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.

What are you NOT? Defining your competitive position

When considering how to communicate your value proposition, many firms try to reveal how they’re better (slightly better) than the competitor—sometimes in really subtle but irrelevant ways.

“We use 257-bit encryption—that is a whole bit better than our competitor.”

“Better” only makes sense when it’s a lot better. A LOT better. Like, 2048-bit encryption. Or, “we use FIPS 140-2 Level 4 Protection.”


Instead of trying to show how you’re better, show how you are the exact opposite from your competitor. They are that, we are NOT that.

McDonald’s is standard and consistent; we are not. Every hamburger we make is a custom work of art, designed and delivered specifically to your requirements.

McDonald’s offers an extended menu of choices; we don’t. We offer great hamburgers, fries, cokes and beer. Go elsewhere if you want a salad, fancy coffee, or a chicken sandwich.

McDonald’s is the preferred choice for family eating; we’re not. We don’t have high-chairs or sippy-cups. Or happy meals. Oh, and while we’re at it, please just leave your kids at home, okay? We’re the choice of adults who love great hamburgers with loads of fries.

Don’t be better.

Be A LOT better.

Or be completely DIFFERENT.


Moneyball marketing

Let’s apply the concepts of Moneyball to marketing.

Perhaps the book that most influenced me recently was Moneyball, by Michael Lewis, first published in 2004. As I read it, I couldn’t help but find parallels between the folklore of baseball and that of marketing.

In short, the baseball establishment put great faith in traditional beliefs: for example, the ability to steal bases is considered a critical skill. Yet the numbers tell a completely different story. Looking at the data, stolen bases rarely benefit the team in terms of winning games.

Traditional scouts looked for the five “tools” of baseball: the ability to run, throw, field, hit, and hit with power. Yet despite excelling in these skills, the book’s protagonist, Billy Beane, general manager of MLB’s Oakland A’s, failed as a big club player.

The book is essentially “blue ocean strategy meets baseball.” In Blue Ocean Strategy, the authors explore companies like Cirque du Soleil to explain the difference between folklore and facts. Cirque du Soleil found success by rejecting the “must have” features of the circus business—particularly expensive animals and famous clowns with their big-time costs—to create a new kind of circus based on what customers really valued.

Given the heavily publicized salaries of players for teams like the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees, baseball insiders and fans assume that the biggest talents deserve to get the biggest salaries. With massive amounts of carefully interpreted statistical data, Beane found that wins could be had by more affordable methods, such as hitters with high on-base percentage and pitchers who get lots of ground outs.

Many today rely on similar marketing folklore: the value of trade shows and events; the need for programs to generate sales leads; the value of advertising.

I love going to trade shows personally but I hate them as a lead source. In fact, for most companies, trade shows are worthless as source of leads and awareness. Yet most amateur marketers and sales people insist that trade shows are critical events.

And for your company, trade shows may in fact be valuable… but only if you can prove it.

Let’s put trade shows through the moneyball machine: Can you show causation between trade show activity and revenue? Did you get any leads that weren’t already in your database? How many new customers did you gain?

And how many customers could your sales people have visited face-to-face for a fraction of the cost of a trade show? How many names exist in your sales database? Have your sales people contacted them? I’m told only one lead in three is ever contacted by a sales person. Seems like they should take care of the leads we already gave them before giving them more.

But this isn’t a rant on sales people. It’s a rant against traditional views of marketing promotions. How do you measure success for your programs? Can you justify the time and resources?

There’s only so much time and money available. Don’t waste them on programs that are ineffective.

Can you leapfrog the competition?

Have you heard this one?

“We’re really behind but, with our new plan, we’re going to leapfrog the competition.”  

Really? How?

If your product is deficient in capabilities that your competitors have already delivered, you expend the majority of your development resource just catching up. After all, there are must-have features in every product—the ones you need just to be considered viable. But to jump ahead, you need to address these basic competitive features and also allocate resources to do work beyond the basics.

To “leapfrog the competition,” you need to out-spend them.

But more than that, you need to out-learn them.

To jump ahead, your team needs to learn what your competitors have already experienced.

One way to out-learn the competitor is to narrow your focus. Instead of matching them feature for feature, focus on a specific persona in a narrow market and build only those features the market segment requires. Learn everything there is to know about this persona and you can win against any competitor offering a generic product. But focusing on a smaller market is a tough sell internally; executives and sales people have tremendous difficulty staying focused on a niche.

Honestly, I can’t think of a technology company who has had success with a leapfrog strategy—unless they made the leap through acquisition. With an acquisition, you acquire the knowledge—at a premium. Your product team didn’t learn; you bought the learning.

At every stage of the product life cycle, you’re balancing resources against demand. In the startup phase, you’re striving to meet 100% of the needs of your clients. Focus is the best way to stay ahead of the competition.


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