December 18, 2017

What “Levers of Control” Do Product Managers & Product Marketers Have to Drive Revenue & Product Success

Way too often in the world of Product Management and Product Marketing, we complain that we can’t take responsibility for achieving revenue and success metrics for our products as there are too many factors outside of our control.

  • We can’t make Engineering develop the right product with the right quality!
  • Salespeople will sell what they want to in order to maximize their income!
  • Marketing is so focused on making pretty stuff, they forget about our products!

While we don’t have direct authority over any of these roles, we do have “Levers of Control”, that when effectively used, will better align your key stakeholders to support the success of your product in the market, enabling you to take responsibility for Product Success.

Your “Levers of Control” are directly tied to the Foundations of Marketing.

  • Market Analysis
  • Go-to-Market Strategy
  • 4 P’s  – Product, Price, Place, Promotion

Please join me for my Webinar on Thursday, April 23 – The Strategic Role of Product Management & Product Marketing and learn what these levers of control are and how you can use them to make yourself a more Strategic Product Manager or Product Marketer.

Register for Webinar

In the following months, we’ll address each one of these levers of control in more detail via my Go-to-Market Webinar Series.



Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager

Last year, I came upon Ben Horowitz’s article entitled Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager.   Ben initially wrote this when he headed Product Management at NetScape.   What’s impressive is that even though this was first written 20 years ago, it’s still very relevant today.  As a trainer and consultant in Product Management and Product Marketing, I really have come to appreciate the importance of Ben’s thoughts.

I leveraged this article to lead a session at ProductCamp Austin 13 in August 2014.  Below are the slides I used and the notes from the discussion.

Why is There So Much Bad Product Management

There is a lot of bad Product Management going on.  I see three key reasons for Bad Product management (and Product Marketing):

  1. Many Product Managers/Marketers and Company Executives don’t have a clear understanding of the role and the strategic contribution the role should make to the organization.
  2. Too many decisions are based upon opinions and not strong knowledge and evidence from the market.
  3. Product Managers & Product Marketers don’t understand the levers of control they have to really make a strategic impact.

 What Can You Do To Become a Great Product Manager

  1. Get Training!!!   Way too many PMs have never been through training.  My informal survey says less than 20% and other survey’s say even fewer.
  2. Get out into the market and really understand your market, customers and competition, etc.
  3. Get a great mentor or coach.
  4. Keep learning and developing yourself as a Product Management & Product Marketing professional.

Earned Authority #4: Make a Positive Impact on the Important Drivers of Your Company’s Business Model

Too often as Product Managers/Product Marketers, we are so focused on our product that we lose sight of how it fits in to the overall business strategy of our company.   One of the key ways to establish yourself as a leader in your organization is to really understand and focus on the key business drivers for your organization.   That is to understand what drives success for the organization, and then manage your product in a way to help support those business drivers.   Below are several business drivers that, if you understand and support, will set you apart from other Product Managers.

  1. Business Strategy:  The number one way to set yourself apart is to understand how your product fits into the overall business strategy and drive your product strategy to support the business strategy.   Too often we get caught up in product features and customer requests and forget that our product exists to help the company achieve specific strategies and objectives.   As a successful Product Manager, you must understand the how your company and product line is positioned in the market, how the company creates a competitive advantage, what are the core competencies of the company and what are specific strategic initiatives for the current year and planned initiatives for the next 2 or 3 years.  And then based upon this knowledge, create a product strategy, build out a roadmap and then drive your product to support thebusiness strategy.   You will be much more impactful as Product Manager if you can present your product roadmap in the context of the overall strategy versus showing a list of features and enhancements.
  2. Drivers of Profitability & Growth:  While this may sound obvious, there are key parts of your overall business model that have the biggest impact on profitability and growth.  The better you understand that, the better you can make decisions on your product strategy to improve on these key business drivers.  For example, in some industries, customer retention is a key business driver, so as Product Manager, you will want to focus on aspects of your product that will improve on customer retention.  Or, if you offer a free trial, then a key driver will be the percentage of trials that turn into paid customers, so as a Product Manager, you will want to focus on improvements to your product that improve conversion to paid customers.
  3. Your Stakeholders Key Objectives:  If you want to establish strong relationships with your key stakeholders, then understand how their success is measured, and to the extent possible, consider what you can do with your product strategy to help your key stakeholders achieve their objectives (which should ultimately be in support of the Business Strategy).   For example, if the Professional Services team has a metric to decrease implementation times by x%, then you’ll want to support that as much as possible.   Or, if Sales has an objective to increase sales in a certain market, you’ll want to identify product initiatives that will help them achieve that objective.
  4. Understand the Numbers:  Finally, you have to understand company’s finances and how your product impacts those finances.  Depending upon your industry, the important finance metrics you’ll want to understand relative to your products could include:  cash flow, inventory, turn-over ratios, utilization of assets and resources, gross margin targets, cost allocation, etc.  This is the ultimate test of making a positive impact on the key drivers for your company!


