Product Management and Marketing: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

For this blog post I’ve asked long time friend and colleague, Robert Lonadier to share his insights on the role of product management and the dynamics of its relationship with marketing. Robert’s career spans the gamut of IT hardware, software, and services with an impressive record of achievement as both a product management and product marketing professional – he currently serves as a Senior Product Manager at EMC.
The roles of product management and product marketing have evolved considerably in the 20+ years that I have practiced them. Early in my career, product management and product marketing were largely left to their own devices. Thinking that the positions and function were somehow temporary, we were left to pretty much do as we pleased. Product Management’s job was to tell the engineer’s what the build. “Develop the requirements” they would say. But where to look for the source of the inspiration on what customer’s really wanted? “Talk to Sales and Marketing, they are the ones closest to the customer”.

And the textbooks were not much value, either. They either focused on consumer product management; large numbers of customer’s whose preferences were measured in tenths of a percentage of market share. Does anyone remember the Cola Wars? It’s no surprise these techniques did not transfer over well. A few innovative researchers, including Eric von Hippel of the Sloan School of Management, looked at how lead users identify the source of innovation, often in very surprising and unpredictable ways. Product Marketing grew out of the need to support sales. Help make Sales go more smoothly by greasing the skids. Provide “air cover” to Sales. It really took the classic microprocessor battles of the late 1970s (a good read on the subject is “Marketing High Technology” by William Davidow) for Product Marketing to hit its stride

Given how the disciplines evolved, product management and product marketing often have an uneasy relationship. So many functions can easily fall into each other’s bucket. There is even a well-respected product management body of knowledge called “Pragmatic Marketing”. So, it’s no surprise that many practitioners are confused about the proper roles between the two functions. And management is not making this easier by often times lumping the functions together and not properly defining the roles.

Product Management and Marketing’s Guide to Harmonious Co-Existence

So, what is a product manager and product marketer to do? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Reach out to your product marketing/product management counterpart(s). Do not wait for management to step in and suggest this. Seize the initiative.
  • Clarify the roles and responsibilities up front. Especially if there is nothing already documented.
  • Be flexible. Depending on the skill level and capability of your product management/marketing counterpart, you may need to adjust what your contribution is in order to ensure that there are no gaps.
  • Remember you’re both on the same team and the real goal is to help your company reach its sales numbers.

The future of both disciplines is bright as the roles of product management and product marketing are critical to the development and marketing of successful products.  Companies that can clearly define and embrace both roles are more likely to see better overall results in bringing sellable products to market.

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Bonus Tips for Making the Most of Your Analyst Briefings

In my last blog post, “The ABCs of Industry Analyst Briefings”, we looked at some of the key fundamentals for successfully briefing industry analysts.  Today I bring you bonus tips to add to the list of best practices you can adopt to ensure your company is putting its best foot forward in its analyst relations efforts.

1) Let the analyst talk. While the purpose of a vendor briefing is for companies to tell analysts about their products, savvy vendors recognize that analysts have something useful to say and deserve a listen. Too many companies plow through dozens of slides sticking tightly to their scripts and often end the call without the analyst getting one word in.  Again, the better analysts will not let this happen and will interrupt if they have questions or comments. But don’t make them do that. Good etiquette means you should pause often and ask whether the analyst has something to say. Better yet, make sure you plan to schedule time at the end of your briefing to specifically hear from the analyst, who can provide valuable insight and direction for your company. Contrary to common perception, analysts try to add value on their calls whether or not the vendor is a paying client.

2) Respect the analyst’s time. Industry analysts are among the most busy folks you’ll work with – and if they’re not, they’re probably not worth your company’s time.  In addition to tracking hundreds of vendors, they’re busy answering client inquiries, doing research, giving presentations/webinars, working on consulting projects, and writing reports.  It’s a known fact that analysts spend a lot of time on vendor briefings although they often prefer to be doing their other work. Therefore, it’s essential to schedule only the amount of time needed and abide by the schedule by starting and ending meetings on time.  Also, make sure your technology works; delays around incorrect Web conferencing logins, for example, are irritating and usually avoidable.  TIP:  resend web conferencing details about 10 minutes before the call so the information is at the top of the analyst’s e-mail box (Gartner analysts most particularly appreciate this).

3) Prepare a proper agenda and follow it. Having a proper agenda will help keep your analyst briefings on track.   When possible, this agenda should go to the analyst ahead of time for approval.  While this is not a popular practice, the agenda provides a tool for vendors and analysts to keep the briefings under control and make sure important topics are not overlooked. Too many vendors focus exclusively on their technology. It’s important to ensure that non-technology subjects like company, customers, financials, investors, management and industry backdrop are included in the briefing to ensure analysts have the proper perspective.

