Airtel’s Opportunistic innovation

In the past I have written about incremental product innovations that wow you! On my visit to India, I came across such an innovation via the local telecom provider Bharti Airtel. Since the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2004, getting a SIM card for your mobile phone in India requires paperwork that includes your photo, copies of your passport etc. It is doable, but just the thought of paperwork had stopped me from getting a SIM card. Instead, I ended up using my sister’s extra cell phone while I was in India. The only problem with this is that I have to give it back to her before I leave, thereby leaving me with no phone before I arrive home or after I leave home on my return trip. This has been bit of a hassle.

So this time, I am at the Kochi International Airport and wanted to make a phone call letting my parents know that my flight was on time. So I ask someone where I could find a public phone (that vintage one). They point me to an Airtel desk. I walk over and tell the gentleman manning the desk that I need to make a phone call. He had a better offer for me. He asked me if I had a mobile phone on me and I did – but one without a SIM card. He offered to sell me a SIM card for 100 Indian Rupees ($2 USD) and did all the paperwork necessary in less than 5 minutes including using a digital camera to take my photo and copy of my passport. I was just WOWed, because here was a simple innovation that solved a real customer need. And I was not alone, this chap was busy with other travellers either buying new SIM cards or reloading their old prepaid SIM cards with more money. Airtel was gaining customers one at a time, but at a place where there was no competition.

Bottomline, you do not have to come up with game changing innovations like the iphone or the ipad, there are a lot of customers problems that can be solved via simple yet profitable innovations. In fact, I would argue that there are more incremental innovations that are equally effective than game changing ones! Agreed?

What is your personal portfolio? Think like a graphics designer ….

I get asked all the time on how folks can transition into a product management career from say engineering, QA, sales etc. Here is my short answer – think like a graphics designer. If you have interviewed graphics designers, they always come in with a portfolio that shows the work they have done – wireframes, fully rendered designs, flash animations and different variations of it. Such portfolios gives the hiring manager or recruiter a true sense of the creative skills of the graphics designer. The discussion then quickly turns into what they want to do going forward, cultural fit etc.

If you are in engineering, QA or sales and want to move into product management, try doing what product managers do on your own time. Can you do a competitive analysis of your industry – this should not be difficult – after all you know who your competitors are. Search online to find anything and everything about them – their products, their business model, their customer support channels, what people are saying about their products, their marketing channels etc. Can you then put together a presentation on the competitive landscape?

Use every opportunity to get close to your customers. Participate in some customer calls with the help of your software product manager so that you can listen in to what customers are saying. How about writing a requirements document for a product feature that you think will enhance the product. Ignore for the time being whether there is a market for the feature, just write the document anyways.

Not only will this help you put together a software product management portfolio, but it will also give you a taste of what product management is all about. Product management is not for everyone, so why not taste it before you transition into it and then realize it is not your cup of tea.

If you want to be even more creative, then pick an industry that is not where you work. If you work in the semi-conductor industry, then pick the eCommerce industry. After all, I am sure you have bought something on Amazon or eBay or other like sites. Given that all of these are public companies, you will also have access to a ton of financial information.

Create a portfolio of what you have done and then make a case in your current company for a product position. Always do this in your current company – your current employer usually is more approachable for career transitions especially if you have demonstrated success in your current job. No one wants to lose a good employee.

So next time, you are thinking of sending me an email asking how you should transition, think about graphics designers first! I am always happy to get your emails and to help, but it is not as difficult as you may think!

Agree? Thoughts, comments?

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Image: Courtesy of gettyimages.com

 

Product Management vs. Project Management vs. Product Marketing

One of the common confusions that exist in the software industry are the roles of product management vs. project management vs. product marketing. There are different definitions depending on the vertical, company etc. Here is a set of slides that I have put together on the three roles.

Would love to hear what you think. Please share your thoughts via comments.

3 sources for competitive analysis

As software product managers, understanding your competition needs to be a very important ingredient of our work DNA. We must gather as much information as possible on our competition so that we know what they are upto both strategically and tactically. It will also help us understand what moves we can make so that the competitor can be forced to make a reactive move on their part – a move that could be favorable to us and unfavorable to them.

