Organizing product management

by Steve Johnson, Under 10 Consulting

A vice president at a bank created a method for detecting fraud. He was recruited by a vendor to develop a product based around his domain expertise. But because he also had market expertise of the industry—he’d been a bank vice president after all—the sales team hounded him for sales calls. The sales people said, “I need you to come talk about banking issues with my buyers.” For nine months he was the darling of the sales people… until the day he resigned. His goal was not to be the guy who could “talk bank” to help generate sales of other products; his goal was to protect banks from fraud using his algorithm.

When organizing teams, you want to align the different areas of expertise with the needs of your business. Rather than organizing teams around products, I recommend a product management team organized around a portfolio of products, ideally with staffing in four areas of expertise.

Organizing expertise

We’ll want one domain expert for your specialized discipline and at least one business expert. We’ll also need one or more technology experts devoted to each product or major component in your portfolio. The person with the most management experience, often the business expert, should lead the team. Seems logical enough.

And now it gets tricky. For the ideal product management team, you’ll want to supplement this core set of experts with an expert for each of the markets you serve. That’s right: a product marketing manager or market expert for each major geographic area and for each vertical industry—at least the ones you care about.

At first this seems to be a large group of people but don’t worry; you’ll find many product managers have more than one area of expertise. What’s scary isn’t the number of skills described; what’s really scary is how many teams are attempting to build products without the expertise.

The confusion of titles and roles is a problem for most organizations. We all have pre-conceived notions of what a product manager should do. Instead of thinking “do whatever it takes,” let’s identify the activities and artifacts that are the responsibility of your team members. And make sure your team has the skills necessary to succeed in the job.

Create a team of experts designed to serve your product and company needs.

Read more on this topic in my free ebook: Product Management Expertise.

About the author

Steve Johnson is a widely recognized speaker and story teller within the technology product management community. As founder of Under 10 Consulting, he helps product teams implement strategic product management in an agile world. Sign up for his newsletter and weekly inspirations.

How to make someone click-open and respond to your email

Here’s a very simple story that illustrates a test driven approach to copywriting.  A few months ago I attended a Lean Entrepreneur workshop in Austin.  As part of the workshop fee there was a promise to deliver a book to me when ready.

Yesterday I got an email from The Lean Entrepreneur with the subject Your Copy of The Lean Entrepreneur.  Tonight I got an email from Brant Cooper with the subject “I owe you a book – Please reply”.  Guess which one I clicked and responded?

When I looked at the first email in my Inbox stream, while I recognized the email, I didn’t get a chance to open and respond – I was too busy with other things. But  when I saw the second email, I knew what to do.  It was 6 words in the first instance and seven words in the next instance.  I responded to the second request with my mailing address so the author could mail me the book.

Brant and team are walking the talk for being agile and testing their email header copy the next day when they realized they didn’t  get desired response the first day.

What can we learn from this simple story:

  • Write good email copy – subject and sender identity matter;  If you have a call to action (CTA) in the email, test if moving the CTA to the subject line will make a difference
  • Be willing to change copy – don’t let your ego get in the way of copywriting.  It doesn’t matter who wrote the copy. Let data drive decisions instead of your opinion.  If Brant and team had thought what they did first time was right they’d have never attempted to change copy and get the desired response next day.
  • Iterate quickly – Brant and team didn’t wait for a week.  Their email response wait time was less than 24 hours.

Digital marketing has made data do the talking.  Why not let data from your testing dictate what is right, not who is right.

Prabhakar Gopalan (@PGopalan)

5 Interview Questions for Hiring Great Product Managers

By Rivi Aspler

5 Interview Questions for Hiring Great Product Managers

Product managers are required to demonstrate a broad and heterogeneous set of skills. The best product managers are those who master all trades, but how many would really fit the “Jack of all trades” definition?

If this is the starting point for your interviews, you should start by analyzing the skill set that candidates REALLY need in order to succeed.

