Should Sales Enablement be the New Product Marketing?

by John Mansour

product marketing wordleA clever person once said that it’s product management’s job to put the products people want to buy on the shelf, and product marketing’s job to get buyers to take them off the shelf.  For B2B companies, emptying those shelves requires a unique competency in your sales force that goes beyond the capabilities of a typical product marketing function. Is sales enablement the answer – and is there a real difference between product marketing and sales enablement?

Some might think that these two functions are really the same thing with a different label.  There’s certainly some overlap, but these terms allude to the primary objective of each function.  In very simplistic terms, I’d characterize them follows:

Product Marketing

In the literal sense, the objective is to create marketing materials and sales tools for products, utilize all marketing mediums to communicate the value of those products, and teach sales people how to use the sales tools in day-to-day competitive sales situations.  There’s an element of sales enablement involved here as salespeople learn how to position products.

Sales Enablement

Sales enablement is much broader than product marketing.  To expand on the above, this is about helping salespeople become highly proficient at selling business value in day-to-day sales situations.  Inherently, selling business value requires knowledge of how to position products.

Keep in mind, there’s a big difference between selling business value (sales enablement) and positioning the value of your products (product marketing).  Selling business value is much more than selling the benefits of each product – it’s convincing prospective customers to do business with your company for reasons that go beyond the value of your products.

So how do you do that?

Understanding the buyer mindset

In a typical sales cycle, buyers form first impressions of your organization from salespeople. The goal of sales enablement is to make your salespeople so credible that prospects view your organization as a valuable resource that can help them meet their goals.

For example, let’s say construction companies are one of your target markets.  Imagine your salespeople in an initial meeting discussing construction industry trends and the latest best practices that successful construction companies are implementing to address the dynamics of their market.  Salespeople with that level of competency have instant credibility before the discussion goes anywhere near the products.

Here’s the thing: Buyers prefer to do business with companies that understand their industry and business dynamics best.  That level of expertise creates a perception that your products and services are better than competitors who aren’t as knowledgeable.

Buyers also assume your organization is dealing with lots of companies just like theirs, and whether they come right out and ask or not, they want to know what everyone else is doing and what they should be thinking about.  Salespeople who bring that type of information to the table will quickly move to the head of the pack.  Without a strong sales enablement function, there’s no systematic way to ensure salespeople can communicate that type of information consistently.

Now for the disturbing part: A huge percentage of B2B companies don’t even have a formalized product marketing function. The most common reason I hear is, “Our senior leadership doesn’t want to make the financial commitment.”  In other words, they don’t see the value. But in the next breath they’ll say, “Our salespeople need to get better at selling value/selling solutions instead of features.”

Has the time come to stop trying to justify product marketing and sell the value of a dedicated sales enablement function (that encompasses product marketing)?


Tweet this: Should Sales Enablement be the new Product Marketing? #prodmgmt #productmanagement #prodmktg #sales

About the Author

mansour-colour-small2John Mansour is a 20-year veteran in high technology product management, marketing and sales, and the Founder of Proficientz, Inc., a training and consulting firm that specializes in B2B product management & marketing.

It’s Time to Give Your Product Portfolio a Good SWOT

by John Mansour

In B2B, assessing your product portfolio’s

  • Strengths,
  • Weaknesses,
  • Opportunities and
  • Threats

should be an annual ritual.  Why?  This exercise offers a macro view of your portfolio’s performance and provides valuable insights that are key to a solid market strategy, which ultimately impacts your product, marketing and sales priorities.

What is a Product Portfolio SWOT?

swotIn its most basic form, a portfolio SWOT is a matrix of products and market segments where the cross-section illustrates the relevance of each product to each of your target market segments and financial performance of your company (total revenue for all products) in each market segment.

Why Do It?

