Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Grey-Haired Product Management

Or more correctly: Product Management for Grey-Haired Users

I've twice recently been reminded how precious the gift of sight is.  Thanks to laser spot welding I can still see but it is now more challenging spending long periods in front of a computer. <gory details over a beer if you like>

My desk at work has a nifty 22 inch flat monitor for when my laptop is docked.  Even though this monitor is big, I have lowered the resolution a notch to make everything larger, despite the reading correction I have in my glasses. <insert joke about old guys here, if you dare> 

The laptop has a 13 inch screen.  I set the resolution to a larger display when I am undocked but it apparently doesn't believe I really mean it.  Every time I open the lid to start using it, up pops a little reminder telling me that the resolution I have chosen is not optimal.  I don't care about optimal for IT, I care about optimal for ME.  Every once in a while it takes matters into its own hands and changes it to what it (or some young whippersnapper PM) thinks it should be, despite my protestations.

A User-based Product Management View

This is not going to be another rant about Microsoft or Lenovo, however.  Instead, let's look at this from the user persona standpoint to see how the user experience (UX) might be different and differentiated.

In its current iteration, the UX is unpleasant and a nuisance, especially after it changes the settings I want.  The settings were created with the display in mind, not the user.  Who doesn't want the highest resolution, sharpest detail, etc.?  Well, me and anyone else with glasses and a reading correction who does not want tension headaches from squinting all day long, that's who.

My reading correction is +1.75. My wife's is +2.25.  I know other people whose corrections range from +1.00 to +3.00.  All the screen resolution settings are based on pixel count.  As a result, us non-prefectly-sighted folks have to use trial and error guessing which resolution will be the easiest to read.  And we have to remember what it was when the computer overrides the choice and sets it back to "optimal."

The recommended distance from the monitor or laptop screen is a fairly constant 3 feet (1 metre).  Wouldn't it make more sense to have the screen resolution setting recommendations "optimized" for whatever correction the user may have?

Sample set up process:
  1. Do you wear glasses?
  2. If yes, do you have a reading correction?
  3. If yes, what is it? (present a slider with different corrections)
  4. Click Okay
The UX takes into account a large and growing user base and presents the solution on their terms and in their language.  A laptop vendor who did it this way would have a nice differentiator and a supportable reason to claim they understand their customers.

What other marketing and positioning opportunities are you missing because you are thinking of the hardware and not the users?

Key Take-Aways:
  • If you allow 'customization' to your products, at least have the courtesy of allowing your users to mean it.  Don't override those settings even if they aren't optimal to you.
  • Have you considered ALL the use cases and ALL the users in your product design?  Who are you missing?
  • Old folks will happily give their money to a vendor who treats them with respect.
Up Next: Crossing the Departmental Chasm: Thinking it Through

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Value of Knowing Who Cares: A Quick Case Study

Hello again!  It's been a while since I last posted <insert litany of lame excuses/valid reasons here> but I'm back.  For now.  Really.

"If you don't know where you're going, you will wind up someplace else."

My friend Larry McKeogh wrote a blog in response to my August 25 Product Management Talk on eliminating MABUSHI from your marketing. Larry's point is that knowing who the most important customer is and what is driving them goes beyond the product launch phase.  He's right.  In fact, knowing who cares and why that's important to them is the core premise of your product feature set, your messaging, your go to market, your collateral strategy, etc.  That information should live with all stakeholders for the entire product lifecycle so that anybody can use it when they need it.  If you don't have it, then someone may have to resort to MABUSHI to make a dealine.

A Short Case Study

I had started a new position at a company that had seen a lot of changes just before I joined.  A new ancillary product was launching within a week and I was asked to put together a datasheet for it.  I asked Product Management for insight and background and got the use cases right away.  They were easy enough to understand but I wanted to know the business drivers for the customers.  That's when I discovered that previous PMs either didn't document that information or never gathered it in the first place.  Like I said, there had been a lot of changes.  It was shipping that Friday so there was no time to talk to customers to develop persona information.  The field and our customers needed something quickly.  This was the first time I had to write something about a product I didn't know and before I had a chance to talk to any customers or prospects.

Rather than write up some cool-sounding gobbledygook that no one would read or understand I pidgeonholed the interim PM for an hour.  He finally decided on five points that "resonated with customers" when he spoke to them about it.  At least there was SOME market validation in what he said.  The datasheet went out on time but I did go back and update it later - after I had validated it with real customers. 

Key Take-Aways:
  • If everyone knows Why We Are Doing This and For Whom, then anybody can easily step in and create something relevant.
  • Write it down and keep it where everyone can find it.
Next Up: Grey-Haired Product Management

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cough, Cough - MABUSHI in the Consumer Package Goods Space

WARNING: This is a Grumpy-gram.  This kind of MABUSHI is yet another example of how marketers get lumped into the slimeball, low-life, scourge of the earth category.

Two weeks ago my son brought home a nasty summer cold and couldn't sleep at night.  Off to the medicine chest to see what we had.  He was in Cub Scout camp all day long so he needed to sleep at night.  The selection at right is what we had.  I settled on the Children's Tylenol in the end because it was multi-symptom and he got the rest he needed.

What got my blood boiling was the deception in the packaging.  The contents of over the counter cold remedies are all the same (read the labels) so the CPG companies spend a lot of time and money on brand awareness and perceived value - and I'm okay with that.

What I'm not okay is with this garbage, especially from Delsym:

 Big package.  "New Family Size" All implying that I'm going to get more for my money.  What I got was a box that takes up twice the cupboard space and a single fluid ounce more than the Tylenol.  One OUNCE!

Anyone with kids knows that one more ounce is not going to provide much more value as you can blow through a bottle in a few days.  I wonder what the Product Manager and Product Marketing Manager were thinking when they proposed new tooling to build the bigger box, rejiggering the production line to handle the bigger bottle and then requiring their channel to fundamentally change their shelving to accommodate this deception.  I don't know but it leaves me with a bad impression of Delsym.  I'll just stick with the house brand generic stuff from here on.