There are so many ways in which you can gather intel on your competitors. Here are 3 sources that I have used very successfully.

1) Competitor’s website: Sounds obvious, but as a software product manager, have you read through all the content that is on your competitor’s website? For example, do you know:

  1. The terms and conditions that they offer their customers on a product sale. For example, if you are in the eCommerce space, do you know what your competitor’s return policy is? What exactly is included in your competitor’s offering of 30-day free trial? Does the customer need to input a credit card to sign up for the free trial?
  2. How much money does your competitor (a publicly traded company) have in the bank? What is their cash flow situation? If the cash situation is dire for your competitor, can you hasten their exit via a move that will force them to spend more money (for example a discounted pricing promotion?)
  3. Who is on their management team and their board? What expertise and connections do they bring to the table? For example, if their CEO or an investor has prior employment relationship with amazon.com or Google, what does that mean to the business and in turn any possible impact on you? Do their investors have prior experience in your industry that may open doors for your competitors for potential sales?
  4. What jobs is your competitor hiring for? This will help you understand where your competitor wants to go because hiring reflects plans for growth. Or has a key employee left the company? If yes, what could this mean? Hiring to replace a key employee is always a setback to any business – there is never a case where a replacement can be done without missing a heartbeat.
  5. How is your competitor getting the word of their products into the market? Where are they advertising? What promotions are they running? Does the customer have a referral program? How does the referral program work?

2) Your “human” network: No matter how much easier competitive analysis has become because of the internet, it is still not a substitute to the stuff you can find via the good old way of tapping into your “human” network. You may be able to gather information from people in your network via face to face meetings because they can share it off the record without having to put it in an email or other digital media. Here are some specific networks you need to look into:

  1. Former employees: Do former employees of your competitors belong in your LinkedIn network? If yes, what can you find out about your competitors through them? (However, I want you to caution on legal ramifications here as well. Never ever put your contact or yourself at legal risk by asking for confidential information such as documents etc. Even if this is offered to you, refuse – a lawsuit from your competitor will be far more damaging than not having a piece of competitive intel. Getting the name of the internal champion your competitor has at a prospective customer account is one thing, but holding a piece of confidential document from your competitor is a completely different thing – you should never get into a legal situation where you can go out of business because of breach of confidentiality.)
  2. Venture capitalists: If you are a VC funded company or if you have friends in the VC community, can they help you get competitive intelligence? For example, is your competitor looking for another round of funding and approaching VCs? Believe me, the VC community is a big boy’s network and a closely knit one too – tapping into this judiciously can help you gather competitive intel.
  3. Your new customers: If you won an account against your competition, what can this new customer tell you about the competitors who lost out? What tricks did the competitor bring to the table to win the account? Did they offer any creative or discounted pricing? What did this new customer learn from the references the competitor may have provided during the sales process? Can you get the information on these references so that you can talk to them?
  4. Supply chain: Does anyone know people in your competitor’s supply chain – for example, system integrators in the case of an enterprise implementation. How do they view your competitor? How do they like (or dislike) working with them? Unless there is an exclusivity with your competitor, these folks are always looking for more business including yours and would be willing to share more information on industry and competitive trends with you, depending on the strength of your relationship with them.

3) Competitor’s digital network: What are people saying about you and your competitors on the Internet whether it is in forums, product reviews or social networks. The fastest way to keep on top of this is to set up a google alert on each of your competitors both by company name and the product(s) name. Have google alerts deliver a daily digest into your inbox so that keeping an eye on your competition becomes part of your DNA. Granted that google alerts will pick up a lot of duplicates when it comes to things like press releases, but I would rather get duplicate information than none at all. Plus it only takes a few seconds to check the google alert emails that it is not a big chore.

What do you think? Do you have other sources you have successfully used to gather competitive intel? Please share via comments.

3 C’s – Market Capital, Customer Experience, Your Career

Here are the slides from my recent product management seminars at Bangalore and Hyderabad, India.

