Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Business Value of Product Management — an Object Lesson

By Saeed Khan

As much as we may focus on the role of Product Managers in building great products, it’s equally important to focus on the role Product Management plays with other groups in the company and top-line revenue overall. This was underscored recently when a friend told me about something that happened earlier this year at her company.

A classic Product Management mistake
She works in a company with a number of products and product lines. During a reorg last year, one of their product lines — an older mature one — was left without direct Product Management oversight. Very little new product development was being done on it and the executives decided that Product Management should focus on newer products where more R&D focus was required. Additionally, it was believed that the sales force knew how to sell that mature product — “it virtually sells itself” (famous last words IMHO) was one line she said that was used to justify the lack of PM focus.

About 9 months later, it turned out that sales of that older product line had fallen significantly. After an internal debrief to understand why, it turned out that the lack of any Product Management focus had some other unintended implications in other parts of the company.

  1. Sales and Marketing took it that the legacy product was no longer important and didn’t warrant focus.
  2. There was no one to call during tricky sales situations so deals were delayed or lost
  3. No product management = no roadmap. What were they supposed to tell prospects who asked?
  4. No one to coordinate marketing activities with, which led to reduced lead generation overall
  5. No Product Managers were monitoring the declining funnel and sales activity so no early warning of trouble to come

The net result was a downward spiral and a real impact on the company’s top line  due to the revenue drop of the product that “virtually sells itself”.

This happened to me
I’ve seen this pattern myself in one of my earliest Product Management positions over a decade ago. And the reasons for the decline were almost identical.  At that company, when Management decided not to replace me when I moved to another (newer) product line, I asked an executive the following (rhetorical) question:

Either I did such a great job that this product can function without me, or I added absolutely zero value, so there’s no value in replacing me. Which one is it?

He smiled and said, “You know it’ s neither one of those reasons.” I knew it wasn’t, but I had to ask, because any other reason was going to be bad for the product. Keep in mind, when sales has more than one product to sell and marketing has more than one product to market, and there are no per product sales or lead gen quotas to meet, the logical behavior is to focus on what is perceived to be important.

This should be a stark reminder for any company that views Product Management as strictly, or primarily, an engineering or pure product development focused role.

Product Management has both direct and indirect influence on the business success of products and removing all product management oversight on a revenue generating product (even if it is ”legacy” or “mature”)  is going to negatively impact your business very quickly.

Don’t believe me? Move all product managers away from one your mature products and wait a few quarters. I dare you. :-)

Saeed

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5 Things you should do when you start a new Product Management role

By Veronica Figarella

In 7 years of Product Management I’ve been lucky enough to start managing a new product at least 4 times. But many times, the product was new only for me, (i.e. not a new product at all), so getting on track and delivering what was expected was NOT always easy.

Whether or not you are familiar with the product and the market, I find the following actions helpful to start the challenge and increase chances of success:

#1 Know your market you can learn all about the product later

Although it is great to have a clear vision of where you want the product to be, DO NOT start your new role by deciding what extra features to add if you haven’t investigated your market, competitors and customers problems thoroughly.

It is tempting to start “inwards” and read all product documentation, talk to designers/engineers, sales teams, learn about the product’s history and quickly immerse yourself into the daily urgent problem solving matters, without giving you time to understand your customers’ pain points. Take the time to learn from the relevant market intelligence information you have access to, read all the research done in the past and decide what sort of periodic customer insights reports you want to look at.

Learn about your industry trends and competitors and find your product’s sweet spot without learning all the internal details. I’m confident you’ll probably come up with a non-biased value proposition that will help you think externally  (i.e. customer/market oriented) and have a better estimate of the real market opportunity for your product.

After you’ve acquired a comfortable level of market and customer knowledge you’ll look at the internal product information with different eyes.

#2 Audit your Product … start building a healthy relationship with your internal stakeholders

Learning about your product status is paramount to understand what your next steps are. So where do you start the audit? Even if you are not a Product Marketing Manager, auditing the marketing mix will help you organize the audit.

