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.

How a great asset becomes your greatest liability

Thank you Manny Ramirez for the last 7 years – but Red Sox nation will be just fine without you. When you become more than the team, it is time for you to move on.  You were a great asset but there is a point a great asset becomes a liability – you crossed the line this year.

Our sports teams have shining examples of superstars (Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Kevin Garnett,  Paul Pierce, Ray Allen) who recognize the value of putting the team first and delivering the goods. You also had great teammates like David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, Kevin Millar who played their hearts out, but with you it was all about you. You were making more money that you could possibly spend in your lifetime, but all you could do is whine and cry like a baby!! I enjoyed all of your home runs like every other Red Sox fan did. But enough is enough, we will still love our Red Sox as much as we all do without you.

So have fun, pee in a cup behind the Dodgers score board, make cell phone calls while you are in the left field, party with Scott Boras, get more rich, report late into training camp, visit the car auction in NY, do whatever, we really don’t care – you are now Torre’s problem – now he can lose whatever hair he has left dealing with you.  We are quite happy here in Boston that the cancer in the clubhouse has been cured once and for all. We may not win it all this year, but the concept of the team and integrity of the game will survive.

Do slides for webinars need to be different?

Recently, I attended a webinar. The slides were full of text and the presenter read word by word – you very well know what I said – Text on a Powerpoint slide is your greatest competition. When I gave feedback about this to the presenter via email, the response from him indicated to me that he decided to put all the text on his slides because it was a webinar.

So this brings up the interesting question – do slides need to be different for a webinar than those used for live presentations? No, absolutely not in my opinion. To me a webinar is no different than a live presentation at a conference where there is an overflow room. Imagine that you are giving a talk at a conference that has drawn a large audience that will not fit in the original room reserved for your talk. So the organizers open up another room where the audience can hear you, can see your slides on a projection screen, but cannot see you. Would you change your presentation style and your slides because you cannot see the people in the overflow conference room? No. Webinars should be treated the same way.

In fact, I will argue that webinars require even more presentation skills because you want the audience to listen to you while they have a lot of distraction compared to when you are presenting live. So if all you are going to do is put text and then read off the slide, they will read the slides ahead of you as you flip them and not pay any attention to your message.

While I am on this topic – here is another common mistake I have seen many presenters make including this webinar presenter. I signed up for the webinar to get knowledge about a topic that was interesting to me. The presenter started with introduction about who he is, what his company does and what products they make – this is not what I wanted to hear right off the bat. I wanted to hear about the topic that I signed up for. Tell me that first, satiate my hunger for it and then give me the pitch about you, your company and your products. Towards the end, you have gained more permission from the attendees to tell them about you and they are more apt to listen because you educated them first. It is all about the audience, folks. Don’t put the cart before the horse!

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How to make a case for social media?

Just last night, I was talking to one of my friends about how some companies are still not embracing social media to their advantage and are still relying solely on traditional marketing methods.

His response was “but I don’t think many people read blogs – for that matter, I don’t think most of my customers read blogs”. This is true – there are less people who say that they explicitly read blogs.

But my argument was that the purpose of social media is not primarily for those who are already on your site, but to help you get in front of those users who don’t know about you, but are searching for the stuff that you have via a search engine.

So it was refreshing for me to see David Meerman Scott’s latest blog post Why “do you use social media” is the wrong thing for marketers to ask addresses just this issue – worth a read!!

WebInno 18 from Web Innovator’s group

Couple of weeks back I attended the Web Innovator’s group event. The group has come a long way since last year – much larger room, more than 500 people (some very talkative ones who will not shut up in spite of pleas from the audience). Three main stage demos from all very early startups.

Times have really changed since the dot com era. All the three companies who demoed (Totspot, Zeer, Webnotes) were asked one question from the audience – how the heck are you going to make money? What a refreshing thought that startups need to make money to stay in business? Imagine anyone asking this before the big burndown earlier this decade?

