User Experience: A Primer

By Heather Searl

Every time I log into LinkedIn I’m asked to endorse someone else for user experience knowledge. I’d like to think this proves user experience has grown from a buzz word to taking its rightful place as a core business skill that people are investing in. Unfortunately many people I talk to go on and on about how important user experience is but don’t know how to create the experience their customers are looking for.

User Experience may be on their LinkedIn profile, but it isn’t in their everyday tool kit.

What is User Experience?

3 Pillars of User Experience: User Insight, Design, Concept & Usability TestingUser experience, or UX, means different things to different people. In some circles it’s used interchangeably with customer experience to refer to a customer’s interaction with a product or brand from initial research through purchase, use and disposal.

In the product development world user experience usually refers to designing and building a product that works the way people expect and that people will enjoy using. When you want to create a positive user experience in this world, you need to build it on the 3 pillars of:

  • User insight
  • Design
  • Concept and usability testing

User Insight

First, you have to get out and really listen to your end users. Going out and demo’ing the latest version of your product and asking what people think won’t cut it. You’ve got to listen and observe objectively to understand where people’s pain points are, how they expect your product to work and where it fits into their lives. You need to understand their goals, frustrations, domain knowledge and tasks.

This is different than traditional market research which focuses on the “Who” and the “What” of market segments and product interest. User insight that shapes the best user experiences focuses on the “How.”

  • How do people currently complete the task at hand?
  • How do they deal with current obstacles and pain points?
  • How knowledgeable are they in the domain and what related skills do they have or not have? For example, are users more likely to spend time web surfing and posting a status in Facebook, or do they spend time creating complex spreadsheets.)

Ideally this information is gathered by observing and interviewing potential users in their own environment.

Design

All the customer insight in the world isn’t going to help if you can’t turn it into a design that reflects the goals, workflows and attitudes of your prospective customers.

To do this you must recognize which of the following skills you need on your project.

  • Interaction Design: Designing the behavior of a product
  • Industrial Design: Designing the form and function of physical products
  • Information Architect: Categorizing and organizing information and labeling it
  • Information Design: Designing clear communication of concepts or data
  • Graphic/Visual Design: Color, typography, and layout etc.

High Fidelity WireframeThese skills are frequently used interchangeably in job descriptions and titles, so it’s no wonder that organizations often assume the skills are interchangeable and that one designer will have them all.

But, designers who have mastered all of these skill sets are rare. (If you have one of these mythical creatures on staff, hold on to him or her.) Designers aren’t one size fits all. Make sure you understand the skills your team has and fill any shortfalls with freelancers, help from other teams etc.

Concept and Usability Testing

Too many companies either don’t test their product with their target market, or they wait too long to do it.

There often seems to be a desire to put the product’s best foot forward by getting customer feedback on a nearly complete product.  But what happens if it has some serious issues at this point?

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “fail early, fail often, and fail cheap.” This is especially true when concept and usability testing your product.

Getting feedback as you develop the product shouldn’t be optional. Just because the workflows, widgets and language make perfect sense to YOUR team, doesn’t mean they’ll work for end users.

Prototype of IR signal repeaters for consumer electronics made from odds and ends

Prototype of IR signal repeaters for consumer electronics made from odds and ends

For software and web sites, test your structure, workflows and key interaction points early with paper prototypes or low fidelity mock ups. Do the same for hardware by building low fidelity prototypes out of cheap materials.

Follow up by testing with more refined prototypes like wireframes, 3D printed models etc. And repeat as often as the budget allows.

It’s more important to test frequently that to test with large numbers of people. When resources are tight,opt to test earlier rather than later.

Creating an outstanding user experience isn’t a dark and mysterious process. It looks a lot like any other product development process – do the research, do the work, test the work. But it is one that is still often overlooked by many organizations.

Tweet this: New post – User Experience: A Primer http://wp.me/pXBON-41V #prodmgmt #ux

heathersearl-newHeather is a user experience consultant and writer who believes in doing everything from a user-centric point of view. She has more than 20 years working in high tech and is well-versed in helping product management and development teams get to know their customers, understand usability issues and turn these insights into design innovations.

