What is the right product management culture

The most important organization culture for Product Management should be to embrace criticism, promote customer empathy and celebrate constructive failures sans ego-centrism.

While building and evolving products, the one aspect that allowed us to succeed is that we clearly shed our inhibitions to fail, we crushed our egos and we did subject our actions to scrutiny. Doing so, we abstained each of us to remain in a state of prolonged perseverance to hold onto one’s viewpoints without any rationality.

Every view point or decision has to be backed by data and not just by the highest paid person’s opinion (HiPPO). Organization should develop a culture that is not averse to constructive criticism. May be criticism is bad, if the organization views it as failure and fears failure. Instead failure should be seen as a learning experiences and it should be seen as part of the process towards achieving bigger objectives. Organization should instill a culture where failure is celebrated at times, it gives an opportunity for organization to re-group and pivot quickly. Lots of organization have failed because they have stuck to a specific view point even though the writing on the wall is clear. Fear of failure will also not let the Organization break the status quo and innovate.

I’d rather attempt to do something great and fail than to attempt to do nothing and succeed.

– Robert H. Schuller

When organization culture promotes customer empathy and follows an inclusive approach, it stops paying heed to the ideas and opinions of only the highest paid. Doing so, there will be democratization of ideas and the best ideas that addresses customer needs will win irrespective of who triggers the idea. Customer empathy will let everyone work for the larger good of the product rather than the self. In such scenarios, constructive criticism will be embraced by each employee to build better products.

The organization culture that embraces criticism, promotes customer empathy and celebrates constructive failures sans ego-centrism will definitely allow Product Managers to stand-up for what they believe is right for the product and do what is right for the product. But are those elements sufficient to build a strongly Product Management. Definitely no, those elements are essential but then there are aspects that we need to consider as well.

What else do you think will be the right elements for building a strong product culture – Appreciate if you drop your thoughts.

Hey Product Manager – Did you ever stood up for what you believe

Product Managers are always termed as a CEO of a Product. Some say, it is mere rhetoric. Others argue, it is a classic lie as Product Managers have hardly any authority to move the needle that can propel the Product in the path of success. Nevertheless, I still believe Product Manager is a CEO of the product, (s)he owns. For me, it is less about authority and more about responsibility of doing what is right for the product and standing up for what we believe is right for the product even at the risk of being alienated.

Question to all my fellow Product Managers – How many times, have your ever stood up for what you believe is right for the product.  Have you not stood up before because your organization does not foster the culture of questioning or are you just clueless on how the proposed changes could impact the product? I am not insisting Product Managers to either revolt or take sides, I am just insisting them to articulate their position or viewpoints with strong backing of either quantitative or qualitative data.

An ideal Product Manager by virtue of owning the product, having a broader understanding of the market in which the product operates and with absolute awareness of which customers use the product, why they use it and how they use it should have ability to connect dots to anticipate the impact of any proposed changes. Anyone one else in the organization might not have such a depth of understanding, thereby making it essential for Product Managers to stand up to make sure their voices are heard.

It does not matter if view of a Product Manager is turned-down, what is more important is that the voice of Product Manager should be heard. However, end of the day we take decisions as a team and we should collectively stand by it. I believe we as a team should own it rather than blaming individuals and see how the risks associated with the decision could be ascertained.

If you are not a Product Manager, have you ever come across a Product Manager in your organization who has stood up for what (s)he believes in. If not, then your organization is either not hiring great Product Managers or it is not fostering a right product management culture that can let Product Managers stand up for what they believe in. In my next blog, let me explicitly focus on what kind of product management culture should we instil in an organization.

How to grab a PM role as self-taught Product Manager

What is the path to break into Product Management after self-learning and how easy it is to break into Product Management career?

