In one of my very first jobs, I was a marketer at a software company. Three years in, my boss asked me to go to a trade show and help staff our booth. As a marketer, I was supposed to sell prospective customers on the benefits of our software. Full of confidence, I took on the challenge.
As people started coming to the booth, I quickly realized that I couldn’t really answer a lot of their questions about the product. Why? Because I had never personally used it. My confidence was shot down by the simple fact that I didn’t fully know how the software worked at a practical level.
When I started Knak, I promised myself that I would never put any of my team members in the same position. Regardless of their department, everyone on the team would have hands-on experience using our product. Here’s a look at how we did just that.
The dog food days are over
When a company uses their own software (a fairly common practice in the B2B tech industry), it’s typically called dogfooding or “eating your own dog food.” I’m not a fan of that term, so at Knak we call it “drinking our own champagne.”
Beyond using Knak as a key tool in our martech stack, we’ve taken things a step further to get everyone comfortable with the tool. Four times a year, we get everyone together (with teams gathered on Zoom and in person) and we spend half a day using our own product to build emails and landing pages for a mock campaign.
After years of doing this, we’ve been able to attribute a number of benefits to this practice. I’ve outlined 10 of these in this piece:
1. Employees get a better sense of how they contribute to the company’s mission
When I first worked at a software company as a marketer, I had no idea how the work I did fit into the broader scheme of things. I didn’t know why our customers were buying the product, or what value they got from it. I’m certain that more visibility and hands-on training would have better equipped me to market the software.
When employees get a clear sense of the big picture — like the value customers get from our platform and what we have in store for our product roadmap — they get more context for what they do each day. To me, the best way to understand the big picture is to use the product.
Employees outside the software development or product teams might have a general idea of what Knak is and how it should operate. But until they actually use the platform themselves, those ideas can only be abstract. Our champagne sessions turn abstract concepts into reality.
2. We build empathy for our customers
By using our product to build emails and landing pages, our employees follow the same path our customers follow, and have to deal with the same learning curve. New employees, or employees who are not marketers, may also be brand new to our tools. Since our company mantra is to make email and landing page creation codeless and easy, the champagne sessions really stress test that goal.
After all , if our employees can’t easily learn and use our product, how can we expect our customers to?
3. We learn how to improve the product
Every champagne session is an opportunity to improve our product.
We have a dedicated Slack channel where people are welcome to post comments about bugs, ideas for improvement, or general remarks about how things work. After each session, our developers follow through with every issue raised.
For example, we have a locking feature so that if one person is editing an email, another person can’t go in and overwrite their changes. In a recent champagne session, we discovered a small bug with the feature: it was treating comments like edits, and locking people out inadvertently.
As a result, we were able to fix the problem quickly before it ever got raised as an issue by our customers.
4. The sessions are great opportunity for team building
We really value having fun during these champagne sessions. We drink prosecco in the office and encourage our remote employees to drink a beverage of their choice. This makes the whole thing feel a bit like happy hour, especially since we’re all live, in person or on Zoom, while we work.
During our sessions, we work as teams and then send what we’ve built to everyone in the company. People can see what everyone else has done and provide live feedback. In that way, people are really focused on the product and how it can be used.
Plus, new team members can rely on the expertise of people who’ve been at the company for longer. It gets us working together, sometimes with people we haven’t had a chance to work with yet, and makes for a stronger team.
5. We dedicate time to testing new features
While we have a fantastic group of beta customers that give our new features a test drive before they are released, we always try to test them out ourselves during a champagne session first. This helps us add an additional layer of confidence before we send new features out for beta testing.
6. The sessions build employee confidence in our product
When I was a marketing consultant, I worked with some email marketing platform providers that actually used Marketo to do their email marketing. I was dumbstruck: How could they choose another platform over their own? Wasn’t their product good enough? And if it had problems, how was their development team ever going to find out about them?
I never want Knak to be in that situation. In fact, I want every employee, in every department, to feel fully confident that our product does what it’s supposed to do — and does it well. The champagne sessions allow us to build employee confidence in our product, and give them direct access to our team of developers.
7. The sessions make the development team accountable
The development team creates and updates our products and features. We’ve found that if they know their work colleagues are going to be using what they’ve created, often right in front of them, they take special care with how those products and features work. It becomes a matter of pride. If one of their colleagues says “Why isn’t this working?,” they are motivated to fix the problem right then and there. And if other colleagues praise their work in front of everyone, that gives them even more reason to take ownership.
8. The sessions turn every employee into a potential salesperson
You never know who your employees are going to run into in their daily lives. If they aren’t able to paint an accurate picture of what your company does to people they meet, you may miss out on a huge sale. The champagne sessions empower every single employee to become a potential salesperson. Or to put it another way: I could send any one of our employees to a trade show and be confident that they could explain what we do and how we do it.
9. The sessions help with recruiting
Whenever an employee talks to a friend or acquaintance, one of the first questions they get asked is: “What does your company do?”
If our employees can’t paint a clear picture of what goes on at Knak, it doesn’t make for a very compelling workplace. We want our employees to be able to talk about Knak with ease and authority; we’ve found it helps show us in an attractive light to potential employees.
10. The sessions get the creative juices flowing
Before a recent session, we asked each of our employees to create a meme about things our customers and prospects can relate to. The results were brilliant — so much so, we’ve been using some of them as marketing content.
To create an effective (and funny!) meme, you have to have a deep understanding of the issue at hand. You’ve got to grasp the essentials and distill them down to an image that resonates with your audience. As an exercise to get creative juices flowing, meme creation worked well for us. But the bigger point here is that the champagne sessions allow us to step outside our day-to-day world and think about things in new ways. And that is always useful.
I would encourage everyone to do something like a champagne session. Does it cost money to have everyone spend half a day working with our product? Yes. But I very strongly feel that it is money well spent. Our company is product led. Improving that product is essential for us, so sessions that test and prove it are a great investment.
Even if you only find one thing that makes your product better, it’s worth it.