The primary goal of performing a SWOT analysis isn’t so much about how your products are performing, but how your company is performing in each of your chosen market segments as indicated by the sales of the most popular products in each segment.  It reveals a critical insight into how your customers utilize your products in the form of logical business solutions. Key takeaways that guide your portfolio strategy decisions include:

  • Identifying market segments where you’re strongest (by revenue and number of customers) and understanding how much runway remains for growth.
  • Identifying market segments where you’re weakest – and understanding if it’s more of a sales and marketing deficiency or product deficiencies.
  • Identifying market segments that are most opportunistic. In many cases your weakest market segments are the most opportunistic because your products have high relevance.  It’s simply a matter of exerting more marketing and sales effort to seize the opportunities.  In other cases, it may be new markets where emerging needs play to your strengths.
  • Identifying the biggest threats in your product/service category. These can be new competitive threats, disruptive technologies, shifting business models, etc. that threaten to make your company less relevant in the eyes of prospective buyers and investors.

Who Owns It?

In smaller organizations, the ownership typically falls on product management.  In larger organizations, product/industry/solutions marketing or strategy teams own it.

When Should You SWOT?

Once a year should be sufficient for most B2B companies.  Ideally, it would be completed or refreshed as a precursor to your annual strategic planning cycle.

Making Your Portfolio SWOT Actionable

Your portfolio SWOT analysis is one of several data points that are key to aligning your products and services with market segments most conducive to reaching your company’s goals.  Make it actionable by comparing your SWOT results to the dynamics in each of your target markets and the biggest obstacles those organizations are facing.

You’ll quickly see where your portfolio is strong, where it’s at risk and where your biggest opportunities are in the short and longer term.  Product, marketing and sales priorities will quickly come into focus.  Build a portfolio strategy around those priorities and then, as usual, focus on relentless execution of the details.  You’ll love the results!

If your product priorities are constantly competing and…constantly changing, contact us today to learn how our framework and training programs can get your product portfolio on the straight and narrow to deliver higher-value solutions and accelerate growth.

Tweet this: It’s time to give your product portfolio a good SWOT #prodmgmt #productmanagement

About the Author

mansour-colour-small2John Mansour is a 20-year veteran in high technology product management, marketing and sales, and the Founder of Proficientz, Inc., a training and consulting firm that specializes in B2B product management & marketing.

Is Your Website the Window to Your Product Management Soul?

by John Mansour

eyes-soulYou’re familiar with the old saying, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” I’ve put a new spin on it to say, “Your website is the window to your product management soul.”

That’s right: The way your website presents products and services is a leading indicator of your organization’s approach to product management.

One of the things I enjoy most about training and consulting is the people I meet, all of whom face a myriad of different situations. That’s what makes my job so much fun and so incredibly rewarding.

But one of the most interesting byproducts of my profession is that I also notice some fascinating trends, one in particular that’s universal and not unique to an industry, a country or a type of product or service.

Over the years, I’ve noticed a strong correlation between the manner in which products are positioned on the company’s website and the structure of their product management function.

I bring this up to get you thinking about the correlation between the structure of your product management/product marketing function and the way in which your company communicates value messages to the market. To what extent should the two mirror one another in a B2B organization?

For instance, many companies dedicate real estate on their website to position their technology, even when it’s invisible and irrelevant to the end customer.  That’s usually a sign that there is a product manager for the technology platform – a good thing in all cases. But positioning your technology should be done only when it enhances your value proposition (from the buyer’s point of view).

Know your customer

In B2B, the most basic premise of a strong product management discipline is understanding who your target customers are, what they do, why they do it, how they do it, what they’re ultimately trying to accomplish (at all levels of the organization), and where their biggest obstacles exist.

If you subscribe to that philosophy, then it would seem beneficial to structure some aspects of product management (in addition to those who own the products) to mirror the business of your target customers — whether by vertical industry, horizontal business functions or some combination of both.

Think about it. If some portion of your product management/product marketing function were structured by industry and/or business function, how much sharper would your positioning be?

You’d lead with industry issues in healthcare, banking, transportation, etc.

  • You’d articulate the resulting operational challenges in finance, HR, IT, etc.
  • Finally, you’d position your products and services in a manner that clearly articulates their value relative to those operational and/or industry issues.

