Dogs, Cows and Kids …

In every company, product managers have more things to do than you have time for. So how do you decide which products to fund? which projects to work on? and more importantly what NOT to work on? After all, if you have more things to do than you have time for, there is nothing worse than working on the wrong stuff. Marty Cagan of Silicon Valley Product Group says – “….lose your dogs and milk your cows, and you should have significantly more resources with which to feed your kids.”

Marty in his latest blog post “Dogs, cows and kids” talks about how to identify what to ride to the sunset, what to milk and what to focus energy on. It is a great read.

Do your customers know that “you” exist?

In one of my previous posts, I had talked about educating customers on all the different product enhancements you have made to solve their problems. But there is another problem that needs customer education.

The phone conversation goes:

Product Manager: “Mr. Customer, I am the product Manager from company X.”

Customer: “Product Manager? Who is that?”

This is not uncommon. Not many people know what product managers do in companies. Some mistake them to be salespeople or customer support. Yes, we are a not well known breed like salesmen, software engineers, finance, customer support etc. We have to take it upon ourselves to educate our customers on who we are and then build the rapport with them.

Once customers find out that product managers have a large influence on the future direction of products they use, you become their greatest ally. But it is up to us to communicate it to them, build rapport with them, listen to them (yes listen, not talk to them) and build solutions that will make their lives easier.

Cross selling to existing customers

This morning, I had to get an oil change and I drove up to the local Jiffy Lube. They charge $35 for an oil change. Cross selling to customersWhen I pulled in, they pulled up my car record and based on the mileage, they told me about the Honda recommended maintenance I have to do. Replacement of automatic transmission fluid and rotation of tires was due. They could do this if I could wait another 15 minutes. To remove any likely objection, they even threw in a 15% discount for all of the services. Why did I do it? – I knew I had to get these done but had forgotten about them – these were genuine maintenance things I had to get done. They did not push those services that I did not need – for example, they showed me the air filter and said it was fine. I was sold. Total charges = $154.

What is the lesson I took away from this – Jiffy Lube knew how to cross sell. First of all, they knew I was a return customer and based on my car records knew exactly what my needs were. They recommended solutions to satisfy those needs and got it all done, while gaining a larger share of my wallet. Not a small increment by any means – they got $119 more out of me than what I expected to spend when I drove in – a whopping 340% more.

How well do you know your customers? Do you treat each touch point with the customer as an isolated incident or does everyone who touches the customer know more about the customer’s needs than the customer himself? Is the customer aware of all the different products/services you offer for problems the customer likely has?

A mistake that companies make is assuming that the market is up-to-date on what products/services they offer. Customers don’t really care about a company’s products, they only care about solving their problems. It is up to us to create the awareness and cross sell these products/services to the customer. And don’t miss the opportunity to cross sell these products/services. But be genuine – offer only those services/products, the customer really needs – win the customer’s trust.

Retailers have figured this out the best – next to the toothbrushes are the toothpastes, dental flosses, teeth whitening strips, mouthwashes. Jiffy Lube is doing this very well.

Selling to existing customers is much cheaper compared to cost of acquiring new customers. Many companies forget this – Susan Oakes has an excellent blog post titled How not to retain key customers.

How well are we, as product managers, helping sales understand how to cross sell related products/services to existing customers?

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Image courtesy of Displays Plus Inc.

How “Human” is your business?

One of the wrong arguments you hear from businesses is “… but we are a B2B company and not a consumer company – so it cannot work for us”. But they forget that customer interactions in a B2B company are still between people. You are dealing with a purchasing manager, human resources manager, sales manager, CFO of companies – they are human as much as consumers are.

So how “human” is your company? How do you portray your company as “human” and not a “corporate” entity that has no soul?

Here are some good ways to do it in my opinion.

1) Presentations – if you are giving a presentation over the web, put your photo on the title slide – very simple to do, but puts a face in front of the audience, humanizes you and your company.

Gopal Shenoy
2) About Us on your company website – add photographs of not only just your executives, but also your employees. I love the way Communispace does this – see below. What messages does this send?communispace

  1. The company across as very personable and as a corporate entity.They are a bunch of people just like you and me.
  2. Smiling faces also indicate a good place to work for – important when recruiting people.

3) Add photos of your company events – picnics, dinners, other events where employees are having fun or add a blog which talks about your company culture. I love the way Zappos and care.com does it. It again comes across as a great place to work, but also shows how employees are enjoying what they are doing.

All of this of course, assumes that you have a great product and a great customer service. Otherwise, you don’t stand a chance independent of how “humanized” your company looks.

What do you think? What are you doing to “humanize” your company or business? Have you found other good examples?

Five reasons why analyst reports will become extinct

Research analyst groups such as Forrester, Gartner, Yankee Group, Aberdeen and others that publish the various industry reports and sell them to customers and vendors should be really worried about this part of their business. Here are the five reasons why?

reports

1) Analysts sell expensive, static and hence quickly outdated content – Many of these reports put out by these analyst groups are expensive. These reports are exhaustive, some of them are very large (100 pages is not uncommon), but the content is static once published and hence quickly outdated because of rapid changes happening in some of these industry segments. These reports are similar to the “10 mutual funds to invest in 200X” report published at the start of the year which assumes that nothing will change the rest of the year to change any of these predictions. In the world, we live in, where so much dynamic content is being generated on a daily basis, static content does not have value – you are not talking about a trend that withstands the test of time. Technologies covered by these reports sometimes have a very short shelf life – what starts as a big hype at the start of the year could go extinct in a matter of months. Snapshots that stay static for 12 months have lesser and lesser value these days. Plus, a lot of this content is available elsewhere, so why pay for this content? Where is the differentiation?

