You’re Trying Too Hard

How Did You End Up Here?

There was a void in your roadmap. Your competitor launched a new product. You had extra budget that needed to be spent.

Whatever the reason, there was a gap and the pressure to fill was too great to resist.

The good news is that you responded by shipping. You got something out the door and made a big deal about it. Isn’t shipping always a good thing?

The bad news was the result.

Your customers response varied from “meh” to “yuck“. The market ignored you. Or worse, the market did respond with a “WTF?” and other questions of ridicule.

You’re Trying Too Hard

You should have delayed the launch when you realized it wasn’t going to happen. You should have killed the advertising when you realized it was all smoke and mirrors.

You should have said no when you realized the product wasn’t fully baked.

Start With The Customer Product Marketing Podcast #11 – Comparing Products Part 2

start with the customer marketing podcast on product marketing and product managementIn this episode of the Start with the Customer Podcast, I am honored to be joined by Scott Sehlhorst, of Tyner Blain consulting.

Today’s topic is on comparing products. Scott has been working on a blog series on how product managers can use comparisons to make better products. Scott has finished the eight part series and due to its length, over 16,000 words, we decided to cover over two calls. Continuing this conversation where we left off, we discussed identifying and prioritizing target customers, building your competitive set, and scoring your evaluation.

I hope you enjoy the call and would love to hear your feedback!

You can listen here:

or download from iTunes and from TalkShoe.

Show Notes:

Runtime 30 minutes

Start With The Customer Product Marketing Podcast #10 – Getting a Product Job

start with the customer marketing podcast on product marketing and product management

start with the customer marketing podcast on product marketing and product managementIn this week’s edition of the Start with the Customer Product Marketing Podcast, I am honored to be joined by Tim Johnson, of It’s About Value, and Scott Sehlhorst, of Tyner Blain.

Our topic of the call was how to get a job in product marketing or product management. Tim and Scott both share their advice and experience on transitioning into the role and what they would look for when hiring now. We also touch on some of the expanding responsibility of a product marketer and the growing need for customer engagement.

You can listen here:

or download from iTunes and from TalkShoe

Show Notes:

Runtime:  39 minutes

    • How did I get into product marketing?
    • Product marketing – “the fun of sales without the quota”
    • Transitioning from sales – moving from thinking of one customer at a time to thinking about all customers
    • Is a technology background a “must have” requirement for a product marketing or product management role?
    • The marketing skill set and the strategic role of the product marketer
    • Gary Vaynerchuk video on engagement:

Start With The Customer Prodcast #5 – Roles and Responsibilities

In this week’s edition of the Start with the Customer Prodcast (a product focused podcast), I am excited to be joined by Jim Holland, of the Product Management Tribe, and Scott Sehlhorst, of Tyner Blain.

To start the call off, we addressed the hot topic of product ownership and the responsibility of the product manager. From there the discussion moved into product portfolio management and ownership of the multi-year strategy. Finally, we touched on maturing the product management process inside start-up organizations.

I think this was a really great discussion with lots on the theory and practice of product management. I hope you enjoy the show and would love to hear your feedback!

You can listen here:

or download from iTunes.

Show Notes:

Runtime: 43 minutes

  • Product Manager vs. Product Owner – inspired by Saeed Khan’s post
  • Feeding the beast
  • Product portfolio management
  • The “Absence of Information”
  • Internal selling
  • Understanding the decision making culture
  • From start-up product management to a sustainable process

On Product Management with Saeed Khan

I am very excited to share the following interview with Saeed Khan.  If you are following along at home, Saeed is an expert product manager that shares his knowledge at the “On Product Management” blog.

Saeed recently talked at Product Camp Boston on the topic of building product management organizations and joined me to introduce the topic. In this discussion, Saeed covers the need for a scalable approach and the role of product management in the organization. For some reason, the Skype video was a little wonky but the audio does a great job capturing Saeed’s insightful points.