Heather can be reached at www.commconsulting.com or on Twitter as HeatherSearl.

Happy Star Wars Day — Rules of the Product Management Jedi

yoda

In honour of Star Wars Day — May 4th — I thought it was appropriate to reprint this oldie, but goodie. :-)

Enjoy.

Balance many opposing forces to achieve harmony you must

Without question, being successful at Product Management can be viewed as a balancing act. This is true for any business function, but given the number of cross-team dependencies for Product Management, it’s incredibly important for Product Managers to be aware of this. Over time, balancing the needs of sales, marketing, development, support etc. are all critical to success.

A plan is only as good as those who see it through

It’s actually very easy to make plans. All it takes is a set of objectives and some optimism. But as everyone knows, creating a plan and executing a plan are very different things. Every company has limit on it’s ability to execute a plan. The size, background, existing workload, dedication, difficulty of the task and many other factors play parts in the company’s ability to execute. When defining plans, make sure your goals are feasible and within the limits of the teams that will have to carry out those plans.

Say “No”, for only then does “Yes” have meaning

Saying “Yes” to a customer or Executive request is easy. It’s the expected answer, but it’s meaningless if it is the only answer you give. Product Managers cannot be bobbleheads, nodding yes to every request.  Saying “No” to a customer or executive is also easy, IF you can clearly articulate why it is the right answer. Saying No the first time is the most difficult, but it is also very empowering. After all, part of what everyone expects of Product Managers is their judgment in making good decisions.

Earned over time credibility is, but in a moment lost it can be

Building strong cross-team relationships is critical for success….take time and effort to understand what other teams need from you, and what you need from them. Information and power will flow in both directions easily if you gain credibility with others. Without that credibility, and the associated trust that comes with it,  your path to success will be difficult regardless of how much effort you put into the job.

Inspire greatness in others, all great leaders do

There is a lot of talk about Product Management and leadership. But what does it mean to be a leader of product or of a cross-functional team? Leaders are only leaders as long as they have followers. But the best leaders gain followers by setting an example for them and, in fact,  helping the followers achieve their goals. To be a great leader, show your team members you can help them be successful, in whatever definition of “success” is meaningful to them.

Ignore you instincts at your own peril you do

Logic and reason are incredibly valuable tools, that unfortunately can be in short supply in many companies. But, logic works best when you know all the facts for any given situation. Remove some key facts and where will logic lead you? While we don’t understand how it works, instinct is a critical tool for decision-making, for leadership and for success. Don’t ignore your instincts if you are troubled about a decision. In the end, after all the data is crunched and the insight gleaned, decisions are made in our brain before we even consciously know that we’ve decided something. Sounds a bit like instinct don’t you think?

And finally, a bonus rule, surprisingly omitted from the original list.

Do. Or do not. There is no try.

One of the most famous quotes from Yoda, this is also one of the most applicable to product managers.  As product leaders we need to be decisive in our actions and focus on the key tasks that lead to product success. “Trying” is simply a statement showing lack of confidence.  This doesn’t mean that all decisions or actions will be the right ones, but it does indicate that when we take those actions or make those decisions, we have a firm grasp of the situation and commitment to our goals.

Saeed

Tweet this: Happy Star Wars Day — Rules of the Product Management Jedi  http://wp.me/pXBON-42t  #prodmgmt #starwarsday

About the author

Saeed 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.

Passion and product teams

We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.—Charles Kingsley, professor, historian and novelist

 

One of the corporate competencies that no one seems to discuss is passion. We talk about systems and expertise and different departments but passion and purpose rarely make the list.

Yet it is passion that makes people go the extra mile. It’s what makes them stay late and come in on the weekend.