2) There is no measurable ROI for vendors – The analyst groups require the vendors to do an obscene amount of work to participate in their research that produces these reports. What is the ROI for the vendors for this participation? How many of their prospects read these reports? Of those who read them, how many are influenced by these reports in their purchase decision? If a vendor cannot figure this out, it is only a matter of time some of them will turn away from participation. It is my theory right now that vendor participation is because of fear than anything else – but this will change in the course of time because vendors can now measure and get better ROI from their other marketing efforts.

3) Every vendor claims the laurels - Many of these reports dole out laurels in one shape or form to all the vendors who participated in the report. All the vendors then put out press releases claiming victory – for example, after a recent analyst report, here are the headlines of press releases by three companies covered in the report (I have taken out the name of the analyst and the company names out intentionally)

New XYZ Study Affirms Vendor A’s Position as a Category X’s Category Leader

XYZ study Identifies Vendor B as a Market Leader

Industry Analysts XYZ Confirms Vendor C’s Dominance in Category X’s Market

What the heck does any of this mean? How does it solve the customer’s pain point? If everyone can claim victory, what really has the report done for the prospect? These reports are not objective or unbiased as these analysts claim them to be – or is it that the analysts do not really understand the differences between the different vendors and hence gives good grades to all of these vendors?

4) Analysts are not real users – Analysts do not necessarily use the products that they cover in their reports. So their viewpoint is not that of real users – analysts ask vendors to give them names of customers to interview – do you think a vendor will ever give the analyst the name of a customer who would give them the real insight (good, bad and the ugly) into the vendor’s product – NO – the vendors give them names of those customers who will rave about their product. So where is the value? This makes the analyst nothing but a pundit who can say anything they want with no accountability – they are NOT HELD ACCOUNTABLE for anything they can say. They can say that some new technology is great and then later in the year turn around and say that it was a hype.

This is no different from stock market analysts who predicted Google stock to be worth $1000 or those that predicted that oil will touch $200/barrel.

To make matters worse, some of the analyst reviews I have read contain nothing but a cut and paste of material from vendor’s marketing material. Where is the value?

5) Analysts are on payroll of vendors: Analysts do work for the vendors they cover on a consulting basis. They also sell distribution rights for portions of their reports to the same vendors covered in the report. There is a definite conflict of interest here. This is very similar to how Wall Street pushed the stocks they underwrote to their investment clients. What makes the analyst objective and unbiased if they have intentions to sell distribution rights to these reports to the same vendors being reviewed? Will they ever write such unbiased views of a vendor if they are earning consulting revenues from the same vendors? This is a well known fact among the vendors and the question is how long is this dance going to last? I predict not for long.

So what can these analyst groups do different instead of the current stale reports? – don’t know. But I know for a fact that the best 3rd party endorsement that a vendor can get for their product is from customers and not from these analysts. Analysts were important once upon a time to disseminate awareness of a vendor’s products before the arrival of the internet, but now product reviews written by real users are more prevalent and valuable than an analyst’s opinion especially when the analyst is not a real user.

If the analyst groups don’t come to this realization soon and not reinvent their business to address these changing times, they will face the very same challenges that is currently playing havoc with the newspaper industry.

What do you think?

Radio station needs your fund raising ideas

Product managers and others, here is an opportunity to get creative.

A well known radio station here in Boston is looking for your help in coming up with some creative ideas on how they can do fund raising. Currently, they do this via their broadcast, but unfortunately this results in interruption of the regularly scheduled programs and causes inconvenience to the audience who have tuned in to listen to these programs. Especially, if you have already contributed to their fund raiser.

So, if you were in charge of this radio station and you heard the above problem, what creative ways would you come up with to solve this problem?

Please submit your ideas as comments to this post. There are no wrong answers except one – the radio station needs to sell more ads – because this will cause further interruption of the programs and they do sell ads at this time.

Come on, let us get creative.

Image: Courtesy of hippyshopper.com

Why did Facebook and Google forget their users?

Recently Facebook did a major UI upgrade that caused an uproar in the user community. People screamed because the new Facebook UI was just awful and made the user experience terrible.

Google last week brought out the new iGoogle UI and it is awful. To make matters worse, they did not tell anyone, one day you login, the UI is different and it has a terrible user experience, with no way to go back to the one you were quite happy with.

If you check Google’s discussion forum there is a ton of activity on how many users hate it. So why did Google make this mistake? Did they not usability test this with real users? Given how backward it is, what was the problem they were trying to solve? I am left to wonder.

Facebook was even arrogant where they asked the userbase to get 5 million signatures on their online petition before they would consider giving the users the ability to switch between the two versions. Facebook, you created the problem by releasing a less usable UI and you now want the users to do the work before you would listen?

Yes, it is very difficult to make UI changes that are pleasing to everyone – but I don’t think these companies will have a tough time justifying that the new changes are liked by a whole lot of people.

What do you think? Why do you think companies fall into this trap?

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