Surviving Product Management
The best lessons learned come from actual experience. Having been a product manager for products as diverse as hosted applications to printers, these are the lessons Product management I’ve learned and I hope they are useful to you. With a healthy dose of humility from lessons learned, here are my recommendations for surviving and excelling at product management:
Essentials of Product Management
o Passion for your products and their success matters more than organizational power. The role of a product manager is full of opportunities to find passion for the product today, its future roadmap, sales strategies, finding and growing a sales champion, and working with and supporting service. In short the best product managers I’ve worked with have a passion for their products and their success. They rarely coerce cooperation through formal power by invoking a VP or C-level executives’ name or position, but their passion and intensity earn them respect. Passion is the fuel of the best product managers; it propels them past doing “just enough” to get by to delivering exceptional work, projects and results.
o Manage expectations aggressively. In some companies product managers are considered the final authority on future product enhancements, current and future pricing, launch dates, PR and lead generation efforts, even which analyst firms are subscribed to. With this much authority, sales, channel management, operations, production – in short every affected group in a company – looks to product management to make commitments on products to respond to competitive pressure or capitalize on market opportunities. If your company has an Intranet post the product roadmap and product management plans, in detail by product, there for everyone to view. Deviating from product roadmap for special orders needs to be communicated aggressively, as do pricing moves and product direction.
o Resolve to know your competitors better than industry analysts do. Get to know your competitors and become an expert in every aspect of their business. If you haven’t already, get 10Qs and other filings from the SEC for publicly available companies, and for all competitors run a D&B report every three months to see how their business is going. Take the hardest-hitting competitive points and publish it to your direct sales force including inside sales. Take the trending data and publish it for your indirect partners and keep the best competitive analysis for your direct sales force. Publish how-to-sell-against papers on each competitor every six months to capture the current knowledge you have of them for both direct and indirect channels.
o Pricing competitive analysis deserves its own effort. When managing high-volume products like PCs, laptops or accessories, having a constant view of how your pricing measures up relative to competitors is easily accomplished by checking competitors’ and their channel partners’ websites. Tracking your competitor’s price relative to your own on a daily basis delivers the data necessary to fight for price moves and lower per unit costs from purchasing, procurement or operations. Consider hiring a couple of interns from a local university to do the daily analysis and establishing trending graphs and presentations. Hiring them for twenty hours a week, working the first half of each day of the week, works well. Pricing from competitors is typically re-vamped nightly with website refreshes, so having interns capture this data during the first hours of the day gives you visibility into pricing moves immediately.