Category Archives: Product Management Leadership

The Challenger Sale: What Product Leaders Need to Know

I recently read The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of the Corporate Executive Board and then picked it up again, with a highlighter and red pen and started again.

If you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a no-brainer if you’re in sales or live in or around the sales or buying process as product marketing, product management and others do. The research, findings and focus on sales success will connect with you.

The focus of the Challenger Sale for sales is not to build relationships, but to challenge them. To rethink, reshape and change how you engage and lead.

Whether you lead, develop, build, prepare, market, sell or support products that engages in a business-to-business (B2B) model, you know things have changed. In the mind of the buyer it’s not all about the economic wash from the past several years, but what you will do to transform the business and ultimately deliver a solution. While the book focuses on the journey of evolving solution selling, it have a definite message for product leadership. You have to “tailor for resonance.”

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As Dixon and Adamson confide; “It’s the ability to tailor the teaching message to different types of customers – as well as different individuals within the customer organization is what makes the teaching pitch resonate and stick with customers.”

I recently listened to a CxO share his frustration and story of why his organization didn’t buy from my client. In the discussion, he stated, “They didn’t get it. they didn’t listen. They didn’t understand my problems, nor did they try to understand my objectives. Forget about an innovative approach. I suffered through vendor pain.”

How can product leaders teach the message to different types of customers and build the level of resonance with sales?

“Tailoring relies on the rep’s knowledge of the specific business priorities of whomever he or she is talking to – the specific outcomes that particular person values most, the results on the hook to deliver for their company, and the various economic drivers most likely to affect those outcome” shares The Challenger Sale.

I believe product leaders must possess, know and build three key areas of knowledge and expertise to support the challenger model:

Understanding of the buying process“Buyers have exponentially more choices and virtually instant access to information about them. Long before they talk to a sales rep, buyers are conducting research and making up their own minds about what’s important to them, eliminating companies on the basis of whatever information they can easily discover” shared Adele Revella of The Buyer Persona Institute.

Buyer personas“Basing your work on buyer personas prevents you from sitting on your butt in your comfortable office just making stuff up, which is the cause of most ineffective marketing. By truly understanding the market problems that your products and services solve for your buyer personas, you transform your marketing from mere product-specific, ego-centric gobbledygook that only you understand and care about into valuable information people are eager to consume” confides David Meerman Scott.

Speak the language of the buyer - in her recent post, Get Over Yourself, Jennifer Doctor shared, “In aligning with their buying process (not what you think they do or what they should do, but how they actually buy the product,) you have to develop a story. The more memorable the story, the better it will be for you. The story has to be about how you have helped others solve similar problems, remembering it’s not about your product. Once you have a story, you can engage.”

With these three areas of knowledge, you’ll be know more about the buying process, understand the dynamics of whose buying, and speak in the language buyers. Don’t leave it to salespeople to translate what you’re trying to convey.

Additionally, you’ll be better prepared for internal conversations, offer credible insights and align with stakeholders while assisting sales and marketing in creating value, not just messaging or positioning. Let’s tailor our resonance to transform the sales channel.

I welcome your thoughts and comments and challenge you to get a copy of The Challenger Sale, read it and apply it to your product leadership.

If you like the post, please share it on LinkedIn, Twitter or Google+. Here’s a quick link to use. The Challenger Sale – What Product Leaders Need to Know. A new post by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-u2

Product Leadership – the Civil Way

Not too long ago, I was standing in a lobby of a hotel waiting to enter an elevator. Several other people were standing nearby. When the door opened, I offered for the others to get on before me. One of the women thanked me and then commented on my good manners and civility.

As someone who grew up with a strong southern heritage and raised by good parents, my mother taught me respect, civility and cordiality and to always treat people as I’d want to be treated.

As I thought about this event, I thought about another time when a board room was filled with senior leaders, many of them in product marketing and management. Gathered to discuss a critical topic with the CEO, the discussion became heated.

When a senior executive didn’t answer a question the way the CEO thought it should be answered, the CEO picked up a bagel that he was planning to eat and with a stream of obscenities, threw the bagel at the senior leaders head. It just missed him, but it set a nasty tone in the room and immediately changed the level of civility.

