Archive for 2011|Yearly archive page

Did you hear what I heard?

In Marketing on April 3, 2011 at 8:18 am

As a Product Manager (especially one who is customer facing), we have been given the daunting task of understanding the market, its problems and defining products and solutions that will address or resolve the previously definite problems. When done properly, the result is a successful and profitable product. When not done properly, we have the responsibility of trying to explain what went wrong and how we can learn from this for future products.

One of the most difficult tasks as a new Product Manager is separating what you hear and see in the market from your personal opinions. Many people think that it is only their opinion that matters. However, when it comes to Product Management, that is a formula for disaster. You may occasionally have a win, but chances are that there will be more failures than successes. As we learn to listen to prospects and customers and separate this information from our own personal preferences, you see products come together and be developed that are exactly (or pretty close) to what the market needs to solve the existing problems. More importantly you start to see that the solution is not necessarily what you would have created if had designed the product for yourself. This self-realization is a nirvana moment. You find yourself in a new state, and you can start to live out those out-of-body experiences you see in TV dramas and movies. The “you” represented by your personal opinions can separate itself from the situation, hover over the scenario and look from outside through the filter of this opinion. It is truly a change in your mindset, and it will change how you do things. Once you have achieved this, you then must constantly be vigilant to preserve this state of mind.

This ability described above, however, tends to create a new set of frustrations for a Product Manager. You start to realize that the people around you are doing what you used to do: the new product or solution should conform to their opinions, and not necessarily to what is best for the market. It is our job to try to make others understand this, but it is not always an easy task.

The major pushback you receive as a Product Manager when trying to confront this issue is that people who have spoken to customers believes that they are doing what you said. More often than hot, however, that person didn’t hear what you heard as a Product Manager. The person in question instead heard (but didn’t listen to) what was said, and then this information was filtered through their opinion of what should be done to validate it. For example, if you speak to a customer asks you “Is that the only color that is available?”, what does this mean for your product? For a non-Product Manager who thinks that there should be other colors or who doesn’t like the current color, this automatically registers in his/her head that the customer or prospect doesn’t like the color. For a Product Manager, however, this is just the beginning of the conversation. Due diligence must be taken to understand what is being asked without leading the customer or prospect down a path to the answer that you want to hear. A simple answer and follow up question could be: “Yes. Why do you ask?” Leave it open ended, and let the customer tell you in his/her own words. Don’t ask something like “Do you think there should be more colors?”

Continually use these types of examples to try to educate others within your company so that they can start to hear what you are hearing. Or at least if they have a different opinion of what was said, you are both speaking from a similar point-of-view that is not based on either person’s personal opinion.


Making everyone around you social

In Marketing, Social Media on January 27, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Like any new concept, social media is not something with which all the key stakeholders in your company may be familiar. Even more so, just the thought of it may make some of them uncomfortable. So the question is bound to arise: How can I make my company social?

I asked that question to myself not long ago. After talking to various thought leaders in the social media space and having become more social myself, the answer turned out to be relatively stratightforward (especially from a business perspective). You must demonstrate the power and value of social media to the key stakeholders in  your company.

People using social media take part in thousands of conversations on a daily basis. If any of these conversations do not include your company specifically, you can rest assured that they involve your competitors and/or your industry. Even if they do not, they provide an example of how social media can benefit your company.

So if you want to make the people around you social, do the following:

  1. If you are not already listening to conversations that are taking place on the various social media sites and that are relevant to your company, then start now.
  2. Converse with them. Find out what their concerns, and help them understand.
  3. Share with the team what people are saying about your company, about the competition and about the industry.
  4. Educate the team on the successes that other companies are having with social media.
  5. Attend seminars, webinars and industry events related to social media and invite your colleagues who may not be on board with social media.

You must understand, however, that this does not guarantee that the critics and non-believers will suddenly see the light and jump on board. Don’t be discouraged! For most people, you will need to continue to repeats steps 1 through 5 over a period of time so that they can see that social media is not just a fad that will be gone in six months. This is typical of anything that enters into the business world that disturbs the norms of how people have done business for years, especially when you are dealing with people who have seen great success with the ways of the past.

As companies and as individuals, we should always be looking for ways to improve ourselves. The best way to improve is to listen to the people around you, take their advice, balance the advice with your goals and then implement changes that lead to continuous improvement. So, let’s starting making everyone around you social!

Mea culpa … Not following one’s own advice

In Marketing, Social Media on January 24, 2011 at 6:35 pm

In my first blog about social media, I mentioned the need to keep content up-to-date and refreshed regularly. If you’re not ready, then don’t commit to it yet. Unfortunately, I fell victim to my own warnings. The blog began, and I made a few posts. Since then, howver, nothing new has appeared … until now.

The upside to this is that I created this blog as something for me to allow me to find my own voice and to express myself on a variety of issues. My business and my livelihood do not depend upon it (at least not in the strictest interpretation of it). I am not getting paid for writing my blog. I do not yet have (and may never have) a community of readers that are waiting on the edge of their seats for my next post.

Having provided this footnote … it’s still not a good enough excuse (or justification).

Thus, I am recommencing my journey into blogging. The lesson to learn from this is that blogging takes thought and can be time consuming. You must set time aside in your schedule when you will not be interepreted by the static of every day life to put your thoughts together and to write. If you do not do this, there’s a good chance that your blog will not come together. Take me for example. I have a family; I have a career; and I have a “hobby” business that I do in the off hours. If I do not deliberately set time aside, then I will never get to my blog.

Personally, I don’t want to lose my voice before I even find it, so I am going to set time aside to think and to write. This does not mean that there will be a new post every week, but there will be a better flow of blogs. Just remember that if blogging is part of your dialogue with your customers, you do not have the same luxury. There are expectations of regular updates, refreshed content and a continuing dialogue!

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