Consider the following:

  • If you offer fleet management solutions, you have value to any company that has a fleet of vehicles. However, in a transportation company, the fleet is “the business” whereas in a public university, the fleet of service vehicles is more of a support function, albeit an important one.

If product management is gathering business requirements for each segment, by default, the positioning on your website would reflect how your solutions meet the unique needs of managing a fleet in a transportation company versus those in a public university.

Position for value

The moral of the story is this:

If your product management team gathers market and customer requirements on a product-by-product basis only, your value messages come out the marketing side of the organization the exact same way: as product value propositions only.

Don’t get me wrong — every product needs value propositions. But the missed opportunity is the lack of positioning for higher-value business solutions comprised of multiple products in your portfolio. If you’re not managing products in a way that’s conducive to identifying needs in that manner and building those higher-value solutions accordingly, there’s a good chance you’re not positioning them either.

I’ve heard the comment many times from marketing VPs and CEOs that, “The way we’re organized should be invisible to the market.”

The implication is that your organization is structured to best run the company, which may not be the best way to market your products and services.

I see it a bit differently. The best way to run a company is to determine key functions where it’s most advantageous to mirror the business of your target customers, and structure those functions accordingly. Is there any reason product management and product marketing wouldn’t be at the top of that list?

Read the related article – Clear Business Requirements IN, Powerful Value Propositions OUT.

Tweet this: Is Your Website the Window to Your Product Management Soul? #prodmgmt  #productmanagement #messaging

About the Author

mansour-colour-small2John Mansour is a 20-year veteran in high technology product management, marketing and sales, and the Founder of Proficientz, Inc., a training and consulting firm that specializes in B2B product management & marketing.

Why You Need to Divorce Your Products

By John Mansour

divorceThis divorce isn’t a case of irreconcilable differences. It’s a case of “love is blind.”

Your unconditional love for your products is making you blind to the real needs of your target customers. A swift and simple divorce benefits you and your products. No need to split the assets though. You’ll be back together again soon.

If you’re a product manager, this will feel unsettling.  After all, you’re raised to be the champion of your products.  Lead! Be passionate! Be the market expert! Inspire marketing and sales! No argument there. Product managers need to be all those things and then some.

The Downside

There’s just one downside, and it’s a big one. Product knowledge is encumbering and it becomes a huge liability when product managers are reading the markets to identify unmet needs. The love-is-blind condition hits product managers hardest because they’re usually the most knowledgeable on their products. What’s a product manager to do?

Divorcing your products is the only answer. The good news – the divorce is temporary. When you reunite, you’ll live happily ever after…until you need to do it again. And you will need to do it again, and again.

B2B Product managers get pulled into a variety of situations involving prospects, customers, analysts, etc. Most of those situations usually require product managers to dispense product information, but there’s also no better opportunity to flip the switch into discovery mode.

The needed conversation

When you’re on a highly important date with a customer or prospect, turn the focus away from your products and ask the following three questions.. They’re fair game for any audience, any level.

  • What are you (the customer or prospect) trying to accomplish?
  • Why are those goals important?
  • What are your biggest obstacles to meeting those goals?

No matter who you’re talking to, answers to these specific questions define unfiltered needs because they have nothing to do with your products.  They paint a big picture view of market and business dynamics regardless of whom you’re conversing with. You’ll be amazed at the needs that surface when the conversations don’t revolve around your products.  Consider the dialogues with the following roles.

 Senior Executives

Senior executives usually answer these questions relative to the strategic objectives and goals of the company. Expect to hear things they perceive to be the biggest obstacles to growth and profitability and how they plan to attack those obstacles.

Senior Managers/Department Heads

Senior managers will give you more of an operational perspective relative to the departments they manage, alluding to operational goals and metrics their senior executives deem critical to the overall goals of the company.

Managers & Staff

They’re typically the users of your products and the conversations revolve around activities and tasks happening in the trenches. Regardless, the questions are fair game and yield critical information on process flows, bottlenecks and productivity issues that are critical to improving the performance of the departments they work in.