The three takeaways (what I called three “C”s) were the following:

  1. Market Capital: If you as a software product manager want to build credibility within your organization, gain as much market capital or customer capital as possible. Market capital is measured by the time you spend outside your office building talking to prospects/customers who will actually buy your product.
  2. Customer Experience: Think about the overall customer experience, not just product usability or product experience. Even products with good usability can fail if they have bad customer experience. Think about all the friction points that may prevent the customer from buying from you and then remove these to create a great customer experience.
  3. Your Career: No matter what you do, always think about your product management career (it is a marathon not a sprint). You are the only one who is worrying about the only product you have full control over – “You” – your boss is not, your employer is not. So treat every job as the stepping stone to the next one. If you are planning to transition into product management, always do it in your current company – hiring managers in other companies will not take the risk of hiring someone who has never done product management. Your current company will be more open to providing growth opportunities to existing employees. Take the initiative and you win….

Your thoughts, comments?

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Christmas Gifts for Software Product Managers for less than $100

It is that part of the year where everyone is thinking of gifts. If you are a software product manager and you are looking to improve your software product management skills by spending $100 on yourselves, here are three books I recommend for you (I have no association with any of these authors)

  1. Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan – $25.76
  2. Customer Visits: Building a Better Market Focus by Edward McQuarrie – $39.35
  3. Product Strategy for High Technology Companies by Michael E. McGrath – $32.76 (I am still reading this and so far I have found it to be an excellent book)

What do you think? Would you substitute any of the above with any other excellent books you have read? What else would you add to this list?

Customer’s Wants vs. Needs

A customer’s wants vs. needs – This subject has been part of numerous conversations I have had in my working life. Every time I go to India on vacation to visit my family, I always think about this topic. I come back from these trips thankful of what I have and telling myself to appreciate what I have. Whenever I discuss this with friends or whenever anyone asks me what it is to live in India, I draw the following spectrum.

I explain that the vast majority of the US population falls in the WANTS spectrum. We have everything we need, we own/rent a house, we have food to eat, we drive cars or ride a bus, we have TV’s, we have electricity and running water. But we are constantly focusing on satisfying our WANTS with the next better/faster/safer gadget.

India however has a vast majority of its population still living in the NEEDS spectrum. All the IT improvements and the other technology advances that the country has made is still a drop (though a good size one) in the bucket that has made a small chunk of the population to move into the WANTS spectrum. Do not forget that India is a country of over 1 billion people.

So, why does all of this matter to you as a product manager. I liked what Seth Godin said at the Inbound Marketing Summit “We are living in a society where we have everything we need and hence we are left selling what customers want”. It is extremely important for us as product managers to clearly understand what our customers are asking for – is it a real need or is it a want?

Some customers may pay money if you satisfy their WANTS, but more customers will pay a whole lot more money if you satisfy a NEED that is unmet by you or by anyone else in the market place. So whenever you are talking to customers and they propose needed improvements, do the following

  1. First understand the underlying problem
  2. Second find out if it is something they NEED or WANT
  3. Third, is it a large enough NEED/WANT that they will pay you money if you solve them and
  4. Fourth, build solutions for ONLY those problems which a LARGE number of customers are willing to pay you money for.

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Need a head and a date

As product managers, we have to work with a lot of departments – engineering, qa, order admin, finance, shipping etc as part of creating the product and then putting that product into the market.

Doing all of this, involves choreographing and managing a lot of activities, so that the final dance that results meets the customer expectations.

Here is a common answer I get when I ask people to commit to a date when a task assigned to them will be completed by them – “I am not sure, I have a lot on my plate”. Great, you think I don’t have anything else to do?

Don’t accept this answer but counter it with the following – “OK, I understand you are very busy and you may need to get more information before you can commit to a completion date. But can you give me  a date when you will get back to me with a firm completion date?” This way, you are asking them to commit to a date to a date. To this, people will usually give you an answer.

Then when you end the meeting minutes, assign the action item to the person to get back to you with a completion date. Hold them accountable to the entire team and not just to you. Yes, unexpected things will come up, they always do, but you cannot run a business without a head and a date for each task.

Benefits of early usability testing

You do not need an Alpha/Beta software product to do usability testing. In fact, if you wait until then to do usability testing, you have waited too long. This late, making changes based on usability feedback will be costly and time consuming and apt to break something else.

