Successful business leaders thrive on competition. They’re at their best when contending for the top customers in high-end markets. They may feel that if they’re not in the middle of a cut-throat battle with competitors, they must not be succeeding.
Do these statements represent your approach to business? While much as been written about competition and businesses that have been highly competitive and won, in reality, some of the most successful companies have won using very different techniques. They have changed the way they do business. They have made a shift to the blue ocean.
Is the discipline of product management relevant outside the sphere of technology products? How big does a company have to grow before it needs a product manager? Do organizations that create products — but do not sell them — need product management? My answers: yes, one and yes respectively. The following recent experiences illustrate my answers (please pardon my excessive use of first-person narrative):
Non-technology: I had a conversation with my brother — a cattle rancher — about a major change he’s considering with his operations. We talked at length about the changes he’s contemplating, why he wants to change and the potential roadblocks he will face. We concluded that before he makes the final decision he needs to understand how the changes will affect his operations and make sure they point toward a viable market. Personal note: My father (also a cattle rancher) spoke often about the importance of “hitting the market.” Even though he sells cattle (a commodity) only a few times a year, he appreciates marketing. Happy birthday Dad!
Company size: During a long drive this past weekend my wife and I had a great conversation about a new business she’s considering. She asked me questions like “how will I know there’s anyone to buy the product?” and “how do you find out what people really want?” After miles of engaging conversation I smiled at her and said “honey, you need a product manager.” We talked about what we will do in the next several weeks to gain insight and gather data about this new market she wants to pursue. I told her it’s called “market sensing.” It’s clear to me that no matter the size of your company, you need someone who listens to and understands the market.
Non-profit organizations: Groups, institutions and organizations that create products and services for the benefit of others need to understand their markets even if they do not sell their goods. Yesterday I was talking to a good friend of mind about his experience with helping his church. He told me he uses a product management tool to get feedback from others to improve their programs. His service has had a positive effect on his congregation. My church has a significant product management team working on products and services that will never be sold but will have a major impact on millions of people throughout the world. In both instances, understanding the market (though ‘market’ is not necessarily the term they use) is key to their success in improving lives and enriching individuals.
If you are thinking about starting a company — in any industry — you need to understand your market; you need product management. If you desire to improve your company’s success, you need product management. Whether your product is a product, services, solution or other type of offering, you need product management. Whether you call it ‘product management’ or use some other name, you need the discipline instilled in product management. To succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy, you need to understand your market.
The Product Management Perspective: As product managers you already know the importance of what I’ve written here. Help me spread the word!
As discussed in a previous post, it might make some uncomfortable to use the word ‘love’ in the context of leadership. However, the practice of love in the context of leadership is both powerful and necessary. Steve Farber describes this clearly in his audio book Extreme Leadership: In Pursuit of the OS!M. What does it mean to love the people you lead? My definition for the acronym LOVE embodies the actions necessary to cultivate positive behaviors that lead to successful results, and includes the following actions:
L – Listen
O – Observe
V – Value
E – Experience
A key to success in any vocation is gaining deep insight into the market(s) you are serving. Product managers and marketers know the importance of understanding their market. In their book Tuned In, authors Craig Stull, Phil Myers and David Meerman Scott offer the following advice:
Product managers, executives, and marketers regularly meet with people in the marketplace and observe how those people do business or go about their lives. These observations provide insight into the full scope of the problems and the usage requirements and significant obstacles to adoption of any proposed solution. The most important thing they do is to live in and observe the prospect’s world.” (Emphasis added)
In the context of leadership, you want to gain a deep insight into the people you serve. Observing behaviors and actions leads to understanding. These observations come during meetings, at events, and by spending time one-on-one with the people in your organization. A tight correlation exists between listening and observing. As a leader, the two actions combine to strengthen relationships and build trust among those whom you lead. When you observe others, practice the following actions:
Learn specifics: Watch how people act. Determine why they do certain things in a given circumstance. Learn as much as you can about what drives people to the successful behaviors promoted by your organization. The more you learn the better prepared you are to increase success.
Show intent: Be honest in your desires to learn about the people you serve. The last thing you want is for anyone to think you have ulterior motives. Fix in your mind the end goal of truly understanding the people and let that behavior show through during your discovery process.
