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Season 1, Episode 5:

An Intro to Beneficial Outcomes (Pillar 3 of 3)


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Episode Summary

Your software business is driven by people engaging with your offering. But what CAUSES people to engage?

We believe that every time someone uses an app, it's because they're trying to change something about their life OUTSIDE the app.

We call the out-of-app changes that drive engagement (and hence drive your revenue) Beneficial Outcomes.

Today, we explore all the ins and outs of how to better identify and deliver Beneficial Outcomes, so you can create more value for both your users and your business.

📚  References

🔤  Transcript

Samuel (00:00:15):
Hi, I'm Samuel from UserOnboard.

Yohann (00:00:17):
And I'm Yohann, also from UserOnboard.

Samuel (00:00:21):
Today, our topic is pillar three of the three pillars of healthy growth, which we are now calling Beneficial Outcomes. Previously, we had been referring to them as Super-Outcomes, but we realized that there was a naming conflict within the internal structure of something further more detailed and more granular.

Samuel (00:00:44):
If you heard us talking in prior episodes about compounding sub-outcomes, where the smaller changes follow a particular sequence and result in a bigger change...if we call those sub-outcomes, it would mean that super-outcomes, instead of being relatively smaller in the case of sub, relatively bigger in the case of super. We needed to find another name for the whole giant pillar to replace the term Super-Outcomes. What we came up with was Beneficial Outcomes, because the emphasis is truly on the fact that you want to make sure that you're designing for outcomes where the user recognizes that they are better off and where the business recognizes that they are better off for having helped the user get there. Is that a fair 10,000 foot view description, Yohann?

Yohann (00:01:44):
Absolutely. Just to address where we're coming from with this — have you heard of that Zen metaphor of...The Zen master points at the moon, and the young disciple sitting along with the Zen master is busy looking at the finger. The Zen master slaps the disciple – this is how the story goes — he slaps the disciple, and he says, "Don't look at my finger, look at the moon."

Yohann (00:02:10):
What we're trying to do is point at stuff. We don't know the right ways to do that yet. We have certain concepts that we believe are important, but we don't know how to talk about them as yet. This podcast is our way of figuring it out. I hope this doesn't sound too hoity-toity, but I want to channel the Zen master and say, while we figure out the right way to point at the moon, please join us in looking at the moon rather than the finger.

Samuel (00:02:45):
I think that was a wonderful metaphor, Yohann, and I completely agree. I think the way that I would put it would be that we have identified a major oversight in our entire industry, and that, after a couple years of investigation between the two of us, we feel extremely confident that this is an area that deserves more attention.

Samuel (00:03:14):
We are also trying to be realistic about the fact that we're two individuals seeking to do this because we are passionate about it, but not trying to present ourselves as having everything figured out as well. We're confident that it needs to be figured out, and we are sharing our best attempts at figuring it out as we proceed.

Samuel (00:03:38):
If being a fly on the wall for that sounds appealing, count yourselves in, and if you're looking for something with a little bit more polish and coherence, we will be looking to make all kinds of resources available as we proceed. That's my general stance on that. Generally agreed?

Yohann (00:03:56):

Identifying "Beneficial Outcomes"

Samuel (00:03:57):
All right. With that in place, let's talk about the topic of the episode today, which are a newly minted term, Beneficial Outcomes, and what we mean when we say that. Let's do a quick review of the past pillars. Pillar one, Path Design, was all about saying, if you've got people at point A, how can you arrange things so that it's more likely that they get to point B that they desire, or that correlates with revenue, or hopefully both?

Samuel (00:04:26):
Then, pillar two was Performance Valuation, and that was all about how do you measure to confirm that you're actually getting better at getting people from point A to point B? How do you put a value on getting people to point B in dollar terms and actually be able to evaluate it from a revenue standpoint? Now pillar three is saying how do you get really strategic about picking the right point Bs to help people get to, to begin with, and how do you understand the point B status inside and out and really understand what is driving people to try to achieve those particular outcomes, and what role your offering plays in it, so that you can understand their timeline as well as possible and seek to integrate your offering into their timeline as seamlessly as possible.

Yohann (00:05:23):
It sounds like we're going back to first principles, we're going back to the reason the business exists. It's easy to think here, we've already figured this stuff out, so why revisit the value that people are getting from us? But it's important to revisit, and we will dig into why, over the course of the episode. But bear with us in this journey to that foundational place. We're digging into the fundamental value exchange between your business and users here.

Samuel (00:05:59):
Yeah. I think that the difference in perspective that we're trying to highlight here is that traditionally, in almost an industrial manufacturing paradigm, you would design something once, and then you would mass manufacture it, and send it out to everybody who was the consumer, or the purchaser of it, or the recipient, or whatever. It would have a relatively one size fits all experience, because you're talking about producing tangible goods that have logistical limitations when it comes to the practicalities of transporting them.

Samuel (00:06:37):
I think we talked about this in a previous episode, but your car door can't tell when you're trying to get into your car, and rearrange its molecules to make that easier for you. But when we are talking about digital experiences, that very much is the nature of what we're offering where, yeah, we can think of what we create as a product, and we can think of our business model as being predicated on generating revenue by selling access to that product. But that's not describing what's really happening, from a functional standpoint. The energy that's driving that process to take place, is always being driven by a bigger process.

Samuel (00:07:19):
In that sense, a super process or the pursuit of a Super-Outcome, where paying for your offering, especially just paying for access to your offering is really always just one small step in a grander pursuit in someone's life.