Let us first understand the criticality of Product Manager role and what are the expectations of a hiring manager. Product Manager roles are very critical to an organization as they own a product, so a bad hire costs them a lot and therefore every potential hiring manager will start looking for a good Product Manager. But how does hiring manager can measure the reputation of any potential candidate as a good product manager? Invariably most of them pick the easy route at least to filter candidates for interviews from heaps of resume they receive for a job. Hiring managers are also risk averse as the risk of hiring a bad Product Manager is really costly, much costlier than hiring a bad engineer. So hiring manager look for easy choices and pick candidates with a MBA degree from a premier institution or with prior PM experience from a reputed organization. Candidates with such profiles already come with a reputation of being a potential good Product Manager.

I don’t blame hiring manager for such policy. The probability of recruiting a bad candidate with such policy is very minimal and it serves the purpose. In case of self-learned Product Manager, there is a need to establish reputation as being a potential good Product Manager. Otherwise there is hardly any chance to even get called for an interview. It is up to self-learning Product Manager to walk the extra mile to create such a reputation. Honestly, there does not exists any single way to increase the reputation of any candidate as being a potential good Product Manager. MBA degree not only increases the reputation of a candidate but also throw lots of opportunities through a vast alumni network. So, another aspect that a self-learned Product Manager has to work is on networking to be aware of opportunities in product management.

Firstly, I would suggest for a self-learned Product Manager to pick an industry/domain that (s)he would target for a product management position. I would suggest to pick an industry where (s)he already has experience. Product Management skills are mostly independent of industry/domain, but domain experience is definitely required. During career transition into PM roles, things might get little difficult even if the domain is also new. In a known domain, Product Manager can spend his/her initial days refining product management skills that was acquired through self-learning.

Domain experience from the perspective of Product Manager is different from that of an engineer. When I indicated domain/industry experience, Product Manager should be able to create a mental map of where does the industry exists, what are its challenges, where is it poised to head, who are the players. But how does prospective Product Manager showcase domain experience. Probably, writing articles about opportunities that the industry could offer. Those articles should highlight that you are aware of the industry and the potential it could offer. Please be aware that for certain industries (especially high tech), domain experience is much valued than real Product Management experience.

Yet, you still need someone to take you to the door steps of Product Management opportunity. So nothing works better than networking. If someone can vouch for your credibility, it increases your reputation of being a good Product Manager. So look for connects who can at least give you the initial push. It might often get tough to get a PM role in an organization that is alien to you without any referral.

As you start knocking PM opportunities, I can bet your initial 1 or 2 interview might fail badly but then you will learn what is someone expecting from you. I would always ensure that i will never have my 1st or 2nd interview with the company that i would like to work, if i am interviewing after a long time i would rather not take any chances with the company that i would like to work. But please be aware without those connects, it is tough to get the initial call for an interview. Another ideal option is to look for transition within your company. Your organization knows you better than anyone else, if you have a supportive manager put your intentions loud and clear. Unless you ask something, you will not get it.

Another aspect that is really important during the entire process of career transition is that highlight your strengths and draft a cover letter on how your experiences can help you deliver in your new role. Never be too honest to highlight explicitly that you don’t have PM experience but you will be able to learn on the job. Too much honesty is no good, I did that mistake. Hiring managers think that you are not confident once you drop those words. So your resume and cover letter should provide enough confidence that you are THE Guy for the job.

How to be a self-taught Product Manager

Firstly, I firmly believe anyone could obviously become a self-taught Product Manager. However, the desire should be backed by strong passion, perseverance to learn/imbibe new skills and finally to succeed as a Product Manager. Both my current and previous managers are excellent Product Managers and they are self-taught without any certifications/MBA degree unlike me. But requires lots of effort. An MBA with 1 or 2-year degree gives you the undivided attention space to master yourself on various subject albeit though theoretically. However, things do not remain same while you actually start implementing those models/frameworks learnt during MBA days

I did find this resource really exhaustive: I love Product Management • Attack with Numbers It is a goldmine of information related to Product Management. In addition, recently roadmunk.com has consolidated a list of top 50 product management blogs you should be reading.