Enjoy the conversation and make sure to check out Saeed’s full presentation from Product Camp Boston.
Here’s part 1:

followed by part 2:

Hey Startup Marketers, Let’s try not to Suck. OK?

Interesting chain of posts this week. First off, Fred Wilson started it with two provocative articles challenging marketing and its effectiveness in startups. Fred is obvioulsy taking this very personal:

I believe that marketing is what you do when your product or service sucks or when you make so much profit on every marginal customer that it would be crazy to not spend a bit of that profit acquiring more of them (coke, zynga, bud, viagra)….I’m angry at the marketing profession for these transgressions over the years and it spilled out into my post. I’m not proud of that but it is what it is.

As expected, the marketing pros were not pleased with Fred’s analysis. One of the best responses I read was from SEOMoz,

I’m not a believer that a market will simply flock to a great product. Many great products have died due to obscurity; only a few great products have succeeded in spite of rejecting marketing. Fred uses the examples of Twitter and FourSquare; Google could be another reasonable example. Those are outliers, and while they might be the types of companies Fred is seeking to invest in, they’re the exception, not the rule, and thus I worry that the advice and perspective will have the wrong impact.

April Dunford also had an interesting take on the challenges of hiring good marketing people for the startup world. April’s point revolved around some of the misconceptions on the definition of marketing and the challenge of finding the right person for the specific need. April writes,

I refuse to believe that there are more bad marketers out there than there are bad programmers or sales people. But I also believe Fred’s right that the failure rate in senior Marketing positions at startups is high (I’ve certainly mopped up after a few). Why? I think companies often hire the wrong marketer for the job and marketers sometimes accept the wrong job. Both problems stem from the fact that “Marketing” means many different things.

April brings up a great point on all the different tactics that may be needed to build your marketing strategy.  From building campaigns, to content marketing, to messaging, to product management – there is a lot of know-how that a startup marketer must bring to the table.

Even more challenging is the fast paced nature of a startup – there isn’t much time for experimentation. Pick the wrong path at the wrong time and you can either be out of a job or even worse, out of business.

As luck would have it, Advertising Age (yes, I am aware of the irony here) also had an article this week addressing the skills needed by a successful marketing organization – strategy, analysis, program design, and technology. From the article,

It’s a major transition from the hub-of-the-wheel organization in which the brand or product manager is at the center, to the Rubik’s Cube structure that requires all functions to be interlocked with one another as they rotate around a core — the brand — in perpetual pursuit of the winning pattern. Successful interactive marketing demands collaboration and cohesion.

In a large marketing organization, you can build out all these competencies and work on the processes to align. At a startup, you may be required to do all these things at once and have it done yesterday.

The challenge of us in the marketing world is to do a better job learning the strategies and tactics and understanding when and where to use them. The challenge of those hiring startup marketers, make sure you find one that understands that marketing is not a “one-size-fits-all” problem and one that can address not only where you are now but where you want to be.

That’s my two cents.  What do you think?

Image Credit:  xtopalopaquetl

Parting Thoughts – My Last Product

I can’t resist posting this. Sorry, but I just can’t.

There is common analogy that product planning and development is like parenting. If you have ever spent a year or more working to bring a product to market, the analogy makes even more sense – from the ups and downs during development to the final release out into the wild, it can be an emotional journey.

Continuing the analogy, the product I was working on was the quintessential definition of a problem child. There were many occasions where everything that could go wrong did. It took a lot of sweat and patience to pull everything together and the entire village ended up pitching in to help raise this one.

I left my last employer mid-last year after planning was complete of the product but knowing that it would not launch till the end of the year. It was very hard waiting for the launch without hearing much for updates on the progress – not to mention the traditional nerves on how it will be received.

So, when the product launched in early December, I thought the team did a phenomenal job delivering on a very complicated product plan and early indicators seemed to say the market agreed. But it was this last week that I received the real treat. In the press release announcing the company earnings, the only product called out for the Consumer line of business unit was my product!

