Product Comms Series #16 | James from Cycle

Jack Lancaster | Co-founder & CPO
March 13, 2024

With all the focus on self-serve & PLG, we forget how important it is to engage with users, especially when you’re early-stage. The narrative of self-serve is great for when you really know what works with onboarding and activation.

But early on you need to have a very close relationship with users to help them get set up and to listen to the feedback that they share. Building that relationship is also crucial to the quality and depth of feedback that you’re going to get

James and the Cycle team saw that they had optimized for self-serve too early and were missing out on that relationship and feedback loop with customers. We have a vibrant discussion around how they solved this problem. Enjoy!

Key Learnings

✅ Rapid iteration and customer feedback are vital: Emphasize quick, iterative changes based on direct customer feedback to enhance product relevance and user satisfaction.

✅ Transparent communication builds trust: Clearly communicate what can and cannot be implemented in the short term to manage customer expectations and build loyalty.

✅ Flexibility in go-to-market strategies is key: Be willing to adapt your approach, whether it's switching from self-serve to sales-led or vice versa, based on what works best for customer activation.

✅ Daily check-ins foster alignment: Regular coordination between product and growth teams ensures that customer insights are quickly translated into actionable product improvements.


Jack (00:01)

Cool, James, thanks for joining me today.

James (00:03)

No, happy to be here, Jack.

Jack (00:06)

Nice. So we've known each other for, I think we met last summer or so when you were in Berlin. And obviously I've been following Cycle pretty closely and the cool stuff that you guys are doing there. But maybe you can take a moment just to introduce yourself to everyone and tell them who you are.

James (00:21)

Yeah, sure. So I'm James. I'm leading the go -to -market at Cycle. We're still a small team, so go -to -market includes everything from acquisition, activation and retention as well. I've got a product background initially, hence the position here that suits me well to be discussing with product leaders and then try to understand their current processes and challenges and see how Cycle can obviously help them do a better job at it, capitalizing on customer feedback. I can give you a small talk on what Cycle is about if you want, in one sentence.

So Cycle is a feedback management tool. So essentially we help product teams capture and centralize product feedback and user research in one unified place. And we allow them to process that feedback automatically with AI into relevant opportunities, features, initiatives, etc. Until they can close the loop with customers and so make sure that everyone who should know about any new release is aware of that and can go and check out the product.

Jack (01:35)

Cool, very nice. Yeah, really cool to see what you guys have been building and the pace of iteration there for sure. You mentioned, of course, having a product background. Now you're on the growth side. I'm sure you've seen a lot of the interactions between product and growth and maybe where they haven't worked so well communication wise. Tell us about an experience where it hasn't gone so well.

James (01:58)

Yeah, indeed I think the pace of iteration tends to be quite different in product teams versus growth teams. When you're still quite small, that difference may be smaller so that gets easier. And it is okay, we managed to keep the pace of iteration quite well. But obviously generally, even like a fast iteration, iterating product team, we need to think things through.

On the go -to -market side, you are able to iterate multiple times in a day on your sales process. You can try out three different things in three different demos in the same afternoon. Something that got us to really think about that in the last six months is we initially started on a closed beta. Everything was manually onboarding customers. There was no concept of self -serve at the time.

And when we launched publicly, we were obviously convinced that we would be like the self -serve PLG B2B SaaS that would kind of grow by itself organically and activate customers like without us to be there. And it turned out to be quite different. We realized that acquisition and mostly activation in the product wasn't as easy as that. So we were struggling to find out like relevant signals to know which customer we should try to follow up with and try to activate to become like actual paying customers.

So yeah, we had to at some point accept that customers were getting lost in the onboarding schemes that we had envisioned and that we were not able to get them to activate fully on the product. So it's a fairly flexible product cycle. So you need a bit of a setup which we thought would be managed with our onboarding flow and it wasn't the case. So we kind of switched back from there to going back sales led fully like in the activation side, meaning we were again doing manual onboardings for everyone.