Samuel (00:07:36):
Our theory is that if you pay attention to those bigger outcomes, bigger real life outcomes that people are pursuing that you will find patterns. If you have big juicy patterns of knowing that you're connecting people, not from point A to point B in your app, but from point A to point B in their lives, that really changes the nature of the whole value proposition itself, and it also should really inform a lot of decisions regarding how you're going to organize your business around serving that need and benefiting from it yourself.

Yohann (00:08:14):
Agreed. There's also a shift in focus here. If we're talking about finding patterns, what typically happens in most businesses is that the pattern finding is restricted to demographics. You're trying to find, do marketers use our product more than designers? Could we serve marketers better?

Yohann (00:08:40):
I think that's a good line of questioning. But what we're seeking to do is transition from thinking in demographics, to thinking in terms of situations, and particularly outcomes. By shifting the focus, what you're doing is reorienting yourself or realigning yourself with what is bringing users to engage with you to begin with. They're not engaging with you, because they are a marketer, they are engaging with you to make this better outcome happen for themselves. The more you understand that, the better you will be able to serve them.

Samuel (00:09:26):
One of my favorite ways of putting it is that people don't come to your product, they come through your product. They're always arriving at your product or your offering, with the intention of utilizing it in a fashion that helps them get somewhere else. If you think of your product, almost like a magic tunnel, or portal that gets people to the situation that they prefer, as effectively as possible, that's essentially the name of the game here. It's not about creating an ideal one size fits all UX product, and then hoping that people can find success with it on their own. It's orienting your product experience around helping people reach points of benefit in their lives that you know strongly correlate with driving revenue.

Yohann (00:10:21):
Not to, but through. I love that.

Tactic #1: Ask users to describe their target situations

Samuel (00:10:23):
Well, thank you, Yohann. Without any further delay, we can dive into the ins and the outs of what actually truly makes a Beneficial Outcome, and how to go about working with them, around them, and for them. I think a natural first question would be, how do you go about identifying what they are for your own company? Regarding that question, we have one very strong recommendation, in terms of how to get to the bottom of it, and that, Yohann, is...

Yohann (00:11:01):
To talk to your users, and ask them what the product unlocks for them. That specifically is a very powerful question, what are you hoping the product will unlock for you? Because you don't want to articulate this Beneficial Outcome in thematic terms. I feel that's something marketing does really well. The value proposition is a theme of benefits. "Grow Your Audience," is something Buffer would say.

Samuel (00:11:41):
Why are you always ragging on Buffer?

Yohann (00:11:46):
It's just the first product that comes to mind. Buffer should take this as a complement. Because they're so top of mind because I look up to them.

Samuel (00:11:54):
Fair enough. I do think they're a wonderful company. I rag you out of love, Buffer.

Samuel (00:12:00):
All right, continue.

New Speaker (00:12:04):
But just, "improve your team communications" or "save time" — it's very thematic. But when you ask a user the question of what are you hoping this unlocks for you? You're taking that theme, and you're personalizing it, and you're saying, in your situation, tell me how save time matters or how it fits into your own particular set of circumstances.

Yohann (00:12:29):
When we've run these research initiatives in the past, we've always been surprised by how people talk about their own situations. It's always the case that users articulate the problem that you're trying to solve in terms that are meaningful or relevant to their particular situations. Save time, the thematic example, could break down to an extra three hours by automating one particular report, for example. That specific automation is something that a user is very interested in.

Yohann (00:13:08):
When you run these kinds of research initiatives, you are typically looking for patterns within those practicalities. A particular user interview will take that thematic outcome all the way to the other side of the spectrum, and will give you specifics, down to one particular situation. But the benefit of looking at a number of interviews, if you can lay out all the situations one on top of each other and look at them all together, you will be able to find patterns that place your thematic outcome closer to the practical side of the spectrum. That's one way to get more practical with your outcome. To find out what practical outcomes you serve people. Ask people what your thematic outcome means to them and look for patterns in the responses.

Samuel (00:14:07):
Right. We don't want this to be overly general, we don't want to be asking people if they would rather save time or have healthier kids or be happier. These are just universally well regarded things, and you don't really need to invest a lot of your design efforts around confirming that. But what we do want to look for are what are the discrete moments when users have recognized, "hey, I'm better off now." Hey, I started using Wistia, and things are better now.

Samuel (00:14:44):
When do you have those moments where the user doesn't recognize, hey, I made a smart decision regarding which software to use, but actually gets to a point where they're like, hey, the thing that I'm using the software for is working out well.

Samuel (00:14:59):
Really thinking about those in terms of being a cluster of characteristics that help the user wrap their head around whether they're getting value or not. Because ultimately, when we talk about delivering value, value is always determined by the beneficiary, not by the provider. We don't get to bake in X% more value to the offering that we provide. The value is always determined by how useful that offering was in helping somebody get to a different place that is not our offering, but that our offering helped them reach. Go ahead.

Yohann (00:15:42):
One insight that I want to bring up is that users always know this discrete moment. It could be opaque from a product perspective, and you think "save time, what does that really mean? How do we know that users have saved time?" It's very difficult to reach consensus internally, but users always know what that means to them.

Samuel (00:16:04):
Yeah, because they're talking about their own life, and what the experience of their own timeline unfolding is like. You're offering is just one little satellite consideration in the whole grand mix of all of the things that they're doing to just pursue an integrated life from one day to the next, or whatever you want to reduce that to.

Samuel (00:16:29):
Understanding that when a user session begins, you can look at that from a product centric standpoint and say, oh, our product is currently facilitating another user session. Or you can invert that and look at it from the user's perspective, and say, okay, now I'm logging into this thing, so that hopefully, I can do blank and not be in here anymore, generally speaking.

