Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Almighty “C” and its growing Influence on B2B

By John Mansour

Blackberry is probably the most visible example of an organization whose strength in corporate IT departments was about as ironclad as you could get until the past few years. It has been well documented how the preferences of consumers, also employees of these corporations, forced corporate IT departments to adapt to their preferences instead of corporate IT dictating thestandard for mobile devices.

Consumerism is a growing trend that’s impacting many B2B organizations these days. We’re seeing it more and more with our own customers. The typical scenario – you’re a B2B organization but your customers’ customers are consumers. Their influence on your customers is growing by the day.

So if you’re a B2B organization and your customers’ customers are consumers, what are some of the new wrinkles to consider in your product management/marketing discipline?

There are a few that come to mind right off the bat.

1. Market Needs – there’s an additional layer that starts with consumer trends and their impact on your customers before evaluating business trends. You’ll surely see a stronger connection between the two.

2. Business Cases – they might actually get easier because consumer trends are generally tracked and quantified at a greater level of granularity than business trends.

3. Positioning – it adds another layer but it’s one that can make your value proposition much more compelling by tying the benefits of your solutions to your customers’ customer.

The B2B companies where I’m seeing the growing influence of consumerism most are companies that serve all areas of healthcare as well as organizations that provide products/services/technology to financial services organizations, utilities and local government entities.

Has this impacted your business? How? What are you doing differently?


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One day at Product Camp (Silicon Valley)

By Saeed Khan

First off, thanks to Rich Mironov for inspiring the title of this post. He was wearing a  t-shirt from the first ProductCamp Silicon Valley with a very similar phrase on it.

ProductCamp Silicon Valley was this past weekend. Held at the EBay complex in San Jose,  over 500 people showed up on a nice sunny Saturday to network, share their stories and learn about product management, product marketing, innovation and other such topics.

I’ve been to a number of camps in New York, Boston, Austin and of course here in Toronto, but this is the first time I’ve attended the event in the Valley. Yes, that’s me on the right getting ready for my talk. Click on the image to enlarge.

It was good to see some old friends such as Barb Nelson, Sue Raisty-Egami, Scott Gilbert, Steve Johnson, Cindy Solomon and of course, the aforementioned Rich Mironov amongst others.

I gave a talk on Product Management Metrics.  Steve Johnson spoke about Shaggy Dog stories. Barb discussed Launch Readiness (or lack thereof in some cases).

Our presentations are below, as well as a link to a Storify story by Cindy Solomon on the event. If you were there and have other links to the event or other presentations, leave them in the comments.


Tweet this: One day at Product Camp (Silicon Valley) #prodmgmt #svpcamp


Positioning with formulas

by Steve Johnson

In marketing, positioning is the process by which marketers try to create an image or identity in the minds of their target market for its product, brand, or organization.—Wikipedia

Marketing dragged me into a meeting with a new agency. There, I was asked to talk about the people who buy the product, some of its best capabilities, and some of my customer stories. This went on for a bit as I tried to figure out their agenda. Finally it hit me:

“Are you trying to figure out my positioning?”

“Yes,” they said. “Our plan is to interview you and all the members of the leadership team. Then we’ll take what we’ve learned to craft your product positioning.”

Instead, I opened my laptop and shared my already-approved positioning document with the agency team. They were shocked. They rarely, if ever, work with a company that has figured this out already.

Having this conversation moved the project into high gear. They didn’t have to create positioning and didn’t have to suffer the long process of getting it approved. They could start the creative process immediately.

A positioning document explains your product capabilities and message to your internal teams and agencies. It’s the source document for branding, promotion, and sales enablement. It’s sufficiently important that my friends at Pragmatic Marketing recommend putting it in the business case. And if you can get the execs to sign off on positioning, you can reduce your internal approvals dramatically. After all, the words are pre-approved.

Some product leaders are happy starting the positioning process from a blank sheet of paper. They can quickly knock out a simple tagline or elevator pitch (hint: fewer words are better).

For example: The Kindle is a book-reader that’s fun to use, has a long battery life, and doesn’t cost a lot of money.