And that worked well for us, but that kind of like changed everything that we had started setting up in the product roadmap and in how we were envisioning the growth there. And so we had to kind of realign with the product team on how to do things efficiently there. We quickly realized that the more we had touch point with activating customers, the better for us. So we had everyone to join like a Slack channel. We had everyone to share their feedback in that Slack channel.

Constantly, we were capitalizing on that to help them obviously set up cycle, but obviously to get feedback on the tool as well. And the more we were able to engage with them both from helping them out or providing some feedback loop on things that we had shipped the more the chance to activate the customer.

And so that's where initially the product team had to adapt to that as well, understand like all iteration there and all like change of velocity in needing to communicate with customer more often than the usual release that you were doing before. And so we found like a good rhythm, actually, like a good drum beat where we were feeding the product team with feedback on a daily basis and they were feeding us back with small incremental changes on things that they were able to ship with each customer that we had to to re -contact.

And so we were able to close feedback loops with teams in activation multiple times a week. And so let's say like in a one week or two weeks we tried everything, trial period, we managed to activate those teams way more efficiently doing that. And I think that's been like a result of the growth and the product team being super aligned on what was important at the time, which level of incremental changes were needed at the time, and how to communicate that effectively between us and then with our customers.

Jack (06:02)

Yeah, that's really interesting. It sounds like a very good, good workflow that you had then between, uh, between growth and between products. You mentioned that kind of checking in every day. What did that consist of or what, what was the workflow of like getting feedback, preparing it for products, products executing on it.

James (06:21)

Yeah. So obviously we had like specific milestones that we wanted our customers to go through, like in a specific order. And so we were pushing them to do that and we were highlighting steps where things were not going through or by doing that, sometimes they had some specific issues or questions about the product. And so we were able to feed the product team like that. So the way we were doing that is obviously everyone in the team was in the Slack channel.

So we were like putting like those customer verbal themes and insights in front of everyone. But then we had to kind of bake that into the, let's say, short -term run roadmap. So, like, obviously we had our strategic initiatives that were, like, on the middle term continuing to be released every week or every two weeks. We changed some pace at some point. And then we needed something to be, like, more on an ongoing basis to be able to say, like, we can release things multiple times a week there.

And that was kind of like directly pushed to our product team. Those feedback were linked to those relevant like small improvements or bug fixes that we had with the customers each time attached to it. And so whenever they were releasing something, we were like automatically notified of that. And we were automatically being able to also notify customers directly in those Slack channels. And so like that whole pipe going one way and the other way back worked super well for us in that sense.

Jack (07:49)

I think it's so interesting how you fit in those small fixes, right? I think it's like, we see it all the time in our team where we're working on the next big thing or right now I think we're working on the next three big things at the same time. And you then feel like, you know, people are giving feedback and you're like, yes, it's coming, but it's coming in a month or it's coming in six weeks. And sometimes there's that feeling of like, it's easy to ignore the small things and just do the big ones.

And you actually have to really have a good feedback cadence to show people that you're taking, taking their feedback into account. So, you know, it can be actually a real like loyalty factor for people. I think when they see, Oh, my feedback was important and they fixed, even if it's just the something super tiny, but that you're taking them seriously and actioning that stuff.

James (08:39)

Yeah, no, definitely. And I think, indeed, like, there is always something that, you know, you're going to ship later or not at all. But I think it's great to be able to communicate that quite transparently and being able to say, look, this is not part of our short term or middle term roadmap. So we can't, you know, commit to anything there. However, this is going to be done like in the next maybe like a quarter or like the one afterwards. And by the way, in the meantime, we realized this small improvement that you mentioned, we actually are able to fix it now or to deliver on it now. And that's kind of like build trust with customers as well.

They don't always need everything that they said they were requiring. Sometimes it's just like they're sharing their feedback and they engage with you because they want your product to become better suited for them. It doesn't mean that if you don't deliver on that on the short term, they will turn or they will leave you.

It's more like incrementally build trust with them by providing them with small incremental changes and being transparent on what you will be able to do. And that kind of worked for us.

Jack (09:43)

Absolutely. James, that was super interesting. Thanks for joining me today.

James (09:48)

Yeah, happy Jack, anytime.

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