Month: January 2012

Introducing Product Management into an Organization

NOTE: The following is a guest post by Shardul Mehta. If you want to submit your own guest post, click here for more information.

If you are considering introducing Product Management into your organization, or are the first Product Management employee hired into an established business, then tread carefully! Having twice done the latter, I can attest there are fewer professional situations more fraught with ambiguity, unreasonable expectations, threats from every corner, and high likelihood of failure for the Product Manager and the organization.

Why would a successful business decide to introduce Product Management into the organization at all? In one of the companies I had joined, the business had been extremely successful selling variations of essentially the same product for years and years. But with potential new clients drying up, the execs decided what the company needed was more “innovation” and their answer was to create a Product Management department. Other reasons could be:

  • With everyone in the company focused on marketing, selling, customer service, managing operations, hiring, and a hundred other things, the organization finds no one is focused on growing the product portfolio.
  • On the other hand, the product portfolio may have grown like wild fire, and now there are multiple versions of the product, causing customer confusion and inefficiencies within the organization. Time to consolidate.
  • The product itself has become so “feature rich” that sales and marketing no longer know how to position the product to customers, customers cannot be serviced efficiently, and delivery dates keep slipping as each additional piece of functionality adds exponential risk to development and testing.

For any of these reasons, the company executives decide its time to bring in Product Management.

Buyer beware

Although these situations may seem ideal to introduce Product Management, they abound with pitfalls for the unaware. It’s important for both company execs and Product Management to be mindful of numerous land mines:

Unfounded unreasonably high expectations.Product Management is suddenly looked upon as the silver bullet answer to all the company’s problems.

Not all expectations are created equal. Expectations are also different across each department:

  • Engineering/IT expects Product Management to write requirements, project manage the delivery, conduct UAT, manage defect resolution, and make release go/no go calls.
  • Sales expects Product Management to be available for every sales call, produce sales collateral, do product demos, commit to product features that will help them close the next big deal, and have them available by the date they already promised to the client.
  • Marketing expects Product Management to provide the content for marketing materials or, worse, wants nothing at all to do with Product Management.
  • Execs expect Product Management to come up with the “next big thing,” have a solid business case behind it, deliver it on time, and ensure it makes a ton of money.

What does Product Management do? Most times folks don’t understand the role of Product Management and the value it brings to the organization. Let’s see…

  • Salespeople close deals.
  • Marketing does market research and advertising.
  • Operations manages call centers and business processes.
  • Account management manages client relationships.
  • IT takes care of “all that technical stuff” the rest of the organization would rather not be bothered about.

Pretty straightforward. So what exactly does Product Management do? And here’s the fun part: even the executives of the company – the same folks who decided to introduce Product Management – may not be clear on what exactly it does!

Why do we even need Product Management? Infinitely worse is when folks secretly question the decision to bring in Product Management. This is typically prevalent at the department head and rank & file levels.

The thinking goes this way: “We’ve been successful all these years without it, so why do we need it now?” Product Management represents a disruption to tradition and the status quo. As such, it is seen as a threat. We human beings typically don’t embrace change so readily. In one company, IT had historically written the business requirements and the business was more than happy with this arrangement. When Product Management came into the picture, the battle lines were drawn!

The scapegoat syndrome: A popular way for other departments to deal with the threat is simply to blame Product Management for anything and everything wrong with the product. Suddenly Product Management is getting blamed for deals not getting closed, because the product does not have the features desired by the last “hot” prospect.

If the product has holes, Product Management is called to task for writing poor requirements. If customers don’t respond to marketing, Product Management is accused of not understanding the customer. If customers report bugs in the product, Product Management is asked to immediately identify fixes. Product Management becomes everyone’s favorite punching bag. It’s amazing how fast this happens.

The bottleneck syndrome: Somewhat related to the scapegoat syndrome, except this one is often self-inflicted. The new Product Manager declares, “Product Management owns the product.” And sure enough, soon he or she does indeed own everything to do with the product. All decisions, all issues, are swiftly sent to the Product Manager, who quickly gets swamped with putting out one fire after the next. Pretty soon, no department is getting the support it expects, the backlog piles up, delivery timeframes get jeopardized, the execs are still waiting on the product strategy, and everyone is pointing to Product Management as the bottleneck.