The resistance offered by a software developer to change is directly proportional to the number of lines of code he has written. So the best time to do usability testing is before anyone starts coding anything. Make a bunch of images that show the proposed UI and create a click thru either using html pages (drop me a comment if you want to know how) or using powerpoint.

Then test with a bunch of your prospects/customers. Your customers/prospects should jump at a chance to see a preview of what you may be coming out with. Two things will come out of this testing:

1) You have nailed the usability (great position to be in, but very rare)

2) You will uncover some small or large usability issues.

Great! to make these changes is inexpensive, it will involve only your time, not that of your team. I don’t mean you are cheap, but in relative terms it is just your time.

Here are some guidelines to do usability testing with early mockups

1) Think about the main personas and their main use cases

2) Create mockups for these use cases

3) Never lead your audience – ask your testers to tell you how they would do the task given the mockup – if there is a large deviation between how they think they will do the task and how you will let them do the task – you have a serious usability issue.

4) If they tell you that they like something or don’t like something, ask them why – in either case, you need to know why – this is a wealth of information that will help you later when the product is built. You may even uncover some unique use cases by probing your testers here. You may hear things like – “Interesting, wonder if we could use this product to do X, Y and Z” or ” Hmmm, not sure if we would want to do this because later on we may run into problems A, B and C”. – again, great insights to get early on.

As you are doing this, ask them for their value proposition for what they are testing. Do they see value in it, if yes, what and why? If not, why not?

It usually takes only about 5-8 testers for you to see usage patterns and convergence of issues. If you see issues very early, quickly fix them before you continue to test with the remaining testers.

This is something I have successfully done for a long time with great success. Not doing usability testing very early on, is leaving things for chance. All you really need is some jpegs, a web conference tool like webex and 5-10 testers for you to work a lot of kinks out of your product early on.

BTW, invite your developers and QA testers also to these usability tests so that they are participants. This way you will get less resistance later because they will better understand the insights behind the UI that you will be asking them to code/test soon.

Google Chrome vs. Cuil – Product Management Case Studies?

By now, many of you are well aware of two new products that came out this summer (and if you have not, you were probably enjoying the summer a lot more than I was) – a new browser from Google called Google Chrome and a new search engine from a startup called Cuil

I was excited by both of these products and decided to try both of them. I had trouble getting to the Chrome download server but I waited patiently to get to it the next day. I found both the products to be buggy and gave up on Cuil and have never been back to it even once. I found Google Chrome to be buggy as well and uninstalled it because it did not work with my anti-virus software. So the initial product usage experience was the same, but there is one big difference.

I have talked positively about Google Chrome to a lot of people and given it glowing reviews – I have told them it was buggy, how I had to uninstall it and how I expect that these issues will be fixed. I have not talked to as many people about Cuil and to those who I have talked to, I have ridiculed it. I talked about what a joke it was and why I even needed another search engine when Google works so well.

So why am I spreading the positive word about Google Chrome though my first taste of it left lot to be desired? Interesting, isn’t it. Here is my analysis.

What is wrong with Cuil?

Very simple. It does not solve a problem I have. OK, you could say that you index more pages than Google but to me as a user, anything past 20-30 search results is Siberia. So the only yardstick is “Are the first 20-30 results better than what I get on Google” – No. So why do I care. So where is the product differentiation? No reason to switch from the incumbent vendor I use.

What is right with Google Chrome?

  1. Yes, the product is buggy (and aptly called Beta), but I buy into their vision. They have designed the web browser from the groundup to support web apps – at least that is what they claim. I buy into this vision. It does not solve my browsing problems today, but I know web apps are the future. So they are ahead of the game – they are looking out into the future for me.
  2. They released it in a very novel way – using the comic book concept. Very novel, again out of the box thinking.
  3. A company I respect tremendously for past innovations and I use their innovative tools everyday. If they have not got it right yet, I have the confidence that they will. Read “incumbent/entrenched vendors are always at an advantage”.
  4. When I had the issue with anti-virus software, they already knew about it and said on the forums that they were working on a solution – they were listening – they are on top of their game.
  5. They made it open source – they contributed their code base to the software community – I already know about the success of Firefox – they did not beat their chests creating another proprietary product, they are letting everyone use their innovations.