As you go through those blogs to start grasping the nuances of Product Management, start identifying someone who can mentor you and streamline your efforts to become an effective Product Manager. As you start learning more about Product Management, start wearing the hat and determine what decisions you would have taken and why. Expand your knowledge about your domain/market that you target to focus, get a hindsight of players/products. What those players/product does, which segment they focus. If you are managing a product in that space, start figuring out what would you do differently and why. Most importantly be aware of what kind of technology advancements are happening and how it could impact both the product and its associated companies.

Product Management is an extensive field spread across pricing, roadmaping, strategy, market research, competitive analysis etc. But I feel the primary quality for a Product Manager is to be inquisitive, start asking WHY? for everything that you get to do in your role as an engineer. When you start working on any feature, ask why it is important, how it helps in moving the needle towards the desired business goals, how it helps customers etc. Basically be curious and never shy away from asking WHY?

Product Management is more of an art than science. While it is good to observe practitioners around you and learn from mentors, just don’t blindly ape them. Have your own thought process. Be ready to experiment with new modes of prioritization, new modes of discovering customer needs, new modes of validating products, fail (early and quickly) and learn.

Learning Product Management is just a start, the next big hurdle is to break into Product Management by securing a job. In the next blog, I will focus on how to get into a PM job (based on my experience). The other aspect that I did not focus in this blog is that if art of Product Management could be self-taught, how does an MBA could make a difference to PM career. How similar advantage could be obtained without an MBA for others who are at serious disadvantage at not to pursue a MBA. I want to conclude this blog post with an excellent quote from the Ratatouille movie

“Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”

The above quote is true for any profession including Product Management.

Good luck with your journey

Comprehending customer buying process – Necessity for tools

Through series of blogs articles on ‘Comprehending customer buying process’, I have been evangelizing to take a holistic view of the entire buying process and connect the dots to understand what goes beneath the thought process of customers while making a buying decision. Nevertheless, the buying process is really complicated with multiple engagement points at each stage of the buying process spread across offline and online space. It would be extremely tough for Product Manager to grasp what is exactly happening without the aid of tools. Product Manager should have access to tools that could stitch all the activities across the entire buying process together. Without the existence of tools and without the ability of tools to stich the activities across the buying stages, how does Product Manager ever know whether the issues with customer support are hurting cross sell/up sell opportunities? How does Product Manager ever know which marketing campaigns had direct impact on sales? How does Product Manager ever know whether product is being evolved as per the expectations of customers? What I had observed is that the CRM tools fall into three main categories

  • Marketing – Awareness phase
  • Sales – Information phase till Adoption phase
  • Customer support – Loyalty phase

Product Manager might or might not have a say in selection of tools, but if there are multiple tools (s)he has to figure out some ways to stitch them together to understand more on customer behaviors. Presence of tools hardly makes any difference unless the Product Manager is not curious to know –

  • How many customers got to know about the product?
  • How customers got to know about the product?
  • Was awareness about the product was created among all target customers?
  • Have marketing campaigns effectively communicated the value of the product to entire target customers?
  • Did the awareness phase raise enough interest among target customers to know about the product?
  • How many customers have expressed interest to know more about the product?
  • How many initial leads got converted into sales?
    • What customers liked most about the product?
    • What are the top 3 reasons for customers to buy the product?
  • How many leads were lost?
    • Why did customers not choose the product?
    • Are we consistently losing to any competition?
    • What would help product regain the lost ground?
  • Are customers satisfied with the product?
    • Was there any recurring sales from those customers
    • Did quality of product had any impact on up-sell/cross-sell opportunities

The thought of tools triggered to me when I recently had an opportunity to demonstrate my product (B2B) in one of the leading events. The tool used in the event is awesome, it identifies –

  • How many customers are visiting the event?
  • Which booths did they visit and when
  • What sessions (demo, technical, keynotes etc.) did they attend?
  • Short survey to identify, the list of technologies or products that interest customers, what is budget spend of customers for next few quarters

