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Copper CRM product principles … 2023 and beyond

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Author photo: Derek Skaletsky

Derek Skaletsky

Head of Product

2022 was a big and busy year for the Copper Product team. We powered through a volatile marketplace and renewed our commitment to product-led growth. Toward the end of last year, as we started planning our work for 2023, our newly-formed Product team decided to take a hard look at our strategy and direction. We knew we were starting to work pretty well, but we also knew we needed some clarity — especially based on new information we were learning about our customers. We were seeing concrete evidence that many of our customers who hail from smaller companies are underrepresented by software. Their sales processes — and work processes — aren’t linear. Their needs often go overlooked. And after a lot of deep thought, we codified a set of product principles that would help us guide our work to better serve these customers this year and beyond.

What are “product principles,” you ask?

It’s a great question.

Good product principles are connected to — but different from — a high-level product strategy or product positioning. They’re more like a moral code for everyone working on and building the product.

morals, n - a person's standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do.

Product principles (when well done) provide a strong framework for decision making. The reality is that a Product team makes hundreds of decisions — some big, some small — every year. Without some basic, guiding tenets, making these decisions can become onerous and inconsistent, leading to a poor, incoherent product experience. We were hungry for this kind of framework that we could use — not only for us as a team — but for communicating with the wider Copper team. Because when our whole organization is on the same page about the main tenets of our product, every single department becomes better equipped to prioritize initiatives that lend to the larger Copper vision — and offer a more consistent experience for customers.

So we settled on three primary product principles to guide our work going forward. They aren’t necessarily new concepts or ideas (in many ways we’ve been guided by them instinctively), but putting them down in writing makes them more concrete and more transparent:

1. Users over managers

2. Make Google better, and

3. Progress over process.

Let me explain.

Principle 1: Users over managers

By far the most controversial of our product principles.

Which probably makes it our most important (and, of course, my favorite 🙂). This principle’s origins lie in some of the earliest iterations of Copper CRM (think 2011) and comes from the fact that CRM has always been built, first and foremost, as a management tool. No matter what claims other CRM companies have made along the way — like *claiming* to make sales people more productive — the reality is they were built for the benefit of the management layer. Admin features, management views, dashboards, reporting, permissions and settings pages that go on forever and a day.

This focus on management-level features came at the expense of — you guessed it — the end user experience, which has typically been less than ideal. (Ok; it’s been downright s****y). I mean, have you ever met someone who loved using their CRM system?

Didn’t think so.

Copper wanted to change that. It’s always been in our DNA. We want to build a CRM platform that end users actually like to use. But how did that mission manifest itself?

Adjusting our thinking away from the status quo of selling to and producing for admins was no easy task. Armed with the knowledge that traditional CRM features were always built for sales managers, their bosses and their bosses’ boss — along with a solid plan — we were up for the challenge.

So what exactly does shifting to focus on our end users look like?

For Copper, focusing on the end user means:

We work to simplify our user experience so that every user can easily understand how to use the product’s primary functionality.

We give users access to things they haven’t had access to before, like inviting teammates, adding fields, building automations.

We make features more discoverable versus hiding them in a settings menu that only management can access.

We don’t rely on help docs or support to make the product usable.

We pay attention to the onboarding of every user; not just the first user of an account.

Fun fact: The “additional” second, third (and so on) users added to an account are traditionally the most ignored user in the software world.

By refocusing on the end-user experience, you ensure every user gets everything she needs to succeed … versus releasing them to fend for themselves.

The thing that makes this principle so controversial is that traditionally “managers” have been the decision makers when it comes to software purchases -— CRM in particular. But the way software is purchased has changed. Today, end users have much more influence and power in the decision-making process. Their adoption makes or breaks the success of software implementation and they have wide latitude in terms of trying many different options before a final decision is made. “Are you actually going to use it?” is a common (and required) question that management now asks of their front-line users before making a decision to buy a piece of software.

Principle 2: Progress over process

Since traditional CRM systems built for managers (see above) prioritized features that would help those managers build rigid processes, as CRM evolved, the software moved away from its initial purpose of *customer relationship management.* CRM solutions instead became big process engines.

But now that we know that our customers’ businesses don’t adhere to any specific, rigid process, and that they need flexibility to adapt and adjust over time (especially the majority of smaller businesses), we don’t want to force them to follow a process just because it worked for another business. That’s not the path to success. We get that what they really care about is progress. Advancing their relationships. Moving their deals forward. Expanding their business.

This principle allows us to prioritize that work which helps our users more easily and effectively grow their connections, their opportunities, their business … vs work that forces them to build formal processes.

Here’s one instance: Soon we’ll allow any user in Copper to invite a teammate into Copper without having to immediately pay for a seat (new invites will be allowed a free trial period). Traditionally, inviting users to a CRM required an onerous internal approval process because adding a user to a CRM meant purchasing a new seat. This approval process created a bottleneck that almost always limited — you guessed it — progress. With this release, Copper users that need to collaborate with a teammate can quickly add that teammate to Copper and punt this approval process for later.

See? Progress over process.

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Principle 3: Make Google better

Our third principle relates to one of our key differentiators in the market: our deep integration with Google Workspace. We have a set strip of work on our roadmap to continue to deepen our connection to Google Workspace, but with so many options and opportunities, we needed a principle that would help us focus on the right work. For a long time, we viewed our connection with Google as a way to make the Copper experience better.

This year, we wanted to take a different perspective on this relationship. Flip it on its head. We know many Google Workspace users spend the majority of their time living in their Google products — from Gmail, to Calendar, to Docs and more. So when our customers use Copper as their CRM solution, we want to make their Google experience better.

For example, we recently added our world-famous Copper Chrome extension, which had always only lived in Gmail, to Google Calendar. We realized that having CRM data quickly and easily accessible while setting and preparing for meetings in GCal would make that experience infinitely better.

In short, Google becomes better because you’re using Copper. Not the other way around.

The impact of product principles

Burning these three simple principles into the psyche of everyone on the team has already started to have a significant impact on how we've approached our work this year. For example: When we review our backlog and feature requests list, we know what to prioritize. We’ve taken a fresh look at our entire existing feature set and identified areas that, according to our new principles, give us plenty of opportunity to improve the existing experience.

In fact, one of our major feature initiatives for the first half of the year was born from this exercise. In a way, implementing these principles has “democratized” decision making across the product, design and engineering team because anyone on the team can make clear-cut, principle-based decisions, leading to some real productivity wins so far.

Overall, the work that went into creating a set of simple, clear but meaningful product principles has paid big dividends for us as a product team — and we think it’ll start paying big dividends for our users in very short order.

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