As marketers, we need to call "Hogwash!" (or your other favorite invective) when we see things like this proposed and kill them off before they see the light of day.

Do you have any examples like this you'd like to share?  As the CPG space is too easy of a target, I'm most interested in FISERV, hi-tech and other areas.

Key Take Away:
  • Ensure the value delivered matches the value promised.
Please join me Monday, 8-August at 4PM PDT on the Global Product Management Talk tweetup.  I'll be going through these questions and looking for your input.  Let's elminate MABUSHI.
  • What are the two must-ask questions in your PMM toolkit?
  • What techniques do you use to understand the value chain?
  • When is your sales team a customer/persona and when are they a partner?
  • What makes your sales tools REALLY effective and how do you measure that? 
  • What self-checks do you use to eliminate MABUSHI?
  • What are your favorite examples of bad product marketing?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Time to Change the Channel?

I saw a message today from one of my LinkedIn groups pointing to a McKinsey report by Richard Rumelt talking about how bad strategy is starting to run rampant in business. It's a great read for anybody developing product, company or go to market strategy.  I especially liked the example of International Harvester not identifying it's own strengths and weaknesses in its strategic plan.  The report even comes with a diagnostic kit to help determine if your strategy is on the right track. Yes, you do have to register with McKinsey to get it but the free reports make it well worth it. 

It got me thinking about a conversation I had last with the Sales Engineering director at an accounting software company regarding their plans for growth and competing in a fragmented market.  A big part of their growth strategy is dependent upon leveraging channel partners/resellers.  He was lamenting the fact that his biggest hindrance to channel growth was the cost of enabling resellers. 

Accounting software is a complex beastie and you typically have to have debits and credits in your DNA to be able to sell and support it effectively.  State of the Art Software (now Sage) brilliantly pioneered the use of CPAs as resellers back in the early 1980's and the model is still in use today.  Any number of accounting vendors compete for the attention and love of CPA firms and private practioners.  Some firms are big enough to have practices around several different vendors, many are lifestyle businesses where the owner looks to employ no more than 30 people or so and complains when anything interferes with his regular Thursday golf game.

It's those lifestyle firms my acquaintance was complaining about because he claimed they cost the same to enable as the larger firms but are only going to produce 10% to 20% of revenue as the big firms in a year.  I pointed out that more and more we are known by the networks/communities we belong to rather than the business we work for and perhaps there were communities out there they could turn into profitable and cheaper partner networks.  He seemed to be stuck in thinking the current model was the only model, both in the channel itself and how they enabled their partners because he wasn't receptive to that thought. 

We didn't have time to discuss it further but I came away with a bunch of questions for him that may help him find ways to change his channel:
  • Who else other than CPAs or CPA firms have the expertise, contacts and interest in selling accounting software?  Where do they congregate?  What are their needs (what would they want to get out a partnership)?  What would they need to be successful?
  • In your market segments, where else do your buyer personas go for advice?  Who do they trust and why?  What kind of advice do they need?
  • When was the last time you took a microscope and scalpel to your partner plan and enablement systems?  Do your tiers or segments still make sense?  Which segments are you missing?  What tools are useful?  What do you need?  What do partners REALLY need from your program in terms or resources, materials, etc.?
  • What assumptions about partnering have you validated recently?  How many do you really need?  Do you have the right tiers?  Do need more or fewer?  How can you automate the acquisition and enablement of your partners?  Which existing partners are paying their way?  How many are resource-drains and why haven't you dumped them?  Do you have a plan or procedure for dumping them?  Why not?
A lot of these questions are really for your channel folks but are also core to what us product marketers should be doing.  Our responsibility is to ensure we have the right channels and tools to reach the customers we want.   If you're not thinking this way, your strategy may be flawed.  If you're not regularly asking these questions your channels are not running optimally.

Key Take-aways:
  • Always question the value and efficiency of your systems.
  • Regularly review the assumptions that went into your plans and validate them 
  • Be open to accepting that your assumptions may be wrong or things may have changed to make them no longer valid.
  • If your channel isn't right, change it.

Next Up: Another Grumpy-gram for our Consumer Packaged Goods brethren

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Product Marketing Is For the Birds

Completely coincidentally, Josh Duncan wrote a blog yesterday about Product Launches over on his A Random Jog blog.  No, we didn't plan it but he did ask my opinion before he posted it.

My 9 year old son is a budding birdwatcher and last Christmas we got him a squirrel-proof feeder and 30 pounds of bird feed (Ace Hardware was having a sale).   The feed was general purpose but appropriate for the birds in our area.  The feeder has this clever mechanism on it so that birds of most size can feed on it but the weight of a heavier squirrel closes off the feeding ports.  This was a major item in the MRD because the squirrels in the neighborhood make a good living off acorns and other people's bird feeders so we weren't keen to contribute to their weight problems.

With such a deep and broad target market waking us up every morning, the TAM was vast and attracting buyers was going to be easy.  Afterall, the other players in the market (our neighbors) had plenty of buyers so it wasn't going to take much for us to establish a presence and attract our share.

Product launch went smoothly.  We hung the feeder on our nice, sunny and protected-from-the-neighborhood-cats patio and waited for the birds to arrive.  My son had visions of cardinals, tanagers and all manner of exotic or rarely seen birds flocking to our patio.  Nothing.

We waited some more, trying to socialize the concept of patience to our son.  And waited.  Maybe there was something wrong with the launch plan.

We checked the MRD and read the documentation on the bag of seeds again.  Yup, good for jays, finches, chickadees, wrens and all manner of local songbirds.

No birds.

Thinking it was a QA issue, we checked the feed itself.  With the rain we've had this year (twice the normal rate) the seeds may have gone moldy.  Nope, seeds were dry and fine.  QA recertified.

No birds.

Maybe the feeder was too close to the house making the birds shy.  Nope.  Feeder package said our positioning was right.

Still no birds.  More patience discussions.

