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.

If you could take training classes on any topic, what would they be?

by Saeed Khan

As Product Leaders, there’s so much that we need to know in order to do our jobs well. These topics run the gamut from business, strategy, finance, technology, design, research, communication, marketing and more. I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of topics.

So here’s how you can help me help you. 🙂

Fill in the form below and let me know the top 3 topics you’d like to learn more about. I’ve left the answers open-ended, but please be specific if you can.  I’ll stop talking now. 🙂

I’m looking forward to your responses.


Tweet this: If you could take training classes on any topic, what would they be? #prodmktg #prodmgmt

How much does self-interest play in your decision making process?

By Saeed Khan

Back in 2008, I wrote a post entitled “Self interest always wins out…”.

wiifmI was reminded of it again recently during a conversation with a PM friend of mine.  Believe it or not, we were talking about how releases were planned at our companies. She said that she keeps a spreadsheet with each planned feature that also has several columns with weighted values for categories such as Strategic Fit, Customer Satisfaction, Competitive etc.

i.e. this gives a semblance of an analytic approach to her decision making and she can always open the spreadsheet in a meeting if anyone wants to debate prioritizing one thing over another.

I’ve seen this kind of spreadsheet many times in my years, but what reminded me of my old post was that she said she always wanted to add a hidden column in the spreadsheet that factored in a “pain in my butt” value for a given feature.

e.g. how much personal pain she had to endure with customers, salespeople etc. because of he missing capability.

I’m sure we can all empathize with her. I thought I’d written a post on the topic years ago, but had to search to find it. So here is an updated version of that article for your reading pleasure.

But don’t just read the article, please comment on whether self-interest (at any level) plays a role in the product decisions you’ve been involved in. Be honest. 🙂


Deep down, every single one of us is driven by self-interest.  From acquiring the most basic necessities of life, to how we deal with others, to the multitude of decisions we make each and everyday, self-interest plays a strong role.  Self-interest is not a bad thing and I’m not demonizing it at all. I’m simply stating an obvious fact. We do what will help us achieve OUR personal goals first and foremost.

And as much as we would like to think that’s not true; that we can look beyond ourselves and do what is in the common good, the fact is, more times than not, we will do what will benefit ourselves. Or at minimum, leverage the decisions we make to benefit our self interest.

keep calm honestWhen deciding what should and shouldn’t go into a product release, we try to look at the market needs, at the competition, at the strategic direction of the company etc. etc. But when push comes to shove, and we have to make a hard call on including something or not, our subconscious will have a significant impact.

In a conversation about prioritizing some requirements, I had to make a choice between two important items of roughly equal effort. When another PM asked me why I chose one instead of the other, I said that if we implemented the one I selected, it would get a lot of people off my butt. And that I was tired of hearing people complain about the issue. The other one wasn’t causing the same stink to be raised, but was clearly needed and valuable.

As I said it, it surprised me somewhat. I told the other PM, “I’m being honest here.”

I like to think that I focus on what will help drive revenue, better position us against competitors, help strengthen relationships with key strategic partners and all that good stuff. But seriously, when a hard decision needed to be made, my reasons were none of those.

It’s not as if that functionality wasn’t needed or that it wasn’t something we should add to the product. Don’t get me wrong. People were complaining about it because it was a gap in the product and customers needed it. But, the primary reason for my choice was driven by immediate self-interest.

So let me ask you a question. Have you ever been in that situation and made a decision for similar reasons? In retrospect, any thoughts on whether that was the right decision?


Tweet this: How much does self-interest play in your decision making process? #prodmgmt #productmanagement

About the Author

saeed-headshot-colourSaeed Khan is a founder and Managing Editor of On Product Management, and has worked for the last 20 years in high-technology companies building and managing market leading products. He also speaks regularly at events on the topic of product management and product leadership. You can contact him via Twitter @saeedwkhan or via the Contact Us page on this blog.

Cloud and the Changing Role of Product Management

by  Felicia Anderson

cloud changeIncreasingly, customers want and need cloud-based products.  The drivers behind this trend are varied, including the desire to lower costs, conserve capital, reduce the burden on in-house IT resources, and increase agility.

Delivering Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products changes the product manager’s role by redefining what it means to launch a product.  As Figure 1 shows, for on-premises products, the product manager is responsible for leading the product team from the time the product or release is defined until it is built and fully tested.

In a SaaS model, however, the product manager must continue to lead the product-related activities until that product is deployed in the production environment and available for customer use.

Figure 1.  Product Management Responsibility Expands for SaaS Products (click to enlarge)


If you are preparing your products for deployment in a SaaS delivery model or developing new SaaS applications, there’s much more to SaaS-ready products than architecting the solutions to be multi-tenant.  Here are 3 things you’ll want to consider to increase the success of your SaaS solutions:

1. Before you start development, understand the effects of deploying and operating the product.

Now that your company will operate the product on behalf of your customers, it’s more important than ever that your product be easy and cost effective to deploy and operate.

If it is difficult or expensive to operate, either your price will be too high or your margins will suffer.   After a detailed review with the operations team, you may find that you need to switch out higher-cost components in your tech stack for lower-cost alternatives or make other product changes to enable automation of operations activities.

You’ll want to perform this analysis before you start development so you can include these requirements in the release planning process.

One product manager had a successful on-premise product that had gained significant market traction over several years.  Now, he wanted to extend that product to also offer it in a SaaS model.  Market demand was robust for both deployment models, and it was technically feasible to extend the product architecture to support multi-tenancy, increased self-service capabilities, and other cloud-enabling features.

