Category Archives: Product Marketing

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.

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The Evolution of Sales Enablement

“The hardest thing about B2B selling today is that customers don’t need you the way they used to. In recent decades, sales reps have become more adept at discovering customers’ needs and selling them solutions  – generally complex combinations of products and services” confides Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon and Nicholas Toman in The End of Solution Sales.

Let’s face it, buyer’s have become better prepared and use every available resource before calling you as a vendor. “In fact, a recent Corporate Executive Board study of more than 1,400 B2B customers found that those customers completed, on average, nearly 60% of a typical purchasing decision – researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, benchmarking pricing, and so on – before even having a conversation with a supplier” shares Adamson, Dixon and Toman.

I can validate this as I speak with dozens of buyer’s each week and when I ask, “How did you find the vendors to short list or talk to?” I hear a wide range of response from, “We Googled some phrases associated with our problems...” to “We had a set of requirements and an approach that covered technology, companies, price and other key areas and we researched from there…” or “We know other companies and we called a few to see what they’d done and what vendors they reviewed.

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Let’s face it, the buying process will never be the same. Sales enablement is evolving and product marketing, has to evolve with it.

“The best salespeople are replacing solution selling with insight selling – a strategy that demands a radically different approach across several area of the purchasing process” shared Adamson, Dixon and Toman.

Product Marketing has a great opportunity to evolve as sales evolves and continue to refine its planning, delivery, style and process to impact traditional sales teams. If insight selling emerges, will your traditional tools and efforts be viable?

Adamson, Dixon and Toman further suggest that high performing sales reps will:

- Look for agile organizations in a state of flux, rather than ones with a clear understanding of their needs.

- Seek out a very different set of stakeholders, preferring skeptical change agents over friendly informants

- Coach those change agents on how to buy, rather than quizzing them on about their company’s purchasing process

As solution selling evolves into insight selling, product marketing has to establish itself as the body of knowledge and this knowledge has to be based on an outside-in view.

How will you be able to tell stories and share market insights in support of sales if you don’t understand buyer roles, the buying process, personas and what change agents are influencing the buying process.

“Unlike traditional solution sellers, these star performers lead with insights meant to upend a customer’s approach to its business, and they aren’t afraid to push customers out of their comfort zone” confides Adamson, Dixon and Toman.

It doesn’t matter if it’s solution selling or insight selling, product marketing has to coach sales and potential buyers on how to buy. Remember, if you aren’t enabling sales, sales will enable themselves.

I acknowledge Harvard Business Review and the authors for their contribution to this post. The opinions are mine and do not reflect those of HBR. To read more on insight selling, please follow this link. Looking for new ways to enable sales? Check out the New Rules of Sales Enablement, by Jeff Ernst.

I welcome any comments, opinions and feedback on how sales is evolving and what product marketing is doing to keep pace.

That Sucking Sound…

While we all know that product leaders in product management and product marketing can be pulled in all directions, I’m hearing more and more sucking sounds that indicate it’s more of a pull than I thought.

Recently, I was talking to a product manager and he said, “Man, it’s been a tough week. I’ve been designing the new user experience for our product, I’m a referee for the product team and I’m trying to manage my day job at the same time.” Immediately, I heard the sucking sound.

You know. The sucking sound that’s made when product leaders forget to lead and other priorities and disruption suck out what’s important in product leadership.

Just like the example of my friend, I recognize that product teams are sucked into inside out thinking, are pressured into becoming the UX guru, but when did it become fashionable for product management to become the delivery person for user experience and not customer experiences?

When did product marketing become the referee for inside-out thinking and not the leader of outside-in views and what’s really going on in the market.

Not too long ago everyone said “Product management is the CEO of the product.” Now, we’re lucky if product management is recognized as an extension to an administrative function in the organization.

Don’t get me wrong, the life of a product leader isn’t easy, but if we don’t get back to our true roots and bring an understanding of the market and customers in from the cold, the sucking sounds will continue, until your organization starts believing you are sucking at what you do and are expendable.

It’s not time to stand up and shout, “I’m a product leader,” it’s time to show up.

So, what’s it going to be product leaders?

If you like, dislike, agree or disagree with the post, please comment.

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The Courage to Innovate

This is the second in a series based on the book The Innovators DNA and how the research and principles support the discovery, growth and creativity of product leaders and their organizations. I acknowledge the research, content and messages of the authors and personally value the impact it may have on product leaders, especially those in product management and product marketing.

I’ve wondered and often been frustrated with why a company and its management team don’t seem to have an innovative mindset, appear to have an innovators DNA nor care to foster one with product leaders?

This attitude, realized or not, often squelch creativity and innovation in product management and promotes complacency or worse, a division in the teams and their creativity. This post explores why some senior executives don’t think differently, how it impacts product leaders and why courage is a critical step to innovation. We’ll also review a way to assess your innovative DNA.

Why Most Senior Executives Don’t Think Different – With eight years of interviewing scores of senior executives – mostly at large companies, Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen found that when they asked executives to describe the most novel or valuable strategic insights, they rarely mentioned an innovative business idea they had personally generated. “In contrast to innovators who seek to fundamentally change existing business models, products or process, most senior executives work hard to efficiently deliver the next thing that should be done given the existing business model. That is they work inside the box.

