Friday, August 07, 2009

Adding to the Social Media advice pile: Holding a Conversation

Many people are claiming to be social media experts today. I am not one of them. Yet, I am an enthusiast, participant, creator, and critic.

On a recent blog I read, someone was asking if social media was the "next big thing" or just a passing fad. To keep things simple, I look at social media as a conversation. Conversations have been around as long as the caveman, but have certainly evolved as new communities form, cultures interact, and channels become available.

Consider social media as a form of conversation. It takes more than one person to hold a conversation and the more participants you have the more difficult the conversation is to guide, control, participate in, or even follow.

In all conversations, there are people you want to listen to, things you want to share yourself, others who observe, and some who participate along with some you wish hadn't joined the conversation. Social media takes all comers. You decide which conversations you want to be a part of, follow, or disengage from. Conversations may be short. Conversations may go on for hours, months, or longer. They may stick to an original premise or may shift to new subjects as various parties join and leave.

Social media allows you to reach many people that you might not have otherwise met. For this reason, you have to be more aware of the personality you take on during the conversation. Consider the conversations in which you are currently taking part. Think about the personality you have in those conversations. Is your personality consistent to those following the conversation? Is it a personality that engages others to want to get to know you better? Is your personality engaging enough that i want to follow you on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or YouTube?

Thinking of social media as a conversation and considering the role you play in that conversation will hopefully serve as good advice to follow. If you agree, disagree, or have something else to ad to this conversation, feel free to do so by leaving a comment here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Take a Walk, Improve Your Product

I love to take work. Walking gets so much more accomplished, helps build better relationships, and allows me to get my work done faster.

Think about how many people you email each day that only sit a few feet away or are maybe in the next building over from yours. Think about how many email messages you send that might have struck the wrong cord, were misinterpreted, or led to confusion and delay. Then think about how many personal conversations you have had that delivered similar results. If you are like many of us, the number of email messages that went wrong over our careers far outweighs the number of conversations that ended poorly. So much is left to interpretation in email messages that is simply avoided in person.

According to the Pragmatic Marketing annual survey in 2008*, Product Managers receive 50 email messages a day and send 25. Let's assume you are like most Product Managers and send 25 messages a day. Now, I want to throw out a challenge to you: don't send that next email message. Get up from your desk and deliver it personally. Make this a daily habit.

For many years in my career I worked at HP where Management by Walking Around (MBWA) was highly valued. You could be more in touch with the people you worked with, have a better handle on the tasks and even emotions at hand, and develop stronger relationships with your colleagues by walking around on a regular basis.

Walking is not only good for your health, it makes you a better Product Manager. A key responsibility of Product Managers is to coordinate activities, schedules, and agreements between many stakeholders across the company. You need to influence others and keep everyone on the same page. You handle stressful decisions and cool heated emotions as deadlines approach and sleep deprivation of team members increases. Walking around gives you a chance to connect with your colleagues, key business stakeholders, and managers. Walking around gives you a chance to listen, to excite others, and be responsive to others in an immediate sense.

Before you decide to write that next email....STOP. Get up. Walk.

If this did not get you motivated for a walk, read this tweet from Business Week's JohnAByrne"Obesity: Now 9% of All Health Spending"

Next week, think about coming back to this site to let me know how well your walks turned out.

Many of the comments below were copied from Product Managers who read this article on LinkedIn.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Helping Out the Pragmatic Marketing Way

I participate in a number of LinkedIn discussion groups including The 280 Group and Pragmatic Marketing. I recommend both for insightful discussions.

Recently, a product manager posted what I considered to be a vague question: "What is the best way to get a software based product marketed?" My response follows, but what was even more surprising to me was a note that I received from a company President in response to the answer (see below). If you have taken the Pragmatic Marketing courses, you will not find new info in my answer, but I was somewhat surprised that someone following Product Marketing discussions would not have already realized the points in my answer.

Here goes, my answer first, then the President's (not my company) response:

"Your question is extremely vague. Perhaps you could be more specific in your quest for an answer." ...followed by "We are a newer company and we offer a methodology with some other tools that are automated and we put it together as a kit. It is not a software application per se. What avenues do you think would be effective to market this?".