Of the three companies, I thought Zeer and Webnotes indeed had something unique to offer. I would suggest you folks check them out.

If you were one of the attendees at the WebInno events and you were one of the talkative ones – here is a personal plea from me – please keep quiet during the demos purely out of professional respect and courtesy for these companies who have toiled hard to get their fledging products ready for this big show in front of a huge audience – would’nt you like this if you were in their shoes?

Five reasons why I blog and my eight blogging recommendations

I have been asked the question – “Why do I blog?” twice recently – once by a reader of this blog from as far away as New Zealand.

Great question and one that I had to ask myself before I wrote this post. So here are my reasons (Listed in the order by which I got started on this path).

1) Get good at writing – I wanted to improve my writing skills and get better at expressing my opinions or thoughts on topics. I started off on very random topics to begin with. Even to this day, I re-read my posts on this blog and rewrite portions of it to improve my writing skills.

2) Single store for good resources I find or for my product management experiences – Services like were interesting at first, but got unwieldy at best after I had too many links stored there. I have come back and searched my own blog to find posts I have written myself or find other articles I referenced in my post. I know it is here when I need it.

3) Write about something I am very passionate about – product management – Identifying market problems, solving them and shipping products that solve them is what I enjoy the most at work.

4) Market myself – Let the world know that I exist. I get a great sense of satisfaction when I see other product management bloggers reference my posts in their blogs . I have also got recruiting calls lately asking me if I would interested in pursuing some job opportunities and they tell me they found me via this blog. Definitely a good feeling when others think you know something that is valued.

5) Share and learn – I enjoy reading other’s blogs, sharing my experiences via comments on other people’s blogs or my own blog posts and seeing traffic coming in from the blogs that I comment on. You can never stop learning and what a great way to do it when you can get advice from some of the smartest and experienced product managers around the world.

So what are my recommendations for new bloggers based on what I have learnt along the way – (btw, this is my third blog – I got locked out of my first blog – it is a long story, my second one was on Vox and this is the one that has been in existence the most)

1. Start slow – It is easy to go gung ho when you get started and then lose momentum and interest immediately after (exercising comes to mind). Get into the habit of writing new posts at least once a week, then get to twice a week and so on.

2. Pick a good name for your blog – “Just because you build it, they will not come” – people need to find you. Having a good name that reflects what you write about and what a lot of people search on will help since it will be in your blog’s URL and search engines give a lot of weightage if the term is in the URL. Here are some of my blog’s old names before I settled on the current name of “Software Product Manager”

  1. Gopal’s random ramblings – you know how well that went
  2. Bazaar Buzz – I knew something was wrong when I was writing about product management and most of the people visiting my site were searching for “farmer’s market” or “Bazaar”.
  3. – Unfortunately my name is not that famous that I can expect a whole lot of people to search my name in Google

3. Don’t blog in a vacuum – I used to just blog here and do nothing else. Then I started reading other blogs and commenting on other people’s blogs and sharing my perspectives and then I saw increase in traffic. Make sure your URL is visible in your comments and if applicable (and only if applicable) reference your blog post. If the blog you are commenting on is popular, those who find your comments helpful will likely visit your site. But don’t ever spam just because you want to bring traffic to your site.

4. Be genuine and share your experiences and knowledge – Be genuine, write from your heart (do not make it corporate speak), know what you are writing about. It is OK to be wrong about something (remember the learning part), admit if you were wrong and how you have learnt from what someone else has said.

5. Make friends among bloggers and get them to link to your posts from theirs: Pagerank matters. Just being on other blogrolls does not help (in fact, many of the blogroll links may have the nofollow tag and hence search engines completely ignore them). You want others to reference your post in the text of their posts. Write something good and useful so that they can reference your posts.

6. Return the favor: When you find some good posts on other blogs, write about them and link to their posts. There is nothing that says that every post has to be your own. If you find a good post, make your readers aware of it and write a small blurb which will get them to read that great post as well. It is all about sharing with others great things you find. But, don’t ever plagiarize.

