By Veronica Figarella
In 7 years of Product Management I’ve been lucky enough to start managing a new product at least 4 times. But many times, the product was new only for me, (i.e. not a new product at all), so getting on track and delivering what was expected was NOT always easy.
Whether or not you are familiar with the product and the market, I find the following actions helpful to start the challenge and increase chances of success:
#1 Know your market … you can learn all about the product later
Although it is great to have a clear vision of where you want the product to be, DO NOT start your new role by deciding what extra features to add if you haven’t investigated your market, competitors and customers problems thoroughly.
It is tempting to start “inwards” and read all product documentation, talk to designers/engineers, sales teams, learn about the product’s history and quickly immerse yourself into the daily urgent problem solving matters, without giving you time to understand your customers’ pain points. Take the time to learn from the relevant market intelligence information you have access to, read all the research done in the past and decide what sort of periodic customer insights reports you want to look at.
Learn about your industry trends and competitors and find your product’s sweet spot without learning all the internal details. I’m confident you’ll probably come up with a non-biased value proposition that will help you think externally (i.e. customer/market oriented) and have a better estimate of the real market opportunity for your product.
After you’ve acquired a comfortable level of market and customer knowledge you’ll look at the internal product information with different eyes.
#2 Audit your Product … start building a healthy relationship with your internal stakeholders
Learning about your product status is paramount to understand what your next steps are. So where do you start the audit? Even if you are not a Product Marketing Manager, auditing the marketing mix will help you organize the audit.
The variables I recommend you look into are:
- Customer Do we know who our potential and current customers are? Do we know their real problems? What is the buying process? Who is the decision maker?
- Product: What’s the product value proposition? What are the product’s strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threat’s (SWOT)? Is our product documentation in place? What are our product’s metrics and how often are they monitored?
Price: Are we selling what was expected? What’s the product contribution to margin? Are we gaining as much market share as we need to? Is our price right?
- Promotion Do we need a promotion to increase product trials? Are our promotions having the desired effect? How do we generate leads and what is the conversion rate?
- Communications To whom are we communicating our product’s benefits? Is it to the right potential customers? How good is our Product Collateral (printed, internal and external sites)? How communication works with our key stake holders (is everybody getting the information they need)? Do we have a proper way for customers to communicate with us?
- Channels Are we using the right channel to engage our customers? Do they have the information/preparation they need? Are they selling what they are supposed to? Is their commission structured properly? Do we need a new partner to reach our target market?
- Processes What are the product’s sale and post sales processes? Do we have a proper customer support/feedback process in place? How do we address to angry customers? What do we do with product’s feedback from potential and current customers? Do we follow product’s performance?
- Appearance Do our product’s packaging, forms, web, and brand help deliver our product’s value proposition?
- People Is the organizational structure optimal to product success?
In the process of answering the previous questions you’ll have the chance to identify your key internal stakeholders and start building a relationship with them. Also take into account their opinions to improve product performance as they will become your internal allies.
#3 Negotiate your Success … based on your outward and inward investigation
Now that you’ve gathered all relevant information and identified what are the main areas you need to work on, manage success with your peers and superiors by showing your discoveries. You will be in a better position to commit to the expected sales targets if you know the areas that need improvement or change.
It will help you manage expectations on what you and the company can deliver; after all we are only Product Managers, not miracle makers.
#4 Build your Roadmaps…so you can start planning your future
So you’ve managed your boss’ expectations, set your goals clearly, and have a good idea about the company’s resources. Now is time to dream and plan where you need the product to be in the short and midterm. You can build your internal and external roadmaps to engage with different areas of the company and most importantly to help you prioritize what changes need to made first. This will guide your future and current discussions.
#5 Manage your time…or people will manage it for you
Last but not least, and probably one of the most difficult tasks for new and old PM’s is to manage your time. Set a fixed schedule for report analysis, email reading and try limiting the hours you spend on meetings. Also learn to differentiate urgent from important or you’ll never have time to stop and think about where you are going and what needs to be done to secure your success as PM.
I hope this short list of tips helps you in your way of becoming an entrepreneurial product manager.
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