Samuel (00:16:58):
The context is completely different, and what we recommend is not thinking about how do you come up with engagement hacks that poke and prod people along your retention timeline, but instead, how do you get really good at picking outcomes that you can coordinate with the user around and get really reliable at delivering and know that you can generate the revenue that you need to sustain and grow your business through doing that? Fair?

Yohann (00:17:27):
Right. Fair.

Samuel (00:17:28):
All right. As much as I agree with you, Yohann, regarding the importance of taking a qualitative user research approach, and interviewing individual users and understanding what the whole timeline looks like, from their standpoint and identifying patterns. I agree very much with you that, that would be the ideal approach. But I also understand that not every company is set up to do that right now.

Samuel (00:17:56):
If you don't have the ability to fire up a user research interview process, out of thin air, we do have a couple of other recommendations for coming up with what might generally be proxies for the Beneficial Outcomes that are driving people to and through your product.

Tactic #2: Ask customer-facing colleagues what healthy customers looks like

Yohann (00:18:20):
Right. There are probably people in your organization that are already asking users and customers some version of the question, how can I help you do what you're trying to do? Talking to them would be a great place to figure out what bringing people to your product? Sales people-

Samuel (00:18:42):
Who are those people, Yohann?

Yohann (00:18:48):
Sales people, customer success, customer support, anybody who is the voice of the customer in your product meetings, or in your strategy meetings, digging more into what they think are driving people to the product is a great place to start.

Samuel (00:19:09):
Another thing I really like to ask people who do have more of that frontline exposure with users is to ask what really healthy customers tend to look like. Not the sickly people who come in and really, they were probably signing up for the wrong thing, and they're going to churn out as soon as their monthly subscription ends. But if somebody comes in and they have particular needs, or they are pursuing particular Beneficial Outcomes as we would describe them, what are the characteristics that map to really healthy customerhood, and how can we use that as, again, not a scientific approach, but maybe as a proxy or an indication that there's a likelihood that those particular outcomes correlate strongly with revenue. Which means, if you can help more people reach those outcomes, it should, in theory have a positive impact on revenue as well.

Yohann (00:20:09):
One of the biggest lessons I took away from one of the first CEOs I ever worked with was every time he was feeling too overwhelmed with strategy and just bird's eye view, high level thinking, he would spend a couple of days doing nothing except answering customer support tickets, and he would just put on a headset-

Samuel (00:20:37):
Provides plenty of inspiration, I'm sure.

Yohann (00:20:41):
Yeah, he would just put on a headset, and he would answer tickets, and just spend all his time doing that so that he could understand where users are and what they're trying to do, and get in touch with what's really happening on the ground, so to speak.

Samuel (00:21:04):
Another way of putting it is: what is the bigger change that's happening in the person's life that's causing the sub-change, the smaller change, have them engaging with our product to become relevant? What's the bigger thing that's driving the relevance of our offering, so that we can send as many signals as possible that our offering is good at helping people with that thing, and also align our experience around actually being reliable at helping people get to that place?

Yohann (00:21:37):
Right. Being really specific here and giving an example. In the previous episode, you talked about maybe building a house from timber (I'm realizing now that I don't specifically remember). But just say that was an outcome you were pursuing. At one point, you'd have to put on gloves to go chop down the tree.

Samuel (00:22:00):

Yohann (00:22:03):
If you don't know why you're putting on gloves, and how that connects to the Beneficial Outcome of building your own house, it's not going to make sense. Why am I putting on gloves? How does this connect? Should I be doing something different? Users have these questions all the time. In the user research initiatives that we've run in the past, it has always surprised me when users have very clear ideas of where they want to be, and very clear ideas about where they are, and absolutely no idea how to get from where they are to where they want to be.

Samuel (00:22:45):
That's why they're coming to you. That's why they're seeking help, right? That takes us back to, we've said this before, I'm sure, but we should know, like in the movie Groundhog Day, where, spoiler alert, Bill Murray relives the same day over and over again, and by the end of the movie, he knows the whole day, inside and out. He knows right when to walk by the tree and catch the kitten, and he knows how to play the piano for the old people, and blah, blah, blah, blah.

Samuel (00:23:12):
You want to have Bill Murray at the end of Groundhog Day level familiarity with the process of producing the outcomes that are driving people to find your offering to be relevant. You want to map that out to a level of degree that builds trust with the users, because they're coming to you hoping that you know this terrain better than they do, or else they wouldn't be seeking your help necessarily.

Samuel (00:23:40):
It's really something where we should just completely familiarize ourselves with the unfolding timeline of how this outcome comes to be and can be produced. That really starts with getting really clear on what the nature of that outcome state itself is. We've recommended user research interviews, qualitative studies. Also, you can talk to other people who are frontline at the organization you work with.

Tactic #3: Pick up situational clues from app store / aggregator site reviews

Samuel (00:24:12):
Another thing that you can do is if you're a mobile app, for example is you can read the reviews at the App Store or stores. Or if you're not a mobile app, there are still review aggregator sites like Capterra and things like that, and you can go and read the reviews of your products. Not with the lens of seeing how many reviews are positive or negative or even really being that emotionally invested necessarily in the individual experiences that those reviewers had, but looking for patterns. Again, what are the things that are happening in these people's lives that's driving them through our products?

Samuel (00:24:54):
Like a carwash, we know that the cars come in dirty and they want to come out clean. What are the conditions that drive people to want to go through the carwash of our product? How do we know what exactly clean is to their specifications, and how can we create a process that reliably gets them there?

Yohann (00:25:15):
Right. I feel like G2 Crowd could be a double edged sword though, because users who leave reviews aren't being very specific about their situations. You have to piece the dots together.