4) Go easy on the PowerPoint® slides. Nothing makes an analyst more frustrated than when they see that a vendor briefing presentation contains more slides than there are minutes allotted for the briefing. Too many slides leaves the analyst confused and not completely sure what is important for their takeaway. You need to make sure your presentation conveys a clear message and gets to the points you think are most important.  The best briefings supplement the presenters, not vice versa. Many analysts want to see your product in action; but of course these product demonstrations should be manageable and support the business messages you are promoting. Again, make sure that there is time for questions and discussion to hear from the analyst so you know if he/she has understood your presentation and to get valuable information they can offer.

5) Follow up with the analyst. It’s amazing that many times after a vendor expends extensive effort to find and brief an analyst, they do nothing to follow up after their initial call. Companies should continue to build the relationship by keeping analysts aware of news and asking for their opinions or ideas when appropriate. It is a fallacy that analysts will only give ideas to paying clients. While paying vendor clients do receive more involved interactions, most analysts are willing to have meaningful discussions with non-paying vendors after a briefing. Companies should strive to build memorable connections with analysts which are achieved by faithful, honest and interesting communications.

Bottom line: analysts are top influencers with your customers and among industry peers – nothing should be spared in applying correct etiquette to ensure you make the most of your valuable time with these high-powered people.

The Art of Predicting Demand

Stephen Walker is the Managing Director of Colborn Morrison, a boutique business strategy, research & advisory, and project-based consulting services firm, based in Richmond, VA.

There are a variety of components that must be in place to create and execute on a B-to-B revenue growing marketing strategy; differentiation from competitors, the ability to reach your targeted audience, and a clear, well articulated message to simply name a few.

However, on an almost daily basis I’m exposed to companies – of all sizes and across all industries – with marketing strategies that inevitably erode into failure because they lack the cement that holds together a successful marketing strategy: a baseline understanding of what the market in general, and their current and potential customers in particular, will need 3, 6 & 12 months down the road.

Two quick clarifications about the previous sentence:

  1. Although I’m fully aware that no one has a crystal ball that shows them the future, there are a number of overarching themes and trends that marketers can leverage to develop a baseline, or general, understanding of future market demands
  2. I’m emphasizing the word need because it is entirely different from what all too many marketing plans focus on – want. Especially true in the current uncertain economic climate, characterized by budgetary freezes on most everything not essential and directly revenue-generating, what your corporate customers want has virtually nothing to do with what they buy.

Sharing this notion just last week with the V.P. of Marketing for a risk management and compliance software and service company lead said V.P. to exclaim something along the lines of: “Well Stephen, that makes sense and all but a marketing strategy doesn’t happen overnight.”

Of course, forming and putting in place a timely, well-directed, and ultimately successful marketing program does not happen overnight; that’s why building out a marketing program on the foundation of understanding what your customers will need at the time when that program is up, running, and firing on all cylinders is so important!

Although obviously each company’s marketing strategy will differ according to their size, product or service, current and target customer base & audience, etc., there are a number of overarching themes and trends that can, if studied and correctly contextualized into the overall thrust and goals of the marketing program, serve as predictive barometers of market demand.

Two of the more prevalent overarching themes and trends today include:

  1. Those induced by Government – good examples being significant legislative, policy, and regulatory trend changes
  2. Those induced by the private sector – one good example being the rapid evolution of technological advancement.

I know, that sounds pretty general; because it is. However, as mentioned before, the key is putting these overarching trends into context and translating:

  • How that trend will eventually impact the market and what type of demand it will create
  • How your company’s core capabilities and offerings can already be positioned as a leader in meeting that demand.

To quickly illustrate the conversion of general trends to demand predictions, take the notion of what I call “Mobile GRC” – applying relevant corporate compliance and risk management policies & controls to the countless millions of corporate PDA’s, smartphones, and other un-governed mobile devices containing sensitive, confidential, business-determinative information.

How might this create demand in say, the healthcare sector? Well, consider the potential market impact of this phenomenon in light of recent HIPPA crackdowns and President Obama’s pledges to tighten regulatory requirements, modernize healthcare information systems, and both strengthen and stringently enforce patient confidentiality requirements – when hospital personnel can already access patient information from their mobile devices.

During a two week period this year, I personally found 3 “company” Blackberry’s, with no password protection, in the back seat of taxi’s; and I don’t even ride the taxi that much! It’s just as likely to assume that one of those phones belonged to a doctor as it is to assume that it belonged to a stockbroker – which is a completely different, but perhaps even more valid argument for Mobile GRC we’ll save for another day.

In the ridiculously (and ever increasingly) competitive technology and services market, timing is everything; market share, revenue growth, expansion, and ultimately success will accrue to those companies who master the art of predicting demand.

Interview with Jennifer Vancini, Business Development Strategist

Today we’re thrilled to be chatting with Jennifer Vancini, the acting General Manager of US Operations for the Symbian Foundation, about the role marketing plays in the successful execution of a business development plan.