A little Internet research gave up a tidbit that it sometimes takes birds up to a year to find a feeder and get used to it.  Whew!  The launch plan was sound and the product requirements were right for the buyer persona - just the timing assumptions were off.

Finally, after nearly four months a pair of Western Scrub Jays built a nest in the pear tree next to the porch and started helping themselves.  First to visit was Mr. Jay.  Two or three times a day he would flit in, grab some seed and take off.  Mrs. Jay would show once a day.  Then they started showing up more frequently as evidenced by the spillage all over the patio.

Then something interesting happened: they changed their buying patterns.  Mr Jay shows up frequently, grabs beakfulls of seed, dumps them on the patio then takes off.  Mrs. Jay delicately takes a few seeds at a time and leaves for a while.  When they come back they go down to the patio and eat the spilled seeds, flitting here and there taking one seed at a time.

I got tired of having seed all over my patio so to improve my customers' UX I swept the spilled seed into a pile right below the feeder.  If it was in a pile, they wouldn't have to hop all over the place to eat.  That was the assumption.

Mrs. Jay, as you can see, is content to sit in the pile of seeds and eat her fill in one spot.  Mr. Jay, however, still prefers to chase all over the patio picking up individual seeds he dumped on the ground during a previous visit.

The other buyers in the neighborhood?  Haven't seen a one yet.  Maybe I'll start a social media campaign and encourage Mr & Mrs Jay to start tweeting about it...

Key Take-Aways:
  • Sometimes it does take a while to get results, even though everything else was done right.  And even when there's lots of buyers around.
  • Even though they receive the same value, sometimes your customer's buy differently and sometimes they don't respond to an improved UX
  • Not all your personas are going to buy at the same time
  • Some buyers are tidy buyers, some are messy.  To get one sometimes you have to allow both.
Next up: Is it time to change the channel?

    Friday, June 24, 2011

    What Did You Bring Me, Daddy?

    A few weeks ago, Joshua Duncan, Scott Selhorst and I talked  on the Start With the Customer prodcast about getting value from trade shows.  We discussed goals, capturing value from shows and choosing the right ones in the first place.

    What we didn't talk about was tchotchkes. (cue ominous music)

    You can't plan an event, trade show or conference without asking, "What are we going to give away?"  My sons are now well-trained to expect a toy or a pen or a thingamy every time I go to a conference or trade show.  I always manage to come home with several doohickeys for them and for myself.  Some I've been using for years like the Leatherman Wave multitool I got from HP at a channel conference.  Most others, sadly, get tossed after a few days - just like datasheets.  The most interesting item I've seen recently came from the sharp folks at Ksplice when I was at Red Hat Summit in May.  More on that in a moment.

    There are two reasons to give something away at an event: drive traffic to the booth with the intention of engaging prospects or build awareness over time through sustained impressions.  If you want to drive traffic, have a giveaway that is unique or truly novel - something that makes people stop you and say, "That's cool.  Where do I get one?"  To get sustained impressions, make sure you choose something that is of real quality so it will stand the tests of time - just like your products.  Keep the quantities down, too.  You don't need to break the bank and not every booth attendee deserves to get one.

    With grocery stores paying 5 cents each time you bring your own bag, sturdy canvas totes, while a touch mundane, give lasting utility, reduce plastic waste and return a small financial reward.  I keep my Leatherman on my dresser and use it at least once a week for some quick repair around the house.  There's a nifty book light in my backpack I use to read on planes.

     Ksplice, went for booth traffic and engagement by going cool retro and gave out diskettes with their web site and tag line on the label.  When was the last time you saw a 5 1/4"  diskette, let alone used one?  Seeing one on their counter drew me to the booth like a moth to a flame.  I had a good conversation with them, took one and continued my tour of the booths.  About 10 minutes later, someone saw it in my hand and stopped me with, "A floppy disk?  What are you doing with that?"  We reminisced a few moments and I told him where he could get one of his own.  Mission accomplished.  And since Ksplice bought them on eBay for about $0.20 each (they were previously used), mission accomplished inexpensively.


    Key Take-Aways:
    • Quality and truly useful items WILL get used repeatedly.
    • Cheap giveaways (pens, pins, toys) cheapen your brand and don't differentiate.  Avoid them.
    • It's okay not to give something to everyone who shows up.  Spend a little more per item and give away fewer to get more perceived value.
    • Novel items related to your industry or product line will get you traffic.
    • If your offering and messaging are on target, why bother giving anything away in the first place?
    What are some of your favorite or most memorable (good or bad) things you've brought home from a trade show?

      Next up:  Product Marketing is for the birds

      Thursday, June 9, 2011

      A Company That Did It Right at Red Hat Summit

      Last time I took Accenture to task for a horrible presentation at Red Hat Summit.  This time, I'd like to compliment a company who did it right with very tight, clear messaging:  KSplice.

      In a world of "leading providers of next generation technology" it is refreshing - and encouraging - to see simple, clear messaging.

      Ksplice has a tool for Linux admins that lets them install kernel updates without having to reboot.  Wonder of wonders - they're sign says EXACTLY that.

      As I walked around the show, trying to figure out what the other vendors did, these guys stood out.  It's blatantly clear that this is for Linux admins and says exactly what it does.  The first question people ask when they walk up is, "How does it do that?"  And you have a conversation.  Non-admins or people who don't use Linux don't need to waste their time trying to figure out if it's for them.  KSplice doesn't need to waste time filtering out people who aren't potential customers because they don't use Linux.

      So that's what they said on their booth graphic.  No muss, no fuss, just for people in their target market.

      Simple. Brilliant.  Efficient.

      Key Take-Aways:
      • Know who you want to speak to at a show - and who you don't
      • Know what you want to say to those people
      • Say it
      • Simply.
      Next Up: More praise for Ksplice.

      Friday, June 3, 2011

      Accenture's Unheard $125,000 Commercial

      Thanks for coming back.  I've been busy recently and time for writing the blog has suffered, but now it's time to get back to ridding the world of MABUSHI.

