4 lessons Product Managers can learn from Target’s failure in Canada

by Saeed Khan

target-no-heart-canadaTarget is a retail giant in the United States, with about $75 Billion in revenue and over 1,800 stores nationwide. In 2012, Target announced it would open stores in Canada; it’s first international expansion beyond the United States.

In March 2013 Target opened it’s first stores in Canada, quickly expanding to over 130 stores across the country within the first year.

And then, less than 2 years after opening it’s first stores in Canada, Target announced that they were closing ALL Canadians stores, and laying off all 17,000+ employees including some at their Minneapolis headquarters who were hired to oversee the Canadian operations.

The state of the failure is significant, with almost $5 billion to be written off by Target.

How did Target fail so miserably and what can we learn from this fiasco?

1. Understand and meet market expectations


disappointment valley  right-arrow-small

First, it’s important to understand Canadian consumers. We loved shopping in Target stores in the US. They have good prices, good merchandise selection (many items not available in Canada) and very helpful staff. When shopping at a large retail store, what else could one want?

When Target announced they were going to open stores in Canada, many Canadians expected those same attributes — price, selection, service — to be part of the Target experience in Canada. Sadly, that was not the case. Prices were mediocre, selection was poor and the service was nowhere near what it was in the US.

Great Customer Service (in the US)

For example, I was once in a Target store in Sunnyvale California. I asked one of the  staff where I could find a clothing item, and the person literally walked me across the store and pointed out exactly where that item was and made sure it was what I was looking for. He then walked back across the store, I’m assuming to resume what he was doing.

This level of service  was nowhere to be found in the Target stores in Canada. The staff were competent, but competent is not memorable, and certainly didn’t meet expectations set by their American coworkers.

Tweet this: 4 lessons Product Managers can learn from Target’s failure in Canada http://wp.me/pXBON-4jl #prodmgmt #target



Worth Repeating – 5 Ways to Truly Delight Customers

By Saeed Khan

NOTE: A version of this this article was originally published in 2011, and is one of my favorites, so here it is again in a slightly edited form.

Hardly a week goes by without seeing an article or opinion piece about how important it is to ‘delight customers’. And companies like Disney, Apple, Southwest Airlines and Zappos are regularly held up as shining examples of companies that succeed in this area.

But what do people really mean when they say that companies should “delight customers”?

Delight is not easily quantified, although you know it when you see it or experience it. But if you want to delight customers, the good news is that the bar set by most companies is really low. Look at virtually any telco or mobile provider, or many retail outlets to see exactly how NOT to delight customers.

The following are 5 rules to follow to delight customers, regardless of the industry your are in.

1. Make the Mundane Memorable


Let’s face it, most of the interactions we have with companies are forgettable. They are simple actions or transactions that we have everyday with virtually every vendor. And that fact means there is opportunity to separate from the crowd.

Spend a couple of minutes watching the video above and note the passengers’ faces and reaction at the end. Do you think they’ll remember their flight on Southwest and tell others about it?

Tweet this: How to Delight Customers – Rule 1 – Make the Mundane Memorable http://wp.me/pXBON-4iN #prodmgmt #southwest


What’s the worst customer meeting you’ve ever had?

By Saeed Khan

frustrated-businessmanIt’s always great when customer meetings go really well. You build a stronger relationship with the account, you gain a deeper understanding of their needs and plans. Their trust in you increases and they commit to working more closely with you etc.

And to top it all off, you get a “Nice job” from the happy sales rep because she can now sell more product into the account. 🙂

But meetings don’t always go that well.

Sometimes, the people you meet turn out to be rather introverted or unable to share much with you — they may be “managers” who aren’t in tune with how the product is used, or just aren’t doing all that much of interest with the product.

But sometimes, meeting go south, and turn into painful experiences you want to forget if possible.  I’ve had a couple of those in my career…and you can’t simply get up and walk out while your company or product is being derided by the customer.

My worst experience

My worst experience was with a customer who had been promised — for several years — that a certain capability would be added to the product “in the next release”. Three years, three Product Managers and four releases later, the customer had reached his limit.

I was asked by the sales rep to attend a meeting with a long time customer who was having some “issues” with the product. Being a new PM at the company, I saw it as an opportunity to learn. Sure I said, without getting detail on the issues etc.

We went to the customer site and sat down for the meeting. After the usual introductions and pleasantries, the customer — let’s call him Frank — got right down to the issue. Frank looked at me and said very politely, but directly, that he actually didn’t want to speak with me.