Product Manager can have precise details on the exact number of customers who knew about their product and who those customers are. Product Manager can further identify if there is a dip in the % of attendees knowing about their product due to inappropriate location of booth or any other factors. The tool is exhaustive to provide any details pertaining to the event and customers who attended the event. But what is missing is to understand the influence of the event (awareness phase) in pushing the customers to next phase (information phase). Other element that I missed during the event is to figure out whether customers attending the event are existing customers or not. Accordingly, I could adapt information provided about the product to both existing and prospective customers. Icing on the cake would be to link the details of customers visiting the event with support data to identify the list of issues recently faced in their network, so Product Manager could have leveraged the opportunity to set appropriate expectations, allay any fears about the capabilities of the product to address their needs. Customers also would be happy that they are being heard and their issues are taken seriously.

Ideally, tools do a fantastic job in silos (marketing, sales and customer support), but they should be unified to get some fantastic insights. Can dip in customer support cases of a specific customer be correlated with sales tool to identify whether that customer has possibly migrated to any other product or migrated to competition? Can patterns of critical support cases and sales be linked to check if there is any correlation? The biggest insight that could be obtained is to identify the exact set of reasons (both product and non-product attributes) influencing the buying decision of customer. There should be deliberate introspection to identify whether customers are buying the product for those reasons that Product Manager envisaged. If not, something is fundamentally wrong in our understanding of customers and our approach to build, sell and market the product. Those activities are not aligned in favor of customers thought process applied during the buying stages.

Sometimes, the tools might not be linked for fear of data security breach. Nevertheless, nothing should stop Product Manager to at least manually stitch them. Otherwise, Product Manager could not create a feedback loop or establish causal and effect mechanisms among the four main pillars of product development – (i) creating value, (ii) communicating value, (iii) delivering value (iv) capturing value.

Why TIMING factor is critical in evaluating a new product idea – WHY NOW?

The idea validation is all about verifying the idea on the basis of 3 parameters.

  • Desirability – Do product to be built will be desirable by customers to address their existing needs or problems.
  • Viability – Will customers be willing or can afford to pay to solve the need or the problem? Is there a sizeable market for business viability
  • Feasibility – Can the product to address the need be built in most optimal and economical way?

There is a fourth parameter to idea validation that most of us miss is timing – WHY NOW? WHY NOT EARLIER? Along with validating the idea on the parameters of desirability, viability and feasibility, Product Manager has to validate WHY IT IS NOW THE RIGHT TIME to invest on productizing the idea. Understanding WHY NOW is critical to ensure that the new product is neither too early nor too late to the market.

Timing new product – Why now?

During validation phase of new product idea, the larger discussion that needs wider attention is to figure out the right time to start new product development or the focus is more towards understanding why it is now the right time to develop new product. Timing is one of the most critical factors that can determine success or failure of the product. Product Manager therefore has to answer the most pertinent question – WHY NOW? Why it is now the right time to translate the idea into a full-fledged product, so (s)he can ensure that the product is not too early or late to the market.

Discussion about timing is not very critical if the idea is fulfilling an already existing need addressed partially or fully by competitor products successfully. In such a scenario, the focus will be more on ‘How Differently’ is the idea addressing the need. When Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, MySpace and other social sites are already in existence. MySpace is pretty famous at that point in time. So the question would have been how differently Facebook should/would be built to succeed against competitors. I am not sure whether Mark Zuckerberg has done any competitor analysis and it is not significant for this discussions. What is important is that timing might not be very pertinent if the idea has already been addressed by competitors.

There are 2 types of needs that essentially require an idea to address them

  1. Dormant Need – These are needs that are in existence since long time (but unaddressed so far) and the recent improvements in technology or increase in economic status of the population or any other factor would have made it either feasible or viable to address the need. These kinds of needs can be either known to customers or not recognized by the customers.
  2. Emergent Need – There are needs that have either emerged or will emerge because of existence of certain drivers.

Therefore for any Product Manager to effectively respond to WHY NOW? I am fundamentally relying on 2 parameters

  • What changes in technology, socio, economic or other related factors makes it either feasible or viable to address the dormant need
  • What are the drivers triggering the emergent need or rather what drivers will germinate a need in future.