Eyes wide open

So before you introduce Product Management into your organization, or sign up as the first Product Management employee, be mindful of these traps. In my next post, I’ll share hard fought lessons on how you can avoid them and prepare for long-term success.

Have you ever been one of the first product management employees hired into an organization? Please share your story. I’d love to hear from you!

Shardul

Tweet this: Introducing Product Management into an Organization http://wp.me/pXBON-37M #prodmgmt #innovation

Shardul Mehta is a simple product guy whose passion for great digital experiences is only exceeded by his love for chicken curry. He is the Founder of ProductCamp DC, and his blog can be found here.

 

The Pluses and Minuses of Using FREE as a Marketing Strategy

NOTE: The following is a guest post by Lior Levin. If you want to submit your own guest post, click here for more information.

Every business and individual with personal ambition today can now create an E-book or other digital product and give it away for free with the hope that customers will avail themselves of another service that will convert into a profit.

It’s an old business model that Chris Anderson explains in his book Free: The future of a radical price and is notably embodied by razor companies who give away the body of the razor and sell razor blades for profit.

Should businesses and individuals use “free” as a marketing strategy for their digital or physical products? Hard and fast rules may be hard to come by, but here are a few disadvantages and advantages to consider if you’re considering a “free” campaign.

The Minuses of Free as a Marketing Strategy

Decreasing the Perceived Value of a Product
Effective free promotions have to communicate the value of a product and convince customers that they are getting a great bargain that they’d be a fool to pass up. In fact, they the offers have to be significant enough that the buyers will tell their friends about it. Ironically, you still need to “sell” a free campaign to customers so they realize the value of your offer.

Limited Sales Potential without an Effective Campaign
A free giveaway in and of itself will not be effective. It has to lead to sales conversions at a certain point. If a giveaway fails to attract new customers and sales, then it is a significant loss in time if not materials for a business. Malcolm Gladwell’s critique of Chris Anderson’s book Free, points out the uncomfortable truth that free as a promotional strategy can have mixed, if not tragic results.

Can a Free Product Stick?
One of the great advantages of asking customers to pay for a product is they have to engage with it and decide what they really think of it. The idea of investing money into anything makes us more critical and ultimately more appreciative if it meets our needs and expectations.

The article Better Than Free states that the Internet is fundamentally a copy machine, but there are many things such as trust, loyalty, personalization or accessibility that can’t be easily copied, and this is where customer value can be created.

Take for example the strategy of Apple. Their loyal customers pay top dollar for their computers because they believe they are purchasing the best product on the market. Free may be a solid marketing hook, but marketers will need to think about how well their products will stick with new customers.

The Pluses of Free as a Marketing Strategy

A Wide Reach
Anyone who has seen the way a free product promotion spreads through Facebook or how a brilliantly counter-intuitive blog post is retweeted across Twitter knows that a free item or piece of information can spread widely with incredible speed.

Serve Your Tribe
Effectively using free as a marketing tool has everything to do with serving your tribe of colleagues and customers. By tapping into a network that already values your work and content, to say nothing of trusting you, you can effectively reach a wider segment of customers.

Author and speaker Michael Hyatt suggests that free could be used as a way to serve your network without shouting at them like old marketing techniques. In fact, Hyatt asserts that marketing as we knew it is dead. He writes:

Tribe-building is the new marketing.

  • Marketing is no longer about shouting in a crowded marketplace. It is about participating in a dialogue with fellow travelers.
  • Marketing is no longer about generating transactions. It is about building relationships
  • Marketing is no longer about exploiting a market for your own benefit. It is about serving those who share your passion—for your mutual benefit.

Reach New Audiences
Giveaways and free promotions maximize your visibility before a large segment of the market. In fact, that’s what they do best. This is especially helpful if you’re launching a new business or product that could wallow in obscurity without boost of publicity.

Expand Your Influence and Levels of Engagement
By giving away products or services for free, you can expand the reach of your business to your customers. Author Michael Hyatt has expanded his reach as a speaker by using free promotions on his blog, especially promotions that have connected him with leading experts in his field.