These two experiences are an interesting contrast of  how we act, react, respond and maintain a level of civility, in our daily lives, and in the workplace.

Let’s face it, we all get frustrated with others, our organization, and when things fail to go as planned. But is it worth damaging morale, productivity and working relationships in your organization?

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In the recent HBR article, The Price of Incivility by Christine Porath and Christine Pearson, the authors shared; “Rudeness in the workplace is rampant, and it’s on the rise.”

How does incivility impact your organization and you as a leader?

Using more than 14,000 data points and a poll of over 800 managers, “We’ve learned just how people’s reactions play out. Among workers who’ve been on the receiving end of incivility:

  • 48% intentionally decreased their work effort.
  • 47% intentionally decreased their time spent at work.
  • 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work.
  • 80% lost work time worrying about the incident.
  • 63% lost time avoiding the offender.
  • 66% said hat their performance declined.
  • 78% said that their committment to the organization declined.
  • 12% said that they left their job because of the uncivil treatment.
  • 24% admitted to taking their frustrations out on customers.

As leaders what can we do to maintain a civil workplace? Below are three suggestions and areas that I try to work on regularly and recommend to others.

Look at yourself – “Leaders set the tone, so you need to be aware of your actions and of how you come across to others” shares Porath and Person.

For those of us in product leadership positions, do you ask your team and others for their feedback? If not, give it a try. Setup some one-on-one time and let the person know that you are looking for honest insights into how you act and react at work. You might be surprised what you hear. “You may need a reality check from the people who work for you” confides Porath and Pearson.

Additionally, you may want to “keep a journal in which you track instances of civility and incivility and notes changes that you’d like to make.”

Teach and practice civility – “We’re always amazed by how many managers and employees tell us that they don’t understand what it means to be civil. One quarter of the offenders we surveyed said that they didn’t recognize their behavior as uncivil” shares the authors.

I once worked with a senior executive who often berated managers and employees openly. While I didn’t work directly for this person, I sat down with him one-on-one and after we had discussed some business, I shared what I had observed. He was quite shocked, a little upset, but was willing to listen. He attributed his behavior to another mentors style and he had adopted some of the bad habits. He asked if I along with some others would watch his actions and help him refine the interaction he had. Over a period of a year, he learned and applied some basic principles, changed his style and way of interaction, and over time became an effective and recognized leader that everyone enjoyed working with.

Stand up and be recognized – While product leaders are often recognized for their capabilities to guide and manage technology, teams and growth of solutions, how often are we willing to step up and speak to someone about their civility at work. I believe we forget this key aspect due to our busy schedules and life and brush it off as someone having “a bad day.” Successful leaders are the ones that monitors the habitat and their teams interaction with and are willing to coach and guide civility.

As we move into a new year, I will be looking at mysellf first, my team second and monitoring how we behave.  I will continue to be honest and open with my team and if I can help others improve their civility, I’ll do it. As product leaders, I hope we can lead by example and actions and support and improve how we interact with others.

If you like the post, please share it on LinkedIn, Twitter or Google+. Here’s a quick link to use. Product Leadership – the Civil Way. A new post by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-tj

Associations – the Power behind Innovation

This is the third in the series focused on The Innovators DNA and how product leaders and others may acquire and develop their innovative DNA. It’s my goal to introduce concepts and ideas that will have product leaders of all types, think, act and engage differently. This post focuses on associations, their value and role in the innovation process.

Merriam-Websters online dictionary describes association as:

a) the act of associating.

b) something linked in memory or imagination with a thing or person.

Considering these two definitions, what do associations provide and why are they important?

In my last post The Courage to Innovate, I shared an innovation model from the authors. This model should be at the core of every product and marketing leader and drive our disruptive thoughts and actions. When you think about your role as a product leader, do you possess and use Questioning, Observation, Networking and Experimenting? If you do, then what’s missing?

Associations – “or the ability to make surprising connections across areas of knowledge, industries, even geographies– is an often-taken-for-granted skill among the innovators we studied” shared authors Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen. “Innovators actively pursue diverse new information and ideas through questioning, observing, networking and experimenting– the key catalysts for creative associations.”

