Monday, October 08, 2007

Pragmatic Marketing Rule #1

Pragmatic Marketing has a very astute set of Product Management rules for technology marketing. (What they call Product Management has a mega-overlap with what I consider Product Marketing, by the way. But in some companies - especially smaller ones  - there is no separate product marketing role.)

I'm going to be working my way through Pragmatic's 20 Rules. This post is the first in a series.

RULE #1 If product managers don't do their jobs, the other departments will fill the void.

When I was a Product Manager, I used to say that everyone else involved in the product cycle walked around the table and picked off what they wanted to do, and what was left was Product Management. And at times this was unfortunately true. But good Product Managers aren't just pragmatic, they're proactive. And here are a few of the things that can happen when those other departments fill the void:

If you don't provide clear and supported input to the process, the engineers will develop what they damn well please. Hey, it's your responsibility to talk to your customers (and your prospects), check out the competition, listen to the analysts, learn about your industry, learn about your customers' industries, find out what your sales engineers and customer support reps are encountering, look at those RFPs, and glean market intelligence N.E.C. And it's your responsibility to translate all this "stuff" into product requirements that you communicate to your engineers.

Yes, there will be stuff that your developers come up with on their own - and a lot of it will be great. Plus, with all the other info you need to gather, you may not want to also have a viewpoint on nit-picky underlying technical choices. (You'd better have something to say about platform, however.) But you need to be the driving force behind what goes into that product, or you could end up with a magnificently engineered product that nobody wants or needs.

If you don't provide clear direction on who the target customers are, sales will go wherever they damn well please. Your products should have been built with some use and customer in mind, shouldn't they? Please let sales know. Now, we all know that they may ignore you, but they really do so at their peril.

It may, of course, be the case that your products are somewhat generic - every company can use a database and a word processor, no? So why can't we, with our generic "solution", go wherever we damn well please. (Sniff, sniff. Whine, whine, whine. I really want to sell to GE. And WalMart. And BofA. I really want to sell to CEOs. Why are you telling me not to go there?)

Here's why largely horizontal products need to be targeted to specific customers (where, depending on the product stage you're in, can be individual user types, industries, etc.):

  • Especially if you're a small company with limited resources, you have to start somewhere. By choosing a best-bet for your largely horizontal product, you'll build knowledge and expertise that will enable you to sell to others.
  • Once the early adopters have completed their early adopting, you need to ride the next wave. These folks tend to want to know who else in their industry/neck of the woods is using your product. Much easier to sell to Get-a-Life Insurance if One-Life-to-Live Insurance is on your customer list.

By the way, take a look at how most of the major generic technology providers are organized. Yep, it's by vertical markets. It may happen by accident or intent, but chances are that you're going to end up with customers clustered in certain industries. Make the most of it.

You can't, by the way, make sales do anything they don't want to do. Even if you're trying to make life easier for them, they may persist in going and doing what they want to do. Of course, sales being sales, they won't do this unless they can make money at it. And the world being the world, some sales folks will have some success going where they have no business going. Too bad the success won't come easily - and probably won't be repeatable.

And I've seen cases where a company strategically wanted to move in one direction, but couldn't get sales aligned behind them. Here's a hint: make sure the sales compensation plan maps to the strategic direction.

If you don't establish pricing, sales will make it up. Personally, I don't think there's anything that product management does that's more difficult than figuring out pricing. And you absolutely need to listen to what sales has to say on the matter. But it's up to you to determine the price that will work, that's commensurate with the value provided, that's not out of whack with the competition, and is what the market can bear. If not, you'll be in the wonderful of world of sales cannily figuring out what the customer has in their pocketbook, and establishing that as the price du jour. (Just watch out when customers get together and compare notes....) 

If you don't provide clear direction on who the target customers are, and what the message is for them, marcomm will go wherever they damn well please and say whatever they damn well want. Like sales, if you're not providing guidance to marcom on who the target customers are, they will come up with the programs on their own. These programs may make spectacular sense, they may not. Best not to leave things to chance.

Similarly, if marcom doesn't know what the product is and does, they will come up with their own story. Their story may make spectacular sense, it may not. Best not to leave things to chance. I worked in one company that was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy when I saw a banner ad for one of our services floating by that touted our financial stability. I immediately called the ad person in marcom and pointed out that this wasn't exactly our strong suit. "But that's what our buyers are most interested in," she told me.

The people who will be filling whatever void you leave won't be evil or stupid. You may even want, need, appreciate their suggestions and advice. But if engineers are figuring out what's in the product all on their lonesome; if sales is pulling prices out of their ear on the way to a company that is not in a million years going to buy your product; if marketing is claiming that your product solves world peace when it really doesn't - they're all trying to do something that is neither their expertise nor their responsbility. It's yours. Take it and use it.

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