7. Search engine optimize your blog: This is something I have not fully done yet (have done some) because I am still using the vanilla service and not service and hence have not fully exploited all the things I could do with the latter. But it is important – again you need to be found by others. SEO is an ongoing thing.

8. Generate new content – Your readers (and search engines for that matter) like new content. To make sure I have enough to write about, I jot down things as I come across it. When I have more time some days than others, I write more than one post and schedule it (wordpress allows that) so that I will have new content showing up on my blog on a regular basis. Like everything else, get into a habit of doing this. If you truly enjoy blogging, it will be fun and not a chore.

I hope this answers those who asked me the question and thanks for asking. If anyone else has other reasons why they blog and more tips for bloggers, please share with us.

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Why customers walk away?

Kristin Zhivago has an awesome post on her blog titled Gone! The reason customers leave. I would strongly recommend that anyone who touches a customer (sales, tech support, product management, professional services, executives) read it.

I had written last year about how customers are lot more tolerant of a vendor’s mistakes or shortcomings if the vendor keeps them informed. It is nothing but courtesy, professionalism and respect. One of the companies that I respect a whole lot in this regard is CitiCards. Twice in the last 5 years, my credit card has been compromised because of data theft at two retail stores. They proactively called me up, put my account on hold so that no fraudulent charges get made using my credit card. Do I sleep well that they are looking out for me? – oh ya ! Do you think I will ever switch credit card vendors? – oh No! Do you think I will talk great about them and recommend them? – you know the answer to that.

Doing this takes a whole lot of effort and the will to make it happen. Unfortunately companies are busy chasing new dollars, that they forget the adage “Bird in hand is worth two in the bush!”.

Eight traits of good hiring managers

Good managers mostly hire good people and sometimes hire the wrong people whereas bad managers always hire the wrong people. This is the conclusion I have come to in my 15 year career. What do I define as a bad hiring manager? – one who does not have good managerial skills, feels insecure and hence tends to hire someone worse than him/her because they feel threatened if their hires are better/smarter than them. I have seen at least four such managers in my career based on the quality and hence the resulting performance of their hires.

So what are the traits of good managers:

1) They hire people smarter than them: The whole purpose of hiring people is to get work done. Good managers don’t want to lose sleep over the performance of their reports. They want people who can work with minimal direction, whose work will reflect their pride, who will go the extra mile to get the job done.They do not micro manage, they allow you to put your artistic touch to your work as long as you meet the business goals. They realize that ownership brings the best out of good people.

2) Their success is defined by the team’s success: They are fully aware that their success is determined by their team’s success. They work to remove the hurdles limiting their team and to ensure that the team is marching forward.

3) They identify and credit their team members in public for job well done: They don’t take any credit for the work done – they identify in public the people who toiled to get the job done. They relish their team’s success. They make sure that their team members get the visibility in front of their superiors or executive management. You will see them use “we” more than they would use “I”.

4) They praise in public and advise in private: People need constant encouragement and direction when things go wrong. Managers work with team members privately to reflect on mistakes and work out an action plan to fix it going forward. They use the feather to slap one’s hand and never the hammer unless they are forced to. They give immediate feedback good or bad so that successes get repeated and mistakes get corrected.

5) They train their replacements: Good managers want to move their career forward. They realize that they cannot do this until they groom someone to eventually replace them in the current job. They realize that they owe it to their current employer if they choose to leave the company.

6) They never treat all of their direct reports the same but fairly: They realize that people are different and hence one cannot treat everyone the same. Some need more assistance than others. It is more important that they are fair and transparent in the decisions they make. They set goals for their team members and reward good performance and more importantly penalize bad performance. The process is transparent and the team members don’t hold any ill will on decisions made.

7) They treat their direct reports as human beings: After all, it is not just all work. They encourage their reports to take time off to recharge themselves. They remind them to get a life outside work. In essence, they care about their team member’s well being because it directly impacts your productivity at work.