Innovating while working inside the box - What happens when you work in an organization where innovative thoughts and actions are not promoted, nor welcome. Usually you have limited choices. (You know what they are. Leave – Stay – or Suck it up.)

As an example, I worked with a company a number of years ago where innovation was often acquired. In that example, innovation was misunderstood and product management left in the shadows to figure it out. The authors share, “Innovators must consistently think different, to act different.” To maintain an innovative mindset, product management assumed the innovators role along with the Chief Technology Officer. Together, with engineering we discovered, experimented and innovated solutions while integrating with our buy, build, partner strategy. Product management stepped out of the shadows and began to infuse new ideas, conversations and associations. The importance of associations will be discussed in another post.

The Courage to Innovate - If you work in a delivery-centric organization, it may be difficult to consistently think and act differently. “In short, it takes courage to innovate– an active bias against the status quo and an unflinching willingness to take smart risks– to transform ideas into powerful impact.” Why? Most executives are focused in delivering and need someone to step out and make an impact.

So, I have the courage and I’m willing to step up, what’s next? The innovators DNA model illustrated by the authors is a great place to start.

Take time to review this and personally assess yourself and then your team to see if you have the behavioral skills required. If you’re not sure, ask yourself:

  • Do I understand how questioning influences innovation, ideas and creativity and do I question enough?
  • Do I observe outside the office and in native habitats where my customers and markets are? Do I observe in other habitats and learn from those environments?
  • Do I effectively network within and outside my comfort zone and am I willing to share my ideas with others?
  • Am I willing to experiment in areas that may not make sense to my organization or me and try not rationalize it away before I try?
  • Who do I know that excels in questioning, observing, networking and experimenting in my organization, team, circle of acquaintances and others outside my circle, and do I learn from them?

Next ask yourself the following:

  • Am I willing to risks on a regular basis?
  • Do I challenge the status quo in my organization?
  • Does my team challenge the status quo on a regular basis?
  • Does my organization handle challenging the status quo?

As we look at our innovative DNA, there will be vast differences in our ideas, answers, and how we build, acquire and obtain more. It’s a progressive process and starts with some level of personal or professional disruption and change.

In summary, as product leaders, we need to determine if we have the courage to innovate and where we lack key DNA to really impact our organizations, people or areas around us. I welcome your comments and ideas on how you’ve acquired and grown an innovative mindset, displayed the courage and any experiences you’re willing to share.

In my next post, we’ll discuss Associations, and how connecting these accelerate ideas. If you like the post, please share it on Twitter or LinkedIn using, The Courage to Innovate, a new post in a series by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-pe #prodmgmt #innovation #leadership. 

If you’d like to learn more about formal innovator assessments, check out the Innovators DNA site.

The Innovators DNA: the Core of Product Management

I recently finished the Innovators DNA by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton Christensen for the second time. It’s highlighted, underlined and notes jammed into corners and sticky notes everywhere. As someone whose been a contributor, leader and consultant in product management and product marketing for over two decades, I found it to be the capstone to the Innovators Dilemma and Innovators Solution, although they stand on their own merits. It is a must read for product management, innovators and organizations of every kind.

I’d especially recommend it to those who work and contribute in organizations where innovation is misunderstood, misaligned and misfires and where senior management brushes it aside as a passing fad, a marketing gimmick or something to pacify investors or shareholders.

What’s so special about The Innovators DNA? The book is a culmination of research and a discovery process along with relevant stories and references that product innovators, entrepreneurs and organizations can use and apply to surface, validate and incite disruptive nature or innovation.

The Innovators DNA shares early on, “Everyone knows that (Steve) Jobs is an innovative guy, that he knows how to think different. But the question is, just how does he do it?” The common answer is that “the ability to think creatively is genetic. Most of us believe that some people, like Jobs are simply born with great genes.”

However, the book shares and explores five (5) discovery skills that may be used by product leaders and organization to incite and infuse innovation. The skills include:

  • Associating
  • Questioning
  • Observing
  • Networking
  • Experimenting

I believe each of these five skills must be present within each product team, product leader, product owner or those infusing innovation into new ventures, existing markets or uncharted territory where a product, service or solution may emerge. While we may believe that some executive has ownership for this, such as the founder, a CTO, an entrepreneurial executive or others, the DNA has to reside and be visible in product management and product marketing.

Too often product leaders find themselves believing they are innovators, when in fact as the book shares, “business schools teach people how to be deliverers, not innovators.”  While delivering is a key aspect and result of innovation, it is not innovation.

It’s my goal to write a series of post aligning the exceptional work of the book and bring product leadership new ways to think and act as you surface, obtain and refine an innovators DNA. So, stay tuned and look for more over the coming weeks. If you have thoughts or ideas on the topics, please send them too me. Please share this via Twitter New post, The Innovators DNA: the Core of Product Management by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-nz #prodmgmt  or via LinkedIn The Innovators DNA: the Core  of  Product Management http://wp.me/pqeWU-nz 

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