Samuel (00:25:33):
You definitely need to read between the lines, but I have found them to be a pretty rich source of that. Or there are times like, I remember reading a review for something, it might have even been on Amazon, a physical like piece of hardware. And they were like, "oh, I was going to have my bros over for a Super Bowl party and have three TVs set up and everything was going to run through this. But then it didn't come with an HDMI cable, and it totally ruined everything."

Samuel (00:26:00):
You can infer a lot about what the role that HDMI cable played in that person's life. If you see a lot of patterns, even just around something like watching sports, or watching live television, or having people come over to your house to watch television together, or whatever these common patterns are, you know that it's not just, you're connecting the HDMI cable from the satellite dish to the television. There's more than just putting on gloves. From a product standpoint, we don't want to be like, how do we get more people to put on gloves? We want to be more in touch with the bigger patterns that are driving people to want to put on gloves.

Yohann (00:26:40):
Right. That way, when people don't know why they're putting on gloves, you can tell them, you have to put on gloves in order to chop the tree, in order to get the wood that you need to do the thing you care about.

Samuel (00:26:52):
Right. There's a cascading sense of relevance where if you know... An example that we use all the time is nobody goes to the dentist because they like going to the dentist, maybe it's because they want to have healthy teeth, maybe it's because they want to have a bright smile. There's some compelling factor that's driving them, they're pursuing a Beneficial Outcome through the instrumental approach of going to the dentist, but they're not doing it inherently because they like going to the dentist.

Samuel (00:27:18):
In a similar way, if you know why somebody is putting on gloves, then that's the bright smile, or that's the healthy teeth and putting on gloves is going to the dentist. You can always take what somebody is currently doing, and wrap it in a bigger, more meaningful context, if you're aware of what that bigger, more meaningful context for users are.

Samuel (00:27:43):
Our general position is that not only should you acquaint yourself with what those are as an organization, but that you should supercharge your offering around delivering on those really, really well as being a critical business function, in a sense.

How Value Paths adds to "User Outcomes" conversation

Yohann (00:28:02):
I want to take a moment here to separate some existing ideas from new ones that we bring into the table. Identify the bigger context that your product fits into is not a new idea. Kathy Sierra called it the compelling context.

Samuel (00:28:19):
Shout out Kathy Sierra.

Yohann (00:28:22):
Shout out Kathy Sierra. I will never get tired of shouting out to Kathy Sierra because, oh my God, the amount of inspiration and nuggets of knowledge that she's given us.

Samuel (00:28:38):
Let's not make better cameras, let's make better photographers.

Yohann (00:28:43):
Right. Photography is the compelling context that is bringing people to your product, the camera.

Samuel (00:28:49):
Yep, agreed.

Yohann (00:28:52):
Jobs To Be Done also in this direction, your product is being hired to do a particular job. These are all existing ideas. But one point of clarification or the way where yes, anding these existing ideas is to bring this thematic and practical distinction to the table. That's a big one. The compelling context photographers, the job to be done, these are very thematic terms.

Samuel (00:29:31):
When we're talking about discretely recognizable outcomes, we want points where the user of the camera says, "Hey, I'm a better photographer now." We want to aim for those. We don't want to have a vague and unspecified general direction of "better photographer" that we are hoping our product will help people get to. We want them to be recognizable moments in the timeline of their life.

Deciding which Beneficial Outcomes are worth investing in

Samuel (00:29:58):
With that in mind, the next big question becomes how do we tell the investible or good Beneficial Outcomes? From beneficial outcomes that might sound good, but maybe not enough people actually really care about or they don't care enough about it necessarily, and that it's not going to actually be able to power your business model.

Samuel (00:30:21):
You want to find the really juicy Beneficial Outcomes that have a lot of inherent motivation, and that closely align with the mechanisms of your business model itself. Quick example here being if you are looking to provide a Beneficial Outcome that takes 15 minutes to do, and you're hoping to set up a business that's predicated on a subscription, monthly revenue, probably not going to work out the best, because you're probably going to have really, really bad month one churn, if anything.

Samuel (00:30:59):
Just thinking about how do you coordinate the solving of the user's problem with the generation of the outcomes that you're trying to create, specifically in the form of revenue. Specifically, we like to put the Beneficial Outcome candidates through a battery of questions to confirm that this is ultimately going to be something that's worth everyone's time, not only our own time, and better understanding it and better designing for it, but also the user's time, like, it's just actually something that they want to do.

Samuel (00:31:35):
One big question is, is this outcome truly beneficial to the person who's attaining it? As we've been saying that if value is really in the eye of the beneficiary, how do they know if and when that they're better off, and what are those points of indication that they're looking to, or could be presented with, that let them know when they're better off? Because those would be things to really consider designing around.

Samuel (00:32:00):
If you have a Beneficial Outcome candidate in mind, and you are really drawn empty on any indications that the person can look at, to tell that they're better off, probably an indication that it's more of a thematic outcome, as Yohann has been calling them, where it's a little overly vague and general. Where here we're talking about having a discrete point in time that we can get people to in a reliable way, and power our business through, and ultimately be able to tell whether we're getting better at that or not, through measuring the success rate of our system and getting people there.

Samuel (00:32:40):
Really important that, people not only are able to discreetly recognize this as a moment in their life, but that they also recognize it as being, hey, this is me doing the thing that I was hoping to. I would personally love to be able to slam dunk. I've never jumped off the ground... I have been able to jump off the ground, and then grab the net, and then climb my way up the net, and then have somebody pass me the ball. Then I've been able to "slam dunk" by awkwardly tipping it into the basket. But I've never jumped off the ground and just jammed the basketball into the hoop, and I would love to do that.