Product Management Lessons:

  1. Solve a real problem customers have (or will have soon)
  2. Incumbent vendors have a big advantage – to make users switch to your product, it needs to absolutely rock. If you are just a “wannabe” or if your differentiation is some metric which no one cares about, users will not switch.
  3. Past vendor success generates respect. Once you gain that respect, you will get a longer leash from your users (same applies to product managers too).

Saas model will collapse in two years – What?

In a mind numbing interview with ZDnet, Lawson Software CEO Harry Debes made the prediction that Saas software model is bound to collapse in two years. Even if I try to put aside his opinion (however dumbfounded it is), what I cannot comprehend is how a CEO of a public company can call his customers stupid and that they are addicted to software like they would to cocaine. Read that again – stupid? cocaine?

In his interview, does he say anything about benefits to his customers that Saas brings to the table? It all seems to be a pitch on how beneficial on-premise software model is to the vendor – profitability, captive customers, switching costs etc. I wonder if Harry has a clue as to the pain points involved in installing and upgrading on-premise software? Maybe he should so that he can feel the pain of his stupid, cocaine addicted customers. Maybe companies like Google, Microsoft are all stupid too for having Saas models for delivering software.

While I totally agree that Saas is not the panacea to solve everything that is wrong with software, that many of the Saas vendors are not yet profitable, I cannot come to terms with him calling his prospective buyers stupid.

What is next to collapse Harry – social media?

Product Manager’s new friend – Google Forms

I just discovered the forms functionality in Google docs. What an awesome piece of functionality that will help me a ton as a product manager. In a nutshell, it helps you create a form on the fly (think about creating a simple survey) and email it to a bunch of people. The recipients get an email with a hyperlink which when clicked takes them to a web page where they get to see the form and fill it out. They do not need to be Gmail users.

The responses are automatically get entered into a spreadsheet where you can do analysis of the responses – there are a ton of plugins that are available right from within the spreadsheet. Now if that does not satisfy your analysis needs, you can export this spreadsheet as an Excel file.

Now, why does this help me as a product manager? I have done so many surveys in the past and invariably after I analyze the results, I wish I had one or two questions that would have given me more insights. Instead of having to set up another survey and send the link, I could very easily use Google forms and quickly email it to the respondents of my first survey to get a very quick response. I feel like a kid in a candy store – just because of how easy it is to use.

It is definitely worth taking a look.

Differentiating in an overcrowded market

Ever wondered if any product management is needed for commodity products such as pencils, pens, toothpaste etc. where the customer needs have not changed for years?

Alain Breillat of Picture Imperfect has a great post on how to create product differentiation in an overcrowded market?. It is a fascinating read and gave me so many new insights. I especially liked the triangle of the consumer values – how buyers evaluate new products for the benefits they provide – I had never thought about this way. Thanks Alain for this wonderful post !

LinkedIn Answers – A goldmine for Product Managers

If you have not been to LinkedIn Answers, you should check it out – it has a great section on product management. There is a wealth of information there on market research, pricing, product positioning and a ton of other stuff. Have a question? post it there for free and get answers from LinkedIn members from all over the world. Even just reading the answers to the posted questions will give you a lot of food for thought. I use it as a great resource of reading material and also answer questions. By answering questions, you are also building your brand as a product manager !

Business uses for Twitter

I have been using twitter for maybe the last 3 months now. When I saw it for the first time in 2007, my reaction was right! who has the time for this? Then I reluctantly signed up 3 months back and now I am hooked. Many of the folks I follow the say the same thing. If you are on twitter, you can follow me.

The reason I use twitter most of the time is to get information for myself. I follow some of the very well known social media folks and based on the links that they post I have discovered new content and in the process learned a lot of new things. Not convinced that twitter is useful for personal use? Watch this great video.

OK, so from a personal point of view that is great but does it have any use for businesses? I have found good use for businesses as well. Businesses can create a twitter account, do a search for twitter users who fit the profile of the businesses customer/prospect profile and follow them. Some of them will end up following you. Then use twitter as another vehicle to establish thought leadership in your market and also to create awareness of what you do. This can be done by posting twitter links to

  1. Articles about your company in the media
  2. New content articles on how to best solve problems your customers have
  3. Best practice articles (does not have to be written by you, provide links to other’s content, what is more important is to make your prospects/customers/followers get better at what they do)
  4. Your press releases
  5. Webcasts conducted by your company
  6. Product promotions
  7. Conferences or tradeshows your company may be attending
  8. Awards received by your company
    and this list can go on and on.
  9. (I am always looking for new uses for twitter, so if you have other great uses, please drop me a comment)

You get the idea. In the meantime, make sure that you are also searching twitter to see if anything is being mentioned about your company. This is extremely important.

