Category Archives: product management, product marketing, leadership, technology 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

Losing Product Leadership

Recently, I had the pleasure of discussing how product management and product marketing loses and regains leadership with Scott Sehlhorst and Joshua Duncan.

From a previous post, That Sucking Sound, I described a recurring problem I see.

Namely, that product leaders are being pulled in all directions and subsequently the pressure builds to where they describe themselves as product administrators or product janitors.

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As you savor some needed downtime, link to The Product Marketing Podcast – Losing Product Leadership and listen to what we have to share.

Once you’ve listened to the podcast a few times, find some time to look at how you will change your direction in the near year and focus and execute on the things that are most important to product management and marketing.

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. 

Innovation and Product Management DNA

When you think of innovators, it may conjure different ideas, thoughts and names of people in industries recognized and at the forefront of great and interesting products. But, what makes an innovator and are you one of them or can you be? The authors of The Innovators DNA shared, “Creativity skills are not simply genetic traits endowed at birth, but they can be developed. Nurture trumps nature as far as creativity goes.”

Almost every product leader possesses some innovative DNA, but often we may not know it’s there. It may be under-nourished, undiscovered or under-valued at your company due to the organization, its maturity, personality, innovation practices or how it attracts, grows and rewards innovators.

Whether your background is technical, sales or marketing oriented, product management has to understand its innovative DNA and what we need to modify, learn or apply to lead products in our organizations. I’ve met some product leaders who think that everything they learned in business school qualifies them as an innovator. It doesn’t. “Business schools teach people how to be deliverers, not discoverers” and “Innovators must consistently act different  to think different.” This presents an interesting question for product leaders.

Do I possess a delivery or a discovery mentality and how does that impact me as a product leader? I shared the elements of good innovators from Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen previously. As a product leader, which of the DNA elements do you possess and which ones do you lack?

  • Questioning - “Innovators are consummate questioners who show a passion for inquiry. Their queries frequently challenge the status quo.”
  • Observing – “Innovators are also intense observers, They carefully watch the world around them including customers.”
  • Networking - “Innovators spend a lot of time and energy finding and testing ideas through a diverse network of individuals who vary wildly in their backgrounds and perspectives.
  • Experimenting – “Innovators are constantly trying out new experiences and piloting new ideas. Experiment unceasingly explore the work intellectually and experimentally, holding convictions at bay and testing hypothesis along the way.”
  • Associating – “Innovative ideas flourish at the intersection of diverse experience, whether it be others’ or our own.”

Thinking about the five attributes and considering a delivery or discovery mentality as a product leader, plot where your innovation DNA is based on what you possess. In the example below, you’ll note the networking skills are high and more aligned to the discovery and innovation side, while observing is middle of the road and could be an area of improvement. Are there areas where you need to improve or add? In areas where you excel, offer to work with a peer or better yet, volunteer to share this in a discussion internally or present at an upcoming product camp.

Now that you’ve considered where your DNA lies, how do you begin to build the DNA that a product leader needs to be successful? Consider the following questions as you look at areas where you have strengths and where you need to grow your innovative DNA;

  1. How often to do I challenge the status quo in my product leadership role?
  2. Do I have regular opportunities to question and discover in my role? Does our team?
  3. Do I know how to really observe without preconceived ideas and solutions in mind?
  4. Do I have a broad network outside of my market and industry and comfort zone?
  5. Do I experiment with an open mind and on a regular basis?
  6. Am I unafraid to pilot and sponsor new innovation with my company?
  7. Do I know how to articulate across and throughout my organization with authority and passion?
  8. How diverse is my experience and do I associate and learn from those who do?

While each of us will have different answers and have to consider the different organizations we work for and any constraints, product leaders have to add new DNA one conversation, observation,  experiment or association at a time.

In my next post we’ll discuss the unique ways to infuse innovative DNA into your product leadership and how to traverse through an organization that is innovation-free or limited in its ideas and execution. please comment on the post and feel free to share on LinkedIn or Twitter. New post, “Innovation and Product Management DNA” by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-oi #prodmgmt #innovation

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

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