I follow-up with "Sounds like you are offering a software platform and not a product. A few suggestions: First, gather information from the market about the problem that you are trying to solve. Then define the product requirements to solve those problems while identifying who and under what scenarios you are solving the problem. Once you can deliver the solution for the people and the scenarios in which they need it, you should build a targeted marketing plan to go after those people. The plan should focus on generating leads reflecting your target audience, generating market awareness through launch activities, and building awareness with thought leaders and your targeted communities. You then need to enable your sales team to identify the target users and use scenarios so that they can do what they do best. From your question, it sounds like you are very early in your marketing efforts. If you would like to discuss this kind of effort further feel free to contact me directly here on LinkedIn."

Here is where the President of the software company wrote:

"Thank you for your succinct words. You have really summed up what needs to be done, and as I read what you wrote, I think back on the growth our company has experienced and I realize how I could have done much better if I had kept your words in front of me and read them every day. They are motivational for me because I have lived through a disjointed hectic introduction of our software product over the last 20 years and with the guidance you provide, I could have done it a lot faster and easier. We are #1 in our vertical markets now, but it wasn't because of marketing... it was because the programmer wrote an awesome program and the capabilities spread via word of mouth. Oh sure, we spent hundreds of thousands on attending shows and all that, but I like the overview you provide."

Do you think the advice I provided was common knowledge or something special? Feel free to comment below.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Center of the Universe

I recently heard a Product Manager ranting about how poorly her company was getting products to market. Comments included the likes of "the sales people just don't understand the technology" and "the engineers have not spoken to our customer and do not understand the real needs of this market". This Product Manager is similar to others I have run across throughout my career, alone at the center of their universe. (Note: I have intentionally positioned this Product Manager as both a PM and PMM -- the story could apply in similar ways to both roles).

Product Managers have often been touted as the CEO of their Product. From their vantage point, they can see inward toward development, guiding new features through PRDs and MRDs, and possibly directing product road maps. They can see outward toward the markets, speaking with customers, analyzing market research, and sending the latest marketing content to the sales organization. Their position between development and sales is a privileged one giving them visibility across some of the most important operations of the company.

From the center of their universe, the less experienced Product Manager needs to learn to not only absorb information but to relay it in new ways. Their conversation needs to move from being self-centered to being a steward of information. When examining statements like "the sales people just don't understand the technology", we can often find that what is clearly understood in the Product Manager's head has not been communicated clearly enough to the sales audience. The sales people need to understand something about the technology, product, or service they are offering, but also need to understand why a customer would want to purchase it in the first place. What may seem like an obvious value proposition to the Product Manager, is probably not that obvious at all. Sales people want to understand who their best potential customer is, what problem they have, and how their product or service best solves that problem. Additionally, they want to know things important to the center of their universe like "how much will I earn by selling product A over product B, can I achieve my quota faster with product A, or is the new Product C going to establish a beach head for future sales or kill my chances to ever sell into this account again?". A similar exercise of examining key needs of other stakeholders across the Product Managers universe at the company could be done.

Overall, Product Managers can become more effective by using their privileged position at the center of activity to help other's be more effective in their own roles. As a Product Manager, think about how you can apply your knowledge, market awareness, and product expertise, to help improve the universe for your key stakeholders in Sales, Development, Field Marketing, Channel Marketing, etc. Taking less of a self-centered approach in favor of stewardship and being responsible for other's success.

If you enjoyed this article, please provide comments below to share with other readers.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How Obama Won Using Digital and Social Media

Check out this SlideShare Presentation:

Social Media - Greatest Hits

Buzz building upon buzz. If you are not into social networking as a marketing, you need to be. But why dive in without directions? Adam Hepburn has assembled his top 10 list of social media presentations, covering what it is, how to measure it, and who is succeeding with it. Check them out at:

My social media effort at Systar continues to pay dividends. Web traffic to sites like Scribd continue to grow as we generate more and more awareness. It is amazing how many people we can reach and how many people can find us within a simple search for information. Power to the people...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Art or Science?

Debates continue on the evaluation of marketing as an art or a science. From my perspective, marketing applies both art and science, which is one of the reasons I enjoy it so much.

Marketing by its nature is a creative pursuit. You open your imagination and think of creative ways to attract people to your products, your business, and your messages. You can see many examples of this artistry when you consider some of the best advertising, creative tradeshow booths, a presentation that captures its audience well, or a piece of product literature that captures your interest from the start. Emphasizing the point even further, you can tell when poor creativity has resulted in poor marketing -- like those instances where someone in engineering decided to take a crack on your latest customer presentation and simply misses the mark. Creativity is very important to sound execution of marketing efforts.

