Powerful attributes for your Persona

We use personas to provide insights on how to develop and how to market to our potential customers. For B2B products, we may not care as much about traditional demographics—such as family status, kids, and pets. But even business buyers are people. They have attitudes associated with age and family situation.

Consider the administrative persona for educational software. She is a divorced mom with two young kids in day care. Does she want to work late to make some extra money?

So the questions to consider in creating your personas are these: What information is relevant to your marketing and development decisions? Do you need demographic attributes or situational ones? Or both?

Consider this list of attributes from my friend Jennifer Doctor.

  • Describe the persona’s situation, physically and emotionally.
  • Typical Day. What do they do all day? What are they responsible for? How do they interact with co-workers and customers?
  • Problems & Frustrations. What challenges disrupt the persona day to day? How do they manage these?
  • Why do they do what they do? How do they feel a sense of purpose and/or satisfaction?
  • Who do they listen to? For purchasing? For advice? When they need help?
  • What are they trying to accomplish? Why? How?
  • How do they feel about their job? Your company and product? The industry?

Read more from Jennifer on personas in Flat Stanley Doesn’t Live Here: A real and practical guide to building personas at http://www.harborlightpartners.com/resources

Fundamentally, we need to know how to find and market to our buyers and how to develop to our users. What do you need to know to succeed?

Have you observed a customer lately?

Back in my days with Pragmatic Marketing, I traveled almost every week delivering both public and private seminars to groups from 12 to 120 people. In fact, I stayed in the same hotel every month for a decade. We did lots of public seminars in hotel conference areas; some were good, others not so much. Only once was I asked for recommendations on how the hotel conference facilities could be improved.

My meeting room needs were pretty simple: a screen for the data projector, a table for my laptop, and comfortable chairs for those who attended the seminar.

One hotel really surprised me. They were refurbishing the conference rooms and asked me to meet with their designer to share my insights.

I explained my typical setup and surprised them with my number one complaint: lighting. In almost every conference room, the lighting choice is “on” or “off.” When the lights are on, it’s hard to see the screen. But when the lights are off, it’s hard to stay awake. I wanted as much light as possible but without any light shining on the screen.

If the designer had ever watched me set up a room, she’d have seen me stand on a rolling chair (gasp!) or the table and unscrew the offending light bulbs.

The designer said that no one had ever complained about lighting but admitted that she saw the problem instantly once I explained.

As Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

Have you watched your customer lately?

Hiring for Domain Expertise

Many in ed-tech prefer to hire teachers for their domain expertise but what do teachers know about the business of education? Health organizations like to hire nurses and practitioners but what do they know about the business side?

Most product management and marketing job descriptions mandate heavy domain expertise but is this really necessary? After all, practitioners only experience a minute part of the overall business of their domain.

Another popular approach for recruiting is stealing away employees from the competition. After all, they know the market and the domain; we’ll just have to get them up to speed with our products. However, the competitor’s employees are probably too immersed in the competitor’s strengths.

We once hired a product manager who worked for the competitor. Unfortunately, he struggled with focus on our strengths or our competitive position. He continued to tell the same stories and hawk the same features; he just substituted our company name for his old one; worse, he insisted we needed all the same features as his old product. But if his old product was so good, why were we continually beating it in the marketplace?

There are four types of expertise needed in product management: product, market, business, and domain. Each can be learned but finding someone with all four can be a challenge.

What’s the solution? You want to hire people who can learn. Hire the best person you can find and help them learn. Have them learn the product by working directly with customers and with your internal support and service teams. They’ll learn more about the domain from a few afternoons with clients than they’ll ever learn from research studies and white papers and survey results.

Technical product managers working with developers need to learn the product well enough to have a technical conversation and understand the ramifications of one decision over another; they don’t need to be programmers. Product marketing managers need to understand the product and how it is used by customers in order to develop go-to-market tools. Strategic product managers need to understand the math of business so they can determine the right market and product priorities.

Domain expertise can be learned. Don’t hire it; learn it. Product teams need business, market, and product savvy to create successful products for their markets.


Webinar: How Far Can You See? Product Management and 3 Horizons.

sunset-1591599_1280They say you have to work “on” the business, not just “in” the business, yet many product managers are so consumed with daily issues they can’t see beyond the current work. Sales and marketing folks need help with clients and campaigns; developers need insights of personas and problems. But what’s next?

In this free webinar, we’ll explore the optimization strategies for product management using the three horizons model. We’ll also discuss time allocations for both product management and product marketing in each phase.

Are you spending time on the right things? It depends on where the product sits in the three horizons model.

Making Smarter Decisions Using the Three Horizons of Growth
Thu, Aug 25, 2016, 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. EDT
Sign up: bit.ly/bldpmi0825

A2A: How can I help the sales team when I’m not in the marketing department?

A2A: How can I help the sales team when I’m not in the marketing department?

Interview one or two sales guys and you’ll probably learn a dozen things you can do to help sell products. Take an approach of “How do I solve this for everyone?” The goal of marketing is to move all sales forward, not just one deal. [tweet this] Think along the customer’s journey, from awareness to interest to decision and action. What should customers know to help them buy?

