Category Archives: technology marketing

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.

Please Check Your Baggage…

I’ve been traveling more and noticed when I fly, that people drag a lot of baggage onto planes. They are overloaded, exceeding size and weight limits, and doing everything within their power not to check baggage and potentially incur additional costs.

While walking through an airport last week, I started to think about how product leaders often carry baggage. When you think about baggage, we should first consider the intangible things that get in the way.

Product leaders deal with tangible (real and concrete) things and intangibles (indifferent or obscured) everyday and should pack their luggage with things they personally and professional value most.  It also has to be of value to their organization as well. Let me illustrate.

Last week, I left home with a few extras items packed in my baggage. I packed some food items that I like. However, when going through security at my local airport, I was asked the infamous question, “Who’s bag is this?” by the TSA officer.

I was moved to the side and politely asked by the officer if they could rummage inside my bag looking for anything suspicious. I agreed and the search began. I had packed a harmless box of Blueberry Pop Tarts (a personal weakness) and the foil wrappers sent the scanner into a frenzy.

The Pop Tarts were removed and everyone in line watched as they were individually scanned to ensure that they weren’t the exploding variety, but the frosted ones.

While I was a bit embarrassed, I still had my Pop Tarts and made my flight without a problem. While fruit flavored pastries may be more desirable, how often do we pack our bags with things that are unnecessary or intangible and of no value as a product leader.

In Stephen Drains post Take Control of Your Own Baggage, he shares, “Leadership starts from the inside – knowing how we’re wired, how we interact with others and empowering and mentoring others to do what needs to be done. But leadership is also about taking responsibility for our own baggage. You know, those issues, whether work or personal that we all carry around.”

I often blog about the strategic elements of product leadership and how we can become more valued and effective. I’ve realized that the “leadership” aspect of product management comes from inside.

Might I recommend the following to help you take control of your own baggage and to better pack what you need.

  1. At the start of each day, find some time to reflect for 15 -30 minutes on what you have packed in your bag and what your missing.
  2. Make a list of what you’ve packed and what you need to unload, add or replace.
  3. Discuss the items with a friend, mentor or peer who knows you well. Validating the contents of your bag is important.
  4. Commit to working on one item this week.

As you take control of your baggage each day, I hope you’ll find things to add, discard or place into it. If you have some advice for other product leaders, please share them via your comments.

Do Hard Things…Product Management

I’m pleased and honored to be a regular contributor to the On Product Management blog. Quite often you’ll find my posts there. This post is co-located on both sites.

In a recent conversation with my friend Kevan Kjar, CEO of Three Quest, I noticed a sticker on his PC that said, “Do Hard Things.” 

I asked Kevan about the logo and what it represented. “It’s a personal challenge that I’ve adopted and I use it when working with youth groups.” Kevan then asked, “Would you like to take the challenge?” I said, “Sure, tell me more.

Kevan shared, “The challenge is simple, but not necessarily easy. Pick one thing that you know is hard to do. Plan how you will do it, when you will do it, and then consider what would happen if you don’t do it.” It’s often easier to do a hard thing, than live with the consequences of not doing anything at all.

How does this apply to product management and its leadership? Product management teams are asked to do hard things everyday. As a profession, we are in the middle of flux, change and frequent decisions with significant impact. However, some things aren’t addressed because there’s change involved, we aren’t sure how to do it, or things may seem out of our control.

As an example, everyone in product management knows Win/Loss Analysis provides valuable insight. Some years ago, I was leading a product management team where we did not own, weren’t permitted to conduct or participate in, and had little input into the process. Forget getting access to the information, its was almost impossible.

What would you do? I had to do hard things

Preparing information with my team, I met with the executive responsible for win/loss. We discussed what he wanted to accomplish, the resources required to maintain the activities and the value his team was receiving. I asked how product management could benefit from the information. I offered to take on the analysis and with his managers and my team, we would create a process, provide resources, record results and share information with all internal teams.

The consequence of not having the conversation would have resulted in a continued loss of valuable insight into positioning, the buying process, the competition, sales readiness and other product and sales oriented events. While it wasn’t a difficult conversation, it resulted in a positive action for the organization, improved information and another executive became a big fan of product management.

In the article Making Tough Decisions,  Manny Nowak shares, “One of the definitions of a good leader is one who can handle the tough decisions, one who will acknowledge what has to be done, and is willing to complete the task-at-hand.”