8. They cut their losses when they make hiring mistakes: When they make those bad hiring decisions, they cut their losses when it is clear that things will not work out in spite of their best efforts. They are not afraid to admit their hiring mistakes. This sends message to the rest of the team that good performance is valued and everyone is expected to equally share the workload.

So how do you find out during the hiring process if you will be working for a good manager or a total jerk? It is tough because it is easy to hide but you may be able to get some early warning signals. Here are eight ways you could possibly find out:

1) Ask the hiring manager directly about their management style.

2) Ask them about some of the successes of their team – see if it is all “I did this, I did this” and not “we did this” – do they name people on their team while they talk about the successes?

3) Ask others who you would be interviewing with (in an indirect way) including those who would be your peers about the manager’s management style. If someone takes issue with this, it may not be a good place to work after all.

4) They let you ask questions during the interview that let you get a better understanding about the job and about their management style.

5) How much do they grill you to make sure you are the right person for the job? Good managers want to make sure you indeed have the “smarts” or “skills” that you claim in your resume.

6) How well do they talk about the company’s success and work that needs to be done?

7) How long is the interview process? In good companies, interviews are likely to be multiple rounds because the company cares a whole lot about their hiring process.

8. Are they excited when they talk about what the company is doing and what the team is accomplishing?

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Software Product Managers – “What is in it for the audience”?

My presentation at BPMA was well received last night. I asked the audience to walk away remembering three things from my presentation. Here they are:

1) You are the presentation: The audience has showed up to listen to you. You have the message and hence you are the presentation. If the audience can figure out your message by looking at the slides, you as well email them the slides and cancel your presentation. You could save yourselves and your audience a whole lot of time and torture.

Before you do anything, figure out your message – what three things do you want your audience to remember (just like I am doing here) to take the action you want them to take.

Once you have your message, ask yourself – will use of slides help me convey my message better? There is nothing that says every presentation has to use PowerPoint. PowerPoint is just a tool and it is up to you to determine whether you need it.

So next time someone tells you – “I cannot attend your presentation, can you send it to me” – tell them No. Tell them you can send them your slides, but if they need the presentation, they need You.

There is nothing that says that the slide deck you have to email folks has to be the same as the one you use for your presentation. In fact, I would say they have to be different. The one you send out can be full of text so that they can read it at their leisure and get the message in the absence of your voice.

2) Make powerpoint your GPS and not your competition: Now if you conclude that you do need slides, ensure that the purpose of the slides are to help guide you deliver the message. I think about PowerPoint as my GPS. A GPS system does not do the driving for me not does it take control of my car – its sole purpose is to guide me from point A to point B. When I am driving from my home to my office, I turn it off because I don’t need it – it is actually a distraction. Think about Powerpoint in the same way – if you don’t need it, don’t use it. If you need it, make sure it is only a visual aid. Don’t fill up your slides with text, fancy graphics and text animations, because it will distract the audience and they will read the slides rather than listen to you. Your audience can read faster than you can talk. After all, you are the presentation.

If you absolutely need to put text on a slide, remember – min 28 size font and use the 4×4 principle – maximum 4 bullets per slide, maximum 4 words per bullet.

3) Why does the audience care? – It is all about the audience. You are presenting to them because you want them to take the action in your favor. Find out what the audience wants to hear. Try emailing them before hand to ask them, if you have a blog ask your readers, and if nothing works, ask some of your friends or colleagues. Ask them what they would like to hear if they were going to attend your talk. This is no different from what product managers do to research market needs.

For example, if you are pitching to a VC, what message do you want to deliver to them so that they can take action – have them write you a big check?, find you the right executive talent? guide you in making some decisions?. If you are going in front of your executive management to pitch a new product proposal or a new pricing proposal, do you have the right message to make them approve your proposal?

All of this is common sense – but who was it that said “Common sense is not that common?”

