Here I go again blogging on something in the area of Product Marketing … I should leave that up to April Dunford the Product Marketing expert; but I can’t help myself.
Can you create a two-word phrase that describes your value proposition? Something like ‘Change Ready’ or ‘Threat Resistant’. You should be able to attach them to the end of the phrase ‘Are you …?’ or ‘Is your whatever …’. You then can use phrases that contain these two words when you talk to a prospect or add it to the front page of your web site. Or maybe even trademark it.
The first word needs to describe the problem that you solve or the desired outcome and the second word needs to describe your solution to the problem. The problem, of course, has to be expressed from your target market’s perspective … i.e. it can not be what you do (no one cares about that).
My company – Ateala Management – helps tech companies with their product management issues. Outside of the realm of product management nobody gets this. The usual response is “huh?”. My target companies are those that are just beyond the start-up phase looking to scale their business to the next level. The problem they have is staying focused on meeting their business objectives with all the distractions being thrown at them. What I do is implement systems and processes and educate their staff to focus on making decisions that help in meeting their business objectives. I now ask if they have an objective-focused business. So my value proposition can be condensed to “objective focused”. Is your business objective focused?
Try it with your product. Can you share your two-word value proposition?
Why do tech companies insist on barfing out their message. It’s like they have to spew out absolutely every competitive threat, differentiator, techo-wizardry, benefit, target customer in one single breath. No wonder nobody understands what they do and what value they provide. Just stop it!
I’ve run into so many tech companies that have great intentions, but eventually end up with something that’s barfed out. They start with a short, crisp, well-articulated message and then they start adding in the prepositions (by, with, including, etc.). Each crisp message, when delivered, should lead the listener to the next sentence. They should want to hear the next sentence. Each sentence should build on the next – eventually revealing the story. If fact the person you’re speaking to will guide what your next sentence needs to be; e.g. ” what do you mean by such-and-such”. I’ve been following the writings of Jill Konrath; especially her views on value propositions. Keep your messages short and crisp and your audience will understand what you’re about … remember that your audience needs to understand your message, if they don’t then you’ve wasted your breath.
During ProductCamp Toronto in October I was interviewed by Donna Popacosta on Business-Driven Product Management. She turned this into a podcast which is now available on the ProductCamp Toronto website. Thanks to Donna for putting all this together.
At this month’s OCRI Zone5ive meeting I delivered a presentation entitled Product Marketing for an Ever-changing World. [The Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation (OCRI) is Ottawa’s leading member-based economic development corporation for fostering the advancement of the region’s globally competitive knowledge-based institutions and industries.] The goal of this presentation was to educate the Zone5ive membership on how they can become more effective as the development team shifts to Agile development. This transition does not just impact the development team, it also impacts Product Marketing, Product Management and Marketing.
The net result is that product marketing (and product management) teams will have the ability to engage customers early and often throughout the project which will increase the chances of a successful product (or release) launch. In other words, by engaging customers during the project, they will feel like they helped shape the release (or capability or feature) and so will be in a better position to talk to the press and industry analysts. They will also help you with your messaging, i.e. they will provide with real value statements.
Marketing and Operations together to leverage social networks to conduct business – that’s what social business is. This includes Product Management, Product Marketing, Product Development, Sales, Service and Customer Support. All of these groups within a company need to leverage social networks in an organized fashion to conduct business – i.e. generate revenue, improve customer satisfaction, etc.
As with any earth-changing technology, social networks are changing the way business needs to be conducted – companies need to get involved in the conversation as an integral part of they way they do business – Product Managers especially. Testing new ideas, improving existing capabilities, watching your competitors, etc. are all activities that the Product Manager needs to do on social networks – Twittter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. The first step is to identify your community – in other words the people and companies in your target market. Find out where these people have their conversations? All / some networks? This includes customers, prospects, competitors, influencers, users, etc. Product Managers must be part of the conversation to help achieve your company’s business objectives.
#OPMA #ProdMgmt – The first meeting of the Ottawa Product Management Association will be a “meet ‘n greet” gathering at a pub (tentatively Tuesday October 6th, starting at 6:30pm). In order to attempt to make the location as convenient as possible (closer to work or closer to home or whatever suits), please complete the following poll.
Thank-you very much … look forward to seeing everyone in October!