Associations aren’t new. Throughout history, they’ve been used and perhaps are the keystone of innovations. In his book, The Medici Effect, Frans Johansson shares. ” When you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary new ideas.”

Johansson calls this the Medici Effect named for the fifteenth-century banking family who funded creators from a wide range of disciplines.

Where does associating happen?  Today, we recognize Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Walt Disney and many others as innovators with the creativity to spark ideas in others.

While many organizations believe that innovation happens at home, I believe what Pragmatic Marketing teaches in, “Nothing Important Happens in the Office or NIHITO.” 

However, for innovators, I think we should change it to “No Innovation Happens in the Office.” 

While you’ll agree that you have to get out of the office to question, observe, network or experiment, how often should you get out and with whom and when?

“Innovation flourishes at the intersection of diverse experience, whether it be others or our own” shares the authors. The DNA of an innovator is one that “intentionally maneuvers themselves into the intersection, where diverse experience flourish and foster the discovery of new insight.” How often should you get out and observe, experiment and build new associations? Everyday.

As an example, last year I met Brice Sloan, President of Sloan Security Technologies. Now, I know almost nothing about about the security market where they succeed, however, they do and the Sloan brothers bring vast experience in large scale perimeter and other kinds of high-end security that would require government clearance to talk about. Brice found me through an intersection and the network.

He intentionally found me. Why? He’s has an innovators DNA and was experimenting with new ideas. He sought a variety of people, background, experiences and those that could experiment with him.

Why does an innovator connect with a person that has spent a large majority of his career in software? Simple. To question, experiment and connect with others who may not question “why,” but are willing to say, “Why not.” Since our first meeting, Brice and I have gotten together several times. He’s invited me and others to experiment with his ideas and how it applies his world.

With a strong desire to seek out unique problems and to engage with others that have ideas and expertise, Brice has introduced a series of solar powered surveillance solutions not dependent on the grid. Basically, they’re smart video cameras that run on solar power and transmit video wirelessly to any location. Can you think of hundreds of applications and uses, I can.

Intersections – “Disruptive innovators shine best at associating when actively crossing all kinds of borders, (geographic, industry, company, profession, discipline, and so on) and engaging the other innovator’s DNA skills.”

Where can this happen? For product leaders, it can happen at BarCamps, Product Camps, wondering through a local retailer, a lawn and garden center or a child’s classroom. The intersections are limitless, but we have to be willing to step into them and not expect anything to happen but another idea or the unexpected.

You have to engage with your neighbors, friends, friends of friends, people who say, “You have to meet this person” and a thousand others. I’ve heard stories of people who give time to private investors, angel funds, and micro-lenders as well as volunteer in their communities with start-ups and small businesses to break into new intersections.

To grow your innovators DNA as a product leaders, we need to get out, get busy and extend ourselves. Please join me in taking the challenge this week to jump into some new intersections, collect ideas and experiment outside the office and leave your non-innovative comfort zone. As Edward de Bono author of Lateral Thinking shared, “You cannot look in a new direction by looking harder in the same direction.”

In my next post, we’ll discuss Innovation for the Risk Adverse. If you like the post, please share it on Twitter or LinkedIn using, , Associations, the Power behind Innovation - a new post by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-qj #prodmgmt #innovation #leadership. 

Congratulations! You’re in the Top 5, Now What?

There’s always a lot of buzz when a major publication ranks and supports your profession as one of the Top 5 for the next year. Recently, Keith Cline published The 5 Hardest Jobs to Fill in 2012. As an experienced recruiter for startups and high growth technology companies, Cline observed, “Hiring the best of the best is an absolute must if you are going to build a successful company.”

For over 20 years, most technology companies have relied on product management to be the face of the customer, a market instigator and someone creating, seeding or harvesting ideas and innovation and then proving that more than one company or person will buy.

Next year it won’t be any different or will it?

What Cline sees and most smart entrepreneurs value is handing the keys of product innovation and ownership to someone who can focus on it full-time. “It is always helpful for an early-stage company to hire someone who has very relevant and specific experience in your industry.  This is especially true for product management, since the person in this role will interface with customers and define the product strategy and use cases” confides Cline.

While I agree that early stage and any smart company should hire someone who has relevant and specific experience, each organization differs and specific experience versus adaptable experience applies.