I once developed a scheduling system for services personnel. It was multi-user in a time when most people were doing everything on a standalone computer. I worked hard on it and I was proud of it. To put a new upgrade in place, I waited til everyone had gone home for the day, did a full backup, installed the new system, and had it all back online by the time work started the following day. I worked through the night—and was glad to do it.

Your developers have this same sort of passion for what they build. What they need from product management is a sense of purpose—a passion.

How can product management inspire the team? Vision.

The insights product managers and product owners can provide to the team helps developers understand the people and their problems. That’s why persona profiles are so important. It’s also important to show your team the business side of things: explain how releases align with industry events, and how delivering on schedule results in revenue.

In my first development meeting I was surprised how much the team wanted to know the business of the product: revenue, installations, marketing plans, and business goals.

Sure, product managers need to provide requirements and stories in a prioritized list (see my post on prioritization). This to-do list is the work that needs to be done. Product leaders must also put this list in context to instill purpose in the team.

You’ve presented your business plan to the leadership team. Now present it to your development team. Trust me: they’ll appreciate it.

About the author

Steve Johnson is a recognized thought leader and storyteller within the technology product management community. As founder of Under10 Consulting, he helps product teams implement strategic product management in an agile world. Sign up for his newsletter and weekly inspirations.

Product Management – It’s All About the Execution

By Josh Duncan

doneI recently was asked, what are the most important skills for a product manager?

I answered that there are range of skills that a PM is required to use from the standard technical and business side and to the important soft skills like communication and persuasion. I have been thinking  more about the answer and think you can call execution the most important skill when it comes to Product Management.

Getting product out the door is one of the many metrics a product organization tracks and the product management team plays an essential leadership role here (see point #5 on Hiring a great product leader). In order to make this happen, a product manager has many responsibilities and tasks that need to be addressed. However, execution is not just about getting things done. Product managers usually have an endless list of action items that they need to address.

A few of the factors that product management must balance when prioritizing this list:

  • What are the company goals for this year?
  • What about next?
  • What are the development capabilities and backlog?
  • Where does sales need help?
  • Where is the services team experiencing the most pain?
  • What is the customer feedback saying?
  • What is the customer data saying?
  • Where is the competition at and where are they heading?
  • Are there market dynamics that need be taken into account?

Execution is about understanding what needs to be done and how to get it done given the current set of constraints. It’s about figuring out what is important, what’s not, and then making sure it all happens.

An effective product manager must be able to see all parts of the equation while prioritizing everything that needs to be done. It may be a meeting with marketing to align on outgoing messaging. It may be working with sales to finalize pricing changes. It may be design sessions with the development and UX team on the next big feature release. The key being that not everything that is important is most important right now. 

Execution is about getting the right things done at the right time resulting in the right product shipping on time. 

What do you think?

Josh

Tweet this: Product Management – It’s all about the execution http://wp.me/pXBON-40W #prodmgmt

Want insights? Go outside and observe!

By Saeed Khan

I returned recently from a business trip to Germany. Whenever I travel, whether for business or pleasure, I find it difficult to take my “product manager”  hat off. Little things catch my eye, and often seemingly mundane things such as efficient parking lots draw my attention.

Here are few observations and lessons from my trip that I’d like to share.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Back in January after a business trip, I wrote about an ad I saw in the airport promoting Accenture. The image is below.

Bilions

The misspelling of word “Billions”, simply to fit the concept was what really irked me. As I was walking through Frankfurt airport last week, I saw another ad from the same campaign.

acc-woohoo

The German text at the top (“Wir haben uns…”)  is similar to the text in the English ad:

After studying the critical elements of Dow. The result: savings of 2.5 billion U.S. dollars

[Feel free to give me a better translation if possible. This is a modified version from what Google translate provided.]

I’m assuming “Woo Hoo” translates into German as it does in English. This ad is a bit better (IMHO) than the English version above.The “Woo Hoo” catches the eye (much more so than “BiLiONS”, and there is a hard fact — 2.5 billion in savings — embedded in the message.  Perhaps the German market is more discriminating or their agency learned from their misstep in North America. Not a great ad, but certainly better than the English language one.