The challenge for product managers and product marketing managers is that they are extremely busy and adding another place to go to and look for and disseminate information is a challenge. Having been a PM and PMM for nearly 20 years I have lived this challenge. But Twitter is such an easy mechanism for doing research, publishing material and connecting that I feel it’s worth adding to your list of locations. Blogs are good for details, but you need lots of time to devote to following bloggers. Tweets are short and therefore quicker to read and follow – some have links to blogs or articles, others are part of a conversation and others are live. Luckily I’ve come across a couple of tools that make it easier to focus in on what it’s important to your PM/PMM life.
Twinbox– This is a newly released Twitter add-in for Outlook. Let’s face it, most PM’s and PMM’s live in their email tool – and in most cases that tool is MS-Outlook. This add-in is great. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks and find it very easy to setup, use and filter on what’s important to me. Once you have downloaded it and installed it, you simply set your Twitter userid and password and you’re good to go. What I really like is the ability to set up Outlook folders with search criteria for that folder and then all tweets that match your criteria are deposited in that folder. This way you can set up folders that will hold tweets related to topics that you are interested in. It also has the ability to Tweet, RT, etc. directly in an Outlook toolbar.
TweetDeck – This has been available for awhile now – many fellow ‘tweeters’ use it. I blogged on this in early May; so without repeating the entire blog … with Tweetdeck you can define panes and search criteria for that pane (similar concept as with Twinbox). Tweetdeck then channels tweets that match your criteria into the appropriate pane. A very easy tool to focus in on what’s important to you.
TwitterBerry, Blackbird, UberTwitter, etc. – Applications that you can use to tweet, search, etc. from your BlackBerry device. All have different strengths and weaknesses – I suggest reading some of the blogs that compare the various applications to determine what will work for you (e.g. CrackBerry.com).
OK – so now you have your tool of choice … what do you follow? Clearly you can’t follow everything; so here are the 3 categories that I believe PM’s and PMM’s should follow (check out my blog on using Twitter for business to learn about #hashtags):
#prodmgmt – set up a search criteria to channel all tweets with the #prodmgmt #hashtag into a folder or pane or a direct search. This is thee place where product management folks tweet. It alerts you to upcoming webinars, it holds live “tweet-inars” (ok, that was made up), people ask questions and answer questions, etc. etc. It’s a great source of information to get ideas on how to improve your PM/PMM practices and by contributing ideas it establishes yourself as a PM/PMM “expert”.
Business Interest – set up search criteria to channel all tweets about the business that your company is in into a folder or pane or a direct search. Using #hashtags such as #SCM, #FOI, #DRM, etc. you can read Tweets about the business/market and contribute to the community – making you a subject matter expert. Gain incite into what’s going on in the business that you’re in.
Your Company/Product – set up search criteria to channel all tweets about your company and/or product into a folder or pane or a direct search. This way you can easily catch what people are saying about your company and/or product and respond quickly.
The best thing to do now is to try it. Good luck … have fun!
Honestly – I’m probably the last person on earth to have figured out how to use Twitter. Ok, since I don’t know everybody there’s no guarantee that I’m the last. I’ve had a Twiter account for a year or so and it was not until a couple of days ago I figured out how to use it for business. I’ve tweeted on my half-marathon training, the weather, news and other personal topics, but never on business. So for those that have figured this out, no point continuing on. But for the others read on.
I wanted to get my early thoughts down while they are fresh – so here goes. I was stumped for months on figuring out who to follow, when I had no clue as to who was using Twitter. I managed to find some interesting people and began following them, but it was a stream of conversations that I couldn’t follow and frankly missed most of them as they scrolled by everyday. Over coffee with a local social media expert he put me on to Tweetdeck. So between Tweetdeck and the concept of #hashtags, my Twitter experience improved dramatically. Honestly!
With Tweetdeck you can view tweets that fall into categories that you define. For example, I’m interested in product management. So I set up a Tweetdeck search on all tweets that contain the #prodmgmt hashtag. Every time a tweet occurs with the #prodmgmt embedded in it, the tweet appears in my #prodmgmt search pane. Employees of companies, especially those involved with the core business have interests in the subject matter of their business as well as the role they play in the company. For example, if you are a product manager with a company that sells to the supply chain management space, you could set up a search pane for product management (#prodmgmt) and one for supply chain management (#scm). If you deliver your software as a service, set up a search pane with #saas as the search keyword, or #agile if you develop software using agile methods … you get the picture. On the subject matter end, if you’re in the DRM space use #drm as your keyword or if you’re in the FOIA space use #foia and so on. The #hashtags site allows you to search for registered tags – make sure that you pick ones that are active (i.e. there are posts at least hourly) for you to get any value.
