By John Mansour
Your unconditional love for your products is making you blind to the real needs of your target customers. A swift and simple divorce benefits you and your products. No need to split the assets though. You’ll be back together again soon.
If you’re a product manager, this will feel unsettling. After all, you’re raised to be the champion of your products. Lead! Be passionate! Be the market expert! Inspire marketing and sales! No argument there. Product managers need to be all those things and then some.
There’s just one downside, and it’s a big one. Product knowledge is encumbering and it becomes a huge liability when product managers are reading the markets to identify unmet needs. The love-is-blind condition hits product managers hardest because they’re usually the most knowledgeable on their products. What’s a product manager to do?
Divorcing your products is the only answer. The good news – the divorce is temporary. When you reunite, you’ll live happily ever after…until you need to do it again. And you will need to do it again, and again.
B2B Product managers get pulled into a variety of situations involving prospects, customers, analysts, etc. Most of those situations usually require product managers to dispense product information, but there’s also no better opportunity to flip the switch into discovery mode.
The needed conversation
When you’re on a highly important date with a customer or prospect, turn the focus away from your products and ask the following three questions.. They’re fair game for any audience, any level.
- What are you (the customer or prospect) trying to accomplish?
- Why are those goals important?
- What are your biggest obstacles to meeting those goals?
No matter who you’re talking to, answers to these specific questions define unfiltered needs because they have nothing to do with your products. They paint a big picture view of market and business dynamics regardless of whom you’re conversing with. You’ll be amazed at the needs that surface when the conversations don’t revolve around your products. Consider the dialogues with the following roles.
Senior executives usually answer these questions relative to the strategic objectives and goals of the company. Expect to hear things they perceive to be the biggest obstacles to growth and profitability and how they plan to attack those obstacles.
Senior Managers/Department Heads
Senior managers will give you more of an operational perspective relative to the departments they manage, alluding to operational goals and metrics their senior executives deem critical to the overall goals of the company.
Managers & Staff
They’re typically the users of your products and the conversations revolve around activities and tasks happening in the trenches. Regardless, the questions are fair game and yield critical information on process flows, bottlenecks and productivity issues that are critical to improving the performance of the departments they work in.
In B2B, buyers and users of your products/services are rarely the same. If you understand the business goals and obstacles of your buyers (senior executives and senior managers), building a coordinated series of product capabilities (for your users) that collectively remove those obstacles is the easiest way to deliver high value business solutions. Divorce your products to uncover the needs. Remarry to deliver the solutions. It’s a cadence that benefits you, your products and your company.
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About the author
by Saeed Khan
Microsoft created a lot of buzz recently with the announcement of the HoloLens display. See the video below for an overview if you are not familiar with it.
It’s an augmented reality headset that includes numerous positional/directional sensors and is accessible via APIs for developers to build applications on it. Sort of a Google Glasses but on steroids.
The YouTube video above shows a number of proposed commercial (e.g. design) and consumer (e.g. gaming or father helping daughter repair plumbing) applications.
While I can see some benefits in the design and obviously in the gaming use cases, it’s pretty hard to fathom a consumer buying and using the HoloLens for a household repair job or anything mundane for that matter. Remember the fad of 3D TV that occurred a few years ago? Where is it now?
If we won’t wear very light 3D glass for something passive like watching a movie, why would we wear larger, clunky glasses for more complex and involved tasks?
I can’t help it, but the HoloLens reminds me of this scene from the movie Johnny Mnemonic. Watch until 46:15 – or watch the whole movie if you have time.
Perhaps if the headset could be replaced by contact lenses…..
Remember the Surface Table?
Back in 2007, Microsoft was touting the Surface Table. See the video below.
While Apple was launching what would become the most successful phone ever, Microsoft was promoting a $10,000 coffee table. I played with the Surface Table in 2008 or 2009 and it was definitely cool technology, but really didn’t solve any problems people had. After all, coffee tables are not very mobile. Someone actually created a very good spoof video of Surface Table.
I see similarities between Surface Table and HoloLens. Unfortunately, they are not positive ones.
- Lack of availability — When Microsoft announced Surface Table, you couldn’t buy it. Right now, you also cannot buy HoloLens. It’s not clear when HoloLens will be available — even in beta.
- No compelling use cases — Surface Table didn’t solve, and HoloLens today doesn’t solve problems or deliver new capabilities that people really need. Surface Table’s use cases were: organizing photos, spinning them them around, viewing maps and finger painting? Really? Similarly HoloLens’ use cases don’t look very compelling either.
- Size factor — HoloLens would definitely be fun for gamers, but the headsets are too big and obtrusive for more general use by the public. Surface Table was also big and obtrusive.
- Hype — There is far too much hype and not enough substance here. Microsoft’s use of the word “hologram” to describe what HoloLens projects is wrong. Let’s be clear, HoloLens does NOT display holograms. It’s augmented reality using the visor.