As a case in point, my experience traverses a history in enterprise B2B technology. However, over the past 8 years I’ve found that my experience has adapted effectively in B2C companies, cloud-based technologies, consumer electronics, physical security solutions and others where I didn’t have the specific industry experience. Why?

When product management is grounded in sound product principles, has balance, thinks and acts with an agile mindset and is adaptable, industry experience isn’t as important. Now, I’m sure there are some people who will disagree, but that’s my opinion. Find me a product management professional with the attributes and DNA I mentioned, and I’ll take that over specific industry experience any day.

You’re in the Top 5, now what?

With the repeated visibility and recognition product management is enjoying, how can we capitalize on being in the top 5 of the most sought after positions in 2012? Below are a 5 things I believe we all have to do to build more credibility and value next year.

  1. Balanced accessibility – If you’re going to be the catalyst of your products and their direction, you need to balance your accessibility. Everybody wants or needs something from you when you’re in product management and their will always be pressures associated with managing product success. However, you can’t focus on the important things without managing your accessibility. Balancing internal access makes you more accessible externally to customers, markets, new insights and trends. Having this balance will give you a perspective that your executives will value and appreciate.
  2. Exploration and discovery – Is a way of life in product management. Steve Blank shared in The Four Steps to the Epiphany, “You need to leave guesswork behind and get outside the building in order to learn what high-value customer problems are.” Are you planning to explore and discover outside the office this year or just mine the same old internal information and support it with gut instinct? Create a simple exploration and discovery plan for the first quarter, socialize it, justify the expense and then pack. Don’t forget the information you’ll discover needs to be communicated when you return. Your executive team will find the fresh prospective and outside views enlightening if communicated in the language they know and understand.
  3. Innovative mentality – “Innovative ideas flourish at the intersection of diverse experience, whether it be others or your own,” shared Jeffrey Dyer, Hal B. Gregersen and Clayton Christensen in The Innovators DNA. Having the mentality, desire and drive is one thing, but knowing where and how to build intersections is another. While innovation may originate from many sources, it best flourishes when you’re “sparking ideas within others and intersecting with others who can spark the same in you. Plan on introducing yourself to a local startup, give some time to a new entrepreneur and definitely plan to attend and participate in groups such as product management camps at least quarterly. The sparks and ideas that will surface will make you more valuable and diverse.
  4. Product starter/finisher – Product management isn’t a place for procrastination. If you are leading or will lead a new product, service or offering this year or have ideas that need market discovery or validation, create a simple plan, ask for help and  stick too it. Starting is easy, finishing is painful. Before you start, review your skills, the talents around you, your goals and requirements and what you need. Look for ways to involve others in the team or organization, then get busy, delegate frequently and take criticism with a smile. Remember, executives recognize and reward finishers.
  5. Communicator and collaborator – It goes without saying that collaboration and communication are product managements left and right arms. The two are analogous to a traffic policeman stopping, starting, guiding and directing traffic in multiple directions at the same time. Improving your communications upward (executives) and horizontally (with product team collaborators) builds cadence that leads to successful requirements, development, user experience and launch. Take some time to review how you communicate. Do you use all the organizational and personal assets you have access to? If you are directing traffic and communicating from all directions, the organization will recognize your capabilities and leadership.

It’s great to have the recognition of being in the Top 5. Let’s prove we deserve it by earning it and exceeding expectations. If you like the post, feel free to comment and share it. New post, “Congratulations, You’re in the Top 5, Now What?” http://wp.me/pqeWU-mV by @jim_holland #prodmgmt #prodmktg #leadership

Poke the Box… Product Management

Well, the hiatus is over. While some of you may have recognized that I haven’t blogged in a while and Twitters performance improved without @jim_holland in your face, I’ve been listening, learning and watching the product management and product marketing community at large.

One of the things I’ve learned, is there’s a few of us out there that like to “Poke the Box.” If you haven’t read Seth Godin’s latest rant, I challenge you, like Seth, to pick up a copy and read it.

While on a recent trip, I attended and participated in the Minnesota Product Camp. I spent some time with Barry and Jennifer Doctor while in town and I stole (asked permission to read) a copy of Poke the Box.