While some marketers like a simple positioning statement without any particular format, others prefer a little structure. As a rule, it’s easier to edit than to create. If you find it difficult to start, try a positioning “formula.” There are many formulas for a positioning message; just find one you like and start plugging in your product information.

The Regis McKenna format

Perhaps the most common positioning approach in the tech world is the “Regis McKenna” format, popularized in Geoffrey Moore’s seminal work, Crossing the Chasm.

For [target customer]

Who [statement of need or opportunity]

The [product name] is a [product category]

That [statement of key benefit, a compelling reason to buy]

Unlike [primary competitive alternative or approach]

Our product [statement of primary differentiation]

Example: For travelers who read a lot, the Kindle is an electronic book-reader that puts thousands of books at your fingertips. Unlike Apple’s iPad, you can use our reader for weeks on a single charge.

The “simile” approach

Perhaps the quickest way to a message is the simile. Explain your product in a familiar context. This format provides a nice shorthand for sales people too.

It’s like [reference product in another category]

but for [new application].

Example: The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite: it’s like an iPod but for books.

An agile user story format

I’ve started recommending positioning with the user story format for agile teams. They’re already familiar with the format, so we can just write positioning like any other user story, but at a product level.

As a [persona]

I want to [solve a problem]

So that [professional benefit statement].

Plus [personal benefit statement]

Example: As a voracious reader, I want to have my entire library with me wherever I go so that I can read whatever I want whenever I want. With the Kindle, I can! Plus, I like to appear “in the know” about both gadgets and books to my friends and colleagues.

About the competition

When your product has a lot of competition, you’ll also need to account for why you’re better than a competitive alternative. That’s the reason the McKenna model has the phrase starting with “unlike.” And you don’t just want to position against the competition, you want to re-position them. It’s not “We are good; they are bad.” It’s “We are good at this; they are good at something else.”

Upgrade positioning

In addition to a positioning document for each product or solution, you’ll also want one for new versions of old products, answering the question: “Why should I upgrade?”

We’ve all seen cases where a new upgrade failed to catch on with the customer base. (Think of the last few releases of Microsoft Windows®) Approach the positioning process again but from the standpoint of a customer who has an earlier version. What do you need to say about your product to compel your customers to suffer the move to a new release? The most common reasons—“we want your money” and “your upgrade will reduce our support costs”—aren’t reasons that the customer cares about.

People upgrade for different reasons but you’ll usually find they want a specific new capability. Interview some customers who have upgraded (or plan to upgrade) and what you learn will be the core of your message.

Example: The new Kindle Paperwhite. The world’s most advanced e-reader just got better: higher resolution, higher contrast touchscreen with built-in light, and 8-week battery life. All at a lower cost. Now you can read anywhere.

If there’s one template or tool that summarizes everything you want to communicate about a product, it’s positioning. It saves you a ton of work because you now know exactly what you want to say. You’ll have this at the ready when you write a media release, a sales presentation, a demo script, an ebook. And good positioning also provides helpful context for your development team.

Figure out what you want to say before you have to say it. Do your positioning as soon as you can.

Tweet this.


Read Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind by Al Reis and Jack Trout.

See my article A Look at Clarity in Positioning on Pragmatic Marketing’s web site.

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.

3 conclusions you can derive from a product-oriented competitive analysis

By Rivi Aspler

Let’s be honest, if you were the only one in your market to sell a product, and your customers didn’t have a real BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement), you could supply whatever product and get away with it quite easily.

As product people, having an up-to-date (1/year) product oriented competitive landscape analysis is ‘a must’. That’s the only way for you to make sure that your product not only matches the target customer requirements but more importantly exceeds competitors’ offering in at least 3 product areas.

This post will offer you an excel based tool that you can use in order to gather and analyze your competitors’ product offering as well as possible conclusions that you can derive from such an analysis.

Let’s focus first on the tool,

First, select the 3 competitors whose products you are most interested in analyzing. Don’t go for more than that. A typical tender would usually have a short list of 3 vendors. Choose these 3 and focus on them. Then, populate the table below with data. The following data should be inserted:

  • Feature –List features (by module) on which you would like to collect competitors information.
  • Persona – The role at which the feature is targeted.
  • Level – Compliance Level (in the attached example the scale is 1-3)
  • IP – Is there a formally acknowledged IP that can be associated with this feature.