What do you think? Do you see value in HoloLens?
Tweet this: Is Microsoft HoloLens the next Microsoft Surface Table? http://wp.me/pXBON-4jN #prodmgmt #hololens #windows10
About the Author
Saeed Khan is a founder and Managing Editor of On Product Management, and has worked for the last 20 years in high-technology companies building and managing market leading products. He also speaks regularly at events on the topic of product management and product leadership. You can contact him via Twitter @saeedwkhan or via the Contact Us page on this blog.
by Saeed Khan
We all visit customers. There are many goals to such visits:
- to gain deeper insight into how they are using the product
- to understand what benefits they are seeing
- to identify what issues they are facing
- to convey product direction
- to learn about the problems they need to solve (and thus enhancements they need)
Getting the most out of customer visits takes planning and thought. Experience also helps. I know that my firs customer visits were fraught with mistakes, making them far less valuable than they could have been.
Here are some rules to follow to help you get the most out of those visits.
Rule #1 – Know thy customer
Ever had a customer visit go bad? It’s happened to me once or twice. If the customer has a blocking issue with your product and it’s causing them a lot of grief, expect an earful. There may be other reasons that the visit is not a good one, but if your company has information about the customer that is relevant to the meeting, then you need to know about it.
It doesn’t matter to your customer that Support cases are difficult to access or that the account manager doesn’t share information with you. That’s your problem to solve.
|Tweet this: Rules for Customer Visits – Rule 1 – Know thy customer http://wp.me/pXBON-4jy #prodmgmt|
By Jim Semick
In my experience — and most product managers I talk to agree — pricing is often an educated guess, frequently guided by a bit of prospect feedback, some spreadsheets, and gut feel. Getting it wrong carries huge risk.
But pricing doesn’t have to be a total shot in the dark. After validating the pricing for several B2B software products I believe that it’s possible to nail your pricing model and pricing very early in the product development process.
In fact, through this process I’ve discovered pricing models that were innovative and market differentiators for new products such as GoToMeeting, AppFolio, and our own product, ProductPlan. Here’s how I did it.
It Starts and Ends with Customer Value
When researching a new product, I typically conduct a series of 20-40 in-depth interviews as part of the discovery and validation process. A good portion of each interview is spent understanding customer problems and the potential value of solving those problems.
By deeply understanding the value that your concept provides you can begin to zero in on the pricing model long before beta testers start using your software. I often think about value in these terms:
- Pain relieved – sometimes hard to quantify, but often a purchase motivator
- Cost savings – often quantifiable in terms of dollars or effort saved
- Gain created – might be subjective (such as lifestyle benefit) or concrete (new revenue generated)
I’m not a believer in working backwards from your costs, conducting surveys, or evaluating competitive pricing. These tactics have their place, but in my opinion, it starts and ends with customer value.
An Example: GoToMeeting Pricing
When I validated the features and pricing for GoToMeeting, it was open-ended questioning that helped us understand:
- The lifestyle benefit that remote meetings could provide – for example, being able to conduct remote meetings while taking care of a sick child at home has huge value.
- The cost savings from reduced travel. For example, we could quantify the timesavings that sales teams could achieve by conducting online demonstrations rather than traveling.
- The frustration with the complicated per-minute pricing models of existing conferencing solutions. Buyers didn’t understand how much they would be paying and couldn’t budget month-to-month.
- The fear of overage: people using existing solutions would avoid inviting some people (or not hold the meeting) to avoid overage charges.
- The frustration of using other solutions that were complicated to use and feature-bloated.
- The cost savings that our proposed solution could create versus expensive competitive solutions.
You get the picture. By understanding their problems and the value from solving it, we developed our “All You Can Meet” flat rate pricing (an industry-leading innovation at the time).
Ask the Right Questions
When you are conducting interviews to determine pricing, it’s easy to fall into the trap of simply ask them what they will pay – this might give you some insight, but may also lead to false results. You need to build up to it first by having them walk you through the value that they would receive with your product.
- How much time or money is saved?
- How are their processes improved because of your product?
- Can they save any headcount because of your product?
- How is their business improved because of your product – can they quantify it?
I suggest you ask open-ended questions to get the best, most insightful answers.
You’ll also need to understand the cost of their current solution (even if it’s pencil and paper). If they are already using a competitive software product, have them walk you through the pricing of that solution, including maintenance fees.
Your goal is not only to understand the hard cost of the solution, but also to understand how they feel about it. Is it a source of frustration?
Validate the Purchase Process
As I’m validating new products, the later interviews often end with discussions about pricing. In fact, I often think about these later interviews as sales calls (the main difference being that I have no product to deliver if I get a “yes”).
The interview should be conducted with the decision-maker. You need to be speaking with the people who have purchase authority.