The variables I recommend you look into are:

  1. Customer Do we know who our potential and current customers are? Do we know their real problems? What is the buying process? Who is the decision maker?
  2. Product: What’s the product value proposition? What are the product’s strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threat’s (SWOT)? Is our product documentation in place? What are our product’s metrics and how often are they monitored?
    Price: Are we selling what was expected? What’s the product contribution to margin? Are we gaining as much market share as we need to? Is our price right?
  3. Promotion Do we need a promotion to increase product trials? Are our promotions having the desired effect? How do we generate leads and what is the conversion rate?
  4. Communications To whom are we communicating our product’s benefits? Is it to the right potential customers? How good is our Product Collateral (printed, internal and external sites)? How communication works with our key stake holders (is everybody getting the information they need)? Do we have a proper way for customers to communicate with us?
  5. Channels Are we using the right channel to engage our customers? Do they have the information/preparation they need? Are they selling what they are supposed to? Is their commission structured properly? Do we need a new partner to reach our target market?
  6. Processes What are the product’s sale and post sales processes? Do we have a proper customer support/feedback process in place? How do we address to angry customers? What do we do with product’s feedback from potential and current customers? Do we follow product’s performance?
  7. Appearance Do our product’s packaging, forms, web, and brand help deliver our product’s value proposition?
  8. People Is the organizational structure optimal to product success?

In the process of answering the previous questions you’ll have the chance to identify your key internal stakeholders and start building a relationship with them. Also take into account their opinions to improve product performance as they will become your internal allies.

#3 Negotiate your Successbased on your outward and inward investigation

Now that you’ve gathered all relevant information and identified what are the main areas you need to work on, manage success with your peers and superiors by showing your discoveries. You will be in a better position to commit to the expected sales targets if you know the areas that need improvement or change.

It will help you manage expectations on what you and the company can deliver; after all we are only Product Managers, not miracle makers.

#4 Build your Roadmapsso  you can start planning your future

So you’ve managed your boss’ expectations, set your goals clearly, and have a good idea about the company’s resources. Now is time to dream and plan where you need the product to be in the short and midterm. You can build your internal and external roadmaps to engage with different areas of the company and most importantly to help you prioritize what changes need to made first. This will guide your future and current discussions.

#5 Manage your timeor people will manage it for you

Last but not least, and probably one of the most difficult tasks for new and old PM’s is to manage your time. Set a fixed schedule for report analysis, email reading and try limiting the hours you spend on meetings. Also learn to differentiate urgent from important or you’ll never have time to stop and think about where you are going and what needs to be done to secure your success as PM.

I hope this short list of tips helps you in your way of becoming an entrepreneurial product manager.

Veronica

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Improve Product, Marketing & Sales Execution With a Different Approach to Product Strategy

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

Many of the day-to-day challenges executing product, marketing and sales initiatives are directly related to the approach organizations use to form their product strategies.  A simple change in the approach to product strategy yields significant improvements in the day-to-day execution of product, marketing and sales activities.

To reap the benefits of improved execution there are two fundamental elements of strategy to consider.  One requires a downsized approach while the other requires a super-sized definition.

  1. Downsize your approach from multiple product strategies to a single overarching strategy for your entire portfolio.
  2. Then super-size your definition of strategy beyond R&D investments and include marketing, positioning and sales components.

The results improve execution on two fronts.  First, your marketing and sales teams become highly proficient at positioning, differentiating and selling high-value solutions that reflect capabilities of your entire suite of existing products and services.  This translates into more revenue from existing products and greater impact on short term revenue goals by simply articulating and demonstrating a stronger value story.

Meanwhile, product teams operate with the focus of a single overarching strategy and a single set of priorities that greatly improve utilization of R&D resources and don’t limit the size and scope of market opportunities to individual products.   A single portfolio strategy gives product teams a wider market lens to uncover bigger and broader market needs that are more valuable to buyers and the entire portfolio of products and services at their disposal to address those needs with greater impact.

Use the following guidelines to put the two elements of your strategy in place.

Short Term Revenue Focus via Marketing & Sales Execution

Build the marketing and sales component of your strategy by answering the following who, what, why and how questions. Then utilize the collective capabilities of all products in your portfolio to ensure you’re positioning existing solutions with maximum value and impact.

  • Who (target market segments) values our strengths most?
  • What are their most critical needs/challenges we currently address?
  • Why are our solutions unique or more valuable than the competition?
  • How do our solutions advance the strategies of organizations in these markets?

Longer Term Growth Focus via High-Value Product Solutions

Build the product component of your strategy by answering the following who, what, why and how questions.  Utilize the collective capabilities of all products in your portfolio to deliver solutions with maximum value and impact and build new products where necessary to strengthen or differentiate your solutions.

  • Who (target market segments) will value our strengths most over the next 1-3 years?
  • What are their most critical needs/challenges we’re capable of addressing?
  • Why will our solutions be unique or more valuable than the competition?
  • How will these solutions advance the strategies of organizations in these markets?

In some form or fashion, most organizations answer these questions, but they’re doing it for each product.  And that’s where execution problems begin.  When you multiply the number of products by the number of short and long term opportunities for each, then attempt to collate that enormous matrix into strategic plans let alone a series of resourced projects, it creates many internal and often invisible tug-of-war battles for resources, influence and mindshare that impede execution on all fronts.