What would the product manager be required to do 70% of his/her time? Is it mostly writing detailed specifications for R&D, is it following up on R&D work mainly as a project manager, or is it mostly visiting customer sites, pre-selling and gathering new requirements?

The following 5 interview questions have helped me understand if the person that I’m talking to has the skill-set and temperament needed to be an effective product manager:

1. Tell me about your last position. List 3 things that you loved doing and 3 things that you didn’t like doing.

This question will help you understand the tasks that the interviewee was mostly engaged in but more importantly his/her comfort zone. For example, an interviewee who says something like:

I love visiting customer sites. It’s a pleasure seeing them use the product and come up with new ideas….. but I really think that drilling down to the bits and bites of a feature in the user stories document is an abuse of Agile methodology.”

should alert you that this interviewee is not that much of written-details person.

Tweet this: 5 Interview Questions for Hiring Great Product Managers #prodmgmt



The New RIM – Relaunching a Former Industry Juggernaut

by Saeed Khan

Back in May 2011, I wrote the following post: Addressing Market Shifts or Why RIM is not down and out just yet.  As the news of RIM’s relaunch spread this past week,  I remembered that post and realized I should look at it again and write a follow up.

My first thought after reading it again, was how wrong I was about the timeframe. I wrote it in May 2011 (didn’t realize it was that long ago). In it I said:

“They [RIM] definitely need to get their new QNX based Blackberrys out soon, ideally in 2011 and NOT 2012.”

Well, I guess I should have been more specific. The “NOT 2012” part was true. I never thought it would be 2013!

But here we are in February 2013 and RIM has not only relaunched the Blackberry, but relaunched the company.

They changed their name from RIM (Research in Motion) to Blackberry. Didn’t see that one coming personally, but it’s not the worst thing they could have done.

They hired Alicia Keys as Global Creative Director? WTF? You’d think after Lady Gaga at Polaroid and at Intel, someone would have told Thorsten Heins how dumb it is to have celebrity creative/innovation directors. Nothing against Alicia Keys, but what is she really going to do for RIM?

They spent about $4 million on a SuperBowl ad — first time they did that. I’m not a big fan of that kind of marketing to be honest, but not as bad as the Alica Keys move IMHO.

I’m going to still call them RIM for the time being. Easier to say and spell. 🙂

Calling the company Blackberry actually makes sense. The name Blackberry has worldwide recognition. And if they have other products, like the Playbook, then Blackberry Playbook makes a lot of sense as well.

Other recommendations I made in that post are as follows:

They need to create, educate and grow a thriving 3rd party development community.

They definitely worked on that offering incentives for developers to port or write Blackberry 10 apps. And there is definitely a growing number of apps available, though pundits were very eager to talk about the apps that weren’t there at the launch.

From my perspective, it’s about whether the most popular apps their target audience needs are there or will be there soon. e.g. Instagram

They need to acquire (or seriously partner with) mobile application or cloud service companies to provide differentiated capabilities for enterprise and business users

Based on the list on Wikipedia of RIM’s acquistions, it doesn’t look like they made any such moves.  There are some differentiated features in the new phones — such as Blackbery Balance and BlackBerry Hub — but none are “killer” features IMHO.

They need to provide incentives to existing customers who move to the new QNX Blackberrys vs. losing them to iPhone/Android handsets.

I have a personal attachment to this one! 🙂 I’ve been using Blackberry’s for a while now though I was not an early adopter by any means. My needs are simple and I really want RIM to reward me for my loyalty. My wife has an iPhone 5, my oldest daughter a Samsung Galaxy III. I can’t type on the iPhone, but I love the Swype keyboard on the Galaxy. That alone would make me pick the Galaxy.

Having said that, this demo of a predictive typing feature on the BB10 looks even better!

They need to show the market and investors that they are still an innovative company that can deliver rock solid products.

I think the jury is still out on this one. The new products look very good — I played with a demo version over the Christmas break. They are well built and function smoothly, but at this stage in the game, that’s the minimum anyone would expect.

