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March 08, 2010

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The Unemployed Product Manager

Atul’s book is getting some good press in relation to the current health care debate (sadly being unemployed and a political junkie leaves lots of time to follow that debate so you pick up on these things!).

Absolutely agree there’s tremendous value in applying the concepts in any organization. While that’s an easy sell for folks such as PMO groups who are naturally process oriented, it’s usually a challenge to get buy in with sales and creative teams. Mandates from the boss don’t work - not beyond the short term!

Sales staffs are motivated by making sales - period. All things being near equal they will naturally gravitate towards the easier of two sales prospects (this is a good thing). Imposing a process from “on high” will typically be perceived as a burden and won’t receive buy in. The only thing that typically works is proof of success (which is a bit of a chicken and egg problem) and positioning the process around how it makes their life easier and is less work than what they are currently doing.

The other typical challenge is sales isn’t the best part of the organization to lead developing the tools and defining a repeatable sales process. One, sales should be out selling (duh). Time spent defining a process and developing sales tools is time not spent selling. Two, sales is usually focused on the next deal in the pipeline (again, this is a good thing) so there tends to be a bias towards what the next “big deal” wants and needs. What’s needed is someone with a broader and more strategic view of the entire market for your product – not just the next potential customer.

Lastly, there’s some prep work before you can define that sales “checklist”. What’s needed are a couple of tools which will help identifying whether those checklist items can truly be checked (or even if you should be checking them):

Define and articulate your distinctive competence -While it’s dangerous to make assumptions based on a single blog posting, how much time and effort does your sales staff and the rest of the organization spend on prospects that are only interested in pricing that aren’t in your wheelhouse or strategic vision? To minimize wasted resources it’s crucial your sales staff has the tools that define who your target market is – what are the market problems your product solves better than your competitors, what verticals are you going after, what 3rd party systems work best integrating with your solution, etc. Having this information defined upfront will help your sales teams determine whether a prospect is worth pursuing or not so they can focus on those that are easiest and have the highest likelihood of success.

Identify and define buyer personas – While you absolutely need to identify who the decision makers are, it’s critical your sales folks also have the tools to know how to position and sell your product based on what those decision makers are most interested in. Personas are a great tool to help your sales staff, development and the rest of the organization understand who are the typical decision makers, what makes them tick, what are they interested in and what drives their decisions. Are they an economic buyer (e.g. CFO) interested in ROI, are they a technical buyer (e.g. CTO) interested in security, integration or a user (VP of Operations) who is focused on reducing workload and ease of use? What’s on the top of their mind these days? Having generalized personas in place will help your sales staff not only determine who the real decision makers are but allow them to focus their sales pitch on those things that are of interest to them or to quickly identify if a prospect isn’t going to be interested in your solution. In addition they will help guide your product roadmap and lead to better design and development.

Sounds simplistic, but it works. Simplest “real world” example I like to use when training on the concept is to use selling and designing cars. I ask the sales team how they would sell a “car” to a buyer (or development how they would build a car). Generally I get a confused look and some very generic “features” (it has 4 tires). Then I give them a specific persona (e.g. suburban mom with 3 young kids, upper middle income who works and likes to go camping with her family) and ask the same question. It’s great to see the light bulbs go on. Unfortunately, too often in the software world we design, market and sell products based on that generic buyer or user which makes it much harder to sell and leads to products that are poorly designed.

There are a few other things that would likely help you putting together that checklist but this post is already way too long!

Good luck getting your team on board with a great concept.

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