Samuel (00:33:17):
If there was some sort of offering that helped me get there, what I'm talking about is that moment where I'm like, dang, I just dunked. That just actually happened. Those are the moments that we're looking to design for, and we want to be really specific about that. If we can't get specific about it, if it just makes you a "better athlete," how do you know when people get there? How do you know that you're actually getting better at people arriving at that?

Samuel (00:33:44):
That's a big consideration. Another way of thinking about it, I really liked what you were saying, Yohann, when you were asking them, what it unlocks for them? More specifically, what are the things that you can do after you've reached this Beneficial Outcome that you couldn't do before? What is the thing that putting on your gloves lets you go chop wood without your hands getting cold and cut up? That's what you can do after putting on gloves that you can't do before putting on gloves, for example.

Yohann (00:34:17):
Could you give us another example there that's more geared towards the Beneficial Outcome rather than the sub-outcome of putting on gloves? What could you do with... Now that you can slam dunk, what can you do that you couldn't do before?

Samuel (00:34:38):
Well, keep slam dunking probably. If I could slam dunk, I would just slam dunk all day every day, probably, to be completely honest with you. It looks so satisfying.

Yohann (00:34:51):
I realized that in asking you for an example, I gave the example.

Samuel (00:34:57):
Well, I would say that it's not so much about examples necessarily as it is about measuring the degree to which people desire something. If you can't tell when they can tell that they're better off, that's not a good sign. It's not a good sign either if you feel like in the grand scheme of things, people don't even really want it enough to pay for help with it. If that's another indication, if you're looking around and saying, how are people currently paying to solve this problem, and you're not seeing anything that's currently set up to service this outcome, maybe this is a blue ocean thing, and you can go in and have no competition, or maybe it's an indication that perhaps even other businesses have tried and failed, and that there's just an elephant graveyard of people who thought that they could help put mustaches on cats, and thought that, that could power a business.

Samuel (00:35:54):
It turns out that there just aren't enough people who want putting mustaches on cats badly enough to build a business around, and that's okay. You want to find the things that are not putting mustaches on cats. One thing is, do people really want it, and do they at least want it enough to pay to solve it, because otherwise, what are you building your business around? Unless if this is just an early, early freemium offering or something like that.

Samuel (00:36:20):
Another big question would be do people regularly seek to attain this? Is this something that only happens in a seasonal capacity, where you have a skiing app, and so you know that skiing is really only going to be sought help with during one particular time of the year as contrasted with the others. Or the fact that maybe this is something that people generally want, overall, but only at a particular time in their life, or that they do it as groups, or that they do it routinely, especially if we're looking at Beneficial Outcomes that you would want to put an underline under in terms of potential for powering a business.

Samuel (00:37:04):
If you have a SaaS business, that means you're dependent on subscription revenue, AKA recurring revenue. If you want recurring revenue, you should hopefully be solving a recurring problem, or at least a problem that takes long enough to resolve that it can power your subscribers through the first however many months where your monthly churn is probably the highest, in terms of the customer lifecycle.

Samuel (00:37:35):
At least be thinking in terms of what are maybe some underserved, longer term outcomes that we can help people attain, and if it takes eight months, then great, we're much more likely to retain people through those eight months if we're actively helping them and demonstrating progress toward a recognizable goal for them, that they themselves care about.

Tracking which Beneficial Outcomes are powering your revenue

Yohann (00:38:00):
I feel like a question a few of our listeners might be having at this point is, wouldn't a successful business, simply by being successful, have all of these questions answered? How can you have a successful business without having these questions answered?

Samuel (00:38:21):
I think that's a fair question. I would say that if you don't understand the causality of it, that you don't have a handle on it, per se. You don't want to be flying blind, in terms of being able to tell which Beneficial Outcomes are actually powering your business and which ones aren't. If you're just saying, well, we have a pretty good familiarity with our user base or our customers, and we feel like we're serving them well. So, why overthink it?

Samuel (00:38:52):
The reason to overthink it is because some of your efforts are probably providing a return on investment to both you, in the form of revenue for producing whatever better experience you have, but also a return on investment to the user for their time, that they're investing in trying to achieve a particular outcome your way.

Samuel (00:39:16):
I can't remember who the quote's from, but it's something like, "Half my advertising spend is wasted. The trouble is, I don't know which half." In a similar way, you know that your product is a bundle of things that help people resolve different outcomes, and if you don't have your finger on the pulse of which outcomes are most meaningfully driving your business, and how well you're performing at delivering those outcomes to the people who desire them, then there's a very good chance that you're wasting half your advertising spend, except it's half of your product roadmap or things along those lines. Is that fair, Yohann?

Yohann (00:40:00):
Right, that's fair. Another reason I had to pay attention to this kind of stuff on a recurring basis is because the outcomes that people are pursuing with your product could be constantly evolving, as the product changes.

Samuel (00:40:14):
Absolutely, or as your market changes. If you're bringing in new people through different forms of acquisition, and we're seeing that all of a sudden the new acquisition channels are just totally tanking out, and nobody's getting to the point of being able to slam dunk, that's something you want to know as a leading indicator, you want a canary in the coal mine there.

Samuel (00:40:36):
Right now, not only do people not have early indications, they have virtually no indications with the majority of companies that I personally have encountered, there is no sense as to, are we getting better at delivering these outcomes that we know drive revenue or not? Even saying, do we know which outcomes drive revenue or not, is really not an open and shut case for many companies. I think that it's to the pity of them and their users.

Yohann (00:41:12):
Right. Okay. Now that we know the questions are important, and why they're important, let's get to the rest of them.

