December 18, 2017

Your Messaging Sucks! Now Let’s Go Fix It! (ProductCamp Austin 14)

On March 7th, 2015, I presented the following session at ProductCamp 14 (PCA14).  It was a great session with lot’s of interactive discussion and insights from the session participants.  Thanks to all for sharing and making it a great session!

Our Messages Too Often Focus on Features, Not Benefits!

The key focus of this presentation was to show that way too often, our market messages are about product features and not about the problems and benefits of our target customers.  Sometimes, we think we are talking about benefits (e.g., 24 hour access), when in reality, that is still a feature, or we say a benefit (e.g., reduced wear and tear), but that is a low order benefit, or what I also call a functional benefit.  But in either example, we still don’t connect to the real benefit of your target buying personas.  The other challenge is that in a complex B2B situation, there are many buying personas, but each persona places importance on different aspects of the benefits.  

How a Message Map Helps You Connect Features to the Real Benefits for Each Buyer Persona

What I presented in this session was the concept of a “Benefits Map”.   In this example, I mapped the connection from features to functional benefits to benefits for different buying personas and eventually, how this all connects with the benefits of the Executive Buyer.   The “Benefits Map” is useful to help you work through what the real benefits are for each buying persona and connect features and lower order benefits to show how the benefits are achieved.   This can then help you better target your messaging to each buying persona and to help sales have the right kind of conversations with each buying persona.

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.

PCA 10 Executive Panel – Great Products Need Great People! An Executive Perspective on What It Takes to be a Great PM

On February 16th, at ProductCamp Austin 10 (PCATX, PCA10), I had the great honor of moderating a panel that was made up of three of the top Product Management and Product Marketing executives in the Austin area.  The discussion and interaction amongst the panelist was fantastic and I commend them for making this such a great session.   Below, I have compiled notes that ProductCamp participants have shared with me as well as tweets I collected to document the key discussion points for the panel.  I’m sure I missed some points, but I think we got the main ones.  I hope you find these notes valuable as you think about how to move ahead in your Product Management or Product Marketing career!

 Panel Participants

Michael Helmbrecht

Vice President and General Manager of Video Solutions, LifeSize


Tom Hale

Chief Product Officer, HomeAway


Jay Hallberg

VP Marketing and co-founder, Spiceworks


Moderator – Tom Evans

Principal at CompellingPM



Question – How would you define an exceptional product manager or product marketer?   What key characteristics do you look for?

Critical Skills for Product Managers
•             Passion* •             Influence and Lead others
•             Intelligence •             Stick to a vision for a long-time
•             Customer Empathy •             Great writers
•             Technical strength •             Sales strength
•             Synthesis of Data •             Curious and want to learn*
•             Good person •             Self-motivated*


  • The Product Team is a team and that means you have to have the right mix of skills, modalities, etc. on the team.  Creating that right mix is more important than a specific set of skills for one PM candidate.
  • Each team needs someone who is the “spirit of the product” person.
  • Different prod mgmt skills required for dealing with remote teams.

Good Interview Questions

  • When interviewing Product Management Candidates, Tom Hale asks, What MicroSoft Office product would you be and why? Word, PP, Excel, Access?  The answer to that provides significant insight to the personality of the candidate.
  • Which products do you love?  Which products do you hate?
  • Tell us about a great product and why it’s great.

Question – How do you recruit great product managers?

  • Look for the parents of great products and hire them.
  • Grow locally or bring in globally your development talent.

Question: Can a product manager and product marketer exist in the same body?

  • It’s rare when you find someone that is excellent at both, but when you find one, don’t let them leave!
  • The Combo of great Product Management and Product Marketing people are too hard to find.  The best option is if you can’t find them, grow them
  • Product manager is more like a movie producer now.  Prod mktg must have speed to deal with today’s communication methods and global customers.
  • A successful product marketer must be creative and an excellent writer.  If you’re not a good writer, you’re just not going to be a great product marketer

Question:  What Are Some Lessons or Experiences You Can Share

  • Michael Helmbrecht – Avoid taking feedback from only customers.  The installed base likes consistency & minor changes only and will be the last folks to talk to about radical ideas.  So watch out for “the tyranny of the installed base.
  • Jay Hallberg – Spice Works has their user community provide feature suggestions and then vote on them.  They don’t have a formal Product Management role.
  • Jay Hallberg – Give introverts avenues to open up and speak.  Maybe chat, small groups etc.  But for Extroverts – should warn people when they’re thinking out loud.  As some ideas may be bad!
  • Tom Hale told hilarious story about product failure in Japan because they chose a product name that had an insulting slang meaning.  So know your market and localization choices
  • Get out of the office and experience a day in the life of a prospective customer.  Jay Hallberg told the story about when they were analyzing opportunities for a start-up (now Spiceworks), they visited the IT managers in 30 small companies in the Austin area and learned a great amount about their challenges, and from that were able to create a company around that.

Question – How important is Agile Experience on your resume?

  • Agile is a process and you can learn a process.  Agile experience is something you can learn you don’t need to have it to do the job. Too much time is being spent on the process these days.
  • Don’t be a progress by the pound guru.  You box yourself in and can be perceived as slowing down the process.
  • Process can be a crutch, we hire talent over process any day!!!