When I was in sales, I put together a sales playbook with a one-page product description, a public roadmap, an interview guide, probing for pain questions, a problem-oriented presentation—I forget what else. I shared the playbook with my office and our sales soared. I shared it with the entire sales force and got moved from sales to product management.

A company without a marketing department astounds me. Without a dedicated person or department, sales people are the marketing department. And because they have to create marketing materials, sales people don’t spend as much time helping customers and closing deals. I prefer to arm the sales team with a proven sales playbook so we can get our sales people in front of customers as soon as possible.

Enabling sales is a key step in launching a product. What techniques do you use to supercharge your sales efforts?

What’s the vision anyhow?


If you do not cultivate an environment in which leaders and employees can carry on your vision, your legacy cannot live on.—Beth Armknecht Miller, founder, Executive Velocity.

Do new ideas align with your strategic vision?

Strategic vision links the present to the future, showing how you intend to move the organization to its next level of performance. Much has been written about strategic vision and alignment. Context vs core. Must-have products vs nice-to-have. The question here is whether any new idea is a key component of your long-term strategic vision. That, without it, your company’s long-term viability is in jeopardy.

For example, a firm could decide to expand its portfolio of offerings to better support an existing market or decide to promote its existing set of offerings to a new market segment. The new product initiative or market focus is a strategic decision.

In the early days of Amazon, the company focused on selling books on the internet. After all, books were easy to sell and easy to ship. Over time, more product categories were added, such as CDs and DVDs, with the same “easy to sell and ship” characteristics. Jump forward a decade and look at Amazon’s introduction of Kindle readers and Fire tablets. Not as easy to sell and ship, and much harder to develop and promote than previous products. Despite these drawbacks, offering readers and tablets was a strategic decision—moving Amazon and its customers from physical goods to electronic goods.

Strategic vision provides focus for business, market, and product portfolio decisions.

Is this new idea key to your future or is it a supplement to your existing offerings? The “Strategic” factor is one consideration in defining new products that we’ve incorporated into the Under10 Playbook software.

How do you judge strategic fit in your firm? Add your comments below.

During the growth phase: optimize for market share

During the growth phase, product leaders turn their attention to promotion and sales enablement. Presumably we have a workable product solution. Now the fundamental question is: How can we sell faster? Or if you prefer, how do we improve customer adoption? We want to expand the share of market (ie., more new clients) and expand the share of wallet (ie., more sales to existing clients).

Be cautious of large development projects during this phase. You’ll want to focus on any feature that increases sales but avoid massive changes that distract developers and sales people. You’ll also want to avoid any special requirements that help one customer, favoring instead features that are valued by all customers.

Compare the adoption of Apple operating systems to Microsoft’s. Granted, Apple doesn’t sell their OS while Microsoft does but Apple has tremendous adoption of each OS; Microsoft struggles to get customers to move from one OS to the next. In 2016, Microsoft offered a free upgrade to Windows 10 in an attempt to get their customers to stop using Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8. From a support standpoint, you can see the terrible costs of maintaining five different desktop operating systems.

The same is true for mobile. Because Apple controls the OS and the hardware, they can get people to upgrade to new product releases quickly. Meanwhile, phones based on Google’s Android OS are often slow to upgrade, primarily because the phone companies themselves are slow to adopt. Android updates typically reach various devices with significant delays—often months after the release of the new version, or not at all.

As a product leader, always be asking: will this activity improve customer adoption—and the ability to sell new units—in the short-term.

Do you have a story to share? Add your comment below.

What’s the best way to organize product management teams?


The most common format I see for successful teams is comprised of three roles: a strategic product manager, one or more technical product owners, and a market-facing product marketing manager. Many teams also have a UX designer so all the necessary skills reside in one group with aligned perspectives.

This organizational approach has the added benefit of being able to expand easily. That is, this type of product management team includes the necessary expertise to handle a few products (or a single portfolio) without relying on other teams to fill a skills void. As the company expands, you can add similar teams to meet the expanded requirements of additional products.

Read more in Product management job titles and descriptions.

Focus on two priorities

Most product managers, marketers, and developers have an infinite queue of things to be done. The challenge for many (including me) is to stay focused on the things that really matter. You can easily get distracted by the “noise” and miss the ideas that are vital.

Use a simple model for prioritizing.

Will the thing you’re doing (a feature, a meeting, a sales call, anything) increase the number of customers or increase product profit? Or both?

Obviously, features and activities that increase customer share and product profits are the goal. Things that do neither—that is, don’t increase the number of customers and don’t increase profits—should be rejected, shouldn’t they? Some items may not increase customer count but will decrease churn so those items count too.

Once you’ve rejected the low-value distractions, you’re likely to find you still have more items than resources. Use the quick prioritization technique to filter your ideas even further.

Prioritization is a key skill for product managers. Make it part of your product playbook.

Speaking in September at Business of Software 2016

Just registered to attend Business of Software as a speaker in September. Was delighted with this response in the registration confirmation:

“On the day, please bring this ticket to the event entrance on a digital device of your choosing or print a paper version and we can all have a laugh at how old fashioned that is.”


If you’re attending, be sure to look me up.