BTW, if you want to see other Accenture (English) print ads,  you can see them here.

Tailor your messaging to your audience

FirstAvengerSequel

While waiting for the subway in Frankfurt, I started reading a poster for movies playing in town. “The Return of the First Avenger” caught my eye. In North America, this movie is called “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”.  Not a great name in my opinion unless you read the comics and know the story already. “The Winter Soldier” sounds like a description of Captain America himself. But I digress.

Apparently, the title didn’t test well in Germany, so they went with the alternative title. It’s interesting though that they didn’t call it “The Return of Captain America”.  The first film used “Captain America” in it’s title in Germany. i.e. “Captain America: The First Avenger”.  Regardless, it’s one of the very few countries in where the name “Captain America” doesn’t exist in the title in some form.

Keep the messaging simple

I’m a big fan of clear and easy to understand messaging. It sounds like a no brainer that everyone should follow, but somehow, in the bowels of marketing meetings, often very simple concepts turn into nebulous concepts that mean little to the target audience. So it’s nice to see examples where that didn’t happen.

In Heathrow Airport, whose waiting areas are often hard to distinguish from shopping malls, I had to take note of this establishment. No fancy name or confusing signage. Just a clear statement written from the customer’s point of view. And with throngs of multilingual customers passing by, there is little room for confusion, even if you don’t speak English. I ended up buying some food there: soup, sandwich, drink – what more could a hungry traveler need?

eat store

Measure and manage where possible

heathrow security

And lastly, after I had passed through the security check point in Heathrow, I came across this device.  I guess Heathrow Airport wants to know how they are doing with their security checks. The simple interface – 4 buttons – Very Happy, Somewhat Happy, Somewhat Sad, and Very Sad — is easy to understand and doesn’t provide a middle button – i.e. ambivalent or no preference.

There is also a paper form that asks for more detail — Tell us how we can make your journey better. I regret not taking a copy of one of those forms just to see what they were asking inside.

I did see one person walk up to the device and press a button so people do use it, but few people overall were pressing the button. This device was sitting near the exit of the security area and no mention of it was made via signs or security staff previously. If the security officers simply asked people to give them feedback as they via the device, there might be a higher response rate.

Still, it’s a start. I’ve not seen similar devices in any other security checkpoints in any other airports.

So there you have it. There are lessons we can learn everywhere. All that’s needed is a trip out of the office.

Saeed

Tweet this: Want insights? Go outside and observe! http://wp.me/pXBON-41i #prodmgmt #insight

About the author

Saeed 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.

Dear Product Manager: 4 Things Your UX Expert Wants You to Know

By Heather Searl

Dear Product Manager,

Here we are at the start of another project and, while I love working with you, there are a few things I’d like you to see from my point of view.

First off (and this is a biggie), you are NOT the target user.

Postcard representing a letter to Product Managers from UX

I know you know our domain inside out, and the presentations you give about the technology are impressive. I know you are passionate about our product and that you live and breathe everything related to our domain.

The problem is you know, and care, too much. Most of our users are not as passionate about our products as you are. Yes, I know there are some and I know they sought you out at the last user forum to share their ideas with you.

But most of our users aren’t like that. They use our product to accomplish a goal so they can move on to the next thing. They don’t understand all the industry jargon that rolls off your tongue with ease, and they don’t care about all the flash and wiz-bang of the latest and greatest technology advances.

My point is that we can’t design a product that is perfect for you.  We need to design a product for the typical user.

Secondly, you can’t do it all.

Yes, you are ultimately responsible for the success of this project and that’s a lot of pressure. I understand why you want to talk to all of the customers, document all of those discussions, analyse the results, and decide what tasks to use in usability testing. I get that you want to make sure everything is done right, but you can’t do it all.

You have too many budget meetings to sit through, sales projections to compile, stakeholder suck-up lunches to attend, and a million other things that have to be done as part of your day.

Let me help.  I know that it takes as long to write up the summary of a customer interview as it does to do the interview. I’ve done it many times. I also know that if it isn’t done that information will be lost.

