‘Twas the Night Before Product Launch

‘Twas the night before product launch, when all through the building
Not a person was stirring, not even engineering
The PR was ready, timed with great care,
In hopes that the media pickup soon would be there
The Product Manager thought, as he scratched his head
If this dog don’t hunt, my career is dead
But I talked to the customers, the MRD was a snap.
So the coders could scrum, then start building the app.
We had some discussions on Wiki and Chatter
The co-lla-bo-ration could not have been better
When what to my wandering mind should appear
The Chief Architect, in his hand a large beer
“There’s a slight problem”, he said really quick
My stomach was churning, I began to feel sick
“There’s some bugs in the code, I shoulder the blame”
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name
“Now memory leak! And SQL injection!”
“Now error transmitting sensitive information!”
To the code! To the code! Before we release!
Or the Sales team will all be sh*tting like geese!
His eyes—how they twinkled! His speech a bit slurry
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
Then I realized, he was just sleep walking
So you just cannot trust, all that he’s talking
We worked him so hard, and the QA team too
They and the Support Team, rarely get what is due
You have to forgive that after beer and some wine
That his neurons were possibly not firing fine
So then he laid down, and that calmed my panic
This launch will not go down, like the great ship Titanic
Then I heard him exclaim, as I turned out the light—
“Happy product launch to all, and to all a good night!”

(c) 2013 by BlackBookNinja – and with special thanks to the inspiration from “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clark Moore

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Tips for an effective (and cheap) sales intranet

I once attended a product marketing “meet-up” (actually back then they were called working groups) where the topic of discussion was “how to create an effective Sales intranet.”  There were about 40 people there and when they were asked “how many people have a Sales intranet”, everyone raised their hand.  When they were asked “how many people have intranets the Sales reps use regularly”, in a surprising display of honesty, only a few hands went up.

The reality is that, for a long time, sales and corporate intranets were either good, but horribly expensive to maintain, or pretty bad.

These days, the model is to use tools that are more collaborative, with some combination of Facebook and Wiki-like features.  I new this was the future when our CEO actually started creating pages on our wiki-based intranet (Confluence by Atlassian – it’s great).

And these days, if you’re a small to midsized company with not a lot of money to spend, there are some great options on how to create a sales intranet for very little money.  Say, for a use case that involves from a handful to a few dozen sales people just trying to get access to a small collection of collateral, presentations, or sales tools.

  • HTML page with URLs – If you have a web site, the manager likely has a file system that can store the content that you need, and each of these can have a unique URL.  So create an HTML page with links to the handful of content pieces you need to share.  You can secure this page by making it an obscure URL (or if your web manager is nice he/she can have the page require a login).
  • Wiki-like tool (e.g. Confluence) – As I mentioned, Wiki-like tools are also very popular and effective because of their easy of use and collaborative nature.  It also costs little to get started, and your R&D team is probably already using some wiki-like tool.
  • File sharing tool (.e.g  DropBox) –  DropBox (or Box) are popular file-sharing tools and the cost is essentially free (or minimal) if you can manage your content and keep it from filling up your “box” like how yard tools fill up your garage.  One disadvantage is that they are *just* file sharing platform and don’t have some of the nice features of a wiki.
  • Google Docs – Finally, I would not discount using Google Docs since most people can get a gmail / Google account and you can manage a file directory like Drop Box.  My daughters use Google docs to collaborate with classmates on papers all the time.

My last bit of advice is, regardless of which method you try, take a little bit of time each month and clean up your garage! (uh, intranet).  Your hunters will appreciate it.

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Start with the WHY.

Start with the WHY.

That is the simple mantra that inspirational speaker and Ted Talk graduate Simon Sinek has built an entire career around.

Sinek’s Ted Talk was shared with me by my CEO and is a reminder that sometimes simple lessons are the most powerful.  And there is a simple lesson to be applied here to Product  Management and Product Marketing.