Keynote Address at ProductCamp Minneapolis 2013 – All of the Responsibility, But No Authority: Get Over It and Lead

I was honored with the invitation to deliver the keynote address at ProductCamp Minnesota on Oct 19, 2013.   I decided to leverage some of my earlier blog posts and present on Product Management Leadership.   I hope you enjoy my thoughts and appreciate your thoughts on the topic.


Earned Authority #3: Develop Great Working Relationships With Your Key Internal Constituencies

In my previous two blogs on the topic of developing earned authority as a Product Manager or Product Marketer, I addressed the importance of developing you expertise in the Product Management domain and in your Market domain.   But having great expertise is not enough if you don’t have great working relationships with your key constituents, especially those internal to your company.

One of the reasons most of us in Product Management & Product Marketing love this role is the opportunity to interact with other parts of the organization.   When I think about the key internal constituencies, these include at least the following:

  • Executives – you have to show you are helping them achieve their business objectives and request funding from them.
  • Sales – they can help you make your product successful or they can sabotage you.
  • Engineering – you don’t have a product unless they develop it for you.
  • Marketing – they are going to help you create awareness and demand.
  • Services – they make sure your customers have a great experience with your product.
  • Finance – they might just be key in helping you develop forecasts and getting your business case approved.
  • Operations – these people might be more behind the scenes, but are also a critical cog in the success of your products.

That’s a lot of people to develop great relationships with, but as most of us PMs and PMMs have strong extrovert tendencies, this should not be a problem.   Let’s look at some ways that we can develop and enhance these relationships.

  1. Treat people nicely.   As I write this, I can’t help but think of Amy’s Baking Company which recently has been in the news for the terrible way they treated their employees and customers at the restaurant.   Without going into details, let’s “not” treat our key constituents like they did.   Remember the Golden Rule:  “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.”
  2. Solicit and respect the perspective and ideas of others in the organization.   Most of us in Product Management/Product Marketing think that we are pretty smart, but we don’t have all of the answers and there are definitely areas in which we know very little.
  3. Arrive at meetings on time and prepare for the discussion that is on the agenda.  If you are in charge, plan an agenda, invite only those that need to participate and keep on schedule.  Don’t make people wait on you and don’t waste their time.
  4. Interact with your key constituents in non-business settings.   Go to lunch with them or join them for a happy hour.   Participate in non-business, but fun onsite activities, like sports, parties, etc.  These allows you to interact with people on a more casual basis and gain insights into each other that you wouldn’t be able to do within formal meetings and help you develop friendships, not just working relationships.
  5. Learn about their interests and be willing to talk about what interests them.
  6. When presenting to different constituents, make sure to think in their terms and key objectives (What’s in it for them).
  7. Keep them informed about what is going on with you product.   Regular updates to the key constituents can buy you some good favor and will help prevent unwanted surprises.
  8. Give credit where credit is due.   When someone makes a great contribution that makes your product (you) look good, make sure to give them credit for their contribution.
  9. Take time to say “Thank You” when people take time to help you out.

If you’re looking for additional thoughts, I highly recommend Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends & Influence People”.   Even though it was first published in 1937, the principles haven’t changed.



Earned Authority #2: Develop Your Expertise in Your Market Domain

Way too many Product Managers (and Product Marketers) are experts in their products, but unfortunately, not experts in the market domain where their product competes. I often here people say that Product Managers should know everything about their product and be able to answer any question about their product. That can be useful, but even more useful is to know the details of their market, of their buyers and users, the kinds of problems they are experiencing and the kind of problems they expect to encounter in the future.

So Why is Market Expertise So Important?