Dormant Need

Identify drivers making it feasible or viable to address the need

  • Availability of reliable sensor has paved way for lots of IoT use-cases such as smart parking, intelligent health monitoring etc.
  • When it was not financially viable for banks to establish branches in rural areas, emergence of mobile banking extended the reach of banking services to rural people at an affordable cost.
  • Ecommerce enabled the possibility of selling less of more niche products and still make profits (Remember long tail coined by Chris Anderson). Further Ecommerce facilitated creation of market place to bring buyers and suppliers much closer than ever before. 

A closer look at the above example will clearly indicate that there was always need to bridge the gap between buyers and suppliers, ecommerce has facilitated to shorten the gap. With increase in number of cars, parking was always a hustle in most of the big cities; IoT has facilitated the possibility of smart parking system. Rural population always had banking needs to either receive money from their wards living in faraway cities or lend money for their farming activities. Only mobile banking has made is feasible to extend the banking services to rural population.

Emergent Need

In this scenario, identify jobs or products or services that did not exist 10 years ago. How would someone explain the sudden emergence of new products or services had it not been for existence of any dependent drivers? Emergence of new disruptive technologies always spawns new needs. They create a wave giving raise to new allied products or services.

  • Rise in smartphones has created a need for Apps.
  • Increase in demand for sharing and uploading videos has created a need for better video optimization techniques for better transmission of video over IP networks.
  • Proliferation of more network connected devices has spurred the need for additional addresses, resulting in creation of IPv6.
  • Had it not been for the availability of high speed internet connectivity and proliferation of hand held digital devices to take video, YouTube would not be successful.
  • Increase in population of elderly people by a factor of 2X in US by 2030 will definitely create needs for old age friendly products or services.

Technology need not be the lone factor contributing to emergent needs. Regulation and economic status can also contribute to emerging needs

  • Increase in demand for more power and inability to meet the demands would create the need for alternate energy and energy efficient products.
  • Depletion of portable water would create the need to derive alternate sources for portable water
  • Increase in per capita income increases the spending power of consumers thereby leaving lots of money on table to be grabbed by anyone providing irresistible services or products. Per capita income is critical factor to watch while launching expensive goods of services.

Identifying whether a need is dormant or emergent and identifying whether environment is conducive to build a new product can help Product Manager decide whether it is now the right time to start productizing the idea.  If the timing is not appropriate, then there should be possibility for an organization to preserve the idea instead of discarding it. The idea could later be bought to life when environment is conducive for the idea to prosper.

 

Building New Product – Experiences of a Product Manager (2nd Edition)

I have rolled out 2nd edition of my eBook – ‘Building New Product – Experiences of a Product Manager’. Much of the focus in the revised edition is around idea validation. Please take a look and share your thoughts.

The downloadable copy is available at www.ProductGuy.in/Resources/

Why Product Manager has to comprehend customer buying process

I have consolidated all my earlier blogs into a short ebook and uploaded it to slideshare. Please take a look and share your thoughts.

Downloadable copy is available at www.ProductGuy.in/Resources/

Simplify customer buying process

Buying cycles of a product (especially B2B) takes really long, long buying cycles are really exhaustive. There are certain areas of the buying stages that could be optimized to reduce the overall time taken to conclude the buying cycle. I have summarized 10 such tips that could be optimized to shorten the buying cycles. Much of what was explained below might be exclusively applicable for B2B products.

  1. Simplify buying process
  2. Talk about solutions, not the product
  3. Know the decision maker
  4. Be available at the right time at the right place
  5. How are you different from others
  6. Well planned trail – To articulate the product value
  7. Communicate the RoI
  8. Innovative or Flexible pricing
  9. Inventory management – Eliminate the lead time
  10. Lastly, be honest

This blog is the last part in the series of blog posts on ‘Why to comprehend customer buying processes

In my earlier blogs, i have extensively spoke about what customers look for in a product, what parameters do they consider while making decisions during each stage of the buying process or rather what information need to be provided to customers to facilitate them to make right buying decisions.