Question – How do you consider a PMs life away from work?

  • Everyone needs a life outside of work.  We don’t really care what those interests are, as long as they have one.
  • Best PMs have to have something else to do, a source for creativity.

Final Thought from Tom Hale (a Haleism)

Based upon his story of someone suggesting that HomeAway needs to place branded dog doo bags in rental homes/units.

  • Don’t put dog doo by my brand name.
  • Don’t compete with free.


Please share your thoughts on this topic!

Put a Little Love in Your Product – How Great Products Evoke Emotion

The following is a summary of the Roundtable discussion that I led at ProductCamp Austin 10 on Feb 16th, 2013.

Several authors have recently highlighted the importance of emotion in great products.   Peter Boatwright and Jonathan Cagan explore this in their book “Built to Love: Creating Products That Captivate Customers”.   Marty Cagan addresses this in one chapter of his book “Inspired:  How to Create Products Customers Love”.   And then to take a different look at this,  Anthony Ulwick has written a book title “What Customers Want:  Using Outcome Driven Innovation to Create Breakthrough Products & Services”, where he describes that customers hire products to do a job, which at the surface seems to have nothing to do with evoking emotion.

In this session, we explored if and how emotion played a role in the success of products.  Discussion points for the session included:

  • Is emotion required to be a great product?
  • Does emotion apply to the general market?
  • Can emotion be planned into products or is it a serendipitous outcome?
  • Does emotion apply to business & industrial products?
  • Can we identify emotions to target?

Examples of Products That Evoke Emotion

So to start the session, we looked out products that participants said evoke emotions and we asked why.  These included:

Products Why They Evoke Emotion
 iPhone  It’s “lickable” – it’s unexpectedly good, which creates customer delight.  It’s finely crafted and feels good in the hand.
Disney Amazing customer experience.   They are meticulous about the whole experience and have planned for many potential use cases that need to be addressed, even minute ones that many would overlook. The Disney Imagineers are always looking for ways to improve on the experience (remove the crap).
Configurable Curtain Rods Easy to reconfigure any time furniture is rearranged (which in the participants case was multiple times per year).  It only took several minutes to change them v. having to buy new ones and going through the hassle of removing the old ones and installing the new.
SalesForce Much more useful than spreadsheets, little up-front investment, relatively easy to get started.
Southwest Airlines Great customer experience (especially in relation to other airlines) because the SW employees are happy, seem to enjoy their jobs, no nickel & dime for each extra, transparent about flight delays and other issues.

Characteristics of Products That Evoke Emotion

Key Characteristic Description of Characteristic
Unexpected Delight Other experiences were so bad before and you didn’t realize how good it could be.   Or going beyond what is regularly expected.   One other aspect is avoiding those things that can create negative emotions or hassle.
Honesty/Transparency Regular and honest communications v. leaving us in the dark or creating false stories to hide truth.
Attention to Detail Crafting the experience to ensure it’s memorable by paying attention to detail.  Also, making it personal.
Focus On Core Competencies Not trying to be everything to everyone and paying attention to those things that benefit the business model (which in turn benefit the customer).

How Companies Proactively Evoke Emotion

  • Someone owns the customer experience (empowered and budget)
  • Crafting the Experience & Creating the Story
  • Listening to Customers (showing the vendor cares)
  • Knowing What Not to Do (Clear Mission & Strategy)

Final Thoughts on Evoking Emotion With Your Products

While we did not achieve a comprehensive understanding of the role that emotion plays in great products, I think we definitely arrived at an understanding of the roots of what evokes emotion in products.   We also came to the conclusion that emotion can be evoked in about any kind of product, though the was an area that we would have liked to explore more.

I started out mentioning several books and that Tony Ulwick’s book seemed to not look at evoking emotion.   But from this discussion and from own experience, when a company understands all aspects (or dimensions) of the job their product is being hired for, they will pay attention to the important details that other vendors are ignoring and create a product that delivers unexpected delight, thus evoking emotion.   So I believe the though of hiring a product to do a job and evoking emotion is congruent.

So my final though is, it starts with Product Management 101 – understand the customer needs and expectations and then craft that experience.


We are ProductCamp Austin

ProductCamp Austin is achieving a milestone this Saturday, Feb 16th, with the tenth edition of ProductCamp Austin.   What an amazing achievement and it really is due to the engagement and involvement of the Product Management & Product Marketing community in the Austin area.   Congratulations to all involved!!!

I have attended ProductCamp in four different cities, including Austin, and I have to say that ProductCamp Austin is one of the most dynamic communities that I have seen.   Our percentage of attendance from the PM community is outstanding and our percentage of registered attendees that also attend is much higher than other PCamps.   Great sessions combined with great networking make it a great event.   You can here some of my thoughts about ProductCamp Austin in my conversation with Cindy Solomon at ProductCamp Radio.

To celebrate our tenth ProductCamp and to emphasize the importance of the community, the planning committee launched a video campaign called ‘We are ProductCamp Austin”.   You can see the original video and my response below.