Samuel (00:41:21):
Okay. Another big question that we like to ask, in addition to, is this actually really meaningful to people, and ideally, can we find evidence to support that? Also, is this something where the timing of it works, where, how long it takes to attain or how often it repeats, and things like that match up with our business model. Another big question is, do we actually want to help people who are pursuing this? Do you generally like working with and serving people who are frequently in need of help with attaining this particular outcome?

Samuel (00:41:58):
You don't want to have a setup where you're just miserable because you've built your whole business around delivering an outcome that a bunch of people who you can't stand are asking your help with. Think about just setting up... In real estate, its "location, location, location," and with Beneficial Outcomes, it's a similar thing, except, instead of for location, it's just listing out what would be an ideal, "market" to build a business model around?

Samuel (00:42:27):
I put that in quotes, because here we're talking about a market defined by serving an outcome rather than serving a demographic. But in any case, there are going to be different kinds of people involved. If you like working with them, that would be a big benefit. Another big benefit would be if you like the process of actually getting people to that point, you don't want to set up a business that helps people graduate from college, if you really hate working with the college bureaucracies or things like that, or maybe you can do it in a way where you create a new process that's better that you do like, but just thinking about the overall process in which your process exists, and making sure that you like that.

Samuel (00:43:13):
Then lastly, another question of whether you really want to help people pursue this or not, is whether you think it makes the world a better place. We're not here to pontificate or impose our values on anybody else, or anything along those lines, but I think everybody's got different definitions of what the world being a better place is, and I would generally say that people are more likely to find satisfaction in working on helping people arrive at outcomes that actually make the world better. I think that's an inherent motivator, not only for your users, but also for your employees and things like that. People like to feel like they're doing good in the world.

Samuel (00:43:55):
Frankly speaking, we know for a fact that there are a lot of companies out there who are just fine with delivering what's the opposite of Beneficial Outcomes? Adversarial outcomes, or-

Yohann (00:44:08):
One-sided outcomes maybe?

Samuel (00:44:09):
Yeah, or undermining people's sense of confidence or security with their identities or their place in society or all kinds of different things. We know that there are casinos and bad actors out there in the software world that are intentionally manipulating people's behavior in a very extractive and predatory way. For us, if it doesn't pass the, you think it makes the world a better place question, it's worth rethinking about whether you really want to do it or not. You have to live in a world filled with people who are experiencing your offering if you really do it well.

Yohann (00:44:54):

Samuel (00:44:55):
All right, that's another big set of questions. Another big one is not only do you want to help people pursue this, but can we actually help people pursue this? Again, do we have a clear, defined, slam dunk outcome that we're helping people arrive at, and do we know the ins and outs of this? How prepared are we to be a trusted source for help with this at the moment that it arises in someone's life? How do we set the stage to build that relationship over time so that when their decision comes, it's obvious who they want to go with?

Samuel (00:45:31):
Lots and lots of questions around this too of, do we actually have the capability to be, if not world class, preferable over whatever other options are out there in terms of ways to arrive at this particular Beneficial Outcome?

Yohann (00:45:49):
Right. Your real competitors are other Value Paths.

Samuel (00:45:56):
You just blew my mind. What do you mean by that?

Yohann (00:46:01):
Your competitors are not other products, they are other Value Paths to a particular outcome.

Samuel (00:46:09):
Is this in the Jobs To Be Done sense where they're saying a morning milkshake is competing with bagels and doughnuts and not other fast food chains kind of a thing?

Yohann (00:46:20):
Yes, absolutely.

Samuel (00:46:21):
All right. Well, I take it back, you didn't blow my mind. But that is a very good point to make. While we're on the topic, one aspect that I think can be overlooked or doesn't seem like it's necessarily super crucial, but that I come back to, personally, time and time again, is thinking about not only how reliably can we help people arrive at this outcome, but how reliably can we be present when they're making the choice of how to go about arriving at the outcome? That really, if you're thinking in terms of timelines, you almost want to do time travel, where you go back to the place where people were at before your product became relevant. What were the things that were happening before the thing that's happening that's causing your product to be relevant now is?

Samuel (00:47:13):
How can you lay a breadcrumb trail and develop a relationship of trust through educating people about the more basic things that go along with it or help them just even deeper back in the timeline, so that when it's really prime time for where your offering really can showcase itself and where its value really shines, you're working with people who are already warmed up to working with you, rather than starting with totally cold signups that are coming from who knows where?

Yohann (00:47:50):
Right. You want to be selling umbrellas in the rain.

Samuel (00:47:53):
That's how we put it, yeah. We're not trying to sell umbrellas to people when it's not raining, and talking about the beautiful chestnut finish of the handle, and how each of the different spokes has different metal alloy tensile strength or whatever. We're saying, hey, we observe that you are wet right now, would you like to have something that helps you not be wet? That's Beneficial Outcome thinking, for sure.

Yohann (00:48:22):
Right. To tie this back to the point you were saying previously, "location, location, location" in real estate, being present on a timeline, when the need for the outcome arises is the software equivalent of "location, location, location."

Samuel (00:48:40):
Totally agreed. Totally agreed. It's almost like you just take the concept of location in space, and you just translate that to location in time.

Yohann (00:48:51):
Right. The user's time.

Samuel (00:48:54):
Exactly, yes. How do you detect when people are at the beginning of a process that you can help facilitate the arrival of the outcome with?

Yohann (00:49:07):

Samuel (00:49:09):
All right, with that said, there are different ways of approaching that. But that is not the main thing that we're talking about today, we are just trying to cover the basics, high level of what Beneficial Outcomes are and how to go about identifying them. Thus far, we've talked about different ways of going out and trying to read between the lines or speak directly to users and hear it straight from the horse's mouth, different ways of coming up with ideas for Beneficial Outcomes.