You’ll also want to understand the purchase and budgeting process. Make sure you have the decision maker walk you through how a purchase would work. Do they prefer annual pricing? Where would the budget come from? Who else needs to sign off?
It would be disappointing if you validated the pricing only to find out that your sales cycle is 12 months because of budgeting issues or other decision-makers that needed to be a part of the discussions.
Alternative Pricing Models
You now understand the customer problem, the value that your solution provides, the current solution cost, and the purchase process – now you can start floating trial balloons of pricing with the customer. You might start by suggesting a total annual price – this is probably easier because if you and your customer have done the ROI calculations this number will be easier for you both to grasp.
You can then ask follow up questions like “do you think that is fair?” It’s these follow up questions that let you know if you are on the right track.
Finally, you can start to nail down the pricing model. Is it per-month-per-user? Is there a different model that makes more sense? Any time you can align your pricing model with the customer’s goals, you’re far better off.
For example, at ProductPlan (product roadmap software), we created pricing that charges only for editors of data – the viewers of the data (often executives) pay nothing for licenses.
Because the product managers want to widely distribute the product roadmap to stakeholders, this model benefits the customer while getting ProductPlan wide exposure in the organization.
In another example, when I validated the pricing for AppFolio (property management software) we proposed pricing based on the number of rental units managed ($1 per unit per month). This pricing model resonated because our revenue would increase as the property managers increased the size of their portfolio. It’s easy to understand and makes sense and aligns with customer goals.
Once you have the interviews under your belt you can now work into the actual pricing. I’ve found that the final pricing will be hard to nail down and will require a lot of discussion with the team and with customers.
But early on (even before developing the software) you can be in the ballpark with pricing that makes sense for both the customer and your business model.
Jim Semick is co-founder of ProductPlan, product roadmap software. Prior to ProductPlan he validated several new products including GoToMyPC, GoToMeeting, and AppFolio. He writes at http://www.productplan.com/blog.
by Maggie Hibma
One of my favorite questions to ask other product marketers (quietly, of course; nothing you’d find record of on Twitter) is what the hardest part of their job is. I do this because no one matter how the answer starts, it’s always ends the same way: Communication.
In flavors like over, under, or cross, or in the way you receive it or the way you channel it back out. It’s, by far, the hardest part of the gig, and a topic of conversation I love to dig into with other PMMs.
Communication in launches is crucial, but even more crucial is the art of breaking apart that communication to suit the needs of the end receivers.
As product marketers, this is what we do on autopilot for the “public” — our prospects, our current customers or, better put, everyone outside our company walls. We act like a human filter, giving them exactly what we think they need from us in order to understand, try and adopt our new features or functionality.
But the other half of this responsibility of communication is about communicating your launch to the folks inside your company walls, and that can be a whole lot more complicated. There’s more process, fewer templates and, very importantly, it affects your relationship with important stakeholders or teams every time it needs to happen.
In this blog post, I’ll share some tips on how to evaluate the important launch communication coming in to you, and how to take that information and figure out the best ways to inform your necessary key segments to make your launch successful (and make you look like the product marketing superstar you are).
Review your intake
How you communicate and your communication style can sometimes be affected by the way you receive the information needed to get started on your launch. Take your next launch and use it as an experiment to renew and solidify the best communication tactics for the different groups of people you need to inform. You can start by asking yourself these questions as soon as a feature or product has hit the virtual conveyor belt:
How does product management normally communicate with me?
This question here can help you set expectations for how product management — for the sake of simplicity, let’s say your product manager (PM) — views the line of communication between product marketing (PMM) and what they’re doing. For example, if they clue you in early when details about the launch start to emerge, they may expect insight into your process early on too.
Or, if they present you with a fully-loaded package on the launch and then it’s on to the next thing they’re working on, there’s probably room for you to do the same when it’s time to deliver the end result.
How much information can I expect from my PM?
You’d hope the answer here is an automatic “everything I need,” but that’s usually not the case. And truthfully, the fault for that doesn’t land on any one person’s shoulders. Forget about product marketers — as humans, our default is to believe that everyone thinks the way we do, so we expect to get the information we need because, why wouldn’t we? As product marketers or anyone who works in a professional setting, the deal is this:
It’s up to you to take the information you’re given and assess it against what’s needed to successfully communicate the launch. If you don’t get it, ask for it. Product marketing is your job, not theirs, and only you know what you need to do your job.
How involved does my PM want to be involved with communicating the release?
Again, this question can help you set proper expectations between you and your PM about what they are looking for from you in terms of sharing your launch progress, both internally and externally. I’ve met PMs who want to be responsible for all the internal communications of the new feature or product. I’ve also met PMs who would laugh at me if I asked them that question.
