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?