Consider me one proud parent.

Here’s a peak at the latest commercial for the product:



Image Credit:  Flickr

What You Should Really Ask Your Customers?

Paul Gray from Brainmates recently wrote a blog post on Five Questions Product Managers Should Ask Their Customers. In his blog, Paul lists them as:

  1. What are the reasons that first led you to buy our product?
  2. What problems does our product solve for you?
  3. What do you like most about our product?
  4. What do you like least about our product?
  5. If you could change one thing about our product what would that be?

While these questions make sense, I’d like to offer a slightly different approach that might be more beneficial and rewarding:

  • Don’t start with your product. Most organizations don’t buy a product. They invest in your company. Rather than asking them the reasons that led them to buy your product, ask them ‘why did you choose us’. You might realize that they care less for the next version of your product and more about how you can help them gain internal adoption.
  • Forget the features. Most customers don’t know what features they want. They do however have a good idea for what they want to use your product for. Rather than focusing on their problems, ask them what use cases they are solving or wish they could solve. I guarantee that while you go through this outcome driven approach, they will not only tell you what they like, don’t like or wish to see in your product but you might realize that they want to use your product for a completely new scenario (and potentially great revenue opportunity for your company)
  • Ask them if they would invest in you again. Yes, invest in your company again. You might be surprised by the answer. In fact, while there is little chance that they might say ‘no’ (they probably would not have accepted to talk to you in the first place), there is a strong likelihood that they will say ‘yes’ followed by ‘but’ and a few good pointers that you can greatly learn from. For example, yes but if we were to do it again, we would invest less in the software to start with and a little more in the supporting services, or yes although I would also consider this other vendor that has recently entered the market etc. Ultimately, lots of great insights that you would not have gotten otherwise.

One last point: as you engage with your customers, make sure to not only talk to the direct users but all the stakeholders who are indirectly impacted by the value your product brings to the organization, starting with the senior management team.

They are usually the ones holding the purse.

Image Credit:  Flickr

How Social Is Your Product?

I am will willing to bet that the physics of inertia isn’t a topic that comes up regularly in your product strategy discussions.  John Moore, recently covered this topic in regards to word of mouth marketing and I think it is directly applicable to product planning.

On the topic of inertia,  John writes that to build word of mouth momentum, you need to encourage your customers to talk or it won’t happen.  If you can leave your customer happy, the greater the odds that they will want to tell others about their experience.

Continue reading

First Impressions Count


I had a chance this summer to do some retail shopping outside the U.S. to look at how our products are sold.  It was fascinating to experience the non-U.S buying process and I came away with a laundry list of things we need to improve on.

Rohit Bhargava covers the importance of doing this activity in his recent article, “Forget Eating Your Own Dog Food – Just Try Buying It …“:

You need to experience the entire process around buying it to really understand your customers. That means you need to shop around. You need to go into a retail store to try and purchase, or buy it online and see how long it takes to arrive. What did the box it came in look like? What was the condition of it? Did you get any follow up from anyone after you bought it.

I would like to add to this from the product development side.  There’s a lot to consider when it comes to where and how your product will end up being sold:

  • What are all the channels that my product will be sold in?
  • How is the buying process different across these channels?
  • How do I need to communicate my product benefits (may be different by channel)?
  • How can I improve over what my competitors are doing?
  • How often do I need to change or update (for example, to stay fresh on the shelf)?

You may find there are a lot of elements that you can’t control (especially if you are selling through retail).  But this is why it is important that you examine and look for opportunities to make sure your product is not only the best but also perceived as the best.

Using the books example, Seth explains this point nicely with his post on “The purpose of a book cover“,

Tactically, the cover sells the back cover, the back cover sells the flap and by then you’ve sold the book. If those steps end up selling a book that the purchaser doesn’t like, game over. So you have to be consistent all the way through and end up creating a conversation after the purchase.

Bottom line, your product needs a good book cover.