Free promotions can be as simple as an E-book download and as complicated as a product giveaway. Companies have given away cars to bloggers, publishers rely on book giveaways for reviews, and companies are constantly experimenting with free shipping and other perks for their customers. Free as a strategy has been around for quite some time and will continue to evolve.

If anything has been proven for certain, it’s that marketing is costly. In the past, marketing required a hefty cheque to an advertising agency. Today, network marketing on social media consumes time and resources. While a free campaign doesn’t cost anything for a customer, a business must weigh the costs and benefits before launching it.

Tweet this: The Pluses and Minuses of Using FREE as a Marketing Strategy http://wp.me/pXBON-37B #marketing #freemium #prodmgmt

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This guest post is written by Lior Levin, a marketing advisor for a neon sign store that offers commercial neon and LED signs such as a neon pie sign; and who also works for a company that offers a psd to xhtml service.

We are entering the Age of Innovation

By Saeed Khan

If I gave you an assignment to hire someone to build a device to get cameras (still and video) into the upper atmosphere (at least 80,000 feet), take pictures and video, have the cameras return to Earth and then recover those cameras and images, who would you hire?

And what budget would you need?

If you said a $500 budget was sufficient, and you’d hire a couple of high school students to do it, you wouldn’t be crazy. You’d be absolutely right. I’ll explain more in a minute, but let me change one thing and see how that affects the answer.

What a difference 20 years makes

If this was 1992 as opposed to 2012, and I gave you the same task, would your answer be the same? Absolutely not. But if you gave the same answer in 1992, I would definitely have thought you were crazy! Back then it would have required some Ph.Ds and hundreds of thousands of dollars to do what what was asked. It’s amazing what a difference a couple of decades can make.

So what am I talking about?  Read this article about how two Toronto high school students, Matthew Ho and Asad Muhammad, did exactly what I described.  They bought second hand cameras, cell phones (for the GPS) and other parts from online sites, used the Web to help them plan their project and the flight path of the craft, so they could retrieve it later.

While this is only one small (but amazing) example, it is illustrative of the environment we live in. We have access to amazing technology  and data that either didn’t exist or was limited to large corporations and research labs only 20 years ago. And the pace of technological improvement is not slowing. It’s not simply about Moore’s Law (exponential increases in computing power), but about improvements in material science, very low cost manufacturing, and broad accessibility FOR THE PUBLIC to technology, products, services and knowledge to help bring ideas to fruition.

Look at the Maker movement, and sites like Instructables and Inventables and even companies like Quirky, for examples of how invention AND innovation are becoming easier for everyday people.

Culture needs to catch up with technology

But to really take advantage of all this, we need to change our thinking to be more like the two high school students. No one told them they had to do what they did. It wasn’t a high school assignment or a 3rd party contest. They did it because they thought it was possible.

While we definitely have access to 21st century technology, when it comes to truly innovative thinking, large parts of our culture and institutions (e.g. schools) are still mired with very old 20th century structures and cultures.

We need to change that so that we can encourage all the other “Matthews and Asads” (as well as the “Marthas and Ayeshas”) to truly think outside the (institutional) boxes they are in. Innovation can better every part of our society, but we have to change how we think if we want to truly benefit in the Age of Innovation.

Saeed

Tweet this: We are entering the Age of Innovation http://wp.me/pXBON-37i #prodmgmt #innovation #legoman

 

 

 

What’s the deal with Product Marketing?

It’s been quite a while since I wrote a What’s the Deal piece.  The last one was called “What’s the Deal with Software Product Management?“. So it’s kind of fitting, that I’m following it up (albeit almost 4 years later) with one on Product Marketing.

Recently, there have been a few posts on other blogs related to the Product Marketing role and the viewpoints caught my eye.

The “What’s the difference” article attempts to delineate the functions of Product Management and Product Marketing.  You should read the whole article, but here are a couple of snippets of the definitions of the two:

Product management usually “listens” to the market and then works with the internal team to develop products to meet the needs that are articulated.  They do not usually to interact much with the market on a day-to-day basis  in a direct way, but rather listen to feedback obtained by sales and marketing.