Samuel (00:49:37):
Now, we've also just talked about the battery of questions that we like to put them against to make sure that they're passing a general reality check. For any outcomes that do show promise here and that we do feel people care enough about and we want to help them and they care enough about it to drive our business model and it happens often enough for us to be able to scale and so on and so forth, the next major consideration is how do we understand the pursuit of this outcome inside and out?

Samuel (00:50:08):
If we want to be the best path to this particular point of value, how do we understand all the nooks and crannies of what it really takes to go from point A to point B, when we know that that's what people are wanting to do?

Samuel (00:50:24):
From that standpoint, we really like to explore that outcome in a 360 degree way, so that we can understand what are the pressures that people are facing along the way that are causing them to want to pursue this? Who else might be involved in this process that we need to get their participation from? Are there different assets or resources that people need to acquire along the way? In one of the earliest episodes, Yohann, you mentioned, if you're selling pancake mix, that means it needs to come with a spatula in one form or another. Those kinds of considerations.

Samuel (00:51:02):
Just thinking about what are the things that we know about the outcome state, and that we know about what had to happen to get there that we can just capture as details so that we all can have a rich understanding of what that process is, rather than it being like everyone having their unique interpretation of what it means to save time, or to make more money per hour or vague, thematic, things like that.

Yohann (00:51:32):
Right. This is another way that Value Paths adds to the outcome conversation that already exists within our industry. We want this outcome, not just to help us acquire more people, but also to help us actually improve the product. There's no real framework for how to use the outcome to impact the process of getting to that outcome.

Samuel (00:52:03):
Right, a lot of things with Jobs To Be Done are identifying what are those bigger contexts that are compelling people to become consumers of your offering, in some form or another. It's bizarre to me how so much of Jobs To Be Done focus has been placed on how do you use that as inspiration for better sales, marketing and positioning, rather than how do you use that as inspiration for creating a better way of resolving the job?

Samuel (00:52:37):
To me, that is the key insight of Jobs To Be Done, and it's strange to me to see it being used as a way of slapping different labels on the same thing, rather than changing the fundamental nature of the thing itself.

Yohann (00:52:55):
Okay. The 360 view matters, because you can apply all of the insights you get from analyzing the outcome to Path Design, and design a better path for users to go through.

Samuel (00:53:11):
Correct. So that you can increase your success rate, which you would be evaluating with performance evaluation, pillar two.

Yohann (00:53:21):

Samuel (00:53:23):
If pillar one is all about designing a better process of getting to an outcome, and pillar two is all about being able to tell whether that's actually performing better or not, pillar three is picking the right outcomes to be good at delivering in the first place, and being as familiar with it as possible, so that you can provide a preferable option at the moment when it's actually needed and own that location, location, location in time through understanding it inside and out, all Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

Yohann (00:53:54):
Right. That was a great summary, actually, of all the ground we've covered so far.

The essential causes of a Beneficial Outcome

Samuel (00:53:59):
Thank you so much, Yohann. With that being the case, one final big consideration that we would like to include in this high level overview, and there's so much more to dive into here. If it sounds like we're just speaking in generalities, there is a lot more that we would love to be able to talk about the ins and outs of. But the last thing that we will leave you with is thinking about the Beneficial Outcome, not only in terms of having explored it from 360 degrees, but getting ultra, ultra clear, once you have reached that more intimately familiar understanding of the ins and outs of the outcome and the process for producing it. Once you have that familiarity, you want to get really, really clear on what the critical parts of that are and what other parts might just be flavor or might possibly be included but maybe not all the time, or things along those lines.

Samuel (00:55:01):
For the last part of it, what we really recommend doing is taking those characteristics of the timeline. If we're talking about selling umbrellas to people in the rain, we know that there are particular atmospheric conditions, it's probably cloudy, if it's raining, there's probably water on the ground. I would imagine we might be in a city type atmosphere, otherwise, we wouldn't have access to enough people to make selling umbrellas worthwhile, so on and so forth.

Samuel (00:55:34):
You can infer a lot of different characteristics of the outcome situation and all of the situations along the way, toward producing that outcome. If you can get really clear as a team on which aspects are critical, versus which are maybe expected to be there, but aren't really what's driving the meaning of the experience to the user, that can be really helpful as well.

Samuel (00:56:00):
In the same way that we were talking about, I think it was like socializing, and making friends could mean 10 different things to 10 different people. Here at this point, we would be saying, specifically, it means characteristic X, Y, and Z are in place, and that's what forms the crux of this situation. It might also include A, B and C, but those are more nice to haves or possibilities, or related characteristics versus absolutely essential characteristics.

Samuel (00:56:32):
I think that, that can really make a world of difference when you're talking about taking a problem that, from a user experience standpoint, is experienced cross departmental, going from the value propositions that AKA Beneficial Outcome promises that are being made by marketing, and going all the way through onboarding, through the product experience, customer support, customer success, the whole gamut, everybody should be aligned across your entire organization around helping your users succeed, and getting a really, really clear stance on specifically, what success looks like in defined and shareable terms, lets you gain consensus across your whole organization, and have everybody pulling in the same direction.

Yohann (00:57:21):
I feel like we should clarify. When you say you should get all your teams to align around user success, people feel like they're doing this already. What are we proposing that's different here? I think we should get really clear about that before we wrap things up.

Seeing the connection between in-app activity and the Beneficial Outcome

Yohann (00:57:47):
I'll start, I think that one of the points of difference here is that it's often the case in our industry, that only a few people in the company, think about the path as a whole or think about how in-product stuff connects to out-of-product stuff. There are very few people, like the C-suite almost exclusively, that focuses on that connection, and everybody else gets a mandate to focus on something in the product, or focus on a very small part of the problem that they can ostensibly control.