      A while ago, I wrote about MABUSHI and the metrics you can use to spot it: the Huh?, Spouse, Who Cares? and Crickets tests.  These tests were done from the context of a presentation to a small audience, usually in a conference room or trade show booth.  I was at the Red Hat Summit in early May and saw a brutally illustrated example of another engagement metric - crowd noise - courtesy of Accenture.

      photo copyright www.photos8.com
      Accenture paid $125,000 to be a Visionary Sponsor of the show and got the privilege of delivering one of the three opening night keynote speeches.  General Hugh Shelton, Red Hat's Chairman of the Board, went first.  Osama bin Laden had just been killed the day before and everyone wanted to listen to what he had to say.  He kept it short, lively and with the right amount of humor and substance.  The 3000+ attendees kept quiet and listened attentively. Next up was CEO Jim Whitehurst, who introduced Red Hat's cloud strategy and key technologies.  It wasn't bad as CEO product presentatons go, but it was a bit longish.  Still, the audience paid attention.

      Then came the chief architect of Accenture to show why they were a "visionary" sponsor for the conference.  The audience gave him the chance to begin but it went downhill with the first slide.  The room noise went up and kept going until you could barely hear the presenter.  It was so painful to watch and listen to that I finally left in search of the buffet tables.

      $125,000 so no one could hear what you had to say!  Yikes.  I'm glad it wasn't my budget.

      There's been a lot written lately about PowerPoint presentations recently, including right here.  I especially like this one from Gizmodo.  Not only was About Accenture his first slide, it rivaled some of the worst I've ever seen.  Yech!

      To make matters worse, he said his Marketing Department told him he had to show this slide.  As if the audience needed to know who Accenture is!  And you're the Chief Architect, where does some schmoe in the Marketing Group get off telling you what you have to say?

      Not satisfied by coming off as a weenie, he then went into excruciating detail on every bullet point in eye chart that was the About Accenture slide.  Cue audience noise.

      Talk about blown opportunities.  Here were 3000 people waiting to hear what Accenture knew about their problems and how Accenture could help and all they got was 15 minutes of yet another clueless talking head telling everyone how great he was. Ugly.

      All I can say is that I'm glad it wasn't my money paying for that slot.  What a waste.

      Key Take-Aways:

      • If the audience is making more noise than you, they're not listening.
      • If you're going to follow a decorated war hero on stage, you better have something interesting and relevant to say.
      • Even if the "marketing department" says you have to show that slide, show some backbone, put it at the end of the presentation and talk about something interesting.
      Next Up:  Two companies that did it right at Red Hat Summit

      Friday, April 22, 2011

      Don't Forget to Enjoy the Product

      Last Saturday five youth choruses from the area came together for a first-ever festival at the local community college. <Insert another rant about the sorry state of educational funding in California>  They spent the morning performing and getting coaching by a choir master of extraordinary skill.  Through small adjustments expertly delivered, each choir fundamentally changed their sound and skills.  Amazing.

      I could go into a comparison of how the choir master was like a good product manager, getting the most and best out of the different groups and skill sets, yada yada yada.  Too easy.  I'm not a product manager and it's probably already been done on other blogs.

      I want to remind everyone to savor your work.  Winemaker's get this.  Tech people not so much.

      Like any product launch, festival or event, there's a lot of behind the scenes work, hand-wringing, last-minute changes and late nights to pull it off.  The choir festival was no exception.  However, too often, IMHO, we put our efforts into the launch but forget to stop and enjoy the results - kind of like baking a pie and not eating it.  We release a product, go have a beer or a solid night's sleep and forget to enjoy what we just released.  Many people even start work on the next version that day.

      "But we make network switches.  How can I enjoy that?"  Well maybe YOU can't but your customers can.  That's why you made the silly thing isn't it?  Hand deliver a first article to a key customer and be there as they put it in a rack and light it up.  For software folks, go hang with your best user as they run it for the first time.  Share that time with them and take the time to enjoy your work - you've earned it.

      Key Take-Away:
      • You are missing out if you don't take the time to enjoy what you've worked hard to complete.
      So what does the finished product of five choirs, over a 100 kids, a choir master, 5 choir directors, 15 teaching assistants, months of planning and dozens of volunteers look like?

      Cabrillo Youth and Children's Choir Festival

      (BTW: those are my two boys over on the right hand side)

      Next Up: Lessons Learned from Writing a Strategic Marketing Plan

      Tuesday, April 19, 2011

      Product Marketing Managers Can Learn A Lot From Columbo

      Switching back to an upbeat, non-grumpy, hopefully-helpful posting tone this week...

      For those of us old enough to remember the Columbo detective series (which I'm not, but if I were...) Columbo had a knack for teasing out the information he needed through a low key, unassuming style.  He'd scratch his head, seem confused, act like he missed an important detail, etc. then he'd thank the suspect and start walking towards the door.  The suspect would think he got away with hoodwinking the detective.  Then Columbo would pause at the door, say, "Hate to bother you again but there's just one more thing..." and ask a seemingly unrelated question.  The suspect, already convinced they'd gotten away with it would get caught off guard and supply the key bit of data Columbo needed to nab them.

      I was reminded of this recently when I was interviewing a customer for a case study we want to build.  I started off asking the usual questions about what the world was like before my company saved the day, what they went through and all the usual questions, including how our magic changed their lives.  As these were technical/operations people, all I got was stock answers and an unsupportable "90% improvement in efficiency."

      Nice, but hard to substantiate and people don't believe big numbers anymore, even if they are true.

      I needed something really crunchy - that money quote.  So I asked about how the team was compensated and how their bonuses were affected before and after.  Nothing much there, just more limited view of their world stuff.

      My colleague jumped in and got more information on the technical considerations and challenges and that took about another 10 minutes but I still didn't have what I wanted.  I asked about my company's role in the project and got a nice quote about how they couldn't have done it without us, we provided the expertise and experience to not only do the job but sell the project internally.  Better, but not there yet.  We were running out of time so we collected our things, thanked them for their time and began moving towards the door.  I gave it one last shot, a la Columbo.