Let me give you an example – recently one of my twitter friends Max (fictitious name), posted the following “Problems with GotoWebinar never end… Argh. Wish THEY were listening here. But they don’t even listen when I call them up”

So I emailed Max and asked about the specific issues and Max’s customer experience with GotoWebinar because it is one of the easiest tools I have found to conduct webinars. Max send me the details and here are the three takeaways:

  • I’ve communicated about them online, and got no response
  • Instead some of their COMPETITORS have responded to us to see if they can fulfill our needs
  • The problems have only escalated, causing me to be somewhat more vocal about my issues

What? Competitors were listening and they responded to take away your business? Max has close to 150 followers – just by posting a tweet about real experience about a product, Max had instantly spread the word to 150 people and also competitors that GotoWebinar has issues. Within a day, somebody else had asked Max the same question – Max responded “Mostly audio issues… both telephone and VOIP, which they just introduced. And really lacking in customer communication”.

Same day, Max again posted “Surprised by the response to my GTW issues… more responses than last time I voiced some frustration…” – so did GotoWebinar folks follow what is being said about them on twitter? – maybe.

I cannot tell you how important it is for companies to have a good presence on social media channels (blogs, twitter) and more importantly follow what is being said. Rick Burnes from Hubspot recently wrote a great blog post “How to kill a conversation and suck life out of a blog” on this topic.

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Companies ignore social media at their own peril

Last month, I slammed Infusionsoft when they started spamming me with email after I had downloaded an eBook from their website.

The very next day, CEO of Infusionsoft Clate Mask apologized via comments to that blog post. Here was his comment:

“Gopal–very fair point. We should have had the language on there that communicates we will send follow-up messages when you hit submit. My bad. We will change that. I complete agree with you about permission marketing. And I admit that sometimes we get going too fast and make mistakes that result in unwanted messages. But believe me: we do want to send value, build a relationship and become a trusted advisor to folks who want to know how to build their businesses more quickly and effectively. Thanks for your comment. It will cause me to examine things and see if we’ve been too heavy on promotion and light on valuable content to our prospects. BTW, I really appreciate your perspectives and am a little embarassed to be called out by you.”

I was impressed – a CEO was reading what was being said about his company on my blog and he took the time to admit the mistake, apologize and promise that the issue will be fixed. However, I was not going to be convinced until I saw that changes were made.

I went to their website last week to see if anything had changed and nothing had. Then I received another comment from Clate last night about this same issue.

Hi Gopal, I just want to thank you for your “criticism” a few weeks ago about our opt-in and follow-up marketing practices. Your post resulted in a meeting between me and our marketing director. We have already changed a couple of things in order to be more transparent to folks who opt in to my eBook and various white papers. And we are revising some other things we are doing–toning down the frequency of communications, etc. As our company has grown, I think we have gone a little overboard with the amount and frequency of email communications we send. Again, thanks for the nudge in a better direction.

Clate had kept his word, made the easy fix and is now working on fixing his messaging problem.

Think about it – how many CEOs or others in companies are paying attention to what is being said about their products/companies in the social media, how many of them take the time to correspond with this new media, admit that a mistake has been made and then make sure it gets fixed.

I have to applaud Clate for doing this. All of us make mistakes, what takes effort is the willingness to admit that it was wrong and then take the time to fix it. I am not a customer of InfusionSoft, but people who could be their customers may be reading my blog.

Clate – you are way ahead of your CEO peers. I have to say I am impressed.

Folks, if your organization is not paying attention to social media, you are digging a big hole for yourselves. Your existence is threatened and you should be worried.

Competition validates your existence

Have you heard – this is a huge untapped market, we are the market leaders and we have no competition? Such a market does not exist and the above statement is nothing but a myth. If you have no competition, you are probably in  a market that does not exist.