Let me give you two reasons:

  1. The most successful product managers that I know are experts in their markets.
  2. You key constituencies (internal & external) care more about your market expertise than they do about your product expertise.

Why Your Key Stakeholders Care About Your Market Expertise as a Product Manager?

  • Your engineers care about your market expertise. They would much rather work on product ideas and functionality that address specific market needs than they would on product ideas or functionality that you thought would be cool. Trust me, even though engineers are known to develop things just because they are cool, they really do want the products they work on to be successful and want that new functionality they work on to be used by users. Have you ever written a product requirement and gotten push back from the engineers as to why that needed to be done? I know that has happened to me and in all cases it was because it was something that I thought would be cool and not something the market expressed a need for. I can think of one specific example where there was a feature I thought we needed in the product, but if I had presented that feature to the engineering team without any market evidence, they would have pushed back on it as something unnecessary. But one day while speaking to a customer, the customer related to me the specific market reason as to why they needed the feature and based upon that, it was easy to have it added to the product.
  • Your sales team cares about your market expertise. When sales people try to sell product features, they fall flat and rarely succeed. But when they discover prospect’s problems and are able to show how your product solves those problems, they succeed much more often. Guess who they count on to understand those market problems and to make sure the product solves those problems? You, the Product Manager. So unless you, the Product Manager, have deep market expertise and understand your customer’s and prospect’s problems in depth, how will the sales team know how to sell your product?
  • Your marketing team cares about your market expertise.  How can you develop or contribute to a Go-to-Market Strategy if you don’t have market expertise.   Just like the sales team needs your guidance, so does the marketing team.   They need you to provide guidance on target market segments, buyer and user personas, value proposition and competitive differentiators and key messages to communicate.   Once they have a clear understanding of these key items, they can rock with marketing, but you can’t tell them this without developing market expertise.
  • Your management team cares about your market expertise. One definition of Product Management that I like is to maximize the value of your product for your customers, partners and company throughout the life cycle of the product. That’s what your management team cares about because that ensures profitability for today and tomorrow. You can’t do this unless you are a market expert. When you present a new market opportunity to or evaluate a new market opportunity for your management team, they want to see a clear and viable business case based upon a clear understanding of how you can solve big and pervasive market problems, not about cool products. You can only do this if you are a market expert.
  • Finally, your customers care about your market expertise. The buyers of your product don’t care about cool features. They care about how it helps them solve problems they have or help them become more competitive. They want to be able to do things faster, better and cheaper, and you can only help them do that if you understand their problems or the obstacles to achieving their objectives. And you can only get a conversation with senior executives if you show that you understand or want to understand their problems and look for ways of solving them.

How to Develop Expertise in Your Market Domain

So if I haven’t made this perfectly clear, your credibility as a Product Manager and your ability to motivate others to support your product plans rests upon your depth of Market Expertise.  Here are some suggestions to build your market expertise and credibility.

  • Most important of all, you must spend time speaking to your customers as well as the non-customers in your target markets. Meet with and get to know all levels of influencers and decision makers.   From this, you can observe and hear them talk about their challenges and problems and discover how they actually use your product.   You should find a good balance of doing this over the phone and meeting face-to-face.   By doing this, you’ll learn many insights that you’ll never discover with your butt in your office chair.
  • Actively participate in online communities that your company hosts or that are relevant to your market.   Observe what people are talking about and contribute to the discussion to demonstrate thought leadership.
  • Go on an occasional sales call.   I wouldn’t recommend that you overdue this, as the sales team might turn you into the sales engineer, but this will give you another perspective on the needs of your target market.
  • Have regular conversations with you business partners, channel and suppliers.  They have needs to meet and will offer additional insights.
  • Do Win/Loss Analysis.  You’ll rarely get an accurate picture from sales of why you won or lost a deal, but you can learn a lot more by doing the call yourself, especially on the losses.
  • Speak with those in your company doing implementations or providing professional services or customer care.  They are front-line everyday and hear the conversations and complaints from your customers.   They are a great source for improving your products.
  • Set aside time each week to read relevant industry news.   This is one of those tasks that if you don’t schedule, you’ll never find time to do it.   Another idea is to use airplane time to catch up on some of your industry reading.
  • Use Google Alerts to get updates about important competitive or industry news.
  • Develop and help lead an active User Group or Product Advisory Council.  Make sure they meet on a regular basis and ensure they have time to present their needs as a group.
  • Don’t hoard what you learn and keep it all to yourself.   Share it with your key constituents.  Write short summaries on customer visits or do an occasional lunch & learn presentation.
  • Finally, if I didn’t say it enough already, I’ll say it again, spend time with your target market!!!