As leader and contributor to product success, how can product management be prepared to do hard things? Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Be Observant – Contributors and leaders have to stay focused, be engaged and aware of the current state of strategies, the business and team actions. The pulse of many companies flows through the veins of product management.
  • Be Informative – While data is key to making decisions, communications is equally important and product management is more successful when data and clear communications are in tandem and one supporting the other.
  • Be Resolute – Make a decision and don’t waiver. Your credibility and the value in product management is riding on a clear decision.
  • Be Actionable – Once a decision is made, move forward. While it’s always good to look forward, take time to do a retrospective to see what you’ve learned.

Imagine the impact that product management could have on an organization when doing one hard thing in the new year. I envision a time when product management teams do hard things and the outcome is stronger teams, increased knowledge, more credibility and sound business and product decisions.

If you like the post, please comment. If you’d like to connect with me, you can find me on Twitter at jim_holland or drop him an email at jholland[at]missioncreekpartners[dot]com

Inside Product Management Politics

In my post Politics and Product Teams, I received a comment from Justin Smith asking, “I’d love to see an expansion on your thoughts around politics in product management teams.” 

Over the past several years, while attending product camps and working with product management teams and their leaders, I’ve often asked, “Are their politics in your product management team? “The responses vary, but almost every contributor or team member says, “yes,” while the leadership usually responds, “not really” or “I don’t think so.” 

This post will take an inside look into product management team politics, dynamics and suggest how leaders and teams can use politics to improve credibility and reduce negative impact. 

A Look Inside – By virtue of the role, product management is often involved or dragged into some political situations. Whether you like it or not, your company reorganizes, product(s) are acquired, leadership changes, development has a great idea, a new competitor enters the market, a new channel partnership is formed or the CxO spoke to one of your most important customers. 

Each of these examples intersects with product management and if not managed, may drive negative wedges into the team. Leaders have to be cognizant of all the moving parts within a company and vigilant in staying current and on top of things that may or may not impact the team. As an example, a few years ago, I was leading a product management team for a very acquisitive company. It wasn’t uncommon for the company to acquire several companies or substantial products each year. I recall two senior product management leaders debating, and then arguing over who would own an upcoming acquisition. The product portfolios aligned with each business unit and would fill competitive and roadmap gaps while adding revenue growth to each.

A political tug-of-war emerged and the situation began to drive wedges between the two senior leaders, two product management teams and other stakeholders became concerned. How did we resolve the conflict? I asked each group to present a business case on how we could create a new business unit. Each team was asked to work with each other to fully investigate technology, resources, market dynamics and how this could succeed. Together, we reviewed the business cases and during the session, I found the communications barrier was fixed, several solutions were proposed and the two teams better aligned. Privacy was replaced with transparency and it was evident to the teams that their business unit should be merged to create a new one. 

While it wasn’t a perfect exercise, it moved the negative into positive energy and refocused the teams on the business and not individual agendas and creating new wedges. 

The Good Side of product management politics has several upsides. Teams that practice positive influence, build credibility and share authority within their teams create an atmosphere that is recognized by other organizations. 

In their four-part series on “Politics are Necessary, but Not Necessarily Evil” by Jane Perdue, Susan Mazza, Mike Henry Sr. and Jennifer V. Miller  they shared, “Truly skillful execution of the behaviors associated with politics is usually perceived as genuine, authentic, straightforward and effective. Politically skilled managers are masters of four behaviors: social astuteness, interpersonal influence, networking ability and apparent sincerity.” 

If product management and its leadership builds a foundation on the four areas outlined, its creates stronger business-orientation and reduces political battles with other stakeholders. This creates a confidence in many executive teams and provides product management with a seat at the executive table. 

While positive political skills may create the strategic and visible element your product management team desires, leaders own the responsibility of developing and strengthening teams. At a minimum every product management team requires:

  • Defined product management charter stating teams values, goals and deliverables
  • Clearly defined roles and responsibilities
  • Organizational structure aligned to team strengths and experience
  • Sustainable and repeatable processes that everyone knows and uses daily
  • Common product management language aligned with goals and stakeholders
  • Measurements and metrics that are clearly defined and communicated
  • Ongoing team and contributor assessments and education
  • Opportunities for team growth and career movement

In organizations where a product management foundation is present, I find teams establish a cadence that’s repeatable and actionable. It eliminates negative politics, dispels the unknown and sets a course for each team member. 

The Ugly Side of product management is loaded with personal agendas, privacy and personalities that don’t gel. Leaders who fail to recognize these attributes often do irreversible damage to the team, its credibility and value to the organization. 