I’m not suggesting you hand over all of the customer insight activities to me. Oh no. You HAVE to be part of that. It’s crucial that you understand our users inside and out. Which kinda’ brings me to my next point.

Third, you and I shouldn’t be the only user experts on the team.

I know it’s in your job description and mine that we talk to end users and understand their needs. But the developers, QA testers, tech writers and everyone else will make better decisions if they fully understand the user’s needs as well. Let’s take some of them along with us on our next customer visits, and after that, let’s put together some lunch and learn sessions to share what we learned with everyone else.

Yah, I know we’ll have to drag some of them (especially the developers) with us kicking and screaming. But I promise they’ll come up with some great ideas when they are working with firsthand knowledge of our end users instead of making decisions by guessing at what end users do and don’t do with our product.

And lastly, please, oh please, focus on the WHAT and not the HOW.

For example, don’t create full wireframes for your concept and requirements documents. These documents should tell us what to build, not how to build it. When you put too much detail about how things should look and work into these documents you lock us into a design direction when the project has barely started.

Put together some high-level sketches so everyone can visualize the product – but don’t go too far.  Some of our teammates are pretty literal, and they are going to fight against every change to your original idea no matter how much sense those changes make.

If you are worried that I or the rest of the team will go off on a tangent with the design, don’t be. We WANT you involved in our brainstorming sessions and we WILL get your approval on all designs.

Speaking for myself, if I don’t do detailed design reviews with you or I don’t give you time to think about the workflows and interactions that I’ve put together, call me on it. This is a collaborative project after all.

Please understand that I’m not pointing these things out just to make my job easier (although that is part of it). It’s more about working as a team. The more in-sync we are about what our users need, and the more we understand where each of us is coming from, the stronger the end product will be.

Let’s talk. In fact let’s make sure we are talking a lot more than we are now.

Sincerely,

Your UX Expert

Tweet this:  Dear Product Manager – 4 things your UX expert wants you to know  http://wp.me/pXBON-40D #prodmgmt #ux

heathersearl-90x90

Heather is a user experience consultant and writer who believes in doing everything from a user-centric point of view. She has more than 20 years working in high tech and is well-versed in helping product management and development teams get to know their customers, understand usability issues and turn these insights into design ideas and innovations. Heather can be reached at www.commconsulting.com or on Twitter as HeatherSearl.

 

Photo courtesy of  Jeanne Menj via Flickr

Product management in the Cloud

by Paddy Barrett

How the shift to SaaS product offerings changes the role and activities of the product manager.

paddycloudA product manager who has learned the craft with on-premises products will have to adapt to the cloud by becoming more flexible and responsive – flexible in adapting to the speed of change with cloud products (think continuous delivery) and responsive to the greater interaction with customers that the cloud allows.

These were among the main findings of my dissertation for an MSc in Software Product Management in which I set out to determine the impact of the shift to the cloud on product managers. The existing academic literature revealed that little or no research into the subject had taken place, even while cloud computing was gaining more acceptance from business users, and as more enterprise software vendors were entering the cloud space.

Such a seismic shift in the industry was bound, I believed, to have a significant impact on the role and activities of the product manager, so I set out to research the subject by interviewing practising product managers who had experience with on-premises and cloud products.

To find suitable candidates for interview, I reached out to Scott Sehlhorst and Rich Mironov, who were guest lecturers during my first year of the Master’s program. Both were kind enough to introduce me to their contacts, and in the end I had to decline several offers to participate! The interviews covered the following core subjects:

  • cross-functional teamwork
  • decision-making processes
  • customer relationships
  • pricing
  • product life cycle management
  • continuous release
  • new product development
  • and key personal qualities and skills.

Over the course of ten in-depth interviews, my research confirmed that the aim of the study was valid – the shift to the cloud has a concrete impact on the product manager, and this impact is seen most clearly in the areas of cross-functional collaboration, customer relationships, and innovation.

