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Conversational before there was “Conversational Marketing”

February 24, 2009

It kind of goes without saying that the reason Atlassian has hit $100 million in cumulative all-time revenue is because of the products. But as one of the employees charged with the task of marketing these great products, I tend to think about the other side of the equation: the word of mouth that Atlassian has generated that helped us reach this milestone. As it turns out, JIRA not only served as a great product for customers, but as the key ingredient for word of mouth marketing.

Some perspective

I’ve attended the last two CM Summits in San Francisco. For a marketer, they’re great events. The conference focuses on the changing of the guard: leaving the old school marketing techniques like direct mail, big company PR, and 1-way communication, and turning instead towards creating open dialogues with customers, creating fan sites, and generally keeping it real.

In other words: it’s not about marketing anymore, it’s about creating conversations.

LOGO_JIRA.pngEnter the JIRA

In 2003, before Facebook and other social network sites captured our collective imaginations, Atlassian built a website that allows anyone — customers, prospects, partners, journalists, etc. — to submit product bugs, feature requests, and other issues, which are visible to the entire community.

In our lingo, it’s called JIRA. Nothing was (or is) censored. While most other B2B enterprise software companies in the world spent energy obfuscating problems with their products or services, Atlassian listened to it’s customers, built a loyal fan base, won over thousands of customers, and beat most of the big-name venture capital-backed Silicon Valley companies (in fact, most of them are customers now!).

And to be clear… JIRA is a product, not a marketing tool. And yet, it has been a platform for thousands of conversations in the last 6-7 years.

One of the things I’ve learned on the job is the power of listening, and responding, and building trust (as opposed to the old school marketing of just ‘spinning’). The folks at the CM Summits call it ‘marketing’ but Atlassian has called it ‘just doing good business.’ JIRA has given us an incredible feedback loop, it’s allowed developers to speak directly with customers (as opposed to the typical situation where developers are locked in the basement* while the marketing types filter conversations to them), and in turn it’s fostered trust between customer and company, something that other companies have pushed aside in the name of an obfuscating public relations strategy.

Of course, this is in hindsight.

When JIRA was first being used, it was also a dog food mentality. As a product JIRA has improved immensely under seven years of heavy use, from novice and seasoned users alike. No one ever thought of it as marketing, it was (and still is!) an issue tracker.

Being transparent and open makes you vulnerable, too: there are lot of feature requests, suggestions, gripes, etc., that have not been closed out. Mike wrote about a rather infamous issue some time ago. But that’s the conversational marketing dilemma: criticism is part of being open, it’s part of winning the trust of your customers.

On the whole, JIRA has been of incredible service to the company. As Laura wrote the other day, Atlassian is surpassing $100 million cumulative sales revenue in just seven years. I have to think that that figure isn’t just based on JIRA sales, but also JIRA transparency and lots and lots of conversations.


* Um, figuratively of course!

One Comment
  1. April 15, 2009 2:38 pm

    emm… love it..

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