 Nuff Said!  Becoming a Market Expert is Your Primary Role!



Earned Authority #1: Continuously Develop Your Skills And Knowledge in the Product Management Domain

In my last post  “All The Responsibility, But No Authority – Get Over It!”, I introduced the importance of Earned Authority and 4 ways to achieving it.   Today, I will address the first one in more detail:  Continuously Develop Your Skills And Knowledge in the Product Management Domain.

I see at least six potential ways that we as Product Managers can develop our PM skillsets.   These are:

  • Get Some Training – I think too many Product Managers have never going through any kind of formal training and while they have done the best they can to learn on the job, they still have gaps in their understanding of the role and skills they can use.   I worked as a Product Manager for about 5 years before I went through my first formal training.  I was pleased to see that I had done many things correctly, but I also learned a number of things that I could do be even better.   Since then, I have been through several other training courses and each time, I remind myself of aspects that I have forgotten and learn something new.  Even today as an instructor, I’m constantly learning from the unique experiences of my students.
  • Read – When I first started in Product Management, there were one or two books on the discipline.  Today, there are numerous books specifically on the topic and many more that touch areas that will help us improve in our roles.  There have been several great discussions on LinkedIn Groups on recommended books for PMs.
  • Network and Participate –  Ten years ago, there were a few events that catered to PMs and PMMs.  Today, are many Product Management organizations and ProductCamps where you can meet others in the discipline and learn new perspectives on the role.  If there is a ProductCamp near you and you haven’t yet going, or you have only going once, shame on you.  You’re only hurting yourself.
  • Attend Free Webinars – several organizations offer free opportunities to listen in on a webinar or on-line radio/twitter session and learn new aspects of the PM and PMM role.  Several that I know well include AIPMM and Global Product Management Talk.    They are FREE and bring the smartest minds in the industry.
  • Get Certified – I hear a lot of debate on whether a certification in Product Management/Product Marketing is necessary or worthwhile.   I’m a strong believer that anyway that you can differentiate yourself and improve your credibility, then it is worth it, and a recognized certification is one way to do that.   Many people have already used certifications to help them get that first PM/PMM role or to advance in their careers.   When you look at certifications, I would recommend a certification that is vendor independent and actually tests your ability to apply your knowledge and skills and not one that simply tests your ability to regurgitate a particular framework.
  • Find a Mentor – Even after going through formal training, you’re going to find a number of situations where you don’t have the answers or experience on how to handle.  This is where a mentor can be a great boost to your career.  They can help you work through difficult situations and help push you to be better as a Product Manager.   Your mentor does not have to be your boss, but needs to be someone with whom you have mutual respect and that you know brings a world of experience to help you.

Bottom-line, the more you invest in improving your skillsets, the better you will perform as a Product Manager or Product Marketer and the greater credibility you’ll have with your colleagues.



All The Responsibility, But No Authority – Get Over It!

After all of these years, we in the Product Management discipline still hang on our mantra of “All The Responsibility, But No Authority“.   I guess we are beholden to this as it makes a great excuse and it allows us all to commiserate with each other.   Well, GET OVER IT!   You have as much authority as you work to earn.

Two Types of Authority

There are Essentially Two Types of Authority:  Given Authority and Earned Authority

Given Authority is based upon our title or position within an organization.   This allows us to influence our subordinates because we have the ability to hire and fire.

Earned Authority is based upon establishing respect and credibility within an organization by what we do and say on an everyday basis.   This authority also enables us to use influence to achieve results because others in the organization trust us and respect our leadership.

Now I have been in positions where someone had Given Authority, but did not have Earned Authority and I would much rather work with someone that had Earned Authority and no Given Authority.

Product Managers, You Have as Much Authority as You Work to Earn!

The good news is that Product Managers can earn authority and here are some things that you can do to develop Earned Authority:

I’ve teased you a little bit here, but I will address each of these points in future posts.  But in the meantime, quite complaining about no authority and start earning it!