Chief product officers from Box, Zoom, Slack and PagerDuty share their ‘best of breed’ best practices

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There are some people who don’t really understand the term “best of breed,” but in the case of one customer, all it took was a botched video call for Jeetu Patel to educate them.

The chief product officer at Box recalled the incident during a panel discussion with his peers ahead of BoxWorks, the company’s annual conference in San Francisco. After 20 minutes of trying to get the videoconferencing tool to work, he remembered, the two of them just hopped on a regular landline.

“I didn’t get to do my demo, but it didn’t matter,” he said. “I had made my point.”

Patel was quick to point out that the video calling tool in question was not Zoom, which is among the SaaS partner firms taking part at BoxWorks 2019. He argued that to most chief product officers and their employers, “best of breed” no longer means something that works better than its competitors, but that integrates seamlessly with complementary tools from the get-go.

In Box’s case, those tools include not only Zoom but Slack, the popular messaging application, and PagerDuty, which helps IT departments manage incident response across the enterprise.

“We constantly ask ourselves if we should build a particular capability, or partner with someone who has already built it,” he said. “Whatever you’re doing, you need to build capabilities for the collective value of the user, because every year you have to re-earn that right to serve the customer.”

On Wednesday, for instance, Box announced an integration with Slack that will make it easier to ensure whether or not a document that gets shared in a Slack channel should be accessible to everyone in that channel. If the answer in some cases is “No,” Slack users will be able to manage permissions within Box, even removing the document thumbnail image from a Slack channel.

Ilan Frank, Slack“You have to enable employees to connect to the systems that they’re using and not create false boundaries based on go-to-market needs,” said Ilan Frank, Slack’s head of enterprise product.

“If our goal is to serve the end user, it behooves us to connect to all of those (other tools).”

Beyond integrations, chief product officers need to balance creating new capabilities with simply meeting customer expectations. Slack learned through customer feedback, for example, that its tool was having issues in terms of performance, quality and reliability, Frank said. As a result, Slack’s product team stopped feature work for a nine-month period and introduced a completely rewritten client in July that has since improved performance by 50 per cent.

Things are similar at PagerDuty, where things like integration are treated like a product capability by its in-house team, said Jonathan Reade, the firm’s senior vice-president of product. Interoperability is even more important now given changes in the way SaaS is increasingly deployed.

PagerDuty’s Jonathan Reade

“There are individuals users who have to get work done on the front lines,” he said. “They’re adopting first, then you see critical mass.”

Nitasha Walia, group product manager at Zoom, said her company looks at comments on review sites like G2 as well as what customers write in text boxes within its own product. It’s knowing how to respond that’s challenging.

“Not every thing that gets asked for has to be built,” she said, recalling how, when Zoom Phone was introduced, a few customers requested fax capabilities. “You have to balance out what the customer is asking for with where there is value to a larger set of your customers. Otherwise you spread yourself too thin and you end tip with this Frankenstein of a product.”

Patel agreed, noting that every new feature introduced to a product adds to the potential “cognitive overload” and complexity for customers. That’s why some of Box’s product team’s core principles include “building horizontal software for the masses,” and keeping its product “insanely” simple. Chief product officers and their firms should also look at value, rather than adoption and usage, as their key metric, he added.

“A lot of products get adopted that people end up hating,” he said.

BoxWorks formally begins on Thursday.

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Shane Schick
Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.