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.

The need for periodic introspection of target market – Part I

As the old adages goes, change is the only constant and change is inevitable. But high-tech industry is undergoing so many changes at a rate faster than anyone can ever fathom. We are witnessing rise and decline of technology giants in a short span of a decade. Moreover the intensity of changes that we are experiencing in the last 2 decades (at least since mid 90’s) is much larger than changes that occurred in the previous 5 decades. The belief was further reinforced after I read an article titled ‘Bye Bye BlackBerry. How Long Will Apple Last?’ The article was also raising doubts on the longevity of Apple in retaining its supremacy. Coincidentally there was another article in Forbes that was speculating about the possible disappearance of Google and Facebook in 5 years.

Even though the thought that Google and Facebook will disappear and Apple will lose its supremacy is unbelievable and daunting, I decided to have an open view that anything might possible and start contemplating possible ways to arrest the decline of any technology giant. So the blog posting is to share some of my thought process on those lines. The decline of all the technology giants is directly correlated to the decline of their respective flagship product(s), so let us focus on how to arrest the decline of their flagship product(s). Rather than saying decline, I would prefer to use the term ‘Inflection point’. Let us discuss how we can ensure that the product does not hit the ‘Inflection Point’. There are several stalwarts who have done a thorough research on this topics and authored great books. Some of my favorites are ‘Innovators Dilemma’ and ‘Innovators Solution’ by Clayton M. Christensen and ‘Only Paranoid Survives’ by Andrew Groove. I am not an expert or genius to talk anything beyond what those gentlemen have already elaborated in their books, I am just trying to use some of their concepts and focus on the very basic concepts of product marketing/product management.

Every product is conceived to either solve the pain points or enrich the experience of target market. So every organization has to constantly re-invent and consistently raise the bar of innovation to ensure that their products(s) is aligned to the changing needs of our target market.

In rapidly changing high-tech industry, there is an imperative need to constantly introspect to check whether a product is still relevant to its target market vis-à-vis competition. One significant reason for any product to get into sunset mode is that the product has lost relevance in target market. With that intention, I have basically arrived at a few set of questions (presented below) to help us validate how a product is positioned to serve its target market. Candid and honest response is critical to validate relevance of the product in its target market.

1.      Is the target market still bigger enough to satisfy the growth requirements?
2.      Are the requirements / product preferences of target market still remaining same?
3.      Is competitor offering better value proposition by raising the bar of innovation?
4.      Is our product getting commoditized?
5.      Can the target market be served by any alternate product?
6.      Is the target market over served?
7.      Can the product satisfy any unmet needs of adjacent market?

I will elaborate on each of the above questions in my subsequent blog post. I will also attempt to address whether answering each of the above questions would suffice to arrest the decline of any product.