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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