So if that’s product management in a nutshell, where does product marketing differ?  Well, product marketing is a more externally focused role. The product marketers “talk” to the market more.  They evangelize what the company’s product offers the world, and help the company focus their messaging to the market.

We need to get away from these “complementary opposite” definitions of the roles. i.e. one listens, the other other talks. One is inbound, the other outbound. One focuses on putting products on the shelf, the other focuses on getting products off the shelf etc.

The roles are are definitely complementary, but are definitely not opposites. These kinds of definitions, while short and easy to remember are incorrect and only help to further confuse those who aren’t clear on their relationship.

Now, in The End of Product Marketing, Dave Wolpert (guest posting on A Random Jog) describes a death spiral he sees happening to Product Marketers. Caught between Product Managers, Marketing and Sales, Product Marketers are losing responsibility for any strategic activities and are becoming tactical, siloed content creators.

At many companies, product management has already replaced the inbound function I described earlier. At others, product marketers have evolved into field marketers by focusing mainly on sales tools that are only used internally; development of externally-facing content marketing tools, like technical white papers, are sourced to others.

In what seems to be a bit of a rebuttal of Dave Wolpert’s piece, Josh Duncan (the main blogger on A Random Jog), states the following in the Rise of the Product Marketer.

In most businesses, there is a gap between marketing and product that must be filled. Without an audience, a great product has nowhere to go. Likewise, a great marketing strategy can’t save you from a woeful product. I believe that business success can be found when you match a great product with a great marketing plan and this is where Product Marketing can have the most impact.

So with that preamble, here’s my take on the situation.

1. Product Marketing is not dead, but it’s also not on the rise.

I currently work with some really good product marketing folks. I’m not saying that just to be nice or polite. I’m saying that because it’s true. But it’s not like that in many companies.

Part of the problem is that many companies don’t understand what Product Marketing is. So they define the role incorrectly, or hire the wrong people, or both. And what happens then? You have ineffective Product Marketing and little need to expand on it.

A lot of companies look at the role like this – product MARKETING. i.e. they focus on the second word and thus create conditions like those described by Dave Wolpert. i.e. Product Marketing becomes a tactically focused sales support role.

2. Product Marketing is usually ridiculously understaffed.

I’ve been in Product Management for a LONG time. And while most companies I’ve worked in have small Product Management teams, they have tiny, and sometimes non-existent Product Marketing teams. Ratios of 5:1 (Product Managers to Product Marketers) are not uncommon.  Why? Because companies don’t understand the role so don’t hire properly. Or they feel that the work can simply be done the “the Product Manager”.  Yes, it can be done, with the right people in place, but at what cost? Having individuals splitting time between all the different tasks of both Product Management and Product Marketing is simply a recipe for mediocrity at best, failure at worst.

3. “Marketing” is viewed very differently than it was 20+ years ago

The word “Marketing”,  if you look at the business school definition of it, is very different than how it is understood in most technology companies today.

Marketing used to be viewed as a strategic business function. Remember the 4 Ps (Product, Price, Promotion, Place)? Notice that “marketing” included “product”. Today of course, the term “Marketing” is mostly understood to cover only “Promotion” – i.e. advertising, PR, events, campaigns, awareness, lead generation etc. It has become specialized and focused heavily on demand creation.

Product Management has taken over “Product” and “Price”. “Place” — i.e. sales/distribution channels — has been taken over by Sales and to a lesser extent Product Management. Thus the “Marketing” part of “Product Marketing” is viewed in this context. Not as a strategic business function, but an outwardly focused partner to Sales.

Perhaps we need a new name for Product Marketing to better align with the changes that have happened in Marketing over the last 20 or so years.

So, what does that mean for “Product Marketing”?

In short, I see the clear need for what I would call “strategic marketing”.

This covers the basics like positioning and messaging, but also other areas where market, customer and product knowledge are required. This could include (but not be limited to) the following:

  • evangelism
  • analyst relations
  • sales funnel analysis and optimization
  • working on product, market or competitive strategy
  • high value content creation

So where does Product Marketing fit within a company? This role does NOT belong in Marketing and definitely not in Sales. Product Marketing should be part of the overall Product Management organization.