I hope that I have been able to influence the attendees to use less of PowerPoint and talk more because every PowerPoint slide that is deleted will truly make this world a better place.

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Gas prices changing marketing?

The sky rocketing gas prices seems to have had an impact on marketing messages and offers.

Here are some that I have come across recently

1) Across town – message on a restaurant’s billboard – “Come in and have a juicy burger for less than a gallon of gas”

2) Goodyear enters you into a sweepstakes to win a $500 gas card if you fill out an online survey after they have serviced your car. What happened to those free trips to Hawaii? No one interested anymore?

3) Of course, the three year $2.99/ gallon gas offer from Dodge.

And did you notice that the prize for the All Star Game MVP was a Chevy Tahoe Hybrid that averages a whopping 22 miles a gallon (JD Drew will need a lot from those 70 million greenbacks to fill this one up) – what is next a Hybrid Hummer?

Product Manager’s key to success

I just happened to see this quote from Bill Cosby.

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody”

How appropriate for product managers?

All product managers should have this quote stuck next to their desks so that it is in your face as a reminder. We cannot build a product that is good for everyone – pick the target buyer (who will buy) and then execute like hell. Use the target buyer to handle all the “what if we do this …” or “what if the user wants to do this …” ideas people throw at you.

Don’t know what I am talking about? Google “personas” and read all about it.

Product Management lessons from the latest iPhone debacle

The media (social and real) is abuzz with how Apple botched the launch of the 3G iPhone last Friday. Yes, they could have done it a whole lot better but I don’t think it is going to make much of a dent on the how many of these phones Apple will sell.

Seth Godin in his blog writes about the concept of scarcity that is written around this misstep by Apple and AT&T. It is a very fascinating read and has a lot of lessons for product managers in how creating a product experience and how treating your higher spend customers differently is crucial to eventual success of a product. Apple is likely to get away with this misstep because their product truly has a great product experience and they have the world beating to their door and hence willing to give them a longer leash.

Permission Marketing gone astray – InfusionSoft

Couple of weeks back, I came across this company called InfusionSoft. I signed up to download something that looked interesting to me called “9 proven techniques to double sales”. To do this, I had to fill out the following form.

When you do this, they send you a link via an email to download the white paper. I was fine with it until this point.

Then the trouble started – there is nothing in the above dialog that gives them permission to send me anything other than the above white paper. Now I get daily emails from their CEO Clate Mask. Here are some of the titles of the emails and some of the content in the email.

Email 1: How one incredible number skyrockets your income

…… Just imagine being able to double your sales (even when businesses all around you are falling further and further into debt.) Think how great you’ll feel when customers are begging you to serve them AND you can stop wondering if you’ll be in business next month. ……

Email 2: 7 Magnetic Marketing Secrets To Explode Your Profits

……when you’re in harvesting mode, you’re working smart and scooping up sales left and right. You can spend your time at closings, on the phone with hot leads or out on the golf course because you know your prospects will call YOU when they’re ready to move forward. ….

Email 3: Double your sales with one powerful secret

and on and on it goes.

What? Customers coming begging to me to serve them? Go and play golf because prospects will call you? Am I living on the wrong planet or what?

Do you think I will ever buy anything from InfusionSoft? No, but I sure am writing about them so that I can save others from this experience.

The emails also say this – which I thought was even more hilarious

We value your privacy, we really hate spammers, and we’re not going to sell your info to spammers (or to anyone else). If you really want to read the boring details of the privacy policy, you can read them here.

We Product marketers should take note – Just because we allowed a customer/prospect to download something free from our website, it does NOT give us permission to send them stuff. If we want to engage with them, we need to do it using Permission Marketing, a term coined by Seth Godin. Ask for their permission and then send them useful stuff that will help them get better at what they do. We need to build a trusted relationship with them such that they will hopefully buy something from us in the future. It is not a guarantee, but if we help someone, they are bound to at least invite us to the “purchase” party if we indeed have what they want.

Permission marketing is NOT getting permission from the customer to spam them – this will absolutely kill any chance of getting any future business.