I’m going to order a new BB10 later this week. Not just to be different from my wife and daughter, and not just to be supportive of a Canadian company, but because the new BBs do what I need. I’m not usually an early adopter of technology. I bought my first digital camera in 2002 and a flat screen TV in 2011.

I’ll keep you posted on how things are going and I’m sure the press will do their job in highlighting the good, the bad and the ugly of RIM’s new phase.

What do you think? Is RIM on the right track? What else should/could they be doing to compete and grow in the market?


Tweet this: The new RIM – Relaunching a former industry juggernaut #prodmgmt #marketing #RIM #BB10 #Blackberry


Why getting rid of spiffs is good for your tech business

In tech marketing, product marketing managers from a distant past employ sales spiffs to motivate the sales teams to sell their product over or in combination with another product.  The argument they give is spiffs act as motivational tools to sales teams to push their product which under normal course of the sales process wouldn’t have sold.

This is the Wikipedia definition of spiff:

A spiff or spiv is an immediate bonus for a sale. Typically, “spiffs” are paid, either by a manufacturer or employer, directly to a salesperson for selling a specific product.

Why spiffs are bad

Spiffs are worse than discounts and price reductions when they come from the product marketing or product management team.   Here’s what happens when you offer these sales spiffs:

  1. Spiffs undermine sales team compensation structure.  If you are spiffed to sell a product, it should have been assigned a quota and appropriate compensation/commission to the assigned sales teams by sales management.  If nobody in sales management signed off on the product, don’t sell it.  Instead of fixing the organizational commitments between sales leaders and business unit leaders tactics like spiffs shift the real problem from organizational commitment to short term sales incentives.
  2. Spiffs create bad sales behavior.  The company’s leadership has already determined which products to sell and what targets to hit.  By introducing the spiffs, product marketing teams create bad sales behavior where they start incentivizing sales team to do something that they have no explicit sales goals around.  Make that a habit and you’ve come to create a sales team that starts ‘expecting’ these rewards on a regular basis.  It takes away their focus from the core product(s) they need to sell and diverts their attention.
  3. Spiffs delay the inevitable and prolong product decay.  Let’s say the product marketing team comes up with a spiff for each poorly selling product in the portfolio.  Rather than communicating the real truth that the product is not competitive in the market place (product strength, marketing message, sales capability or market demand), spiffs delay the inevitable.  Absent the spiff, the product is not going to sell and it would have communicated the right message to the company leadership to make a decision about the product to continue or discontinue its production.  Instead, adding the spiff, just keeps a dying product in place with no real benefit except the short term activities around the spiff and the huge opportunity costs associated with running the spiff programs.


What can we do instead?

  1. Use our talents to come up with better ideas for marketing and sales.  Those that require real hard work and creativity, not sloppiness.
  2. Shutdown products that don’t perform, or double down on investment if your firm believes there is a market need for the product and you are positioned to succeed.  Don’t distract your marketing and sales teams, and definitely don’t demand them to attain revenue goals for products that shouldn’t really be sold as a separate product when they are just a feature of another product.
  3. Figure out  alternative product packaging and positioning than doling out a spiff.  You may want to combine multiple products and sales teams to tell the story of a problem you are solving in a coherent manner than split the story, products and teams across business units and compete with attention from sales for selling a particular underperforming product.
  4. Don’t spiff a product that already sells on its own and take credit for its sale.  If the product is competitive and there is market demand, it is bound to sell.  If you have extra dollars in your marketing budget spend it wisely or give it back to the business.  This is the hardest thing for a product marketing manager to do – to give back budgeted, allocated money.

Spiffs have a place in the world.  When you want to push physical inventory that is sitting in the shelves of stores, car lots and warehouses, it makes sense to discount the excess supply, generate demand, incentivize sales teams to sell the product.  But in technology product marketing where the goods are digital, spiffs are a silly idea.  They worked in the PC world when older edition laptops had to be pushed into the market ahead of newer versions.  But definitely not for digital goods in a cloud computing world.

What is your experience about marketing technology products with sales spiffs?

Prabhakar Gopalan (follow my tweets at @PGopalan)

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