I was shocked and looked at the rep, who had a rather blank look on his face at that moment. Whether real or feigned, that expression told me very clearly that he was not going to be of help that day. Frank looked

Frank said he understood that I (being the new product manager) was not responsible for what my predecessors said, but that he was accountable to his management who were demanding to know why Frank kept promoting our product internally even though the needed functionality still was not in the product. Other competitive products were now being considered.

Clearly, Frank’s credibility was being called into question by his managers and that’s why he was being so blunt.

He said he wanted to speak to a VP or higher — some executive who would listen, commit and ensure that his issues were addressed as soon as possible — and until the issues were addressed, he wouldn’t deal with me.

To make a long story short — the issues were eventually addressed, the relationship was salvaged and I had several good meetings with the customer AFTER that.

But let me tell you….it’s not something I ever want to experience again.

Lessons learned?

1. Never go to a meeting unprepared. Always get a clear picture of the “issues” and customer situation BEFORE you agree to the meeting.

2. Product champions need you to champion their cause. Product managers who fail to understand this put their company in jeopardy, even if they leave or are reassigned.

3. Customers just want to be treated fairly and honestly and will remain loyal, up to a point. When we put our needs ahead of theirs, we give competitors a big helping hand.

What’s the worst customer experience you’ve had. What did you learn from it? Share it in the comments.


Tweet thisWhat’s the worst customer meeting you’ve ever had? http://wp.me/pXBON-4iw #prodmgmt


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 http://wp.me/pXBON-3N8 #prodmgmt

Strategic Roadmaps That Energize & Drive Consensus – Three Key Elements

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

Products are certainly the most important element of delivering the roadmap, but they’re the least important part of the story when it comes to creating and communicating a strategic roadmap that generates excitement across disciplines and drives consensus.

The intent of a strategic product roadmap is to articulate key product initiatives that support the goals, objectives and market direction of the organization.    For product management teams though, the biggest challenge is presenting a cohesive roadmap that tells a compelling story and energizes other disciplines to the point of consensus.  Hence, the most critical elements of a strategic product roadmap aren’t detailed descriptions of product initiatives or project plans.  They’re elements that provide context in a non-product dialogue others can easily relate to and get excited about.

When creating and presenting your next strategic roadmap, lead with the following three elements and you’re all but guaranteed a more favorable response than those elicited by roadmaps that offer nothing more than a laundry list of development projects and due dates.

1. The Plot

“What will this roadmap do for our market position?” Your senior executives establish company goals and objectives based on financial targets and market conditions surrounding your organization.  The headline of any strategic roadmap should acknowledge these goals and the market influences behind them at a level that exudes credibility and spot-on market insights. Competitive landscape, adoption trends, converging technologies and shifting buyer paradigms (relative to your business/market space) provide a solid backdrop for every strategic roadmap.

2. The Pillars of Your Story

“How will this roadmap advance the strategies of our target buyers?” The supporting points of your storyline should demonstrate strong knowledge of target market dynamics and trending business practices of organizations in those markets (without regard to your products). This information provides the necessary context for any proposed product investments.  For maximum impact, articulate business scenarios from the perspective of a target buyer CEO.

For example, “to help non-profit organizations raise more money and lower the cost of raising it, we’re going to eliminate the complexities of segmenting prospective donors and deliver highly targeted marketing messages to each group through marketing mediums most common to each.” With this context as the backdrop, describe proposed product solutions as high-level use-cases instead of feature lists and they’ll make complete sense to everyone.  “The current process is…and we’re going to simplify it by…which results in…”

Present a series of high-impact solutions as such for each of your target markets and the required product investments will be a much easier sell.  Why?  Because you’re selling the market value of a single cohesive roadmap instead of a laundry list of product improvements often perceived as highly disconnected and not strategic to your organization.

3. The Close

Connect the two previous elements to summarize your pitch.  “If we help non-profits raise more money at a lower cost and help hospitals increase the volume of higher margin services to offset declining reimbursements, we’ll be well-positioned to meet our 30% growth target.” Any further opportunities to put your sales hat on and embellish the story with anecdotes about competition, customers and common sales situations will only help your cause.

In written document form, the above content should be bold headings and short, succinct bullet points that tell the story at-a-glance.  In presentation format, compelling graphics and short phrases should tell the story while details reside in the slide notes.

Creating and presenting strategic roadmaps comes down to a positioning and storytelling exercise for product management teams once they’ve completed their market homework.  Know your audience, know which buttons to push and speak their language.  Make it a habit to improve your leadership quotient and success will come with far greater ease.

Tweet this: Strategic Roadmaps that Energize and Drive Consensus http://wp.me/pXBON-3gE #prodmgmt #innovation #roadmaps

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