My findings also met other research objectives, such as identifying the different product management activities required for cloud products compared to on-premises products, and an appreciation of why cloud products require a different product management approach.

The management of cloud products differs markedly from on-premises products in terms of the responsiveness and flexibility required of the product manager – the adaptability of the product manager becomes a critical factor in the success of cloud products. The shift to the cloud affects several activities of the product manager, who must anticipate new demands on both the role itself and on related functions within the organisation. From this conclusion, some key recommendations for practice are possible, including:

  • Understand how the cloud model works, with special regard to legal requirements for data protection.
  • Foster customer loyalty and interaction by managing customer expectations.
  • Master the use of metrics to analyse how customers use the product and also to develop product requirements.
  • Introduce design thinking practices to improve innovation, engage with users, and test prototypes.
  • To prevent the customer disruption that can be caused by continuous release, give customers some control over receiving upgrades to the product.
  • Help your cross-functional teams to adopt better collaboration processes, such as social networking tools, for faster communication and decision-making.
  • Stay focused on your long-term product strategy to safeguard against the tendency to focus on short-term customer requirements.

Some of these practices probably require further study, particularly the management of the continuous release process, the new opportunities for innovation – especially design thinking – that are made possible by the cloud. Other areas that could benefit from new research include lifecycle management of cloud products, the use of social networking tools for cross-functional collaboration, customer relationship management within the cloud paradigm, and the migration of on-premises products to the cloud. Given that the interviewees were all operating in B2B environments, it would also be interesting for other researchers to compare the experiences of B2B and B2C product managers.

In conclusion, this research offered a new understanding about the impact of the shift to the cloud on product management. Specifically, it found that traditional product management activities become more dynamic in the cloud context and that the product manager must adapt by becoming more flexible and responsive. It also found that managing customer expectations becomes a critical concern for the product manager.

Paddy

Tweet this: Product Management in the Cloud - http://wp.me/pXBON-40N #prodmgmt #cloud

About the Author
Paddy Barrett is a technical writer for IBM Connections and a budding product manager. He received his MSc (First Class Honors) in Product Management from the Dublin Institute of Technology last November.

Can marketing learn from agile?

By Steve Johnson

Failing to focus, failing to choose one discipline and stick to it, is exactly what leads firms to a state of mediocrity.—Michael Treacy & Fred Wiersema

small__5141328136When I was the head of marketing, I got into a heated argument about our marketing and promotion programs. It was in a senior management meeting of directors, VPs, and the CEO. One of the directors took me to task for not supporting more industry speaking opportunities. Initially, I gave him a non-answer so we could get back to our primary discussions but he wouldn’t let it go. “Tell me,” he demanded, “why we’re not speaking at industry conferences!”

I shouted back: “You’re getting all the marketing you can afford!”

I explained my approach. “We wrote down everything we wanted to do, put it in priority order, and then moved down the list until we ran out of money. Speaking didn’t make the cut.”  I continued, “Of course, we can do more programs when we have more money. Does anyone want to move some money from their budget to the marketing budget? I thought not.”

We now know this technique as one of the basic elements of Kanban. And yet, in my conversations today, I still hear sales and marketing people arguing about individual programs. “We need to do a newsletter!” or “Hey! Let’s write an ebook!” or “Why aren’t we blogging?”

It’s time to take a step back.

Marketing, like every other department, has to prioritize. We have to choose. And that usually means choosing not to do things. Invariably some don’t get their pet programs funded. After all, there are always more ways to spend money than the budget allows.

We can learn a lot from Kanban. Just like your home budget, you allocate funds by category, prioritize the list, start from the top and work your way through the list until you run out of time or money. We need to focus on business prioritization—just like agile development teams.

What if we managed the promotion plan like a product backlog? What if we applied agile techniques to marketing?

Think of your marketing programs in three levels: company, products or initiatives, and campaigns.