Yohann (00:58:26):
I think the reason people do this is because it's more productive to break a problem up into chunks. Trying to solve all of those chunks individually and hope that they all come together to form the solution. But what we're recommending is break the problem into chunks, that's fine, but don't lose sight of the out-of-app reasons that are bringing people to the product to begin with, because that's really what all of the chunks have to align themselves around.

Samuel (00:59:08):
Yeah, I totally agree. I think personally, a lot of this is just a hangover from the industrial approach to doing things. I think that, if you're designing a new model of a sneaker, the sneaker will never be able to tell what the person is wearing the sneaker to do, and be able to re-organize itself to be more helpful in getting that person to the outcome that they desire.

Samuel (00:59:42):
But software, it's just inherently flexible in its own nature that way, where we are surrounded by information about what users are doing and how they're engaging with the product, and even with just some surgically placed questions and paying more attention to ambient information that's available about the users, we should be able to make at least a decent guess as to what kind of outcomes they're actively in pursuit of.

Samuel (01:00:14):
I'm trying to put as bold of a point on this as I can, are asking us for help with, they are coming to us for help with things, and for us to give a shit about what those are, and to at least care about it insofar as you know which ones are driving revenue the most. Why would you not want to know that? Even if you're a heartless capitalist, you would still want to... No offense to capitalists... Well, whatever, offense to heartless capitalists, at the very least, but not just... Anyway, even if you're just in it for totally self-centered reasons, you would still want to know the 50% of your ad budget that was going in the right place versus going in the dumpster.

Yohann (01:00:58):
The silos that are created within our organizations, I think one of the ways of breaking down those silos, is have everybody see the connection between their efforts, and the out of outcome reason that people are engaging with the product to begin with. It's that user outcome that leads this dance between the product and the users. It's that outcome that is initiating the dance and revenue is a byproduct, revenue follows. But to have a few people thinking about revenue, and everybody else thinking about in product outcomes, and the few people thinking about revenue tying in product outcomes to out of app outcomes, it just doesn't make sense.

Samuel (01:02:04):
Or to be scandalously frank, y'all are fucking it up. You're not like some people that when we hear from product managers who say they are getting 12 month roadmaps dumped in their labs, or we hear from growth people who say that the Chief Revenue Officer just hands down some holy goal from on high, like improve day seven engagement, or something like that, and the teams get no context around why these things are important, or how to tell if they're getting better at serving the users or not. It's garbage, man. That's a dumb way to run your company.

Samuel (01:02:47):
I have a UX background. I am a humble UX-er, I am not an executive, I am not a sophisticated operator in the world of finance. But I know that if the fundamental nature of your business model is to be engaged with and distributed by people who are motivated to use your product to some particular end, it makes sense to, at least, have a passing familiarity with who is seeking which ends and why and how you can be better at getting them there.

Yohann (01:03:24):
Right. As a user of stuff, if more products did this, I would be so happy.

Samuel (01:03:37):
Yeah. Ultimately, that's a major aspect of our message here as well is that we see the kind of digital environment/metaverse, whatever you want to call it, that people are spending more and more of their time in, and therefore more and more of their lives in and looking at future generations. I have a kid and I don't want him to be experiencing exploitative, predatory kind of experiences. I don't want him getting Farmville'd, so to speak.

Samuel (01:04:17):
I would like for his world, that we share, and that we might experience differently as well to be designed with the recognition that it is the human outcomes that are driving the entire engagement, and that designing for anything other than that is likely to be ineffective, as well as likely to be unethical.

Yohann (01:04:41):
Right. In an ideal world, growth teams wouldn't be focused on improving data retention. They would solve a small problem, but they would see how that problem ties back to why users are coming to the app to begin with.

Samuel (01:05:03):
Or even just thinking about it in terms of how reliably are you delivering on your value proposition? Where there are certain expectations that are being set by your marketing, and if your product and growth teams aren't working in a way that's coordinated with that, it's going to be a herky jerky experience of actually trying to arrive at that value proposition that marketing is putting out there as being the thing that your product makes easy.

Yohann (01:05:31):

Samuel (01:05:31):
It's like the ballet slippers example in the previous episodes, where if the Beneficial Outcome is having ballet slippers, and then you signal that you're going to help me with this, and then you dump me in something that has nothing to do with it, how much trust is that going to build? I'm moving on to the next option, I've got zero commitment to this.

Yohann (01:05:52):

Samuel (01:05:55):
Long story short, is that we strongly recommend acknowledging the fact that there are some user outcomes that are driving, what could even be the majority of your revenue. Being able to identify what those are through user research, through different proxies, so on and so forth, and being able to really understand them inside and out and reach a shared sense of consensus and clarity around what the actual crux and essence of that outcome state is, lets you put the rubber to the road and be able to actually provide a better experience.

Samuel (01:06:36):
That loops us back from pillar three all the way back to pillar one, which is Path Design. Instead of just going over Path Design all over again, instead, next episode, we're going to walk through one particular tactic that we both really enjoy in terms of being able to identify which Beneficial Outcomes people are seeking, and how many of them are seeking the different ones that you're offering, and how well those correlate with revenue, and a number of other things as well.

Samuel (01:07:10):
Stay tuned for next episode, please, and don't forget that we absolutely love to get your feedback good, bad, weird or otherwise. We respond to everything that we receive. Please keep things coming in at podcast@useronboard.com. Otherwise, thank you so much for listening.

Yohann (01:07:32):
We will see you soon.

Samuel (01:07:33):
Keep fighting the good fight. Said it before you could!