I recently talked to another early stage software company that is managing their product portfolio by committee. Oddly enough they too are using an agile development approach – I believe that the committee approach fits well into the notion of daily meetings, product backlogs on the whiteboard, etc. Regardless of the development methodology I wonder how sustainable this is. At what point does this method of managing products breaks down?
Early stage companies typically have a dozen employees or so. What I’ve seen so far is that the committee consists of a combination of the CEO, head of development, Chief Architect, and head of marketing. One or more members are usually the founders / visionaries. Now each have their own roles within the company and they devote a portion of their time (roughly 10%) on the product management activity. The committee primarily decides what goes into the product and when. All works well, but the challenge they face as the company grows is that the members of the committee become more consumed with their primary roles (as they should) and the product management activities fall by the wayside. The result is that a single person – usually the head of development or the chief architect – takes on the task of deciding what goes into the product. But as the development team grows, these product management decisions are made from an internal perspective and not from the outside in as they should be. I believe that as companies approach and move through the $1.5M to $3.0M annual revenue milestone and/or the 20-25 employee threshold, they will see the breakdown of the product management by committee methodology. Most notably, committee members find it a challenge to attend meetings and to focus on the details of what needs to go into the product.
Here are some of suggestions to help get through this phase … (1) hire a product manager with product management experience, (2) invest in building an infrastructure (processes, artifacts, etc.) that meets the needs of your development methodology, (3) document your core competency, market problems you solve and why you add value, and (4) setup regular status meetings with the stakeholders. The key is to setup your product management methodology to support the next stage of your companies growth.
I met with another company that is struggling to transition from a services based business model to a product based business model. Many hi-tech companies start out with a single contract to provide a solution to a particular client. They find more clients that need to address the same set of requirements … sort of – the solution is customized for each and every client. The net result is a handful of one-off solutions to different clients that address roughly the same need. Revenue grows; number of new-named accounts increases and now it is time to scale the business to the next level. Clearly creating these one-off solutions is not a scalable model – you are bounded by your development resource pool. The transition from a professional services driven model to a product-driven model needs to take place. A product-driven model revolves around the sale of a single (possibly configurable) product to customers who have the same needs, or problems that need to be solved. In other words, you develop a single product that you sell to many customers in your target market.
Sounds simple! But there are many challenges to making this transition … here are some of the key challenges:
Moving away from the culture of ‘Yes’ – in a professional services model your goal is to secure that single contract and so saying yes to the wishes of that single customer to win that contract is paramount. In a product-driven model your goal is to sell your single product to as many customers within your market as possible. This means that you have to learn to say ‘No’. When a customer requests something, you have to determine if it has broad market applicability – if it does not have broad market applicability, then saying ‘No’ is your best answer. Why? You have finite resources and they need to be laser-focused on meeting your goal to secure as many customers from within your market as possible … divergences that do not move you towards your goal is a waste.
Changing the feature debates – if the customer, in the professional services model, decides where you should deploy your development resources; who decides in the product-driven model? Clearly you make the decision; but at what level do you decide what to put in the product? Far too often the debate rages at a very high level, i.e. each of development, marketing, sales, customer support, etc. have their own top priority item that must go into the next release and so the discussion ends up being opinion-based. Business-driven product management brings the discussion level down to the objective level, i.e. the debate needs to be centered around how well each feature request meets a set of business objectives. The end result is that the business objectives control what goes into the product – not some subjective opinion.
Assigning new ownership – in a product-driven model, product management owns the product. In other words, through their deep understanding of the market, their ability to objectively analyze requests, and with their full and complete view of the product, product management decides what goes into the product. The owner in the professional services model is the project manager or the account manager and their responsibility is solely focused on the client … not the market.
Developing a process-driven approach – process has been given a bad rap. No one wants to be process heavy. On the other hand, a lack of process will not deliver the repeatability necessary to become a product-driven company. The process in this case is the clearly defined steps you go through to decide what features to put in the product, the interaction between product management and development. This process is the core of a product-driven company – if it does not operate efficiently and cost effectively, then delivering your products on-time with the right feature set to meet your goals will be a struggle.
Let me know if you can think of other challenges. Maybe you have an experience you would like to share.