Stages of customer buying process

Facilitating customers to make right buying decisions

Importance of perception

Simplify buying process

In case of B2B and B2C products, much of the delay is caused by inability to pick a right product due to plethora of products that are almost similar. Simplifying the buying process by making customers choices easier and facilitating customers to make the right buying decision could shorten the buying cycles.

I have already talked about in detail on how to understand the customer needs and just provide those details on how product can address their details in my earlier blog posts. If there are multiple SKUs, then help them make their choices easier. What often happens is that under the pretext of providing more details and more choices, Product Manager would end-up with more SKUs and tons of information about each of those SKUs. Searching for relevant information on which of those SKUs are perfect for the needs of the customer would be tantamount to searching for a needle in hay. Information overload pushes the customer away from the product.

 

Let me provide a small snippet on how to simplify the buying process:

Canon Camera Finder

Above is the product finder for Canon compact cameras. It is not too great, but at least better than nothing. The product finder lists certain product functionalities and help to filter the available products. In a way, it makes search easier. Instead of looking at the feature set of each product, prospective customers can just use the product finder to narrow the search down to handful of cameras. Nevertheless for a camera, the amount of memory and available auto options are also important and I would probably wish to list them in product finder to further simplify the buying process.

My worst nightmare is while picking a DSLR. Nowadays there are more novice photo enthusiasts and it is surprising that none of the DLSR manufacturers have buying guide in their respective sites to guide the beginners. I don’t want to be critique here rather the objective is to highlight the need to ease the buying process. If it is not easy to choose a product, customers just pick the easy route. They look out for referrers and it might probably work for certain well established brands with a loyal customer base. Worst case, the customers can be misled too. Somewhere down the line, the company is being a cause to push customers away.

To build an effective product finder page, identify the critical attributes that customer use to evaluate the product. In case of camera, the possible attributes could be (i) stylish, (ii) zoom length, (iii) price, (iv) auto/manual and (v) memory. Pick such attributes and determine the values under each of those attributes for customers to choose. Depending on the choices made by the customer, provide a list of matching product with an option to compare them.

Product

Talk about solutions, not the product

When the Product Manager is solution focused, (s)he is willing to take a giant leap to understand the customer environment, their needs and their pain points. Being solution focused, Product Manager does not restrict himself/herself to merely selling the product by highlighting its capabilities but will take a step further to elaborate how the product can fit into customer environment seamlessly integrating with other products to address their needs and pain points. Providing such clarity can help customers to shorten the time taken to understand how product perfectly fits to address their needs thereby making their buying process simpler and quicker. Solution focus is more important in case of B2B product.

Know the decision maker

It is a classic case of determining USER vs BUYER. If the USER and BUYER are two different entities, identify the respective entities early in the buying cycle. Invariably USER and BUYER both have different objectives. USER is concerned about how the product should be used to address the business problem more than how the product addresses the business problems or needs. BUYER would be more concerned about how the product addresses the business problems or needs and at what price points. Product Manager cannot talk to both the entities at the same length as their purposes vary. Identifying both the entities early in the buying cycle, will help Product Manager to address their concerns and convince the efficacy of the product to both of them in parallel. Doing so will eventually reduce the duration of the buying cycle.

Be available at the right time at the right place

When the need arises, customers start looking for products that can help them address their needs. Customer might visit a store or look online or seek opinion of experts/friends to identify available products capable of addressing their needs. Whatever be the case, identify all possibilities of where the customer could start looking or searching for products matching their needs. Make sure you have the engagement point in each of those possibilities to connect with prospective customers and create awareness about the product.

How are you different from others

My take on new deals of both existing and new customers is to understand both explicit and implicit needs. Later present those needs holistically back to the customers and highlight how best the product is addressing them. There should also be emphasis on emergent needs and how the product would evolve to address those needs. Invariably, every customer would then ask how you are better than competitors. So in most cases, it is required to highlight how the product address the needs better than the competition. Having competitive analysis handy would make the job easier.