Think about it, wealth attracts a crowd and hence if indeed there is a huge market for your products or services, do you expect your competitors to sit ideal while you dominate the market? You may start a company with a great idea (a game changer) in a large market, but it is only a matter of time before you draw attention. In fact, once competition shows up to the party, they validate that there indeed is a large market and your gut was right when you started the company. So when you see healthy competition, embrace it, because if it is a large market, the pie is usually large enough for multiple players to happily co-exist.

Big market tends to attract many competitors and initially ends up to be a very fragmented market which eventually consolidates into a few key players. Your objective should be the market leader when a few key players are left standing. But stop fooling yourself, your employees or your customers that you are a market leader in a large untapped market that has no competition.

Image: Courtesy of Jon Hirschtick, SolidWorks Corporation

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Why do salesmen lie?

Shown below is an email I got yesterday (unsolicited I should say) from a company called SalesDiesel (this is a real company, they have a website and indeed do what they claim in this email).

Why do salesmen lie?

So why do I have an issue with this?

1) The email is addressed to himself and is not a personal email which means he has BCCd a ton of people.

2) This means that he has not tried to reach me at my office a number of times (not that I am complaining) – a big fat lie.

3) Does the email look professional to you that he thinks I will respond to this wanting to place my inside sales in their hands?

4) I have to call or email him so that he does not bother me or waste my time – you already have by sending me an email with lies and you want me to waste more time so that you shall not bother me?

Why don’t some companies in this day and age just get it? Why do they think prospects are stupid and will not see through such a charade?

Kristin Zhivago has written a great blog post : Salesmen talking : The 7 worst mistakes that is worth reading.

Does a vendor being #1 matter to buyers?

10 years back in Chicago, a colleague of mine was shopping for a Honda car. He went to one of the Honda dealerships. The salesman started giving him the standard pitch about the car and then told him that he should buy from him because they are the biggest dealer in Chicagoland and sell more cars than any other dealer. My colleague listened to all this and finally had it – he told the dealer – “I don’t really care how many cars you sell or if you sell the most, I only need one.”

So when a vendor spouts that they are #1 in some field, do you think buyers care? Why not tell them how you can solve their problem better for them than any other vendor – don’t you think that might work? Customers care about their problem being solved, not what your product is called or how many you sell. Yes, they do want to do business with a vendor who is financially strong and who will be around, but just being #1 will not cut it if you don’t have the best solution to back it up. If financial strength or the revenue size was the only metric, then do you think any of the startups that became juggernauts would have had a chance during the early days?

Companies should not be “customer” focused

Yes, companies should not be “customer” focused first, I strongly challenge them to be “employee” focused instead and then the customer focus will come.

I have been a great proponent of being customer driven, listening to customer’s unmet needs and then creating products that serve those needs. But when it comes to focus for companies, I would be “employee” focused first. Why? Because if you hire the right employees, treat them right, give them the authority and responsibility to do the right thing for the customers, the customer focus will come automatically. The vice versa does not work.

The example I always use when I make this point is that of airlines. They all tout how they care about their customers and guess what – when I get on a plane I meet flight attendants who care less about the customers – why? they are not happy, they are probably worried about making their ends meet because their compensations are being squeezed by the airlines every time they get a chance – all in the name of cost cutting. So do I expect these employees to serve their customers very well so that the airlines can tout great customer service? These days they are even asked to bring their own food and drink on board. Imagine this – what would four to six extra lunch boxes and sodas/water cost to make sure that these flight attendants (whose primary job is to serve and ensure the safety of the passengers) stay hydrated and not hungry? All of this when I have not seen any major cuts in the airline executive compensations that makes these executives start worrying about how they will pay their bills. Who would you rather see motivated to turn the airline around – the executives or the flight attendants and the pilots in whose hands your life depends when you are flying?

Contrast that with companies such as Ritz and Nordstrom – do you think these companies have such high customer ratings by sheer luck – no – they focus on making sure they hire the right employees, develop them, make sure that they are well treated and empowered to make their customers happy. After all, hiring decisions better be the most important decisions you make in your company. Folks, It is all about relationships with people and not products.