As he began to examine the costs of operating it in the cloud, however, he was dismayed to discover the operating costs would drive the price of the SaaS solution to be twice that of competing SaaS offers—basically ruining the SaaS business case.  With further analysis of the key cost drivers, the product team determined that by modifying the product to run on Linux with a PostgreSQL database instead of the higher-cost OS and database originally used, they could reduce their operating costs significantly and could, therefore, bring the SaaS offer to market at a competitive price.

2. Get cross-functional awareness, buy-in, and active participation from all functions

Starting at the beginning of the project. Cross-functional dependencies increase significantly with SaaS deployments because more functional areas are involved in and affected by the product launch.  If you don’t already have a formal process to communicate your plans, solicit inputs, and gain approval from the senior leaders in all the pertinent functions, put a process in place as you begin to “SaaS-ify” your products.

You probably already involve product development, QA, documentation, and marketing in the planning of on-premise products.  For SaaS products, however, IT operations, customer support, and professional services take center stage in advancing the release into the production environment and in onboarding customers.  To ensure a successful launch, you’ll want to secure input from, commitment to, and ownership of their pieces of the project from these critical stakeholders as well.

3. Develop an investment plan

Many SaaS applications require significant capital and operational expenditures for the equipment and network capacity to get the SaaS solution up and running or to expand to support customer growth.  Since most companies follow an annual budgeting process, be sure to determine your investment needs far enough in advance for funds to be allocated as part of the fiscal budgeting process in your company.

The move to a cloud deployment model provides a great opportunity to reach new customers and deliver more customer value.  Because the SaaS provider assumes the responsibility of deploying and operating the application for the customer, the definition of product launch expands.  So too do the responsibilities, scope, and influence of product managers.


Tweet this: Cloud and the Changing Role of Product Management #prodmgmt #cloud

About the Author

felicia-anderson-headshotFelicia Anderson is Director of Program Management, Cloud Services at OpenText.  She helps product teams improve product investment decisions and increase launch success of cloud-based products.


Are Your Users Seeing What You Think They Are Seeing?

by Saeed Khan

colour-dress-meme-smallA couple of days ago, my daughters, who are also my reference point for Internet memes, showed me the picture in this link — a shrunken version is to the right — and asked me to describe the colours of the stripes in the dress.

I looked at the picture and then gave my answer.

My younger daughter, nodding in agreement,  look at her older sister somewhat gleefully and said “See, I told you so.”

My older daughter, appearing both disappointed and flustered, looked at me and said “No. You’re wrong.”

At this point, I was rather confused. “What do you mean I’m wrong?” I asked.

They explained the issue to me. My older daughter said, “You should blog about this.”

So what is the issue?

You may  have already read about this dress and it’s colours. It started with this post and it has spread across the web at lightning speed.  Regardless, look at the dress carefully, and answer the question below.

Without giving away the surprise, there are at least 2, and possibly 3 correct answers to the question.

NOTE:  If you want to know more about the answers, it’s easy to find more on the web, but finish reading this post first. 🙂

But trust me when I say that 2 people can look at this dress and see COMPLETELY different colours. In fact, ever since my daughters showed me the dress, asked the question and revealed the answer, I’ve been a bit obsessed with the issue.

So…I ran an experiment (spoilers ahead)

On Friday, I opened up this page in my browser and left the browser tab open during the day. Periodically, I would look at the image to see what colour the stripes were.

For most of the day, the stripes were white and gold. But towards the end of the day, I looked at it, and they were now black and blue.

Yes, they had changed colour. And not a subtle change I might say.

I double checked to make sure I hadn’t opened a different window by accident. I hadn’t. The dress HAD changed colour.

My daughter was home from school by that time, and I told her what had happened. She laughed and said she was surprised I had seen both sets of colours.

I then left the house, to pick up my son from school. When I came home, about 20-25 minutes later, I went back into my office and looked at the browser.

The dress was white and gold again. I started laughing out of amazement. I didn’t know what to think.

How could  I look at the SAME image within such a short time span and see such different things?

It’s not an optical illusion; not in any traditional sense.

And then I remembered my daughter’s suggestion to blog about this. So I did some research to understand what was happening.

The answer is context

I’ll let you delve into the mysteries of the colour-changing dress, but it has to do with how your eyes and brain perceive dominant colours. i.e. what your eyes and brain focus on and what is deemed is important.  The same principle  is at play in any application interface that you create.

The context is the job at hand. When a user looks at an interface, they are interpreting it with the context of the actions they need to perform, the goals of those actions and what they know or understand about the interface. i.e. assumed user interface conventions, actions etc.

The interpretations by different user may not be as stark as seeing the same dress in completely different colours, but nonetheless, don’t underestimate the ways people interpret what they see.  What are they focusing on? What are they thinking about? How do they approach the task at hand? These are all questions you need to understand, interpret and embed in the user interface.

And, unlike the women with the dress, your users won’t post on Tumblr or Pinterest or Instagram or elsewhere if they don’t understand how to use your product. In most cases, after a few frustrating minutes — particularly if they’re using a free trial — they’ll move on to one of your competitors, and you’ve lost them for good.


Tweet this: Are Your Users Seeing What You Think They Are Seeing  #UX, #prodmgmt #productmanagement

About the Author

saeed-headshot-colourSaeed Khan is a founder and Managing Editor of On Product Management, and has worked for the last 20 years in high-technology companies building and managing market leading products. He also speaks regularly at events on the topic of product management and product leadership. You can contact him via Twitter @saeedwkhan or via the Contact Us page on this blog.