Respect competition. Never bully competitors before your customers. Customers might not always favor chest thumping attitude. While being gracious, always highlight which attributes make you stand out in the crowd. Hmmm…. How does it matter to customer? Here again, don’t just blindly pick the attributes that make the product stand out, instead pick those set of attributes that matter most to customer. If a product does a specific functionality better than the rest and if it is of no use to customer, then it hardly matters to customer how well the product performs that functionality.

Use this principle even while responding to RFPs in case of a B2B product. Every product does well in certain aspects and not so well on others. While responding to RFP, what matters is that whether the product is better on aspects that are mattered most to customers and highlight the same as part of the RFP response. Doing so would help customers convinced about their choice of product without any further deliberations.

Well planned trial – To articulate the product value

Instead of treating trial as an overhead in the buying process, treat it as an opportunity to showcase the value of the product. In most cases, products from multiple vendors look similar on paper in such cases trial go a long way in demonstrating the tangible value and product differentiators. Even though the trial would be conducted independently by the customer, Product Manager should at least be part of the process to know what functionality is being tested, identify whether customer understanding of the product is aligned with the product’s actual behavior and capabilities. Even if the agenda for trial is set by the customers, Product Manager has to educate customers on the list of product capabilities that would matter most to their environment. Ideally trial delays the buying process, but it brings transparency to the buying process. If planned well and appropriate support is rendered to the customers, it would be possible to complete the trial quickly scoring few brownie points with customer to close the deal successfully.

Communicate the RoI

Is the product worth the price? It would be last question on the minds of every customer after they have zeroed in on the product. Product Manager efforts to convince customers on how the product could address the needs of customers better than any other competition can definitely help customers chose the product. However until customers are convinced whether product is worth the price, they would not go past the last phase of the buying process (ie Adoption stage). Every product (mostly B2B) need to have a RoI tool that can outline both tangible and non-tangible benefits of purchasing the product. Customers should get convinced that value derived from the product outweighs the price. Providing relevant RoI data would only hasten the buying process.

Innovative or flexible pricing

Pricing in case of B2B products might not always be rigid. Depending on the strategic importance of the customer, and volumes etc., different pricing options could be put forth before the customer depending on how they want to structure the CAPEX and OPEX. Certain customers have budget for HIGHER CAPEX but want considerably LOWER OPEX, few other customers want to follow OPEX model with relatively LOWER CAPEX. Understand the customer preferences and their budget constraints. Accordingly figure out the possibilities for any change in pricing. Since the approvals might take longer, Product Manager has to undergo this task in-parallel while the product is being evaluated. Remember the topic surrounding BUYER vs USER, the discussions with BUYER should happen earlier in the buying cycle along with the USER to understand the expectations of BUYER in terms of RoI, pricing etc and accordingly formulate the pricing strategy within the permissible scope.

Inventory management – Eliminate the lead time

This section might not be relevant if there is a conscious decision to create an impression of exclusivity of products by maintaining a constant inventory level leading to long wait times. Otherwise, Product Manager has to figure out how to reduce the waiting time. In case of B2C, this would be applicable for products like Cars. In case of B2B, with HW products there would always be a lead time. It would be the responsibility of the Product Manager to anticipate the future sales and pro-actively maintain the inventory. If there is big ongoing deal, in accordance with the probability of deal closure, Product Manager can alert manufacturing team to maintain appropriate inventory levels. Long lead times can have negative impact on the deal and it can also further extend the duration of buying cycle.

Lastly, be honest

Always be honest with your customers. If the product does not fit their requirements, be honest with them to indicate that the product might not be a best fit. Selling the product to a wrong customer is always worse than not selling. Product Manager might have made revenue, but there will be definitive long term implications. Customer would later realize that the product does not fit them well possibly jeopardizing all future businesses from the customer. The negative feedback from the customer might also have implications on other customers as well.

