platform, what do we do? They figure out what they can do. She knows how to get the product team enabled because to your point, they've got a really good process in place. They've got good answers for that, so it speaks to the ... For people listening to this understanding, how you can pivot in a way that's maybe an evolution versus a total change.

Christian Beck: The key there is you have to have somebody who understands the product discipline and knows how to actually execute with the team so they can stay fast paced.

Anna Eaglin: Thanks so much for listening to the show this week. If you haven't yet, be sure to subscribe, rate and review this podcast. Until then, visit Innovatemap.com/podcast and subscribe to learn how you can take your product to the next level. As always we're curious. What does better product mean to you? Hit us up on twitter@innovatemap or shoot us an email at podcast@innovatemap.com.

Christian Beck: I'm Christian.

Anna Eaglin: And I'm Anna, and you've been listening to Better Product-

Christian Beck: Better Product.

Anna Eaglin: Drop mic.

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