Getting the Information

Getting feature level information that is both accurate and detailed is a magic on its own, and requires time, money and effort. I will not dwell into this type of effort in this post. I will only mention the most cost-effective tools:

  1. Images search results tab of Google
  2. Demos on YouTube
  3. Publicly published end-user guides with screenshots

Possible Conclusions

Assuming that you’ve got the time and the accurate information, let’s see now what type of important conclusions you can derive from such an analysis.

  • What modules not to invest in – In the example below, competitor 1 has registered IP on the majority of module 1 content. This module should therefore be developed to the minimal necessity (so you can comply with RFP requirements) but not more than that.
  • What modules are your key differentiators – In the example below , module 2 is the most mature one and is clearly better than what competitors can offer. Assuming that the information is accurate and assuming that it is an important module in a target RFP, bingo, you have just found yourself a key differentiator.
  • What modules should further be investigated – Again in the example, module 3 is weak at every supplier’s offering. Is there an opportunity here? How much would you be required to invest in getting this module to be a killer one? And most importantly, assuming that you do grow this module, how much money would a target customer be willing to pay for it?


Now, I know its a lot of work and requires a lot of time which none of us has plenty of.  I would suggest, do it once. Then decide if its worth the effort. My experience is that once you start working with these types of competition-analysis tables, you will never go back again.


Tweet this: 3 conclusions you can derive from a product-oriented competitive analysis #prodmgmt

Heading to ProductCamp Silicon Valley…?


Are you going to ProductCamp Silicon Valley this year?

It’s March 23rd at Ebay in San Jose.

I plan on attending and I’ve proposed a couple of talks as well. Steve Johnson, another contributor here is also attending and has proposed a talk.

You can see and vote for these talks and others on the Product Camp sessions site, or just click on any of the links below to get to the voting page.

Product Management Metrics — How to be the CEO of your product by Saeed Khan
One of my proposed talks. In it, I put some structure around managing products in a more holistic manner and present a model that can be used for virtually any product.

Stories about Product Management – by Steve Johnson
Steve is a great storyteller and always has some great insights to share

How to Become an Independent Product Management consultant by Sue Raisty-Egami
Sue is a really dynamic speaker and has been an independent consultant for a number of year. I’m going to try to attend this session myself.

No More Superheroes – How to build an effective and scalable PM organization - by Saeed Khan
My second proposed talk. Here I present a structured approach to defining differntiated roles within Product Management and a way to grow the org so it best addresses the needs of the company as well as the team members.

Understanding the next job up — and getting promoted – by Rich Mironov
Rich is a true high-tech veteran who has spent years “in the trenches”. He has great insights to share and all I can say is I wish I had attended a talk like Rich’s when I first started in Product Management.

Thanks for the support.

And if you are a reader of this blog and will be attending ProductCamp, I would love to meet you if possible.

Leave a comment here and then let’s try and connect at the camp.


Tweet this: Heading to ProductCamp Silicon Valley? #prodmgmt #svpcamp



Stories about users and User Stories

by Steve Johnson, Under 10 Consulting

For agile teams, the biggest area of friction for agile teams is agreement on what constitutes a story. Product managers and product owners try to write market requirements in the form of a story when many developers really want product specifications.

low-post-it-notes-pictofigo-hi-011It seems so simple. Product managers and product owner write user stories; developers break them into tasks and develop the feature. But the difficulty facing many agile teams today is what, exactly, is a user story?

As a [role] I want [something] so that I can [benefit].

Most of us know the form a user story takes; it’s the content that is in question.

Before you read any further, find a story in your backlog. (I’ll wait). 

Okay, now look at that story: is it a statement of an issue that the client wants to address? Or is it a task that you want your team to perform?

In my workshops with product teams, I find using a good example from your product uncovers this dichotomy: The product manager tries to write requirements in form of a story while developers want specifications written in the user story format.

Let’s look at this example.

User story: As a reader, I want to highlight passages of text so that I can quickly find them again.

