Hit the Market Bullseye with Product Management

StrategyThe Challenge

As someone who has helped startups with their business plans I understand that to capture the interest of the investor community it is hugely important to articulate your value proposition right from the start. Clearly representing the problem or need you address for your target market, listening to your target customers and understanding how you will drive revenue growth is essential to ensure you get the kick-start of investment you need to scale your business.

Strategy is based on a differentiated customer value proposition. Satisfying customers is the source of sustainable value creation.” Robert Kaplan and David Norton (Strategy Maps)

Business plans typically only get shared with a targeted group – generally the leadership stakeholders and potential investors. The continued articulation of the value proposition within the company, especially as the number of new employees grows, can be ad-hoc at best.

A company that has captured initial investment through a clearly defined business plan will move quickly to focus on the execution of this plan – hiring engineers, marketers and sales personnel. As time progresses and they learn more about their target market they may change their initial corporate strategy and re-evaluate their initial hypotheses of what the customer needs. Somewhere along the line their “internal” value proposition changes but often this is not captured or re-communicated clearly to everyone in the organization.

Once the company begins to execute the business plan different dynamics can occur across the organization.

  • The background and focus of the engineering team means that they will generally position the product from a technical standpoint, often failing to understand or demonstrate the “business value” of what they are creating.
  • Marketing will battle to understand the technical complexities of the product and might fail to create compelling positioning material.
  • Sales will struggle without a clear view of the target market, the value the company brings or the product’s unique selling points.

Without a defined value proposition the company will struggle to position the product and potential opportunities will be missed. Articulating your value proposition across the organization allows you to:

  • Create an aligned and collaborative organization that shares a common understanding of how the business will create value
  • Ensure the organization remains focused on corporate strategic objectives
  • Maximize ROI for corporate resources and ensure all resources are delivering effectively
  • Support decision making for all employees
  • Enable Sales and Marketing to clearly position the products and solutions to the target market and thereby drive revenue growth

The Solution

Whether you are a startup or SME you should take the time to ensure that your“Internal” Value Proposition is clearly articulated inside your business so that everyone can clearly represent it outside your business.

Product development, sales and marketing teams are often too busy delivering current project priorities to focus on the company’s value proposition and it can be beneficial to bring the team together under a moderator to focus efforts in this area.

I have recently spent time running “internal” value proposition workshops with technology companies and the exercise has been enlightening for everyone – particularly those companies that have spent a lot of time focusing on the “execution” rather than the “strategic” part of product management.

The Value of In House Product Management Mentoring

mentoringMany companies over the last few years have made the bold move to establish a product management discipline in their organization. They understand that to be successful they need to:

  1. Create products or services that customers love.
  2. Ensure the organization is marching not only in the “right direction” but in the “same direction.”
  3. Work to a clearly defined business model.

This requires someone to hold it all together and keep the company focused. As Steve Jobs said “You need a very product-oriented culture… lots of companies have great engineers and smart people. …there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together.”

Initially, when the company is small, the CEO or CTO will fulfil this role – but as the company begins to scale it is important that the CEO looks for support. Adding a product manager to the team is the right next step… but what exactly does this product manager do and how will they integrate with the existing team?

Often there are a myriad of political obstacles that need to be addressed as people’s roles change and the organization settles into a new way of thinking. There are a lot of functions the product manager “could do” – the question is what functions “should they do” that align best with the organization’s structure and vision.

Although there are many organisations that provide great frameworks to help product managers understand all aspects of their role,  quite frankly the breadth and depth of areas to be covered would give any new product manager palpitations! You would need to be superhuman to address everything effectively! So, how do you decide which aspects of the framework make sense for your new product manager? Well, it depends on the stage of your growth as a company.

I think it is best to start with a “lean” approach to product management – don’t overwhelm yourself and your new recruit from day one. For many new and established product managers they exist in a state of constant bewilderment and despair as the enormity of the role becomes apparent to them. They often have a very unclear definition of the role, unachievable expectations are set by senior leadership or often no expectations are set at all (which is even worse), there is no clear prioritisation of projects and they have to juggle the demands of a sales and engineering team who expect their undivided attention 24/7. This situation can become a cycle of despair where the product manager becomes increasingly disillusioned and the leadership team begin to dismiss the product manager as ineffectual.

Things do not have to be this way – understanding who does what in your organisation and clearly defining the role and boundaries for each group is a first step. Then, applying a structure and discipline to product management that aligns with the stage your company is at is crucial.

Helping the product manager to apply methodologies in areas such as portfolio management, value proposition creation, requirements management, agile product management, customer validation, ideation, ROI analysis, sales management and leadership alignment will undoubtedly help alleviate the pressure.

As someone who has performed the role of product manager and ultimately managed both a portfolio of products and a team of product managers I understand more than most the demands of the role. I learned quickly that applying structure and discipline ensured myself and my team could work effectively.  We can all read books or attend courses that will give a good grounding in the product management discipline but the application of this discipline and the understanding of what works in reality comes with experience.

Don’t wait until either you or your product managers have reached the point of despair – seek the support and help of those who have done this before, who have been at the coalface and who understand the demands of the role. I loved this quote from Eric Ries of the Lean Startup because it is so applicable here – “Start-up success is not a consequence of good genes or being in the right place at the right time. Success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.”