In a series of posts on The Good, Bad and Ugly of Product Management by On Product Management, Saeed Khan asked a series of questions to his readers and those in the product management community. There were many good things that surfaced, but participants stated that negative politics occurred when:

  • Product management lacked authority.
  • Product management was inefficiently organized.
  • Product management has poorly defined roles, process and tools.
  • Company culture didn’t believe in good product management.
  • Product management lacked resources, education and time to do a good job.
  • Product management leadership was weak or inexperienced.   

To combat the negative politics within product management teams, leaders have to look inward. Assessing the teams capabilities, watching team interaction and dynamics, and reviewing each individual personality with other non-product management stakeholders are a few ways to gain insight into potential issues.

Finding new avenues to communicate, educate, engage and reward your team will build confidence, trust and eliminate political unrest. In the past I’ve used offsite meetings, small group lunches, outings,  team meetings, and lunch and learn sessions to build personal and product management skills. 

Please share any ideas on how you’ve addressed product management politics, whether the good or the ugly. Your comments are alway welcome.

Politics and Product Teams

Recently at Seattle Product Camp 2010, I led a discussion with Jennifer Doctor, a senior product marketing professional from Sage on the topic of Politics and Product Teams.

Jennifer and I knew there would be a mixture of product management and product marketing professionals, both leadership (manage teams and portfolios), and those who contribute (manage products and strategy). It was our goal to represent both and offer a top-down, bottom up view of how politics influence product teams.

The discussion was excellent, and the feedback from the standing room only crowd was very lively and engaging. At the beginning of the discussion, we all agreed that politics don’t always have a negative side and quite often provide a platform for improved communications, working relationships and changes in organizations.

In this post, we’ll look at the warning signs and maneuvering through politics from a leadership perspective. Jennifer will discuss the issues from a contributors perspective.

What are the warning sign of politics in your organization? Those at the product camp shared:

“I see the empire builders working on their agenda and not what’s important.”

“Disruptive innovation surfaces with no alignment to the company vision.”

“There’s visible  favoritism that impact decisions.”

“When communications go dormant or there’s too much useless noise, I’m suspect.” 

“We hear executives openly disagree with peers on key issues.”

“Individuals often have personal agendas and disregard team or company dynamics.”

“People hoard information on a consistent basis and won’t provide key data for decisions.”

“It’s evident that there is a  fear of turf wars.”

“A lot of conversations and decisions happen through back channels.”

“There’s visible tension and internal competition across stakeholders.”  

“There’s a lack of trust in key areas of the company or with key leadership.”

“Inefficient analysis is used to rush decisions and it’s rushed by a few.”

No matter what warning signs you see or hear, product management leadership has to constantly be aware, prepare for and effectively maneuver teams through any situation. 

Maneuvering through Politics  

Before product camp, I asked several senior executives from different industries to share some ideas on how product management can effectively prepare and maneuver through politics. Here’s what they said:

“Don’t get sidetracked in your day-to-day activities and forget to use your product management radar. You have to keep your head up and listen constantly.”

“Align yourself with strong senior leaders who are connected and can provide you with current information on the political climate.” (Read my prior post on The Executive of Influence.)

“If possible, maintain a seat at the executive table or have a strong advocacy with someone who does.”

“Make sure your team is accountable and measurable, and executive management understands and values what’s being measured.”

The executives I spoke with really value product managements leadership and want you to be more active and visible. The outside-in evidence and market validation often dispels any political related actions. How does product management build value and use this to counteract politics?

Building Value in Product Management

From my experiences, product management’s value increases when the following happens:

  • Product management has an established set of methods that the team follows, aligns to and uses. The methods don’t need to be complex, but simple, actionable, repeatable and measurements created, communicated and managed.
  • Product management must be a consistent resource that relies on real data and not gut instinct.
  • Product management must be measurable and the team knows how it is being measured, executives and other stakeholders are made aware and the team is rewarded for its positive contribution.
  • Product management must be nimble in its actions, organizational structure and willingness to lead change. We’re you first or last to know your company was going Agile?
  • Product management must be resolute and committed to develop and grow each member of the team and find ways to improve its execution.

A Few Last Words

While politics won’t go away, product management leaders must be prepared, actively work to understand what’s going on, and maneuver their teams through the process. To do this, I would recommend the following:

  • Avoid open forums where ideas and people are criticized. Make meetings purposeful and constructive.
  • Avoid conjecture, speculation and misinformation. Don’t start the conversations, STOP them. 
  • Avoid being the gridlock. Product management is the solution, not the distraction.
  • Avoid gut instinct. Product Management is in a unique position to make decisions based on real customer/market data. Data can squelch political situations. Invest in the facts.
Please leave a comment or share the post with someone in product management. To view the complete product camp presentation and notes, go to the SlideShare link.