You’ve probably encountered this situation in your everyday reading. But uh oh; the user story in this example not only expresses the problem but also suggests a solution (“highlight passages.”) Is it the only solution? And is it the best solution?

So what is the problem?

When I’m reading, I often spot passages I know I’ll want to find again.

Industrial designers and User Experience (UX) experts explore the original story and investigate different methods to address the story. Maybe you should highlight the passage or maybe press a button and save the page in question for later review. Is the highlight just visual or is the highlighted passage also written to a file for later retrieval?

The industry plays fast and loose with this term but a product requirement is a statement of the problem to be solved. And a specification fully describes the solution and how it will be implemented. And most user stories are neither.

What’s usually missing is a feature definition, a design.

low-post-it-notes-pictofigo-hi-016Maybe that’s why UX books and presentations are so popular with product managers. Because when they don’t have UX people, product managers and product owners try to fill the void.

Ideally, a customer expert should tell stories about users, a usability expert will convert these into user stories, and the product team can break those into tasks and deliverables. And this process is best done in a team setting so everyone benefits from the discussion.

Furthermore, many requirements and user stories are really bug fixes for a poor design.

Here’s one…

User story: As a bank customer, I want to retrieve my card before getting my cash so I don’t forget the card in the machine.

There was never a customer requirement to put the card in the machine, much less to lose it there. But for security reasons, the original design teams decided that a mag-strip on a cash card would be the easiest way to protect people’s money. And after a few hundred customers took their money and left their card, the banks realized they should spit the card out immediately after the sign-in process and dramatically reduced the number of abandoned cards.

Let’s look at another example. You’ve probably encountered this in your ebook reader. Some titles are not alphabetized correctly. Maybe it’s a flaw in the program or it’s a mistake made by the publisher. No matter, author Ernest Hemingway belongs in the H section and his novel The Old Man and the Sea belongs under O and not T.

As a Kindle user, I want all my books filed according to alphabetization standards.

Developers who write sort routines should know how to alphabetize — “A” and “The” are never considered when sorting book titles. But following these rules means extra work for the developer—it’s easier to sort them as dumb strings but a dumb sort is still wrong.

A designer may suggest a few approaches to this situation. First, make sure the sort routines follow the standard approach for alphabetization. Second, let the user edit the title and author information when it’s wrong, and third, revise the programs used by publishers to ensure that the book’s metadata is entered correctly in the first place. And (notice this), addressing this problem may affect three different products.

Should you have to write a requirement? A user story? Well, no, you shouldn’t have to but you will. It’s the same as finding typos. “As a user, I want you to spell your company name correctly so that I can not be annoyed with you.”

Maybe Jira has it right after all; call everything an issue and be done with it.

If you look at requests and see a common one—whether for a new capability or a revision to an old one—go ahead and write it down. Make sure your team understands the situation—tell ‘em a story. And it doesn’t have to be in user story format. Use this article to spark a discussion with your team.

Related post: User stories vs user goals by Edward Brown.

Pictures courtesy of pictofigo.

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.

Weekend read on Innovation, Marketing and Strategy

If you haven’t read  Big-Bang Disruption by Larry Downes and Paul F. Nunes in the latest edition of HBR, please do.

In a single article, the authors have done something that nobody (other than Henry Mintzberg) in recent times has done – articulating the irrelevance of practically every framework, model or strategy that is commonplace in tech industry – Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma, Porter’s 5 Forces, Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema’s  The Discipline of Market Leaders and Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm.

The authors claim Big-Bang Disruption is characterized by unencumbered development, unconstrained growth, and undisciplined strategy.

Of the three, the concept of undisciplined strategy is nerve wracking for theorists and practitioners alike.  How can strategy be undisciplined?  Understanding this is going to be the education that two generations of experienced corporate executives will have to go through to clear their biases.  We have way too many industry experts working in their System 1 intuitive, cut & paste habits of running organizations and businesses.  True disruptors are critical System 2 thinkers that are unencumbered by experience and create the world of possibilities.  Time to celebrate and join the Big Bang Disruption!

- Prabhakar Gopalan (@PGopalan)