How not to ignore warning signal – To arrest product decline

As a Product Manager, my biggest fear is not to be conscious of the changes that are causing my product to decline much faster and much earlier. The changes could be triggered by either an individual or combination of sources such as competition, technology, customer preferences, new product etc. The changes could be either phenomenal such as 10x change, illustrated by Andy Groove in his book “Only Paranoid can Survive” or it could be incremental/sustaining causing a tangible dip in revenue/ market share.

10x changes do not happen on every day basis, but when occurred they prove disruptive. They create a new business model and trigger a new eco-system paving way for lots of additional opportunities while at the same time making older ways of doing things irrelevant. Microsoft Windows is definitely a 10x change, iTunes is another classic example. Both the products have disrupted desktop and music industry respectively.

I have to regret for repeatedly using Smartphone industry for illustration, nevertheless each one of us have witnessed those changes and hence it would be easy to connect to those illustrations. I would not call iPhone and Android as 10x changes but they definitely had created huge impact and it is evident for all of us. I list Android for the reasons that I had stated in earlier blog post: Has Android really changed the dynamics of Smartphone industry. Online shopping is another example especially after tremendous hit of  in India and for the impact that it is eventually having on retail stores.

All the above changes when unattended might prove disastrous to our existing product and it can even lead to slow death of our product. I am using the word ‘change’ in a more generic way to refer to any impending new product introduction or new competitor arrival or new technology introduction or anything similar that can cause some potential impact to the existing product/ players in the market. The changes that were illustrated earlier do not happen overnight, they happen gradually and steadily leaving us some amount of time to adapt/change/refine our strategy.

So we are eventually heading to the crux of our discussions that any changes will eventually throw certain signals which we should not ignore. Before the change occurs, we might hear about them in press or other tech blogs about possible launch of a new product or arrival of new competitor/technology. Though it would be too early to anticipate the impact, I would at least stress not to discard the changes. We can probably do a scenario analysis on how the changes when occurred would impact us. On the contrary what happens is that we turn out pessimistic about the changes. For instance in case of possible news about iPhone development, all the CxOs were expressing pessimisms over the success of iPhone:

  • In December 2006, Palm CEO Ed Colligan summarily dismissed the idea that a traditional personal computing company could compete in the smartphone business. “We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone,” he said. “PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.”
  • In January 2007, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer laughed off the prospect of an expensive smartphone without a keyboard having a chance in the marketplace as follows: “Five hundred dollars? Fully subsidized? With a plan? I said that’s the most expensive phone in the world and it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard, which makes it not a very good e-mail machine.”
  • In March 2007, computing industry pundit John C. Dvorak argued that “Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone” since “There is no likelihood that Apple can be successful in a business this competitive.” Dvorak believed the mobile handset business was already locked up by the era’s major players. “This is not an emerging business. In fact it’s gone so far that it’s in the process of consolidation with probably two players dominating everything, Nokia Corp. and Motorola Inc.”


On the contrary to the perceptions of all those gentlemen, iPhone has tasted tremendous success threatening the existence of traditional players like Nokia, Motorola and Blackberry. The reason for those gentlemen to express pessimism is that each of them had tasted tremendous success and they probably hope that what made them successful at one point of time will ensure their success forever. However we have to understand that every day is a new beginning and what made us successful yesterday will not make us successful today. So it is always fair to keep the threat perception open and constantly revisit until it is proven that the change(s) does not cause any impact. For instance certain products/technology arrives with much fanfare but fade eventually (like Nokia N-gaze)

After the changes has occurred (be it either a new product, new competitor, new technology) the impact will be tangible at least through revenues, negative feedback from sales/distribution channels. Momentary decline or random negative feedback should be OK, so we should look out some common patterns and occurrence of any such patterns should be viewed as warning signals that should essentially caution us and trigger us to do a candid introspection of how our product is performing. Now it brings us back to our earlier blog post discussions on ‘Need for introspection of our target market’ to script turnaround story.

There are also instances where the changes would leave us no chance for survival and we have to graciously kill the product. There is no scope for survival of pagers after mobile phones were established. In such cases it is better not to try too hard to survive by burning lots of money. One simple rule to consider whether to KILL the PRODUCT is to verify whether both the product and market is in sunset mode.

Stickiness Factor in .COMs

For the last couple of years, I am leaning more towards online shopping for buying books for the obvious reasons of comparing prices, reading reviews etc. Both Infibeam and Flipkart have been my predominant choices, just started exploring IndiaPlaza. Now if I look back, I am not a loyal customer of any those online stores. More often price and the availability of books play a key factor in deciding between .COMs. So I have started wondering how .COMs can ever create a stickiness factor with customers. Some of my friends have remarked service as one critical factor that can create stickiness. Whether service alone can create stickiness is still debatable. Service is too broad a term to define it exactly, IMO as long as I receive the book intact I will classify the service as good even though there might be a delay in delivering the book. I only care about precise delivery only when I gift someone on some occasion.

Can any other factor create stickiness, how about personalization? Wishlist is the first step towards personalization, but it is pathetic that some of the online stores lack it. Wishlist provides a snapshot of the customer interests in prior, and it can also help to build a profile of the customers in terms of their interest. I have around 20 books in my wish list and it should obviously provide a hint of my categories of interest (within books). Further comparing wish list with the actual purchase order, should throw a fair idea of which category is of higher priority/interest to me. My opinion is that we purchase books in high price category only if it is highly essential, so price factor can also be used to prepare a priority list of categories for each customer. Later all this information can be used to develop a personal landing page to cross sell books/articles in the category/segment of interest. Though I am an avid reader, I might not have an exhaustive knowledge about all the existing/new books in my category, so personal landing page that can educate me about the existence of such books coupled with good review can definitely trigger me for additional purchase. Before any .COM delves into the complicated process of personalization, I would firstly prefer to receive an email if there are any additional discounts on the books in my wish list. Oops.. Am I sounding more like a price conscious person?

Well, in spite of all this efforts can personalization effectively create stickiness? I can only insist that it can generate more visits and subsequently enable customers to spend more time on the site, but will it actually translate into revenue is still debatable and I would probably leave it to the wise minds of e-commerce experts. Otherwise as Malcolm Gladwell states can there be any other factor that can create an ever lasting impression/experience as to create a stickiness factor. May be it might not be all about selling goods cheaper; it can be about creating an experience too. Yet my quest to find out how .COMs (more specifically an online store) can create stickiness factor has not ended.