Yes, InfusionSoft does give me a way to unsubscribe from these emails, but it is work I have to do.

Clate, you will not be getting the phone call from me begging you to serve me while you are having a good time playing golf.

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Product Review – Recopack – Go green when moving

The green movement is going mainstream – corporations are throwing their weight behind it – from Google leading the effort in installing solar panels, GE designing more energy efficient locomotives or light bulbs to every company encouraging consumers to get electronic bills/statements instead of the old fashioned paper ones in the mail. I have been big fan of recycling for years, having migrated from a country (India) where there was no abundance of anything at least when I moved in the early 90’s.

I just discovered this company EarthFriendlyMoving that designs moving boxes called Recopacks that are completely made out of recycled material and can be reused a whole lot. I have seen similar boxes during office moves, but I am not sure if they were made out of recycled material like Recopacks are. Check it out – if nothing else their website has a lot of useful information.

If you are in Southern California and are planning to move, you should definitely give them a good look. After all renting a single Recopack only cost a buck a week.

The recycling stats are worth noting: Every 100 Recopacks prevents 256 pounds of waste entering the landfill. This translates into 7,400 hard-to-recycle plastic bottles, 600 used diapers (yikes, they use diapers?), 83 pounds of paper, 13 pounds of hydro carbons,and 64 pounds of carbon dioxide – plus it saves 3 healthy trees from being cut down to make the cardboard boxes that you would need.

The company is planning expansion within the rest of California this year and nationwide next year.

Now the product management aspect of this – do you think any customer said I wish I did not have to use cardboard boxes? Probably not – they probably asked for better cardboard boxes because of the problems taping them after filling them, trouble finding the right size, finding enough of them, having to drive to the store to pick them up and then having to dispose them of after the move – all real world pain points plus of course the negative impact on the environment.

This company to me looked at the bigger picture of moving and decided to solve this problem differently and doing it in a way that is very environment friendly. I would wager that we have a real product winner here provided the company executes well.

Is Recopack an original idea or are there others like them?

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Software Product Managers – What are you selling? Product, category or need?

Everything that one tries to sell, in my opinion, starts or ends in one of three buckets.

  1. A need sell
  2. A category sell
  3. A product sell

Let me explain in more detail on what I mean.

1) A need sell is the worst place for a product long term. If your product is here, you are essentially trying to convince the customer that he has a need and that he needs your product or service. You cannot sell to someone who won’t buy. Products that remain here either are:

  • Products that are typically technology driven and hence looking for a problem to solve or just plain stupid products – someone told me that there was Sharper Image tire pressure gauge that had a clock built into it – yah, right I was missing that – guess where Sharper image ended up to be.
  • Products that are way ahead of their time – the market is just not ready for it or the technology has not matured enough that the initial implementation is just not the right way to do it.

You may be able to sell a few of these products via lengthy sales cycle, but nothing to keep you going long term – the very existence of a product should be to solve an existing need and not to convince the customer that they have a need.

2) A category sell to me is where the prospect knows that he/she has a problem, but does not think it is possible to solve it and is skeptical whether the problem can be solved. New products that solve an existing problem in a very new way (pragmatic shift) could remain here for a little while. There are many examples that come to mind:

  1. comes to mind during its early days. The dotcom bubble had burst, people were just wary of anything related to the internet, internet connectivity was sketchy and here was a company that wanted to do salesforce automation on the web. I am sure it was a tough sell in the beginning.
  2. “Data loss prevention” products – large corporations are always wary of insiders leaking confidential information to the outsiders accidentally or intentionally. Technology exists to solve this problem, but it is a little bit of a hard sell. This is not only because of the sophisticated technology, but also convincing someone that the technology actually works.

Many products/services could end up in a pilot and a longer sales cycle. You may not be able to convince everyone and hence you may sell less especially in the early days. Once enough people buy it and the product becomes mainstream, it will move into the “product sell” category. Such products/services follow the classic product adoption cycle made famous by Geoffrey Moore in “Crossing the Chasm” as long as the product can cross the chasm.