Start with your investments at the company level. There’s a big (or maybe not so big) pot of money. Allocate it among your products and initiatives. What are your big initiatives? What percentage should support the launch of your new products while maintaining the old ones? And don’t forget infrastructure and maintenance. How much do you need to spend on basic infrastructure, such as the web site, automation, and memberships?

With your percentage of marketing spend allocated by products or initiatives, write down your list of campaigns and promotions. Write down everything you can think of.

Now prioritize the list. Look at the business value of each item compared to the others. You can start with “this is more important than that” and after you have a rough sorting, look at the delta between current and desired state. That is, are there any items that are “good enough,” at least for now?

Consider using the Outcome-Driven Innovation approach to prioritization from Anthony Ulwich’s What Customers Want. It’s really quite simple. On a scale of 1 to 5, rate the importance of each item. Then, again from 1 to 5, rate the satisfaction with your current state. The value of the opportunity (or program in this case) is the importance plus the delta between importance and current satisfaction. Need help? Download this tool to see how it works for your marketing programs.

If you need help wrapping your mind around apply agile approaches to marketing, Lean Samarai has a quick video overview of the SAFe approach to product development. Watch the video—but instead of thinking how it can be used in development, consider its application to marketing programs. Instead of development teams, think of your content teams, bloggers, PR teams, events, and so on.

This approach makes sense to me. What about you? Does agile marketing make sense for your organization? Add your comments below.

photo credit: 3oheme via photopin cc

7 Ways to Ramp Up Quickly as a New Product Marketer

By Rahim Kaba

getthefactsAs a product marketer, you’re expected to be the “buyer” expert in your organization and clearly communicate how your products can benefit potential buyers. But if you’re new to your company and its markets, learning about your buyers isn’t straightforward; unlike other roles in your organization, you need to seek information from outside the company. Unless you’re moving into your new role from within the organization (or perhaps as an ex-customer), you probably don’t know a lot about your company’s buyers and markets.

Even if you have the right skills as a product marketer, you won’t be able to do your job effectively until you truly understand your buyers’ challenges and needs. Once you begin to acquire this knowledge however, you’ll be in a unique position to connect the dots between your buyers’ greatest pain points and your solutions’ benefits to persuade them to purchase your solution over the competition (or the status quo).

For new product marketers, the learning curve can be quite steep. So how do you ramp up quickly? Here are 7 practical tips to help you succeed in your new role:

1.       Don’t believe everything you read

Internal documentation is always a good start, but often only reflects your company’s perspective of its products and buyers. Dig deeper to get the full picture of what your buyers really want.

2.       “Listen” to the market

Register for daily or weekly Google Alerts and join LinkedIn Groups relevant to your industry to monitor what others (e.g., competitors, customers, industry experts, and analysts) are saying. This will help you spot trends and identify new and important topics of interest in the buying community.

3.       Gain insights from customer-facing employees

Your sales team isn’t the only group within your company that has a good understanding of your buyers. Take the time to talk to your pre-sales engineers, field marketers, technical support, and professional services staff to gain insights into what your prospects and customers think about your company and products. This will help you determine what they appreciate the most—characteristics that you may want to place front and center in your sales and marketing materials.

4.       Join sales calls and demos

Since you’ll be working closely with the sales team, it’s important that you attend sales calls to see what they’re up against on a daily basis. Not only will you learn how your sales team pitches your products, but you’ll also hear firsthand the challenges your prospects and customers are facing. After several calls, you’ll likely begin to see patterns that will help drive product positioning and enable you to create tools that will resonate well with your buyers.

5.       Talk to champion customers

Your company probably has customers that get overly excited about your products. Get introduced to them and ask about their biggest challenges, why they chose your products, and what your company is good (and not so good) at. It’s likely that other buyers in the market have similar challenges; use this information to showcase how your products can help solve their problems as well.

 6.       Attend industry conferences

Travel budgets are tight these days. But if you have the opportunity to attend industry conferences or events, don’t go just as an observer. This is your opportunity to speak to thought leaders and buyers, and gain valuable insights into your market. You’ll likely hear from buyers that are outside your company’s pipeline—enabling you to gain a wider view of market needs and trends, and provide valuable input to your product management team.