I won’t repeat all of the fine points of Mr. Sinek’s video here (you can see it for yourself).  But the simple idea is this:  when you look at how successful companies think, strategize, and act, the codified common approach is  knowing the answer to three simple questions, the first of which is the most important foundation:

  • Why are we doing something? (what is the purpose – and he says profit is not a purpose, it’s an outcome)
  • Only then does the How and What become important.

This simple idea relates to two challenges, one in Product Management and one in Product Marketing.

If you build it will they come?

In Product Management, we are sometimes faced with the challenge of what the market wants versus what engineering can build.

It’s not to say that R&D can be out of touch with users, but what the best engineers are good at is creating new things – new features, new GUIs, new  functionality. But just because something CAN be built doesn’t mean that it will be used.  What may be missing is an introspection into the question of WHY build something.

Research around the creative process has always shown that creativity is more productive when given some degree of constraint.  If you give an artist a studio full of materials, he may start a hundred projects before the muse inspires him.  But if you give him a sheet of paper and a charcoal pencil and ask him to draw his vision of what his first baby child might look like, you might be amazed by the result.  You’ve given him his WHY.

So when you plan your next product road map, with your feature list, remember to start with the why, because as Sinek states, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

What is the role of emotion and brand in the buying process?

There are also a “soft” or branding aspects of this approach.  As Sinek explains in his video, how a customer “feels” about a product or company – or  more precisely how a product or company makes the customer “feel” – plays  a much more subtle but powerful role than what we might suspect.

“When we communicate from the outside in…[the WHAT level] like features and facts and benefits, it just  doesn’t drive behavior.  When we communicate from the inside out, we’re talking directly to the part of the brain that drives behavior” (decisions).

This perhaps is a simple explanation for marketing best practices that tell you that your web site, your messaging and your “branding” has to first connect with a prospect on an emotional level (the WHY).  Only then does the presentation of features, facts and figures help rationalize a decision to buy your product or service.

Watch the video and see what you think.  Is this an oversimplification?  Or in effect does this video answer our WHY of how we market by trying first to connect at an emotional level with our buyer.

Good food for thought.

For more about Simon: http://www.startwithwhy.com/

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What a French Baguette Can Teach Us About Product Marketing

Sorry for the long hiatus between posts.  I do have a day job.

In any case, I’ve just returned from a vacation to Paris where I enjoyed the sights, and the wonderful quality and flavors of French wine, cheese, and food in general.

The French – especially Parisians – LOVE food.  In fact, they will admit to making a “sport” of finding the “best” in Paris.  The best macaron (an overpriced meringue cookie), the best cheese shop, the best wine shop, the best baguette.

Wait…the best baguette?  How can one noted French bread baton be distinguished from another?

As I mulled this over, I thought about why pretty much every bakery that I stepped into (and there were many) made the claim of having the “best” baguette.  And I mulled over what lesson this could teach us that was applicable to technology product marketing.

You see, it is practically impossible to “prove” that your baguette is the “best in Paris.”   To prove it would require a panel of judges doing blind sample tastings of bread from every bakery in Paris.  Similarly it would be impractical or impossible for you to “prove” that you have the best technology.

What was more subtle was often the imagery, ambience and other descriptive text used by these bakeries.  Signage often described the care the owners took in picking the right ingredients, in taking the right precise steps to deliver the highest quality product they could according to their own very high standards.  It didn’t MATTER whether or not they could prove their baguette was “the best” it simply mattered that I believed I was getting a quality product from people who cared a great deal about it.  And that it would be very hard to get something much better even in the three-block walk to the next bakery.

So even for a seemingly simple product, you can project a sense of quality and excellence.

These days in technology product marketing, we are often told to shy away from grandiose marketing “blah blah blah” or wild claims and hyperbole.  But we shouldn’t let the pendulum swing too far the other way.  If you really DO have a quality product delivered by PEOPLE committed to delivering exceptional service or products, by all means thump your chest and use it in your marketing.  It could have a subtle but real impact on how happy your customers feel about your company or product, and what they feel about the value they are getting.  This is the simple lesson of how companies like Apple succeed despite (now) very stiff competition.