Result: it’s difficult for an organization to establish market momentum or market leadership in any area of competency when it spreads its resources too thin pursuing opportunities that go in too many directions.

Superior execution in product, marketing and sales disciplines is paramount to market leadership.  The lynchpin to out-executing your competition may lie in a single market and portfolio strategy that elevates the who, what, why and how questions to a level that’s most valuable to the organization.   Products are the means to the end.

John

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John Mansour is the founder and president of Proficientz, a company that specializes in B2B product  portfolio management.

Customer Analytics – a Double Edged Sword

The following is a guest post by Lorraine Chapman, Director Research at Macadamian. If you want to submit your own guest post, click here for more information.

With the rise of analytics and big data, there is a ton of information out there that can give you insight into how customers use your products and feel about your brand. For example, tools like Google Analytics, Flurry, and Preemptive Mobile give you more data than you know what to do with if you want to analyze usage patterns of your web and mobile devices.

Analytics solutions like Netbase allow you to parse through millions of tweets on Twitter and get a sense for how customers perceive your brand. It’s all very exciting, but these reams of data can also be highly misleading.

Have you really spotted a trend?
If you ask enough questions, and gather enough data, meaningless patterns will emerge. Simple example: if you ask enough people what month they were born in, and a hundred other research questions, you will “discover” things like people born in November drink a disproportionate amount of Budweiser compared to everyone else, or that 86% of people with July birthdays like driving foreign cars over North American cars.

You haven’t actually discovered anything except a statistical phenomenon known as clustering. In a large set of random data, you get clusters of the same type of information. Roll a pair of dice 100,000 times and you’ll get strings of snake eyes or 12’s and other unlikely sequences. It doesn’t reveal a strange meaningful pattern. There are just a lot more clustered patterns than non-clustered possibilities out there.

To find out if the trend has meaning, you would have to run a separate follow-up experiment. Automatically assuming that a cluster of data has meaning — and making design decisions based on that — can lead you astray.

For example, a client once asked us why their website was so popular on Tuesdays, as shown by their demographic data. It didn’t make sense, so we asked them to redo the test. In the second test, the pattern disappeared.

When gathering web or mobile analytics, survey data, or any kind of quantitative measure, your biggest asset is knowing the right questions to ask. Start with a theory that you want to prove or disprove, or use analytics and surveys to steer more detailed user research. For example, you could use survey data to get an overall preference for a feature, then use more qualitative methods like user interviews to understand that preference in context and detail.

Misunderstanding statistical significance
Conclusions drawn from large amounts of data (from social media, analytics, BI and even traditional methods like customer surveys) are often highly regarded because they are “statistically significant”. However, when it comes to testing how users actually interact with your product (and hence what new features, improvements and innovations would best help them), statistical significance is far from a sufficient criterion for meaningful or proper research on its own.

On the other hand, you can’t draw conclusions from interviewing only two or three users.

So how many users do you need to speak with or observe?

It depends on the range of user groups your product is targeted to, the scope of product interactions you want to observe, how the results will be used, and how many rounds of research you conduct.

If you want to test a software application for usability and opportunities to improve the design, focus on one or two primary user groups, and five to six users each time will detect most usability issues.

Usability testing
Jakob Nielsen has shown that approximately five to six users will likely detect 80% of usability problems for a specific use of a product. Keep in mind this “formula only holds for comparable users who will be using the product in fairly similar ways.”

Laura Faulkner tested Nielsen’s theory on a web-based employee timesheet. She ran tests with a group of 65 users, then selected random groups of five participants and compared the percentage of issues each group of five detected compared to issues detected by all participants.

Nielsen’s 80% rule held, but variability meant some groups of five identified as few as 55% of the issues. By increasing the number of users to ten, groups found an average of 95% of issues.

Ultimately, the number of users you need to draw on depends on what type of information you want to get from your users. For a product benchmark study, you’ll need to run with a much greater number of users than a usability test, and you have to make sure you test across all user groups. For customer interviews, the number can vary significantly.

In summary
Many important research goals can be satisfied with a limited amount of research from a limited number of participants. Product Managers can seek advice from User Experience researchers with a background in experimental practices to help determine the extent needs of a product.

As analytics solutions get more powerful and the Big Data movement takes off, there are more and more novel ways to glean insights from customers about a product and brand. But having loads of data in and of itself doesn’t guarantee anything. Product teams need to maintain a healthy skepticism and balance these new data trends with traditional user research methods like contextual interviews and usability testing in order to truly understand how users are interacting with products, and where the opportunities for improvement and innovation lie.

Lorraine

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