      "Just one more thing.  What has the project meant for the organization as a whole?"

      And out it came.  "This was a huge strategic initiative."  Not only were their Dev & Test teams all working from the same platform, support costs down, IT manager life was wonderful, blah, blah, blah, they had been able to integrate a key technology into production they acquired almost two years ago.  This important acquisition had to be run as a separate division for over a year until the project completed.  Not only that, the company could now roll out new products months to years faster and adapt instantly to market changes and competitors. 


      They had been pressed for time so were only going through the motions during the interview.  Once it had ended and were mentally switching to their next meeting, their guard went down and they were able to share the really juicy stuff.  There's nothing sneaky about this, it's just that you often get better, more useful information when the person is focused on the next task.

      If you don't get the money quote during your interview, try a 'Columbo' at the end.  You don't need the cigar and disheveled overcoat and you'll be surprised what you can get.

      Key Take-Aways:
      • Sometimes Techies really don't have a clear view of how they impact the business as a whole.
      • Sometimes they do.
      • You can do a Columbo as you're going to the door or in the hallway as you're being escorted to the lobby.  Don't be afraid to try it.
      Next Up: Don't forget about the product

      Tuesday, April 12, 2011

      XT-2000, VIO-4000 and DRX-9000 all SUX 6000

      Last week I got yet another follow up email from a show I attended sent by yet another unprepared sales rep.  He was touting their VIO-4000 appliance.  Later that day, while driving to my chiropractor, I heard an ad for a pest control company  extolling the virtues of XT-2000.  My chiropractor started discussing the possibility of using the DRX-9000 for treatment.  I thought the Robocop movies permanently skewered this naming nonsense with the SUX-6000 and SUX-7000 cars.

      I think back in the 60's someone did a study and found that product names that used letters deep in the alphabet sounded somehow more, I dunno, manly or strong or impressive.  The car industry jumped on this.  Who hasn't lusted after a ZR1 or GT250 or 350Z at sometime in their lives?  It's successful because they built a brand and aura around the cars as they go through updates and design changes over the years, etc. 

      Maybe they should run that study again to see if it's still valid and for what types of products.  I suspect the findings will have changed.

      For non-automotive products, the use of letters and numbers as product names strikes me as silly.  How do you build a brand around a chemical that any pest control company can use?  Or a datacenter appliance - with a three year lifecycle - that only one person sees and only then when he opens the shipping box right before he slaps it into a rack?  The silliest is that back therapy contraption - do you switch providers when the chiro across the street buys the DRX-10000?

      If your consumer product has a long lifecycle, like a car, then you can build an aura around it with the right marketing.  In the world of technology, where devices have a short lifetime and go through rapid technological changes, consider a name over a number instead.  It's less confusing and easier to describe what they do or convey a message.  Dell does it right with their Inspiron, Lattitude and Precision model lines. 

      Anything else just SUX-6000.

      Next Up: What Product Marketers Can Learn From Columbo

      Wednesday, April 6, 2011

      Reflections of a #svpcamp Newbie

      Third edit:  So much for the pcamp diary approach for the two previous edits.  It wasn't working and violated my own "who cares and why?" approach to product marketing.

      Yes, I had a lot of fun, met some great people, got to answer a lot of questions and became a mentor to lad wanting to move into product management.  All very satisfying for me but doesn't do much to further the art and discipline of product marketing in the community.

      There were two things that struck me about Product Camp: the dearth of pure product marketing sessions and a lack of contributions/challenges from the audiences (in the most of sessions I attended). 

      There was good info in all the sessions I attended but they were all positioned for PM with the afterthought: "Most of this applies to PMM, too."  Gee, thanks.  What does and what doesn't?  We're charged with driving sales through vision, creative thinking and always pushing, not walking in the shadow of PM like some 19th century footman.  "I brushed your tweed suit for you sir.  Shall I fetch the cigars now?"  Why weren't more PMM sessions proposed nor voted on? 

      Maybe I'm just grumpy this afternoon but I was expecting each session to have lively conversations with challenging statements and crunchy war stories - not college lectures.  Not surprisingly, Larry McKeogh's session on interviewing had a lot of questions and good suggestions for both sides of the equation. Barbara Nelson is a great presenter with a great topic but audience contribution was sparse despite her efforts.  The others I attended bordered on moribund.  For my money, if we all take the speaker's position as gospel, if we don't expand the topic with our own contributions on how we did something differently, if we don't challenge a position as <insert invective of choice> we'll all end up doing the exact same thing - resulting in an entire industry of leading providers of next generation technology.  How sad is that?

      Here's what you do at the next Product Camp you attend:
      • Bring war stories - share them in session
      • Call BS when you see it - explain yourself
      • Ask at least 3 questions per session - consider yourself a failure if you don't
      And don't give me that MABUSHI that you don't have anything to contribute, either.  If you've got a pulse you have something to contribute.  If you call yourself a PMM, you've got a LOT to contribute.  Do it.

      <flame off>

      Next up: What do XT-2000, VIO-4000 and DRX-9000 have in common?

      Tuesday, March 29, 2011

      Zero Motorcycles Rocks - How To Create New Fans

      The PTA for my my son's elementary school raises over $100,000 a year at their annual auction.  The money goes to fund in-class aides, catch-up reader and math programs, the music program and half the library staff. <insert rant about the sorry state of school funding in California>  This year, Zero Motorcycles played a fabulous part in the auction and they deserve a shout out for it.

      The auction is a combination silent auction, live auction, dinner and dancing.  It sucks up all available baby-sitters in a 10-mile radius but is a fun night out so parents can have a night out and raise money for the school.  The silent auction items include parties, wine, gift baskets, services, lessons and the usual stuff from local merchants.  The live auction is for bigger ticket items like weekends in Tahoe, sail boat cruises, four kids riding a fire truck, items made by some of the classes, etc.  The PTA have been doing it for a while and are VERY efficient at it.  Let me know if your PTA is interested and I can put you in touch with some rock star organizers.