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A Simple Lesson in Product Management

sinkSometimes, simple lessons are the most powerful.

Many public bathrooms (including the one in my office) have gone to automatic, motion or infrared sensor faucets that dispense water at just the right temperature for washing your hands after doing your business.

Great idea, right?  Some obvious benefits:

  • The faucet is not left running by accident and water is saved
  • You can automate the mix of hot / cold water for a pleasant hand washing temperature
  • If you’ve soaped up your hands, you don’t have to touch any faucet knows to turn on the water

So someone decides that it’s now a good idea to extend this to the automatic soap dispenser as well.  Except for saving you some manual labor (really?) here is why this is a BAD idea:

  • Since you wash you hands afterwards near the soap dispenser, you can bet that it will squirt an additional 2 or 3 times unnecessarily
  • It’s actually harder with a dispenser like this to get the right amount of soap – have you tried waving your hand around to get more than one squirt of soap?
  • Having a “powered” soap dispenser is a bit over the top, don’t you think?

So how does this relate to Product Management, where and a good idea is extended and turns out to be a bad idea?

  • In the early 1990’s – clear soft drinks became popular, partly because they seemed “cleaner” and more devoid of artificial coloring.  This worked for the “UnCola” and for clear, flavored waters. Pepsi introduced “Pepsi Clear” which was marketed as being better for you…better than what?  Well the consumer would conclude better than Pepsi!  Fail.
  • The AK-47 (mad by Kalashnikov) is one of the most successful, mass produced automatic weapons in the world.  Wanted to capitalize the famous shape, Kalashnikov’s grandson introduced another famous Russian product – vodka – made in a bottle that looked like an AK-47.  Mixing automatic weapons and vodka?  Not such a good idea.
  • More recently, Microsoft created their  new “Metro” interface – which I actually liked on the Microsoft phone.  They introduced it to their new line of tablets also (makes sense).  However, if you are a traditional PC user who does programming, typing, etc. – the Metro interface sucks – and Microsoft makes it very hard to NOT use this interface.  This is further accelerating the decline of PC sales and moving people to Macs.

The lesson is simple: while imitation is the best form of flattery, if you manage products this way make sure you have a handle on the end result and whether a feature or capability is actually beneficial and wanted by the market.

So, anyone else have some examples?

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Spend Marketing Budgets Like Your Own Money

At some point in your Product Management / Marketing career, you may be faced with managing a budget – whether it be for an event, a launch, or the entire marketing budget for the year.

My simple advice – and I grant you this is coming from the reality world of tight marketing budgets – spend the budget like it was your own money.  Your own personal budget.

Always know what you GET for your money.  Don’t WASTE money.  Demand VALUE for your money.  Set aside contingent funds for the unexpected   And always set aside a little MAD MONEY to either try something different or have some fun with the staff.

This is not some trick just to endear yourself to your CFO or CEO.  In an ideal world, the product sells itself and you don’t need marketing or sales people (just kidding).

Seriously though, I would say that the number one career-limiting move in any management job where you are dealing with a budget is a failure to set up the proper governance infrastructure and procedures for your department finances.  This advice is usually ignored by any managers in “hot” or with “hot” products – of if some VC just dumped 8 figures into your lap.  Heck, some people just don’t like math or don’t even bother to manage their OWN finances. But this will always catch up with you in the end.

So get your budget house in order and spend the company’s money like your own.  And besides, there are other reasons for getting the CFO or comptroller to be your buddy.  You can bet they’ll be the first to know about any good or bad news about the company, including M&A activity, or how close your little startup may be to going public.  See one of my older posts also on this subject.

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The Blurring (Alignment?) of Marketing vs. Sales Functions

OK, so this is not really a post true to the Product Marketing / Product Management nature of the blog, but it does apply to career path and growth.