Develop trust: Take action that will show others you mean what you say. Encourage them to share their feelings and ideas and show genuine interest in who they are and what they believe in. Show confidence in their ability to do what they say. Be true to your words so they will trust what you say and what you do.
Successfully observing others and understanding what drives them will require effort. Your love and appreciation for them will increase, your organizational effectiveness will increase, and your bottom line will grow.
The Product Management Perspective: Product managers need to love their customers. One of the best ways to understand what motivates customers is to observe how they use your products. Watch what they do, listen to what they say and use that information to improve your products. Remember this great advice from Greg Strouse: don’t fall in love with your products or technology. Love your customers and what you can do to help them succeed.
Today’s post comes from Jim Holland. Jim’s passion is product management and product marketing. With over 20 years of technology industry experience, he has a fresh and current perspective in market sensing best practices, with significant experience defining and launching products in the application lifecycle, mobile, and enterprise software markets. Enjoy the post and don’t hesitate to tweet your comments to Jim directly.
I am going through the steps of entering the blogging community with my own blog. Michael knows this and asked if I’d like to test that waters with a guest posting. As a product management leader, I have learned that everything great about product management starts with Market Sensing.
To me market sensing is more than market research or analysis, digging through data, customer call reports, sales requests or analysts notes. For me, Market Sensing is “a process of planning, discovering, organizing and internally understanding market insight to validate decisions based on real evidence and market need.”
Market Sensing is the balance and unification of a product’s beginning, life and success.
To illustrate the balance that each product manager should undertake, let’s compare it to the concept of Yin-Yang. Found in numerous cultures throughout the world, Yin-Yang represents the ancient Chinese understanding of how things work. The outer circle represents everything, while the two inner shapes within the circle represent the interaction of two energies, called yin often depicted in black and yang usually in white, which cause everything to happen. Just as things in life are not completely black or white, neither is product management and the leadership it provides.
Using this analogy, Market Sensing is the outer circle. Many product manager’s fixate on the outer circle and how or what a product should be. We treat products as if they require perfection to be accepted by the market. If not, we think it reflects on us and our inabilities. We chase elusive feature thoughts, and use gut instinct in its pursuit of perfection. In looking for answers, we often overlook or place a limited value on Market Sensing. Product management must acquire a Yin-Yang founded on Market Sensing. I believe there are two components that drive market sensing success. One part is proactive, the Yin, and the other reactive, the Yang.
To create a Yin–Yang in Product Management, we have to balance the proactive and reactive elements of what we do each day. Some of the proactive processes I’ve used to keep the Yin in place include:
Customer interviews – are a great way to connect. Kristin Zhivago’s article on how to interview customers adds some insights that you may have forgotten.
Surveys – provide insight, but go a step further asking for real customer feedback. Ideascope is a great tool to capture, rank and prioritize what’s important to customers.
Win/Loss Analysis – if you do it well, it goes beyond all the sales stuff and gets to the heart of what a customer or non-buyer thinks. Stewart Rogers from Ryma has some great ideas.
As a reminder of the Yang, try to limit to the following:
Development generated requirements – are nice, but if you aren’t leading the development of all requirements as a product manager, someone else will.
Chasing Sales – if you are chasing the latest big deal, you’ll never win unless that’s your business model.
CEO epiphanies – if your boss says, “The CEO had a great idea on the way to the office.” Respectfully ask if the idea is founded on market evidence, and was validated by those in the daily commute.
Gut Instinct – as a product management leader, guessing, ideas, opinions, and other randomness won’t work. You need market-based insight and facts.
How can Product Manager’s and the leader do a better job at Market Sensing? By creating an approach similar to Yin-Yang.
As a leader in product management, it is your obligation to be the leader for sound decisions. Market Sensing best practices provide the foundation of sound decisions. Creating a market sensing process takes time and effort, both of which will pay dividends as you engage in your role as product manager and leader.
The Product Management Perspective (as Mike would say): As the product manager who uses a balanced market sensing process, you will create and sustain products with a Yin-Yang like focus. It will amaze you as you create a new level of credibility internally, and confidently deliver to the market those products founded on real market evidence and information. Create and use your Product Management Yin-Yang as the foundation to strengthen your leadership.