On the science side of the house, marketing should not dimiss the fundamentals of product, place, price, and promotion. To execute the four P's properly, guessing is often not the most productive path to take. Research, analytics, measurements, and targeted tactics enable you to pinpoint the proper markets and make the most of your marketing investments. Additionally, by using specific measureable efforts, you can more clearly communicate to business stakeholders the plan, efforts, and progress made through your marketing investments.

By applying art and science together, you make the best of marketing. Movng forward, look for ways to apply both science and art to your marketing efforts.

If you enjoyed this article, please provide comments below to share with other readers.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Using Twitter to Land a Job

Throughout any given day, I see a number of job listing being tweeted about as recruiters have clearly jumped on the Twitter bandwagon to tout their latest search. Clearly, by targeting specific users and keywords on Twitter, you can quickly reach a large audience of prospective job seekers or candidates.

Beyond the plethora of recruiting activity, companies seeking candidates with social media experience are now getting smarter. Take, for example, Best Buy. They are requiring candidates for their new media positions to show over 250 Twitter followers. (RT This is a great strategy for Best Buy and other employers seeking to fill these new roles in their marketing organizations. They can select people that are clearly active, savvy, and familiar with social media communities. Not only will the candidates resume be reviewed, but you can be assured their most recent tweets will be analyzed. Employers will want to understand who the candidate really is, how they have defined their social media persona, and how effective they have been at communicating their messages.

Having only 30+ Twitter followers at the moment, I am not a candidate for the Best Buy position. :( Should they look further into my 700+ LinkedIn connections, or hundreds of views of my documents on, or my Facebook activity? Twitter is just one social media tool that job candidates might actively be using to manage, grow, and communicate to an online community. Not to mention blogger here.

Maybe it's time for you to update that resume again?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Who Needs Product Management?

This is one of my favorite articles on the subject of Product Management, found on Pragmatic Marketing's website. More organizations should take time to understand and invest in the importance of Product Management. The lack of Product Management expertise has detracted from the success of many technology companies, and in some instances also lead to their failure. Application of Product Management processes and expertise can only benefit a technology organization.

