Eating Your Own Dogfood

Eat your own dogfood” is a phrase which means that everyone in a company should use their own products. Use them, understand them, and champion changes if that product doesn’t meet your expectations as a user. How can you sell a product that you don’t understand, or one that has no value to you personally? I don’t think you can, or at least not successfully.

Let me use a project that I worked on recently as an illustration. The product was a new social networking site that linked kids, parents and schools, allowing full creativity and expression in a safe environment for all users – kids could blog, show portfolios of creative work, make friends, participate in global communities. Teachers could create immersive learning experiences in a virtual learning environment where even the non-technical could write, drop images and video on the page, and even create a 3D environment to illustrate the given lesson. It was (if I do say so myself) pretty amazing, and at the time there wasn’t another site on the market that filled the same needs. How could it fail?

Where it eventually failed was in a basic lack of understanding of key people in what social media was, what the benefits of social spaces were, and what actually made our project so groundbreaking.

The development team used the site – and other social networking sites. As Project Manager, I insisted that we use all competitor’s sites, find and use all emerging social media, and also play games. Yes, it was actually a dream job – all the development team were encouraged to game at work (!!!) so that they understood the mindset needed to build a massive social networking site that acted like a game – i.e., was fun to use. The development team got it, and (depending on each person’s comfort zone in social interaction) could evangelise that product.

Our CEO got it. Although initially not a user of social media, he was completely open to embracing new ways of connecting with people. He was our most effective cheerleader, and watching him give a presentation was an eye-opener. Everything he did and said conveyed his excitement about the product, as well as his pride in having created it. He was also thoroughly familiar with all aspects of the (quite complex) site, and could knowledgeably respond to any question or criticism. He had his own profile, built communities for the people he wanted to work with, and got everyone he knew on the site.

Our sales team, with one exception, did not get it. The business manager was not a user of social media, and didn’t understand the benefit of becoming connected and sharing online experiences. He sold other, more traditional aspects of the programme…totally ignoring everything that made it shiny, and made it special. His hire was an extremely expensive mistake, and was part of what led to the eventual failure of the project. Customer service and sales were the same – they didn’t use the product, and so couldn’t sell it or respond to questions. They weren’t fans.

Don’t make the same mistake about your business – get involved, use your site or your product. Yes, it’s your company and you could have someone just bring you something from your very own warehouse – but don’t. Order from your own site, and make changes if anything confuses or irritates you during the shopping process. It’s your site, and your business – not your webguy’s business. You need to be your own champion, your own fan, your own critic.

The company that I now work for, Add People, is in the process of applying that same maxim. The company has over a decade of experience in offering link building and management, search optimisation, and search marketing. But we previously hadn’t applied everything that we know to our own business and our own site. But that is changing, and the new optimised site will go live in a matter of weeks.

So again…eat the dogfood that your business makes. If you don’t like how it tastes, then you need to change your recipes…because it’s a safe bet that your customers won’t like the flavour, either. 🙂