Practical Rules for Product Management: Some rules just aren’t meant to be broken (Part 3)
Pragmatic Institute’s seminar not only teaches product managers about the renowned Pragmatic Institute Framework, it offers attendees 20 rules for product management success. Continuing our series of rules that just aren’t meant to be broken, Rules 11-15 cover such critical topics as win/loss analysis, making a business case, and positioning your product effectively.
Don’t expect your sales channel to conduct win/loss analysis.
I wish I had a Euro for every time I sat through a pipeline review meeting and, as last month’s hot prospects transitioned into the “L” column, asked the question “Why’d we lose?”
I should have saved my breath. After all, just as the answer to “Why’d we win?” always turns out to be “superior salesmanship,” the “Why’d we lose?” answer is invariably “Our price was too high,” or “Our product stinks,” or “They went with somebody else,” or “They did nothing.”
Let’s face it, it’s just not in the nature of most salespeople to analyze why a sale did or did not happen. Plus, you want and need your salespeople to look forward, not backward.
So who does win/loss analysis—and how do you go about it?
Ideally, your product marketing or product management team should conduct win/loss analysis. Alternatively, if you really think people are reluctant to be candid when talking with someone in-house, you should hire a third party.
Analysis should begin with a mini-debrief with the salesperson and (better yet) the sales engineer. An initial impression by those closest to the deal may yield a useful avenue for your questioning.
Prepare a specific list of questions—about your product, pricing, and process—to review with every prospect. If you have a complex sales process that involves many different people on the buying side—influencers, decision-makers, purchasers—try to talk to several of them. Realistically, this isn’t always feasible—especially after a loss. And remember that a good, candid conversation with your prime sponsor is worth plenty; so don’t get greedy.
Beyond specific questions about product, pricing, and process, try to flat out ask lost customers the following questions: What we could have done better? What would it have taken to win? Where did the competition outshine us? For a win, ask those same questions about the competitor.
Win/loss conversations should be brief (no more than 10-15 minutes), and they should take place within a week or two after the decision is made.
Conversations are ideal, but email response works just fine.
It goes without saying that the information should be kept in some sort of a system—and in a systematic fashion—so that you can make some sense of it as a whole and not just look at disparate information points. This analysis is not all that easy to do when you’re looking at subjective information, but there’s no point in collecting win/loss data unless you’re planning to draw general inferences.
Here are some ways your win/loss analysis can help you:
- Determining which features you need to add to your product
- Refining your pricing
- Shaping your marketing message
- Homing in on a more sharply defined target market
- Improving your sales and marketing processes
Yes, lots of good things can and will come from win/loss analysis. Just don’t ask your sales folks to do the heavy lifting for you.
The answer to most of your questions is not in the building.
During the dot.com era, I worked for a large Internet Services Provider (ISP) where rank-and-file marketing people rarely had access to customers and prospects. I had come there from a small software company, where I went regularly on sales calls and frequently spoke with customers, so I knew I was missing something.
In my three years with the ISP, I went on a handful of calls. Our sales model was multi-layered, and there were often three or four folks just from Sales on every call. No room in that clown car for another body! If Sales brought another body along, it was typically a technical expert or a product manager.
During those years when I was starved for the outside perspective, I did participate in many events, speaking on behalf of the company, so I was able to have some interaction with customers and prospects. But it was way too limited. I also met often with industry analysts—another good source of insight and information. But I really missed customer and prospect interaction.
Several times I created customer surveys, but was not allowed to speak with customers directly; I had to go through multiple layers of the customer support organization.
All in all, it made for a very high frustration level, in which I always felt I had my nose pressed up against the window glass—able to see, but not communicate with the world outside.
Fortunately, I developed good relationships with enough of the technical sales folks and sales engineers to get my questions answered. But it was not really the same as building good relationships with customers or hearing first-hand what prospects were saying.
You really do need to get out of the building to truly understand how people use your products and services and to appreciate the benefits they derive. You need to get out there to see which parts of your message customers respond to and which parts draw blanks—or leave them cold.*
Obviously, you also need to stick your head out to get a sense of what’s happening in the economy and technology—both in general and with your industry, your market, and your competition, in particular. (Thankfully, the Internet gives us all the chance to get our heads a bit out there.)
None of this is to say that there’s not important “stuff” that you can and should find out within your own four walls. There are definitely people who know things, and you should know who they are and how to tap them. But, when it comes right down to it, there’s really just one question that can only be answered inside the building, and that’s “How does it work?” For everything else, you need to look outside.
Every “product” needs a product manager and a business case.
In my experience, most B2B technology companies do see that all their products have a product manager. Sometimes the product manager winds up with multiple products—which is okay if they’re on the smallish side and in the same family. If the products are on the biggish side and not well related, it can lead to product attention deficit disorder. But, fortunately, most products tend to have product managers. But those business cases...
Products start out in many ways.
Sometimes (especially in the software industry) they get developed by someone who thinks it’s a good idea and just goes ahead and does it. If that’s the case, the product manager may be tasked with creating a business case after the fact, trying to figure out the positioning and all that other good stuff that should have been determined before the product was created.