Who Needs Product Management?
By Barbara Nelson

Product management is a well-understood role in virtually every industry except technology. In the last ten years, the product management role has expanded its influence in technology companies yet we continue to hear the question, “Who needs product management?”
Companies that have not seen the value of product management go through a series of expansions and layoffs. They hire and fire and hire and fire Product Management. These same companies are the ones that seem to have a similar roller-coaster ride in revenue and profit. Product management is a job that can even out the ups-and-downs and can help push a company to the next level of performance.
The evolution of a technology company
We’ve all seen a typical technology evolution. An entrepreneurial founder creates a utility that she needs to simplify her daily job. Explaining it to another, that person asks if it’s for sale. Based on the enthusiasm of a few friends, she convinces her husband that there is an opportunity here and starts a company. She becomes a vendor. She quickly hires someone to sell the product while she handles all the technical work. Over time, she grows the company, hiring more developers and some technical support people and a documentation writer and a marketing specialist. But she continues in the role of technical leader. After the huge success of the first product, she envisions other products that people surely must need. But the second product isn’t very successful and the third is a disaster.
The problem, of course, is that she no longer knows or understands her target market. Having become a president, she is no longer working in the domain and doesn’t really understand the environment of the market. Instead of managing databases or warehouses or assets, she’s now managing hiring and firing and financing. With her new income, she’s buying toys that she could never before afford and she’s really focused on her new set of interests. Because the new products haven’t been successful, she challenges her executives to find new ways to generate revenue. First the new head of Development takes control. Since they only control the feature set, developers build “cool” technology leveraging the latest tools. But these products don’t sell either. Now the VP of Sales takes control and we increase our sales reach, adding remote offices, paying large commissions, and having offsite meetings in exotic locales to attract the best sales people. Revenue increases a bit but not enough to offset the costs. Then someone reads a book on branding so we hire a VP of Marketing to “get our name out there” and to “generate some buzz.” After watching all these departments spend money like crazy, the VP of Finance steps in to bring some order from the chaos. Since Finance can’t increase revenue, they focus on cutting costs, cutting all the excessive spending of the other departments. When Finance goes too far, the founder steps back in and focuses on her roots—the technology—and the cycle begins again. The VP of Development says, “Customers don’t know what they want.” The VP of Sales says, “I can sell anything.” The VP of Marketing says, “We just have to establish a brand.” The VP of Finance says, “We have to control spending.” Our focus goes from technology to revenue to branding to cost-containment, over and over again.
This story is all too familiar to those watching the technology space. And we’re seeing it in biotech and life sciences, too. What the president needs is someone to be in the market, on her behalf, just as she used to be. What’s missing from this cycle is the customer. The customer with problems that we can solve. And one who values our distinctive competence.
Why is there air?
To those who have seen the impact of strong product management on an organization, asking “Who needs product management?” is like asking “Who needs profit?” A president at a company in Florida explained it this way, “Product management is my trick to a turnaround. If I can get Product Management focused on identifying market problems and representing the customers to the company, then the company can be saved.”
To break the vicious cycle of being driven by one VP or another, product management brings the customer into the equation. Instead of talking about our company and our products, the successful product manager talks about our customers and their problems. A product manager is the voice of the customer. The product manager is also the business leader for a product, looking across all departments.
“There will always, one can assume, be need for some selling. But the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him, and sells itself.”—Peter Drucker
This is the essence of being market driven—being driven by the needs of the market rather than the capabilities of the company. Being market driven means identifying what dishes to serve based on what patrons want to eat rather than what foodstuffs are in the pantry. A market-driven company defines itself by the customers it wishes to serve rather than the capabilities it wishes to sell.
Companies that are not market driven believe the role of Marketing is to create the need for our products. You can see this in their behavior. Marketing is where t-shirts and coffee mugs come from. Marketing is the department that runs advertising. Marketing is the department that generates leads. Most of all, Marketing supports the sales effort. But mature companies realize that the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. Marketing defines our products based on what the market wants to buy.
What is product management?
Because the term “marketing” is so often equated with “marketing communications,” let’s refer to this market-driven role as product management.
You need product management if you want low-risk, repeatable, market-driven products and services. It is vastly easier to identify market problems and solve them with technology than it is to find buyers for your existing technology.
Product Management identifies a market problem, quantifies the opportunity to make sure it’s big enough to generate profit, and then articulates the problem to the rest of the company. We communicate the market opportunity to the executive team with business rationale for pursuing the opportunity including financial forecasts and risk assessment. We communicate the problem to Development in the form of market requirements; we communicate to Marketing Communications using positioning documents, one for each type of buyer; we support the sales effort by defining a sales process supported by the requisite sales tools so that the customer can choose the right products and options.
If you don’t want to be market-driven, you don’t need product management. Some companies will continue to believe that customers don’t know their problems. Some companies believe that they have a role in furthering the science and building the “next great thing.” These companies don’t need product management—they only need project management, someone to manage the budgets and schedules. But these companies also need to reexamine their objectives. Science projects cannot be made into products in the short-term. Don’t expect revenues if your company is focused on the “R” in Research and Development. Product management can guide you in the “D” in R&D—the development of technology into problem-solving products.
Strategic sales?
There are two ways of using sales people in a company: there’s selling and there’s “not their job.” When we invite sales people for guidance on events or product features, we’re asking them to stop selling and start focusing on “not their job.” Assessing marketing programs or product feature sets or proposed services or pricing are all “not selling” and therefore “not their job.” We invite sales people to help us because they know more about the market than the people at corporate do. But the VP of Sales does not pay sales people to be strategic. She pays them to sell the product. If sales people want to be involved in these activities, they should transfer into Product Management; I’m sure there’ll be an opening soon.
In the classic 4Ps (product, promotion, price, place), sales people are the last P, not the first. We want them to be thinking weeks ahead, not years ahead. We want them selling what we have on the price list now, not planning what we ought to have.
Instead, we should rely on Product Management to focus on next year and the year after. To be thinking many moves ahead in the roadmap instead of only on the current release.
Product management is a game of the future. Product managers who know the market can identify and quantify problems in a market segment. They can assess the risk and the financials so we can run the company like a business. They can communicate this knowledge to the departments in the company that need the information so that we can build products and services that actually solve a known market problem—so that we can expand our customer base profitably.
Product management is the key to running your business like a business instead of a hobby.