      Zero is based here in town and like most businesses in the area they get zillions of requests from multiple PTAs and other worthy groups scrabbling for cash.  Zero consented to giving one of their urban-cross bikes at cost for the live auction part of the evening.  Cool.  Someone was going home with a green ride and the school was going to get some more money.

      When it came time to sell the bike during the live auction, one of the organizers rode it into the ballroom to great effect.  The only sound was people cheering.  Another organizer got on her cell phone and said that she had a 'phone bidder' on the line.  The bidding went from $1000 to $7000 in a heartbeat and didn't slow down until there were two people left bidding at $11,000 (well over list price).  The person on the phone then announced that she was talking to Zero and Zero said that they would give another bike if both bidders went in at $11,000.  Sold!  Two guys went home happy, the school got double the money and Zero Motorcycles got hundreds of new fans - me included.

      It's not so extraordinary that people were willing to pay over list - we can chalk it up to the worthiness of the event and quantities of alcohol.  What's extraordinary is that a business understood its relationship to its community and stepped up in a big way.  My biking days are behind me but it won't stop me from being a rabid evangelist for them.  If you're looking for a bike, check them out.  You'll not only get one of the coolest sets of wheels going, you'll help out a great school.

      Key Take-Aways:
      • Fans can come from many sectors - even well outside your buyer persona.
      • What are you doing outside the norm to find and create those fans?
      • Your company's responsibility goes well beyond delighted customers.  Look for ways to create delighted local communities, neighborhoods or schools.  You'll benefit in the long run.
      Next Up: Reflections of a Product Camp Newbie

      Monday, March 14, 2011

      A Tale of Two Companies

      This week is about the right way and the wrong way to interact with a prospect.  We recently looked at Rain King for data intelligence and they did an impressive job in dealing with us, especially after a rocky start.  Boris and I went to RSA and I talked with Data Thingies mainly to chat with an old friend there.  The follow up from deep within his company was not impressive at all.

      We've been considering sales databases and Rain King was suggested as an option.  (odd name and silly logo but still worth a look).  I took their online challenge and entered a job title on their web site and waited for a response.  Several days passed with no response, then almost a week later I got what I would consider a lead nurturing email talking about this or that - not a response to my challenge.  I sent a grumpygram back to the sender saying I was less than impressed.  Within 5 minutes I got a reply assuring me it was not their normal practice and promising corrective action, which followed in a few minutes.

      About an hour later I got an email from their CEO, Bill Kapner, assuring me this was not their standard level of service.  He also followed up later that same day to ensure that I got what I needed.  I did.

      Before the demo, the rep, Josh Shaw, contacted me and said he'd checked out our web site and was confident they could help (of course he can, he's the sales guy).  During the demo, he showed that he had indeed done his homework because everything he showed us was in the context of a similar customer: the things they searched, reports they pulled, usage, etc.  It was relevant and the features were directly related to problems we wanted to solve.

      We bought two days later.  Executive involvement in the process, fast follow up when they promise it and a rep who takes more than a passing interest in what we do will carry the day every time.

      Contrast that with Data Thingies (not their real name):

      My company MAY be a potential partner but it's not a priority.  It will take a chat with my friend who works there for us to know the way forward.   He lives in the same city so we will get together on a Friday when he doesn't commute.  No hurry, we'll get to it.

      Then comes the follow up email from the inside guy who got the lead list dumped on him.  Yikes!  I would slap myself if I ever sent something this bad.  To whit:

      Subject: Next Generation Technology in Sensitive Data Security
      "Thank you for taking interest in Data Thingies at the recent RSA Conference in San Francisco.  My name is Fred and I am contacting you on behalf of Data Thingies.  My goal is to present a Next Generation software technology to you and your staff.  We protect large volumes of sensitive data throughout your enterprise database environment."
      Boris might think the email subject line is cool but I certainly didn't.  That first paragraph is a corker.  Not only does it not make any sense, why should I care what his goal is, especially when he obviously has no idea what we do our why we'd be interested?  I only opened his email because I was stumped for an idea for this blog and wanted to see how he thought the phrase "next generation" was going to be effective.

      Fred then went on to give a description of his whole product line, a quote from Gartner, a link to an interview with a Doctor Somebody and attached a white paper - all on a first contact email.  And all without taking a moment to look at our site to have a CLUE about what we do.

      The sad part is his second paragraph had the money line in it:  
      "Data Thingies helps companies like Amgen, FaceBook, University of California at Berkeley to fundamentally change the way they secure sensitive data."   
      Okay, so he capitalized Facebook wrong but the statement is provocative, tells what they do and elicits the response, "How do you do that?"  That should have been his opening statement with a link to his white paper and a promise to call the day after.

      This is clearly an example of Product Marketing not arming their sales team with the right tools - or just not arming them at all.  Fred had to Make Stuff Up (MSU) on his own and went for the cool sounding, everything and the kitchen sink approach.  As Nature abhors a vacuum, Sales abhors a marketing tools vacuum and will MSU so they can at least look like they are trying to make their numbers.  The result will not always be this ugly but if you are a Product Marketer, why take the risk?

      And if you are a sales guy, take a moment to look at the web site of the lead so you can at least sound intelligent in your first contact.

      Key Takeaways:
      • Following through and doing your research can and does make up for an initial flub.
      • Executive interest in ensuring the UX doesn't hurt, either.
      • Not arming your sales people with the right tools will result in them making up their own stuff - and it's not their fault.
      Next Up: Zero Motorcycles Rocks

      Monday, March 7, 2011

      The 'About Us' Slides Go at the End of the Presentation

      I had the 'pleasure' (as in fingers on a chalkboard pleasure) recently of sitting in on a sales webinar from one of the leading providers of web-based CRM applications a few weeks ago. The first 10 minutes were torture - especially since the rep is a successful sales guy I worked with at a previous company.  He dutifully went through the obligatory four About Us slides that every rep has delivered in the first-contact presentations since Boris was just breaking into the industry in the early 80's.  ARRRGGGHHH!!