Sometimes a product starts out with a business case, but it never really gets evaluated—let alone updated. And if you don’t bother to regularly update your product’s business case—or create it anew—you run into a lot of dangers:
- Missed market opportunities
- Missed product enhancement opportunities
- Pricing that leaves $$$ on the table
- Putting too many resources on Product X and too few on Product Y
- Hanging on to a product that really should be on an end-of-life path
We all know how easy it is to keep chugging along, doing the same thing quarter after quarter, year after year. If you’re a product manager, you probably know this drill by heart. You do your job. You cover all the bases: product requirements, project plan, documentation, product launch, sales tools, sales training, marketing programs, etc.
It’s so darned easy never to take the time to critically examine your product’s raison d’etre—and really figure out if there’s enough raison to keep the d’etre going.
Product managers, it’s never too late.
If you have products with a business case covered by a spider web, it’s time to create a new one. You may have some tiny little fear that a business case will end up putting your product out of business and your job at risk.
Truly, this is a remote possibility; and, in fact, the best way to make sure it doesn’t happen is to ensure that the product(s) you manage have a strong business case behind them.
As the saying goes, the unexamined life is not worth living; and, in the end, the unexamined product is not worth managing.
Look for opportunities to deliver the remarkable.
I confess: When I first saw Pragmatic Institute’s word remarkable, my initial thought was, “Is this one of those annoying words like passionate and personal brand that pop up from time to time to test my gag reflex?”
But that first thought was fleeting.
As product marketers and product managers, we should want to deliver the remarkable in whatever we do. Think about it for a minute.
If you settle for “good enough” in your product and don’t include at least a few “nice to have” goodies, your customers will greet the new release with “It’s about time!” And your prospects will greet the product with “Big deal—now you have what everyone else does.”
Is this the type of response you want?
No, you want your customers and prospects to have some sense of delight—something they hadn’t thought of…something that’s a bit out of the ordinary…something they’ll find really useful, or at least interesting.
It could be something as simple as a last-minute time- or trouble-saving feature. Maybe it’s a smooth integration with an application everyone in your target industry’s using. Maybe it’s something all-new, first-ever, state-of-the-art—that everyone will soon clamor to own. Your remarkable “thing” could be a couple of hours of installation support thrown in—not because installation is such a bear, but because every environment’s different and anything can happen. Remarkable can be extending the number of seats the license will support.
You can be remarkable in your sales process by really and truly listening to what your prospects and customers are saying, and responding to them. You can be remarkable in your customer service process with a check-in phone call to follow up on whether or not last week’s problem has been resolved. Don’t forget the finance side of things, either. A lot of customers would find it quite remarkable if you contacted them to let them know you’ve discovered an overcharge, or that more attractive financing is available.
It’s a tough world out there. In order to get noticed—and to win business—you need to do something to stand out. And it really doesn’t have to be all that remarkable—just something simple for which your customers and prospects will love you.
With positioning, the focus is on what we do for the buyers.
We love our products.
We’re proud of who we are and how we got here.
Yes, yes, yes…we know what went into developing them.
We want everyone to know about all the cool features.
But before we get too carried away, let’s focus on messaging that’s relevant to the people who are actually going to buy the product.
This rule is really resonating with me these days. I’m working with a new client, and there’s a part of their history of which they are rightfully quite proud. In fact, they’re so proud of it, that they pretty much lead off with it. Which would be fine and dandy—except that this little piece of information (which looms so mightily for “us”) is stunningly irrelevant to the customers they’re trying to attract.
At best, it’s of passing interest—like finding out that the woman in the next office was an Olympic pairs skater, or that the sales guy you did booth duty with at the tradeshow is related to the almost-famous actor with the same last name.
So, when you’re positioning your product, lead with what’s important to the person who might be writing the check, not with what’s near and dear to you.
I am not, by the way, advocating for positioning that excludes what the product actually does. I’m a strong believer that good positioning includes not just what a product does for the buyer, but what it does, period. I absolutely hate reading about how a product saves time and money, increasing your bottom line—and coming away without knowing whether we’re talking about accounting software or a Ginsu knife.
So save the off-message information for footnotes, conversation, or company background.
Yes, it’s interesting that your founder won the Pulitzer Prize. That your product was originally built to count hula hoops. That corporate headquarters is located in the old mill where Civil War muskets were manufactured. Nice to know...just not need to know.
Obviously, no one is going to make the positioning mistake of telling the audience what’s in it for the company selling the product (“We need this product to be a success so that we can stay in business!”). But it’s pretty easy to slip into talking about what’s of most interest to us, rather than to focus on what the customer really wants to learn.
Sure, there are two sides to every transaction, and the buyer knows that there’s something in it for us. But let’s face it; all buyers really want to know what’s in it for them.
* I read Tuned In: Uncover the Extraordinary Opportunities That Lead to Business Breakthroughs, by Craig Stull, Phil Myers & David Meerman Scott after I’d written this article. Tuned In makes the excellent point that, in addition to speaking with customers, you should also make sure you spend time with non-customers, since they represent the majority of the market.
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