3) A product sell is basically where a prospect walks in and says “Give me this product” – the customer knows that the product solves a well known problem. You don’t have anything to sell, you just have to let the customer buy it from you. This is the sweetest spot you want to be in. You sell a ton (yes, there will be competition, but you still could do very well) at a very fast pace. This is where successful products eventually end up. is currently in this category. Microsoft Windows ended up here. Apple iPhone and iPod are here. Getting here should be every product manager’s dream. But products don’t end up here only by luck – they ended up here because they solved a real problem, solved it in the most innovative way and also enjoyed some luck by being at the right place at the right time. But products cannot be complacent once they get here, because there could very well be a competing product currently in the “category sell” that is solving the same problem in a whole different way, just waiting in the wings to take off.

As a software product manager, it is extremely important that you know where your product/service lies and then try to see how you can move quickly to a “product sell” as soon as possible. If you are stuck in the “need sell” category, you may want to rethink your strategy, reinvent your product or call it day and cut your losses.

Product Management Tips

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Charity by a crowd –

At the SHRM Conference in Chicago that I recently attended, had a huge booth in the expo hall. But they did something that I thought was outstanding. Apparently, Monster used to have a grand party for the conference attendees every year. This year, they decided not to do the party and instead take the money and give away a million dollars to charity. Wow !! Here is how they did it using Justgive:

  1. Every person who visited their booth got a Monster bead necklace – beads with 5 cool looking monsters on it (My kids love it).
  2. At the end of the necklace, was a nice looking card with a bar code.
  3. If you got the bar code scanned, you won a prize and also a donation card with an amount written on it – some got $75, others got $25 etc. The card also listed a bunch of charities you could donate the money to.
  4. You login to a specific URL and then enter the promotion code written on the card.
  5. You choose how you want to spend the money – all for one charity and split it between different ones.

The money came from the million dollars that Monster is donating. Now that is thinking out of the box! All these parties are great – open bar, lot of food. But we have enough of these. We eat, drink, have fun and then forget about it. But think about the impact that million dollars is going to make. It is going to feed someone who is justing looking for a simple meal not the calamari and the burgers, who is looking to drink a glass of clean water and not douse beers after beers. Thank you Monster for making a difference and giving me a role in this whole thing. Hats off to you !! Good companies always give back to the community !! Liked this article? Leave me comments – I would love to hear your thoughts – or get an RSS Feed to this blog at

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Zoho – what are you really?

Zoho has been getting a lot of attention lately – from the first reports of its CEO Sridhar Vembu turning down a buyout offer from to being briefly mentioned in Business week magazine article on Inside Microsoft’s war against Google. In a recent interview with Fox Business, its CEO said that Microsoft is the one that has the most to lose because of Zoho. OK, but how?

Zoho has an impressive array of online applications such as Docs, spreadsheets, Mail, Zoho Creator (a database app), CRM, Wiki, Blogs, HR apps etc. The apps are very easy and user friendly with a very nice looking UI. There are many features that have been copied from other apps – for example, Zoho Notes has a lot of features that look and act like the same features in MS’s OneNote. They give it all of it for free to consumers and say that they are making more than a million per month from business customers. They are hiring mostly in India. They have some good things going for them, but then a lot of companies had this for them before they fizzled out.

But after looking at what they offer and trying some of their products, as a business customer, I have been grappling with what exactly Zoho’s focus is. It is one thing to come up with a wide array of cool looking apps, but it is another thing when it comes to focusing on one thing and getting it done right. Is Zoho a MS Office killer? Is it a Salesforce killer? Is it going after SQL/Oracle? Or after Inuit’s Quickbooks or Quickbase? Or is it just another cool looking Google Apps?