      We already knew everything about their company because we have that Interwebs thingy and could look it up ourselves.  The director of marketing at the company is also a friend of mine and I sent him a flame-o-gram during the session.  He apologized and said he's been fighting that battle for a while.  The company is transititioning from a techy company to a sales and marketing company and he hasn't been able to change many people's behavior yet.  Maybe this will help.

      It amazes me how long it takes "Best Practices" to be updated but this is certainly one that needs to be put to bed - NOW!  It's just more MABUSHI and it's insulting.

      Back when the norm for making that first presentation involved getting on a plane, the only opportunity a prospect had to learn about your company was your advertising in trade magazines or the brochures you sent them.  Nobody got fired for buying IBM in those days and a whole lot of people made career-limiting-moves by not following that dictum.  The prevailing thought (and origin of the best practice) was to tell everyone who you were right off the bat in the hope of establishing some credibility.  You had to have solid bona fides to get to the second meeting, hence the About Us slides that talk about when you were founded, number of employees, product line card and the made-up list of customers or companies who once bought your stuff or maybe asked to be sent a brochure.

      I have news for anyone who thinks they need to start their presentation this way (and that includes you, Boris):
      Your prospects have the Internet - that's probably how they found you in the first place!  They can and do look up that info themselves - long before entertaining ANY thought of spending time on a webinar or letting you near their offices - so leave it until the end. 
      Why waste their time and tick them off telling them what they already know?

      If you want your prospects to pay attention, start your presentation by telling them what you're going to do for them or - even better - tell them what you know about their problems.  Be audacious, so long as you can back it up: "We're going to get you to the RIGHT cloud, faster."  Show them you know as much about them as they do about you.  Richard Fouts of Gartner spoke at a "Marketing to CIOs" seminar a few weeks ago on how to tell a powerful story.  He recommends two models for story telling: SIR and BOBCC.  Talk about the Situation, it's Impact on the company (or the industry) and the Resolution you provided.  You could also talk about Busines Outcomes first, then the Business Case and your Capabilities.  Make it real, make it interesting, make it relevant. Don't make it up.

      Once you tell me the audacious story, demonstrated you understand MY problems and have outlined how you will fix my problems, finish off the presentation with the About Us slide (one and ONLY one slide) as a summary of everything you just told me.

      Key takeaways:
      • About Us goes at the END of the presentation
      • Start the presentation with a story or a demonstration of your knowledge of the problem.
      • Kill off any other "Best Practices" that only serve to bore your prospects to tears (or worse)
      Next Up: How Rain King Did It Right and Data Thingies Did it Wrong.

      Friday, February 25, 2011

      Value Is Overrated - Guest Blog by Boris Alltotears

      I've known Boris for years.  He's worked at many of the same companies as I have as well as competitors over the years.  You'll recognize some of his early work in marketing as the inventor of the phrase, "quickly and easily."  We drifted apart as I've turned my focus to eliminating MABUSHI and talking about who cares and why.  I've been busy with my day job so I've asked him to sit in for me and give his impressions of the quality of marketing he observed at the recent RSA security conference in San Francisco.  Take it away, Boris.

      Thanks, Tim, for the opportunity to appear and to finally give voice to my disagreement with your views.  You focus too much on value (whatever that is?) and not enough on creating energy and excitement around cool new features.  In my more than 20 years in the business it's been features, features, features and features still reign today as what gets my blood pumping.  Without features, what would we talk about?

      Features are what's cool.  If you want proof, just spend 30 minutes walking the show floor at RSA.  It was envigorating to be amongst all those leading providers of security stuff.  The leading provider of SIEM was next to the leading provider of network security.  Right across the aisle was the leading provider of web security next to the leading provider of comprehensive on-demand threat management and vulnerability assessment solutions.  Then there was the leading provider of unique and powerful solutions for IT audit and security.  Next to them was another leading provider of SIEM and behind them was the cool booth for the other leading provider of web security.  Not really sure what any of it meant but it all sounded SO COOL and they had nifty giveaways. 

      RSA must be the premier security show to be able to attract all those leading providers of stuff.  And this has got to be the greatest industry in the world to be able to have more than one leading provider for each of those security categories.

      And everywhere you looked there were next generation security, um, stuff.  I mean, if it's not next generation, who wants to know?  No one wants to secure their business with current generation or, God forbid, last generation technology.  Buyers want to know they've got the latest and greatest, coolest features.  If that weren't true, how come so many vendors there plastered their booths with these phrases?  Right?  CIOs must love buying next generation products for everyone to be saying they are next generation.

      To keep all the leading providers and next generation stuff straight, I had to take home all their brochures just to figure out exactly what they did and if I should care.  And like a good citizen I duly recycled all 37 pounds of data sheets I collected.  Don't want that stuff cluttering up my office, you know.  I did get some fun giveaways for your boys, though.  I hope they liked them, especially that bouncing cup thingy that I got from the leading provider of integrated user authentication and verification solution suites - or maybe it was from the world's leading provider of network access control (NAC) and policy compliance solutions.

      No, Tim, this value stuff you keep touting is boring and overrated.  As the president of the enterprise sales division of a leading provider of search and online advertising said at their sales kick-off a few years back, "Don't bother with that solution selling crap.  We've got great products. Go out and sell great products." 

      Uh, thanks Boris for that wonderful insight.  I might ask you to come back soon to give us your, um, views on other topics.

      Next up: Where did those 4 $%#^#%# About Us slides at the beginning of everyone's decks come from?

      Wednesday, February 9, 2011

      Two Sure Ways for B2B Marketers to Blow the First Date

      As promised, today's post is a guest blog by Josh Duncan.  Josh leads Product Marketing and Social Media efforts at Zenoss, an enterprise software startup.  You can find Josh writing online at the Random Jog blog or on Twitter @Joshua_d.  Josh is a fellow crusader in the battle to rid the world of MABUSHI.

