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 !

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.

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.