7.       Perform win/loss interviews

Get access to your company’s most recent wins and losses and talk to your buyers directly. You don’t need to be an expert on your products to have conversations on why they did or didn’t buy your products.  With 10 or so interviews under your belt, you’ll begin to see common buyer concerns and needs that will help shape your positioning and messaging strategy.

As a new employee, you know how important it is to quickly showcase the value you can bring to your company. New product marketers have it particularly tough because they have to acquire their expertise from outside the organization. Make sure you take a holistic approach and get insights from a wide variety of sources in order to paint an accurate portrait of your buyers.

If you aren’t being provided opportunities to become the buyer expert at your company, speak to your employer to get access to the right resources and tools. It’s in their best interest to help you succeed in your new role.

Rahim

Tweet this: 7 ways to ramp up quickly as a new Product Marketer - http://wp.me/pXBON-40q #prodmgmt #prodmktg #innovation

About the author

Rahim Kaba is a B2B product marketing professional based in Montreal, Canada with over 10 years of experience managing successful products, services, and marketing programs in a wide range of industries and sectors. You can find him on LinkedIn.

 

 

If I Were Building the Ultimate Technology Solution for Product Management & Marketing…

By John Mansour

swiss army laser knifeIt’s been on my mind for years, even to the point where we seriously considered developing it at Proficientz a few years ago. But we decided to practice what we preach and stick to our core competencies, at least for the foreseeable future.

But the frustration level from our clients is reaching a fever pitch as they look for technology solutions to support product management and product marketing functions. Yes, product marketing too!

If I had to characterize the sentiment from our clients, they’d say the current technology solutions help product managers manage products, but none of them help the organization develop a stronger product management and marketing discipline.

Comments I hear most often:

  •  “They’re bloated with features and difficult to implement and use.”
  • “They focus on helping you manage whatever you’ve decided to do but none of them facilitate the decision process.”
  • “They’re all requirements management packages in one form or another.”

Perception is reality, so I feel compelled to start this discussion – and you’re invited to join the party – in an effort to get technology providers and product professionals engaged in a conversation on a very different level to advance the cause. I can’t imagine who wouldn’t benefit!

For as long as I’ve been in the product management and marketing profession, we’ve aspired to become the heartbeat of the organization, not for selfish reasons but to help our organizations reach their full potential. With the right technology solution, this goal becomes a chip shot!

Who’s Invited to the Discussion?

  • Product managers, marketers and strategists who need solutions
  • Your counterparts from the technology solution providers

The discussion will take place in the Proficientz LinkedIn Group only so please share this blog with your social networks and let’s see if we can generate enough momentum to benefit both parties.

Isn’t it time to put our heads together in ways we’ve never done before and use social media to do something significant for our profession?  Let’s make it happen.

Guidelines for the Discussion

Please use the following guidelines to keep the discussion engaging for everyone.

  •  Limited to B2B products and services.

Product Managers & Marketers Who Need Solutions

  •  Please focus the discussion on activities, goals and objectives and why they’re important to your organization (and not ask for features).
  • Please do not make references (good or bad) to any product or service providers you’ve had experience with.

Technology Providers Who Build Product Management & Marketing Solutions

  • Please refrain from promoting or defending your solutions either explicitly or implicitly.
  • Please do not encourage your customers to drop testimonials into the discussion.
  • Feel free to ask questions to clarify something.

Product Management Service Providers and Consultants

Remember, the purpose is to connect the people who need the solutions with the people who develop them. I recommend we sit on the sidelines and learn as much as we can from the discussion.

My role in the discussion will be a facilitator to kick things off and introduce topics that (in the eyes of our clients) never get any airtime on blogs or social media. All participants are welcome to do the same.

John Mansour

Tweet this: If I were building the ultimate tech solution for PMs and PMMs – http://wp.me/pXBON-3Zt #prodmgmt #innovation

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.