Being honest helps Product Manager to build a long lasting relationship with customers that might probably facilitates more sales in future. How someone could possibly explain why B2C customers would always buy product from a specific store or brand, why B2B customers directly raise a purchase order to procure products from a specific vendor without any RFP or evaluating any competitors. The only answer that I could anticipate is the TRUST towards the BRAND and the PRODUCT.

 

Importance of perception

Why is perception important?

How customers perceive the product determines their behavior and their behavior determines the outcome. So the facts do not determine the success of the product as much as the perception does. Product Manager therefore has to focus on creating a perception among the minds of existing and prospective customers that reflects positively on the success of the product.

But, what kind of perception does Product Manager want to create?

Every product will be built only with the basic premise that what is being built will be valuable for customers and they will readily embrace it. So ideally there are 2 elements

  1. What do customers really need or want? Ideal focus should be on ‘NEED’ and not on ‘WANT’
  2. How does product create value for customers?

While building a product, Product Manager ensures that there are lots of synergies between (1) and (2). Otherwise there is no purpose in building the product. Basically the value rendered by the product and customer needs should overlap to a greater extent for better product-market fit. But does it suffice for product success?

For product success, customers should perceive that the product addresses their needs in the most optimal manner in comparison with competition. How the product should be perceived by the customers should eventually determine the marketing message for the product. The marketing strategy should strive to create a perception that is basically derived from the understanding – ‘How we could like our customers to talk about the product, what we could like our customers to believe about the product’. Therefore the (3) aspect of building a commercially successful product is to derive the right marketing strategy to ensure that customers’ perception of the value rendered by the product aligns with the actual value delivered by the product (ie the perception should match the reality). Otherwise customers might feel that the product does not fit their purpose. So essentially Product Manager needs to ensure that (1), (2) and (3) overlaps for a successful sale.

Perception

Let us consider the example of selling a brand new car. The car under discussion is a multi-purpose family vehicle catering for a larger family of 6 people. It is reliable and well-designed with utmost driving comfort. Product Manager wants to create a perception about the car that is aligned with reality. The marketing campaign or the engagement points, albeit they deliver messages with varying depth, each of them should aim at creating same perception among the minds of the customer (ie the car is a family car which is reliable and well designed with utmost driving comfort). The information that is delivered to customer during various stages of the buying process should essentially focus on how the car is delivering on those parameters and it not worthwhile for someone to talk about the off-roading capabilities of the car or it ability to go from 0-100KMPH in x seconds.

When to create a perception?

The necessity for creating a perception starts with sending the 1st message about the product and thereafter at every opportunity customer interfaces with the product during the buying cycle and pre/post the buying cycle, there is a necessity to manage the perception. It is essential to frequently measure the perception and ensure that the customers perceive the product in a way we like them to do.

Otherwise, customers’ notion of the product contradicts the reality. If such customers enter the buying process, the probability of successful sale will be minimalistic. In such cases each engagement point in the various stages of the buying process should also be leveraged to influence perception positively in the minds of the customers.  All engagement should work like a well-orchestrated symphony to create and manage a consistent perception. ‘How do you want customers to perceive the product’ determines the behavior of each of the engagement points as well.

How to create a perception?

Amazon is known for putting its customer first and they succeed in creating a similar perception among customers as well. Every customer too opines that Amazon is ‘Customer friendly’. I presume everyone in Amazon believes what they stand for. To ensure creating and managing appropriate perception across all engage points consistently, it is critical for every stakeholder involved to understand what the product and the brand stands for. What the product and the brand stands for should be religiously imbibed into the thought process of every stakeholder and it should act as guidance for any engagement with customers. Doing so, every engagement point can act in-harmony to manage a consistent perception. Apart from the engagement points involved in the buying process, every organization needs to have mechanism to deal with perception threatening events that might shake the foundation of what the product stands for. Product failures and recall of car plying on the roads might have serious impact on how customers perceive the product. In such cases, even though engagement points can be tuned to influence the perception, there should be other dedicated ways to restore the perception. Similarly there should also be focus on perception enhancing events through ratings by recognized agencies, product endorsements by persons with lot of authority in the related space.