      Image link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/475656604/sizes/s/

      I am trying to read Simon Sinek’s latest book, Start with the Why, but haven’t been making much progress. Whenever I sit down to spend some time with it, I only make it a few page before I inevitably run into something that I need to write down and think about.

      For example, on the subject of building trust with you customer Simon writes,
      Like on a date, it is exceedingly difficult to start building a relationship with
      a potential customer or client by trying to convince them of all the rational
      features and benefits. Those are important, but they server only to give
      credibility to a sales pitch and allow buyers to rationalize their purchase
      B2B marketers must find a way to get the attention of the customer to get in the door but that’s just the start. There’re usually multiple stakeholders and influencers that have different goals and agendas that must be addressed before the final sale.

      One sure fire way to not get a “second date” is to over-position the product. It’s when marketing wants to please everyone and tries to cover every angle with the product positioning.  What usually happens is that the product promises to do more than it’s capable of delivering. If it sounds too good to be true, people assume that it is. Additionally, the last thing you want to do is raise your customer’s expectations only to crush them into pieces when the product fails to live up to the hype.

      Another mistake is trying to position your product in a hot category when clearly it is not.  Look no further than Microsoft’s “To the Cloud” commercials for a perfect example.

      It’s not really clear what product they are talking about here but it’s definitely not Cloud Computing.
      Were they hoping that by sticking Cloud in the positioning people would assume the product is new and cool?

      So how do you reach your customers without over-promising and over-hyping? It’s about finding out what they value and their pain points and engaging with them at a level that shows you get their challenges. Most importantly, you have to realize that buliding trust is a process and it takes time.

      Trying to shortcut the process will leave you dateless, sitting at home alone, waiting for the phone to ring.

      Next up: Another guest Blogger giving tips on slide presentations.

      Tuesday, February 1, 2011

      What To Do While You Build the Marketing Plan

      Okay, this may sound like a rant or a whine but I'M NOT THE LEAD GEN GUY!

      I just started a new gig and am in the process of building a complete marketing infrastructure for the company: soup, nuts and everything in between.  I know he's not being derogatory but the Sales Director introduced me to a few people by saying that I'm responsible for "generating leads and helping us with the messaging."

      I could respond by saying, "I'm really the pick the segments, determine the key points of value, figure out how we compete, identify and develop the personas, build the partner strategy, quantify the lead and sales process, write all the collateral, create and execute the campaigns and track the results guy."  But he probably wouldn't listen anyway.

      Yes, all that stuff has to be done BEFORE you can create and execute any lead generation campaigns that have any value.  I'm too new to the company and space to know who the buyers are, where they go for new information, what resonates with them, etc. so it would be a supreme waste of my nice new CEO's money to try to do any lead generation campaigns now.

      Silly True Story to Illustrate My Point (I'm not making this up): A company I know recently bought two lists of names, 20,000 in all, of people who read an industry rag that covered its technology.  They blasted out an email to all these people who had never heard of them and got exactly 3 leads.  Not to be outdone, they followed it up with another email to the same database six weeks later and got exactly ZERO leads. And this is a 20 year old company!  A 20 year old company who doesn't understand their buyers or market.

      However, the sales team, my nice new CEO and the Board wouldn't tolerate that kind of performance nor are they in a position to wait until I have the marketing plan completed before they expect results. 

      What to do in the meantime?  I could Make Stuff Up (MSU) but that usually results in MABUSHI and a quick ticket to the unemployment line.  I could run screaming for the hills but that wouldn't impress SWMBO.

      Instead I spent the afternoon with the sales team and my nice new CEO and we drilled into everything we already knew about our existing customers (though few), what worked, what we did, where they are in the company, etc.  The result was a moderately focused customer segment, four proven titles to call on in those target companies and a workable (though incomplete) persona for one of those titles. 

      It's not efficient but it's not wrong, either.  Our sales team has a focus for the next 60 days while I flesh out the personas, refine the messaging, create some resonant content and all the rest of that "lead gen" stuff. 

      Key Take Away: You have assets even if you don't know what they are.  Find them and use them while you build out your plan.

      Next up: My first guest blogger.

      Friday, January 21, 2011

      FUD Gone Wrong

      Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) has always smacked of desperation on the part of the perpetrator, usually when a deal is peceived lost.  I'll cop to having used FUD as a tactic to at least delay deals or continue conversations in the past.  Responding directly to it, though, sounds even more desperate to the prospect.  Most reps I've heard in this situation sound like they're whining when they try to apologize out of it. 

      However, this HAS to be the first time I've ever seen a response on this scale of silliness.

      Yes, this is McAfee headquarters in Santa Clara, just off US 101 at Great America Parkway.  Starbucks card to Larry for being first to identify the company.

      According to a friend that works there, apparently Symantec is throwing a lot of FUD around in the market because of Intel's acquisition of McAfee.  "They're going to be subsumed by Intel.  It's a total disruption, no one knows what they are doing.  Do you want to risk your security on a company with an uncertain future." And more MABUSHI like that.  These are weak comments and shame on Symantec for trying this.  Certainly they could do better.

      But shame on McAfee for responding this way.  It makes them look silly and detracts from the really tight message they have: Securing Your Digital World(TM).  

      A good repsonse would be no response.  A better response is to call it what it is: MABUSHI! - or whatever invective the situation calls for. 

      Here's an example of how to respond:
      Prospect: "Symantec says, "Scary thing 1, scary thing 2 and scary thing 3."
      McAfee rep: "Hogwash.  McAfee is still the leader in (supportable statistic 1).  Our <product> is still the (supportable statistic 2).  Plus, (reputable analyst or publication) said that McAfee (product) was better than Symantec.  Now let's get back to the problem you're trying to solve."

      McAfee's painting the side of their building has just two small benefits: some of their employees get a chuckle out of it when they come to work (more, I suspect, are embarrassed by it) and some painting contractors got a nice little extra job at the end of their busy season last Fall.

      Key takeaway: FUD, and apologetic responses to it, is just more MABUSHI.  Don't fall for it.

      Next up: I'm NOT the lead gen guy!