Jennifer has over 15 years of experience leading strategic business development initiatives and alliances from genesis to maturity. Her experiences include building and managing business development teams, growing alliances, defining and executing business growth strategies for both start-ups and Fortune 1000 companies.

Jennifer offers a real world view on how the right marketing plan and programs can make or break your success when opening new markets.

Attain Marketing: In your opinion, what are the ingredients that make business development strategies successful and how does marketing factor into this success?

Vancini: Simply put, business development efforts are most effective when the needs of the target customer are clearly understood and the company, and its products, sufficiently meet or exceed these needs. It is essential for marketing to support business development efforts by properly framing the value proposition and then providing campaigns and sales tools that will move new target audiences to take the desired actions.

Attain Marketing: What causes business development efforts fail and what can companies do to be more successful?

Vancini: Many companies are too focused on short term revenue goals, which is understandable given the way people are often incentivized. However, they don’t spend the time or money required to develop new markets, which are ultimately necessary to sustain long-term growth objectives and smooth out revenue fluctuations. Companies falsely believe they can develop a few random marketing tools and then magically gain traction in a new market, but that isn’t the case unless, of course, the market was low-hanging fruit to begin with and the company lucks out. I don’t rely on luck for repeatable success.

A successful business development program takes time to develop and execute and includes the selection of target markets with the highest probability of success, customer and competitive intelligence gathering, strategic positioning and message development, and creation of ongoing lead generation programs.

Attain Marketing: In your experience, what issues arise between business development and marketing teams that impede success?

Vancini: The common mistakes all stem from the same problem. Despite the fact that marketing and business development people are both charged with expanding their company’s client base, they rarely start out on the same page.

I’ve seen classic examples of this throughout my career, such as:

The “one-off” marketing campaign. In this instance, a lack of budget and commitment to a new market is replaced with a few disjointed and shotgun marketing campaigns. This short sighted approach often produces disappointing results because marketing activities are not part of an integrated and ongoing campaign.

Another common mistake is trying to be all things to all customers. This is usually a result of limited resources, limited market understanding and impatience. Instead of focusing efforts around a tightly defined audience, the company rushes into new markets with broad messages and ineffective campaigns that try to reach too many people and often the wrong people.

Lack of credibility is often a hurdle when entering a new market. You can’t assume your company’s reputation will automatically transfer from existing to new markets. Prospects won’t believe your claims unless third-party experts and/or customers back them up. You must take the time to build credibility points and endorsements from influencers in new markets.

Finally, new business development ventures are often misaligned with corporate branding and strategy. Time must be taken to ensure that new business development marketing programs align with overall corporate branding strategies. Branding is much more than a logo. The consistent, cohesive presentation of a company brand, which includes all touch points to a customer and market (promotion, product, service, sales, etc.), increases customer confidence. On the other hand, branding “free-for-alls” make a company look unprofessional and unreliable. Depending on how radical the departure is, it can also raise suspicion in the customer’s mind that his/her business development contact is acting on his or her own without buy-in and support from the rest of the company.

Attain Marketing: What tips can you provide to our readers that will help them avoid these mistakes?

Vancini: The main point is to view marketing and selling as an integrated process. Teams from both sides should collaborate and execute on an overarching set of goals and objectives. Management support and proper budget – is the first step to success. Other tips include:

  • Concentrate business development and marketing activities on a few, well-budgeted product and service offerings to avoid fragmented resources and reduced market exposure for each product.
  • Organize the demand-creation process in a way that lines up with target customers’ view of the world and how they prefer to buy your products.
  • Base your marketing messages on well-researched business issues and solutions instead of forcing your target customer to think about these issues and how solve them from your perspective.

Attain Marketing: Great points. As you know, everyone is sensitive about the economy today, so we have to ask you how companies can successfully market their business development projects with limited budget?

Vancini: I expected that one. But really, integrated marketing campaigns don’t have to be expensive – it’s not an all or nothing proposition. What’s important is to be sure that all marketing programs are tied to business development objectives and selected campaigns can generate the best ‘bang for the buck’. Even in good economic times companies can find themselves operating with a self-defeating scarcity mindset, especially small companies who compare themselves to rich competitors. Just do the best you can with what you have, make choices that have the strongest link to objectives and be realistic about the results.

If your sales and business development people on the front lines feel they don’t have enough marketing support, they’ll come up with their own programs and tools. I’ve seen this range from creating their own PowerPoint templates to making up a new product line on the fly. Not only does this become a diversion from where they should be focusing their time, but messages and brands get diluted and overall results are hindered.

More than ever, opening new markets is key for a company’s long-term growth. When marketing and business development are aligned, companies have a significant competitive advantage and will have the greatest chance for success.