Unless your company is so committed to Product Management that they have a Vice President of Product Management or Vice President of Marketing and Product Management in mind, at some point, your options for career growth may be to look into a path leaning more towards marketing.

And before you go thinking that I’m talking about the creative, “fuzzy” aspects of Marketing the answer  is no.  I am talking about what’s becoming increasingly important for marketing, especially in a high-tech company.  And that’s the ability to do lead generation and demand gen that is more and more, directly aligned with sales goals.  For example, to some people, “marketing” really ultimately means the facilitation of customer acquisition.

For many of the best Product Managers I have met, this is not a scary prospect because many of them started out in Sales Engineering /Pre-Sales.  For Product Managers who may have come from the R&D staff, this is a more daunting proposition as there is an aversion to being to “salesy” in the PM work.

But if you are in a sales-oriented company that really values this type of PM or marketing skill set, and this is where you want to thrive and  grow, what are your options for training and growth (the way you got PM training from companies like PragmaticMarketing)?

Well the only advice I can give you is my own experience, which I believe has been fairly successful.

  • Get formalized sales & marketing training – if you are young and can afford the time, this means getting an MBA with a focus on marketing, supplemented hopefully by Sales training workshops at your company.  If you are older (like me), there are excellent (but expensive) continuing MBA education programs like that offered by the University of Virginia.  There is nothing quite like doing a case study on Porsche and having a Porsche sales exec in your study group.  The point is, you need to expand your knowledge base and getting a “merit badge” from formalized training doesn’t hurt either.
  • Understand the importance of sales & marketing alignment – I have seen many marketing programs meet their set goals (number of contacts, web site visits, webinar attendees, etc.) only to fail in the ultimate goal of customer acquisition.  Yes this is a pain to track and manage, but to survive in marketing these days you have to have this focus.  This doesn’t mean you are a “slave” to sales, but your goals and processes must be aligned and the relationship has to be symbiotic.  There is much research out there on this topic if you Google it, and there are some companies like SiriusDecisions whose full focus is sales and marketing alignment.  In fact the research at SiriusDecisions indicates that the most profitable companies they have analyzed have well aligned, cooperative sales and marketing processes and goals.  Put another way, if you head up marketing for your company, the quarterly sales target should feel just as important to you as to the VP of Sales.
  • Get your hands dirty – gardeners will tell you that they love the feel of good dirt as they put flowers, seeds and plants into the ground, and they love to see the tangible results.  So as you move into marketing, and eventually marketing management, don’t expect that you will simply be running meetings and doing admin work.   If your company uses a CRM / sales automation system like salesforce.com, you should understand how it works and how to get the most out of it.  If you have it linked to a marketing tool, you better know how that works and what types of contacts, titles and industries live in both systems.  And back to your product management / marketing roots, if you are using white papers and case studies as collateral, you better have conviction about their authenticity and how they fit your target market and audience.
  • Bring some unique expertise to the table – these days, it’s rare than you can be a sales or marketing “generalist”.  For those “generalists” who are successful, it’s more likely that they are “adaptable”.  What I mean is that if you are a high-tech marketing professional, it’s likely that your company sells to a specific user persona or industry.  So the more you know about the specific trends, concerns, or fears of that type of user or of that  industry, the more “authentic” you can be in your marketing efforts.   And if you don’t have this knowledge, you have to adapt and acquire it. If there’s one thing I’m certain of is that IT buyers have better and better “bullshit antennae” these days, and you better bring relevant knowledge to the conversation to have “game”.

In the end, this blog could have easily been posted on a sales blog talking about how sales needs to be more consultative and market-aware.  So we are talking about the inevitable blurring of  the lines between what it takes to run successful sales operations vs. marketing operations.

In this “blurred” (aligned?) world of sales and marketing alignment, the staffs may be different, and the tools be distinct but have overlapping value.  But the goals better be aligned.

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