In B2B, buyers and users of your products/services are rarely the same. If you understand the business goals and obstacles of your buyers (senior executives and senior managers), building a coordinated series of product capabilities (for your users) that collectively remove those obstacles is the easiest way to deliver high value business solutions. Divorce your products to uncover the needs. Remarry to deliver the solutions. It’s a cadence that benefits you, your products and your company.


Tweet this: Why you need to divorce your products  #prodmgmt #research

About the author

John Mansour is a 20-year veteran in high technology product management, marketing and sales, and the Founder of Proficientz, a services company focusing on product portfolio management.

How to Keep Your Product Strategy From Turning Into a Game of Jeopardy

By John Mansour

jeopardyFor those not familiar with it, Jeopardy is a very popular and long running game show where contestants answer questions based on categories and can win or lose money based on a dollar amount tied to the question.

For product planning, the Jeopardy analogy comes compliments of one of our clients describing his organization’s annual product strategy routine. The analogy as he described it was pretty funny, but the experience and the results, not so much.

The Jeopardy version of product strategy is a game you may have played but didn’t realize it.

You and your fellow product managers each come to the table with a proposal of your highest priority product investments accompanied by revenue and cost projections – the answers.

Your key stakeholders come to the party with the questions – the topics are market landscape, risk, competition, ability to execute, etc.

It’s time to play Jeopardy!

“I’ll start with product 3 for $600, Alex” says on Product Manager, while another prefers to start with “product 1 for $400.” After a few rounds, a lot of discussion and final Jeopardy, priorities get decided and set the resource wheels in motion. Fast forward 3, 6 or 12 months and the results are fairly predictable.

The sales team that signed up for the revenue numbers has been reshuffled, or key members have moved on. There’s been another reorg or acquisition and priorities have shifted. Ideas for shinier new objects have leap-frogged projects that were once the highest priority.

The bottom line– products aren’t delivered as planned and revenue goals aren’t met. Are we having fun yet?

Fixing the problem

In B2B, there are two things your product management team can do to drive the product strategy routine in a more meaningful and predictable manner and avoid the game of Jeopardy and all the ills that go with it.

1. Function as a unified team

Don’t act like a group of individuals each running the business of his or her products.

You’ll see your target customers the same way they see themselves and understand the biggest obstacles they face. Determining the solutions that have the most value relative to those obstacles becomes blatantly obvious.

2. Treat your products as the means to the end

Components of the solutions that have far more value together than any individual product. In other words, end the strategic planning pitch with products instead of leading with them.

In the case of our client mentioned above, they looked at the commonalities of their target-customer organizations across five vertical market segments. All of them are in hyper-competitive businesses with short product cycles, rapid commoditization of services and revenue models that are changing as fast as I’m writing this article.

As a team, they asked themselves, “What are the biggest contributions we can make to those organizations to help them survive and thrive in their hyper-competitive markets?”


After a lot of thoughtful discussion, two themes surfaced.

  • Help them get new offerings to market faster
  • Keep their customers from defecting to the competition with a superior level of service until new products/services are available.

The solutions that support each of those target-customer goals all involve more than one product. Interestingly enough, none of them required any major new products.

The revenue projections put forth by the product management team weren’t product specific. They projected the uptick in revenue in each vertical market segment as a result of delivering the proposed solutions. The projections are attractive, even from a conservative point of view.

Still some work to be done

The jury is still out on the results and will be until the solutions are in the market, but senior executives across the board have welcomed the new approach, especially the SVP of sales. Why?

It demonstrates the market value of focusing on the target-customer’s goals first and determining how your organization can contribute in a way that supports your own growth and profitability goals. Products are merely the vehicles to get you there.

The best part is the senior executive team has a clear understanding of the market value of these solutions and unless the market suddenly changes, the product investment priorities are highly unlikely to change.


Tweet this: How to keep your Product Strategy from turning into a game of Jeopardy #prodmgmt #strategy

About the author

John Mansour is a 20-year veteran in high technology product management, marketing and sales, and the Founder of Proficientz, a services company focusing on product portfolio management.