OK, Product Marketers, hear me out before you think I’m out to assimilate the role into that of Product Manager. I’m not. In fact, I’m advocating the opposite.

I’ve written and presented on the topic of How to Structure a Product Management Organization as well as The Need for Differentiated Roles in Product Management.

The fact is that both the roles of “Product Manager” and “Product Marketer” are poorly understood and implemented in the industry.  e.g. There’s too much focus on what a “Product Manager” does vs. what “Product Management” does.

Far too many companies have Product Management organizations that are populated solely with people with titles of “Product Manager” at varying levels of seniority. e.g. Technical Product Manager, Product Manager, Sr. Product Manager, Product Management Director, VP Product Management etc. Is there any other department that looks like that? No.

All departments have a spread of roles that have particular complimentary (there’s that word again)  focuses (foci?) and that work together to achieve common goals.  Why should Product Management be different?

There’s little disagreement that Product Managers and Product Marketers should work closely together, yet for some reason, there is pushback (mostly from Product Marketers in my experience) to be functionally within the Product Management organization.

Take a look at the following presentation. I delivered it last year at ProductCamp Boston. In it I present my case for the various roles, the place of Product Marketing within overall Product Management, and the problems this structure solves.

Please take a look and let me know what you think.

Saeed

Tweet this: What’s the deal with Product Marketing? http://wp.me/pXBON-371 #prodmgmt #prodmktg

Not Everyone Wants to Play Games

All over the web and in all the product management communities, there are articles and discussions about gamification. If you’ve been offline for a while, gamification is about applying design and development efforts to software in a way to make it more engaging, more “fun.”

Not only have whole applications been born under the premise (i.e. Foursquare), but gamification has also had great impact in some of the more traditional business software, (ie. Salesforce.com) allowing for more interaction and amusement when performing daily tasks.

I’m all about having more fun in my interactions with technology, and can truly appreciate making the more mundane less so; but, I believe sometimes we have taken the concept of gamification too far.

Not every piece of software or every interaction within should be designed around fun. Stanford professor Elizabeth Corcoran, in her book on the subject, “The ‘Gamification’ Of Education”, suggests that the gamification of businesses and virtual worlds is creating an expectation among people that real-life interactions follow simple mechanics and some disillusionment when they do not. Are we making our software more of a toy than a productive tool?

I recently heard of a software company’s UI meeting, held to introduce the upcoming planned release to the internal audience, where the  discussion quickly went from what the planned for now to the planned for later. In the “planned for later” talks, the designers were sharing their vision for the upcoming UI changes, which were focused on including more opportunities for social interactions. The problem? No one had talked with more than 1 or 2 current customers to find out if this is what is truly needed or wanted.

Conversations need to start with the market, not just customers. Does your market want to play a game when they are in your software? Will it help them do their job better? More effectively?

Luke Hohmann, with his company Innovation Games, does great work in promoting playing collaborative games with your customers to build  engagement. He states that engaging customers in a well-designed Innovation Game frees them up from the constraints of typical focus-group sessions and delivers deeper, more accurate information than is available through online surveys or other tools.

There are some very successful elements that need to be copied.  Gaming elements do and should belong in SOME software. Luke’s reasons and use make sense. In consumer-facing sites, I support using gaming elements to make the site more engagement, building more loyalty, etc. In business programs,  I can no longer remember the “old” training programs where you didn’t even see your status on the module much less your achievement. Gaming made training more fun. But, once you start entering the enterprise software realm, gamification is an area that needs to be evaluated carefully.

Gamification elements that are added in by designers because they are the latest and greatest, will quickly get subjected to the sideline and prove to be a waste of your time and effort. In the competitive software market, time and effort need to be focused on those areas which deliver the differentiation. And, it might not be about the game.

(Please share this on Twitter, LinkedIn and even Google+: “Not Everyone Wants to Play Games” by@jidoctorhttp://wp.me/pXBON-36h #prodmgmt #gamification”)