Product Management

Teaching Sales to Fish

get-off-my-lawnOne thing that has never ceased to amaze me is that no matter how much effort you put into making information available, sales will continue to ask you the same questions over and over (and over it seems).

We have data sheets, spec sheets, detailed product description text, and even “gasp” manuals that have things like weights, dimensions, and performance limits. Is it too much to expect them to go look it up?

Apparently it is. It seems that about half my inbound emails are questions that are answered with a quick referral to the documentation (that ALL sales gets during training, and have access to on the servers). As I pull my hair out, trying REALLY hard to not lash out, I try to think back to when I was a clueless noob. And you know what?  I never was. I knew where to look (even before Google existed), and I never asked petty questions to the people. It was always far better to learn to fish, than to have a fish handed to me.

But today? With enormous volumes of data at your fingertips, the new generation can’t be bothered to seek the knoweldge, but they expect someone to be on hand to dish it out (me that is).

GET OFF MY LAWN, dammit.

Marketing/ Product Management

Dammit Jim, I’m not a Surgeon, I’m a Product Manager

Being a product manager is not for the faint of heart. We never get credit when things go well, but we sure catch hell for every slight that goes on. Today is one such day.

A sales engineer (and I use the term “engineer” loosely) sends a message. We are competing for some government bid, and because we don’t have a specific specification listed on our printed collateral, we are at a disadvantage. And he has the gall to throw the competitor’s brochure in my face (as if I had never seen it).

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Product Management

Unrealistic Expectations from Sales

I am in deep product launch mode. Planning for a roll out in the next 6 weeks. The culmination of almost 4 years of engineering and design effort, we are finally within sight of the goal posts. A good feeling, even if I am staring at a chaotic period coming (note: I will probably not be drafting any blog updates until this is in the bag).

Yesterday, we had a meeting with the sales leadership to outline what they expect to see in our training and education efforts. Not surprising, they have unrealistic expectations of what we will and won’t be at launch. It isn’t as though we have not attempted to manage expectations and curb unrealistic exuberance during this lengthy development program. But alas, it has fallen on deaf ears.

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Product Management

Friends Don’t Let Friends Become Product Managers

This is a post I have been dying to write for a long time. I am not sure I will ever post it, but here goes.

A common question asked of product managers, whether it is peers who approach you in the hallway, or if you are talking to people at a university is “how do I become a product manager”. In fact there was a question on Quora recently about if a fresh college graduate could get a product managment job.

If you read the community buzz, you can excuse people for thinking that product management is a glorious position, and that you will be showered with accolades wherever you go. They will read about the cult of product at Apple in the Steve Jobs era, and want to dive into that sphere. Blogs from the opinion leaders like Saeed Kahn, Scott Selhorst, and others are cheery, happy places.

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Product Management

The Day of Reckoning – Product Management Joy

There is that day in every project that inevitably arrives. The day that engineering tells you that they can’t do something that was committed to. This is pretty universal in hardware product development efforts, and is to be expected. But that doesn’t make it pleasant.

For my current project, the first day of reckoning was last night. Engineering admitted that one of the tasks they took on (in fact one that they added to the program) was a lot more effort than they expected, and requires expertise that is not in house. Fortunately, it is not something that the market demands, so I am not crushed by the deletion, but it is still annoying.

How it all begins

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Product Management

Pissing Off Product Management – Senior Management

Last post was about the ways that Sales finds to really tick off product management. However, sales is hardly unique in their ability to interfere and interrupt the product management role. Sales might have a loud voice and some big sticks, but senior management can be far more deleterious on the health of a program or project.

That they can really stick in the craw of product management is not obvious on the surface, and in fact can be completely hidden from the rest of the organization, but that hardly makes it less annoying or damaging.

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Product Management

Pissing Off Product Management – Sales

A topic on Quora a while back was a tongue in cheek how to piss off a product manager. I naturally have my own list. Product management, being at the center of so much of an organization’s activity, and power flow, we clearly can affect much of what happens.

In general, product managers are unflappable, bearing good and bad news with aplomb. But sometimes, people go out of their way to really piss us off. How many of the following do you agree with:

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Marketing/ Product Management

The Sales Conundrum – New Products

Ask 10 sales people why they struggle to get the order, and at least 9 of them will say that it’s because “we don’t have new products”. Not a surprise really. But then when you do launch a new product (and it is really a new product, not BNG*) they continue selling exclusively the older products.

We just launched a new product. One that had been in development for 4 years, and it is a vastly better product and platform for the future. We have a pipeline of improvements to add to this product, and enough high impact extensions to power the next three years. Awesome you say?

But I just went on a few sales calls almost two months post launch, and not once did I see our sales team talk about the new product to prospects.

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Dude-ness/ Product Management

The Dude gets pissed off

As a product manager, I am a pretty well natured person, a consensus seeker, or someone who defuses tense situations. In short, the Dude Abides. Keeping an even keel, even when under the surface you want to reach out and strangle the person across the table is a pretty important attribute of a successful product manager.

Recently I was asked what it would take to get me visibly angry, to lose my cool, or to climb a coconut tree (as my German speaking friends tell me the idiom is in their language).

I thought I would share my answer.

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Marketing/ Product Management

Product Definition by Specials Request, or Why can’t Sales sell what they have?

conundrumThe product manager’s conundrum: Regardless of how well we define, validate, and drive the development process, there is always a segment of the market that isn’t addressed. Usually, we know this up front, and make conscious decisions to not address it. Sometimes, it comes out after launch that some segment or application is not addressed with what you built. In either case, the segment is not served by your product.

And that is OK.

But, almost immediately, Sales will start waving these customers in your face. In my world, they have been trained (rightly or wrongly – more on this later*) that by asking for a special, they can affect the product direction. So the specials requests come in. And your product is duct taped and ‘frankenstein’d into an unsupportable morass.

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