It’s a great challenge, rant and manifesto meant for product management and those innovating. So what is poke the box? It’s about producing something that’s scare.

The concept originates from a buzzer box built by Seth’s uncle. It was metal, had lights and switches and begged to be poked and messed with by his young cousin. Seth confides, “Life is a buzzer box. Poke it.”

As I read and absorbed, here’s what I heard and thought.

The Initiator – Product management and innovators at large have to be the initiator and instigator. We know that if you’re not, someone else in your organization is. It may be a group that has clout like sales or an executive. Do you want some other group that has less market awareness and understanding to initiate something new? Are you the initiator in your organization or the person waiting for permission to move forward? As Seth describes, “We can’t wait for initiative to be handed to you, take it.” How does an initiator get started? Seth shares, “Excellence isn’t about working hard, it’s about initiative and deciding what’s worth doing.” Who’s better qualified than product professionals to decide what’s worth doing? Are you initiating or is your organization holding you back? Take Seth’s advice if the organization is the issue: “1) Ignore the book (for now) or 2) Start looking for a new gig. ASAP!”

If it’s not your organization, then what’s the problem?

Product Manager or Product Starter – Recently at PCampMN, John Mansour from Proficientz said, “Product management is not a factory, but you could be outsourced.” I’m sure you’re thinking, “Now hold on John!” Well it’s true and I agree. If you are managing products and not starting products, then you may be outsourced or replaced.

Product starters are the ones that poke the box. “Innovation is mysterious and inspiration is largely unpredictable” explains Seth. Most people think innovation is hard. It’s not. “While there are ideas all around us, we have to replace the fear of failure or rejection and replace it with initiative, innovation and starting. Along with starting comes, finishing.” This includes expressing a roadmap, articulating it, believing it can happen and have some passion about it as you share it. There’s some great post on releases, roadmaps and vision and product managers and innovation by Saeed Khan and Scott Sehlhorst respectively.

Poking the Box – means action. It means that you must “insist, push, create, cajole and launch” and  ask why in internal conversations, and get out of your seat and the office and get face-to-face with customers and others in markets that have the experience or can support the poking process. Using your product starting skills, you will discover, validate, refine and often park ideas. While discovery and validation are the actions that come from any insight and decisions, don’t get caught up in the “never ending” cycle of “have I discovered and validated enough?” It’s a product management trap and will consume your time, energy and damage your credibility if it lingers without a purpose. Once you begin poking the box, set goals, targets for when you’ll start, end and decide or not. “Poking requires tact. Without a why, without an explanation, it’s hard to give ideas the momentum they need to spread” comments Godin.

Product Starting – is a way of life in product management but won’t start without you. Why? You are the starter, owner and finisher. Without your guidance, innovation languishes or starves from lack of leadership. Why does innovation get stuck? Godin confides, “One reason organizations get stuck is that they stick with their A players so long that they lose their bench.”

If you lead product management, are you developing all your talent and utilizing everyone on the bench? Do you spend time expanding the team’s talents or limiting them? Do you use mentors to strengthen and grow your bench? If not, why?

If you’re in product management, are you the “A” player” thought of most often as someone who starts new products along with managing the ones you have? If not, what do you lack that keeps you from starting? Do you sit on the bench hoping the team wins for you or do you get involved and get some valuable playing time and experience?

A number of years ago, I was talking with another product manager about a new product he was leading. I recognized this product would satisfy a series of newly discovered problems in the market at that time if it was coupled with some existing products and we could use some technology from a partner. How did I know that? I had my innovation radar enabled and was willing to ask questions, go beyond my normal boundaries and willing to incite thoughts and actions to innovate a new solution.

As I think about Poke the Box, I recognize that to some extent, Seth is poking at us. Product management has to consistently poke, experiment and experience things to produce something scare. What’s scare? It’s not a lack of ideas, it’s a lack of leadership and capabilities to “insist, push, create, cajole and launch.” How will you begin to poke the box? It happens with forward motion.

Thanks to Seth Godin for keeping it real and dishing out some for product professionals. I’d like to hear your ideas and what you do to innovate and start products. Please feel free to comment and share this via Twitter or LinkedIn. Poke the Box – Product Management: a new post by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-md #prodmgmt #leadership

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