I don’t know. Startups during the early days typically tend to execute one thing like hell and when they become successful, they tend to diversify into related areas that leverage their core business. But what exactly is Zoho’s core business? What happens when push comes to shove – what will be left standing? Which apps will get the axe and which ones will be left standing? As a business user I want to know, before I jump into the bandwagon.

Zoho is owned by AdventNet which has its own share of developer and database products which adds even more to the product line.

It appears to me that they are using carpet bombing hoping that something sticks as opposed to using a laser like focus in getting 1-2 of these offerings become kick ass apps with a large base of paid users. You name it – Microsoft, Google,, FaceBook, SolidWorks all did it this way in their startup days. Pick one thing and execute like hell as if your life depended on it.

I could be missing something completely and would love to be educated. Please let me know.

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Social media and impact on marketing?

Talk about social media is everywhere – it is being used by everyone and some don’t even understand what it means. Francois Gossieaux has a very interesting blog post titled “We don’t do marketing with social media – social media is what caused marketing game to change” – a very interesting 5 minute read.

To me, the game changer brought on by social media is putting the customer in charge and not the vendor. I don’t spend on anything that does not have “real user” reviews whether it is making a hotel reservation, buying an appliance etc. I don’t go to any vendor’s website to read how their product is the greatest thing since sliced bread – the only thing I do is google “<productname> reviews” and if nothing comes up, conclude that the product is not any good or does not have enough buyers and just move on finding another seller who can sell me the same or similar product.

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Vista nightmare over the weekend

OK, this post is more about my first and nightmarish experience with Vista than a product management tip.

Over the weekend, my aunt visiting from New York asked me if I could figure out what was wrong with her PC. She said her problem was that she just could not surf to using IE, but could happily get there using Firefox (go figure!!). She could get to msn and then click on My MSN and log into hotmail, but the text of all messages was blank (who would want to read text of emails anyways – after all the from and to and subject lines is all one needs, right?).

I told her that I should be able to easily fix this by uninstalling IE and reinstalling it. Last wise words spoken by me. I figured this was going to be a ten minute job – wrong – thanks to Vista. Found out that you just cannot uninstall IE on Vista – nor could I find what version of IE was installed because trying to do that started giving a never ending script error.

So started googling for solutions – so what do I find – every other Tom, Dick and Harry has run into the same issue – IE7 wants to ask the user if he wants the phishing filter on and a bunch of other settings (runonce.aspx). It is supposed to ask only once, but it has a bug before it gets to ask you. So it thinks it has never asked you and always gives you a blank page.

After 3 hours of trying to grapple with this and trying everything from using restore points (which fails) and editing registry to add two dwords that MS recommends you manually add, I just gave up. I told my aunt to stick with Firefox. She dropped her laptop on her way out – she said it was an accident, but I am not sure if she dropped it in sheer frustration – I would if I were her.

MS wants to discontinue support for XP by Jan 2009 and start shoving Vista down everyone’s throat – they are doing it to consumers now and businesses are next. What a great customer service? I think their slogan now is “Do all evil”

Then I read this article – Vista’s big problem: 92 percent of developers ignoring it – what a surprise?

It is amazing how MS just does not get it anymore. I think Bill Gates was smart once again – he quickly got off this Titanic before it is headed for the iceberg.

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How would your future users behave?

Product Managers pay (or should pay) a lot of attention to finding out more about why people are NOT buying their product more than why people are buying their product. This can be framed based on the current population of users.

But we are at a tipping point in history where a large number of baby boomers are approaching retirement and their places are being taken by a wave of new entrants. Many of these new entrants are currently in colleges. So if you are planning to develop a long term roadmap, make sure you are taking into account the behavioral aspects of the new generation.

I thought that the survery results shown below (Source: was very interesting in understanding the adoption of the latest technology by age (Low adoption of RSS feeds in the younger age group was a surprise to me). It is important that we pay attention to this because these represent the future users of our products.

The full article is titled Baby Boomers and Social Networking and is worth a read. Pay equal attention to some of the similarities called out in the full article.

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