Practical Rules for Product Management: Some rules just aren’t meant to be broken (Part I)

By Maureen Rogers
August 01, 2009

Part I of interpretations and personal experiences of Pragmatic Marketing’s 20 rules for product management success.

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The Pragmatic Marketing Framework catalogs the activities and artifacts required for creating and delivering technology products to the market. You probably have a laminated version of it. Have you ever looked at the back? In addition to learning the Framework, people who attend the Pragmatic Marketing seminar receive 20 rules for product management success.

Maureen Rogers applies her own interpretations and personal experiences to these 20 rules in her multiple-part series. In this article, she explores rules 1 through 5.

Wait half an hour after lunch before going in the water. Never end a sentence with a preposition. Don’t wear white after Labor Day and before Memorial Day.
Some rules really are meant to be broken.

But others aren’t. In the “other” category, there are 20 astute and practical rules that Pragmatic Marketing has laid out for product management. I should know, because in my more than 25 years in B2B technology marketing, I’ve broken all of them. So with absolute conviction, I’ve reached the conclusion that, when it comes to rules, these all fall into the category of better to observe than to break.

After thinking about Pragmatic Marketing’s rules, I’ve observed the following:

RULE 1


If product managers don’t do their jobs, the other departments will fill the void.


When I first worked as a product manager, I wasn’t all that sure what I was supposed to do. So I waited for everyone else—Engineering, QA, Tech Writing, Marketing, Sales Support, Customer Service—to stake their claims; then I ran around filling in the gaps. At the time, this struck me as a quite handy and pragmatic way to define my job. But it was a bad idea—and not just because I got stuck with all the stuff no one else wanted to do. As it turns out, products end up being better if someone truly owns the entire thing.

As so often happened during the course of my long career, I learned the hard way that good product managers aren’t just pragmatic, they’re proactive. They don’t just sit around waiting to see what everyone else does; they make it clear up front what their role is. And then they fill that role, rather than the gaps.

Here are just a few of the things that can happen when product managers don’t fill their roles:

If you don’t provide clear and supported input to the process, the engineers will develop what they please. It’s your responsibility to talk to your customers (and your prospects), check out the competition, listen to the analysts, learn about your industry, learn about your customers’ industries, find out what your sales engineers and customer support reps are encountering, look at those RFPs, and glean market intelligence. And it’s your responsibility to translate all this “stuff” into product requirements that you communicate to your engineers.

Yes, there will be things that your developers come up with on their own—and a lot of it will be great. But you need to be the driving force behind what goes into that product, or you could end up with a magnificently engineered product that nobody wants or needs.

If you don’t provide clear direction about your target customers, Sales will go wherever they please. Your products should be built with some particular use and customer in mind…shouldn’t they? Please let Sales know.

Even if your products are entirely horizontal—every company can use a database and a word processor—products need to be targeted to specific customers and/or buyers. You may also have a product that’s better suited for certain-sized companies or specific geographies. There may be good reasons to target industries as well. (If you’re selling to later adopters, for example, Get-a-Life Insurance is more apt to buy if One-Life-to-Live Insurance is on your customer list.)

The point is, you need to send Sales where they stand the best chance of winning. Even if you have the most generic product, you have to start somewhere. Pick that somewhere wisely, or Sales will pick it for you. And, in the short run, they’re not necessarily going to choose wisely (i.e., in support of your long-run strategy). Sure, they may make a sale or two, but it may not end up being a good thing for your product or your company.

While we’re on the subject of sales, if you don’t establish pricing, Sales will make it up. You absolutely need to listen to what Sales has to say on the matter. But it’s up to you to determine pricing that will work, that’s commensurate with the value provided, that’s not out-of-whack with the competition, and that is what the market can bear. If not, you’ll be in the wonderful world of having your sales team cannily figuring out what the prospects have in their wallets, and then establishing that as the price du jour—or just low-balling and overpromising to get the deal. (Just watch out when customers get together and compare notes.)

If you don’t provide clear direction about target customers and the right message for them, Marcom will go wherever they please and say whatever they want. Like Sales, if you’re not providing guidance to Marcom about target customers, they will come up with it on their own. Their programs may make spectacular sense; they may not. It’s best not to leave things to chance.

Similarly, if Marcom doesn’t know what the product is and does, they will come up with their own story. Again, their story may make spectacular sense; it may not. Again, it’s best not to leave things to chance. I worked for a company that was teetering, very publicly, on the brink of bankruptcy. One day, I saw a banner ad for one of our services. The ad touted our financial stability. I immediately called the ad person in Marcom and pointed out that this wasn’t exactly our strong suit. “But that’s what our buyers are most interested in,” she told me.

I could go on about how important this rule is, but by now you get it. And you were likely well ahead of me in getting it.

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About the Authors

  • Maureen Rogers is a senior consultant with Communigration, specializing in strategic product marketing (market identification, product positioning, and product messaging) for B2B technology and services companies. A resident of Boston, Maureen is a graduate of MIT’s Sloan School of Management and has over 25 years experience as a product manager and product marketer. With her friend and colleague John Whiteside, she blogs on marketing at Opinionated Marketers and, on her own, writes about business, the workplace, and culture at Pink Slip. Maureen can be reached at mrogers@communigration.com.


Categories:  Roles & Activities


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