You can usually figure it out quickly (and avoid the embarrassment of the latter happening to you) by running your communication plans by them at the outset of the launch and seeing what their input is. Chances are you’ll hold the reins for it all, but for the sake of your professional relationship, it’s up to you to confirm that.
Research their needs
Once you’ve got a grasp on what to expect the information flow to be to you from product management, you need to figure out how it’ll flow from you to your various launch stakeholders, both internal and external. You can research this now, or when you’re in the process of your next launch. You’ll want to evaluate two key points:
Who needs to know about this?
Start a list of groups that require knowledge of the launch (don’t worry about the medium yet, just the groups). Some will be obvious, but you’ll catch everyone by checking back through the communication of your last launch, whether that’s in your email inbox or up on an internal wiki.
Who asked questions? What teams did you notify “by default” and what teams, if any, was information “passed on” to? Did your organization change in any way since the last launch that could affect your plans?
What do they need to know?
Take the list of the teams who need to know the details about your launch and either go visit your key stakeholder on that team or a friendly face who has 15 minutes to answer the following questions:
- How do our product launches affect how you work?
- What’s the most important thing you need to know when a new feature launches?
- How do you like to be told about new features or functionality in our product?
No matter their answers, write them down. Even if you start to hear similarities, or, in same cases, the exact same request, still taking notes does two things for you: One, it shows the person that you care enough about what they need from you to write it down (which may seem like a small tactic, but it goes a long way in fostering good relationships in the workplace) and two, it lets them know that if their preferred method of communication changes, you’re on the hit list of folks to inform — without you having to ask.
Plan your output
Now that you know what kind of information to expect and when, and your internal stakeholders have told you what they want and how they want it, you’ll want to plan your communication output to match the needs of the folks that are your responsibility to inform about the launch. You’ll want to plan your output keeping three themes in mind:
Everyone likes to digest information in their own way, but different segments of your launch’s audience need information presented in a certain way that aligns with the goals of their own jobs.
For example: If the goal of a Services rep, with the Services team being a key stakeholder in your launch, is to help existing customers learn how to use a new feature or product, they probably want information presented in an educational way with the context that someone viewing it probably already knows what our solution is and what it does because they use it. For them, a quick tutorial video with benefits positioning up front works really well.
But depending on who your key stakeholders are, what kind of business you’re in or what’s being launched, you could have requests for:
- Competitive intelligence
- Demo sequences
- White papers
- Customer case studies
- Testimonals or soundbites
- Marketing materials like blog posts, ebooks or social media posts
Take these requests and figure out how you’re going to translate your own notes into these materials and if there’s any opportunity to create templates or, at the very least, duplicate information in a way that solves for multiple needs and saves you time.
When I think about what it means to “position” a launch, the first thing that comes to mind is that the customer needs to know why our new feature will help them in how they work with our solution today. They also need to know how it works and any extra details about how to get started with it, or how to request it.
The same thing goes for the internal stakeholders you’re working with. They all generally need to know the same information, but what differs is the emphasis on certain points for different groups. Take the answers you received when you asked “What’s the most important thing you need to know when a new feature launches?” to your key stakeholders.
Then, make sure you lead your communications to that team with that in mind. No matter what you lead with, you’ll need to know a mix of details about what you’re launching in order to do this efficiently, including but not limited to:
- The benefits
- The technical specs
- How it fits into your competitive landscape
- How it fits within the goals of your organization
- How a current customer might use it
- Who, out of your customer or install base, gets this new feature
As a product marketer, you can chunk out the stages of a launch all the way back to product research, or you can start when your stakeholders need to start getting information. I find the latter to be easier to work with when planning your communication output. Usually, it’ll look something like this (but can have many more stages, depending on your situation):
- Stage 1: When you find out it’s in development
- Stage 2: When it goes into beta
- Stage 3: When it launches (also called “general availability”
- Stage 4: When it’s time to check in on your goals and metrics for the launch
Different groups need different information about the launch during all four of these stages. For example, there are folks I work with that as soon as I know something will be going into beta in the next few weeks, I let them know. But that’s not everyone on my list.
Not only is that unnecessary, it doesn’t benefit me in any way to overload folks with information they don’t want or need at this point. (That, by the way, is something I’ve learned through copious amounts of trial and error, and it differs at every company.)
Follow this plan and what you’ll end up with is a communication calendar that chunks out your launches into key stages, with the type of information each key stakeholder needs and how they want to receive it at that stage.
The first time re-ordering your plan this way will be the hardest. The second time should tell you whether or not it’s a plan that works for everyone, and by the third time, you’ve nailed a repeatable plan you can always fall back on.
Tweet this: How to create internal communication plans for product launches http://wp.me/pXBON-4jb #prodmgmt #prodmktg #launch
About the Author
Maggie Hibma is a Product Marketing Manager at HubSpot, specializing in the platform’s marketing automation, social and mobile apps. Follow Maggie on Twitter at @MaggieHibma