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    6 Requests That Drive Product Managers Crazy

     

    6 Requests That Drive Good Product Managers Crazy!!

     

    As product managers, we’re bombarded with suggestions from well-meaning folks, such as your top sales person, your favorite customer support rep, or your largest customer.  Most of us inherently want to be helpful, and resisting the temptation to say ‘yes’ can be difficult.  However, good product managers are always aware that as ‘mini-CEOs’ of their business, their job is to balance requests that can pull the business in opposite directions.  It’s not that these suggestions are unimportant, many can be critical to your success; however, you need to consider them as just one voice among many when deciding what to do.  In the end, your best defense is an on-going commitment to understanding the needs of your target market, with data to support what you’ve learned, so that you can respond to requests armed with this knowledge as context.  (Setting up internal processes that ensure all product managers are consistently capturing this knowledge is a topic for another article!) 

     

    Here are just a few things you’ve probably heard.

     

    I THINK WE SHOULD...

    Though individual opinions can be helpful, they should always be trumped by data showing problems in your market that targeted segments are so significant that they’ll pay you to solve them.  A more powerful statement is, ‘according to our market data, we should…’.   I’m reminded of a quote that is often applicable in this situation - “Your opinion, while helpful, is irrelevant.”

     

    TONS OF CUSTOMERS SAY WE SHOULD…

    A seasoned product manager may quickly reply, “that’s great to know - exactly how many is a ton? Does it represent a significant percentage of our customer base? Do prospective customers feel the same way? What will happen if we don’t do it?  If we do it, how much will they pay us for it? How many would stop paying us if we don’t do it?

     

    LET THE CUSTOMERS VOTE ON IT…

    This one is tricky! Of course, you do want to get customer feedback regarding features to add, or problems to fix, including data such as what you can get from voting or tallying; however, be very careful not let this dictate your entire roadmap.  For a somewhat dated, but still very applicable read on this topic, check out ‘The Innovators’ Dilemma’, which basically describes how many technology companies have gone out of business by listening too closely to their customers.  As with other suggestions, it’s one of many inputs, but not the only one.

     

     

    IF YOU DON'T BUILD IT, OUR COMPETITORS WILL EAT OUR LUNCH…

    Of course, you do want to pay close attention to your top competitors, and when strategically and financially justified, meet or beat their products’ functionality.  However, before you react to this kind of information, make sure you have a strong grasp of who your top competitors are, how you intend to differentiate your product, and for which things you need to ‘meet or beat the competition’.  Especially for complex products, such as ERP software, trying to chase your competitors in a feature war is inevitably a very expensive and unsustainable race to the bottom.

     

     

    JUST THINK OF IT AS A LOSS LEADER…

    I’ll never forget a phone call from the VP of sales who was adamant that we needed to create certain add-on modules for our software that were important to some specific customers.  Under the right circumstances, it would have been a reasonable request and a smart strategy.  The problem was that our company had a history of creating these things for one customer at a time, so most of them were being used by a small handful of customers, and were highly unprofitable.  This meant also that they received few resources to maintain them, which lead to complaints that the rest of our customer base heard about, loss of reference customers,  and so on.   When pointing this out, I was informed that we should invest in them as ‘loss leaders’, because they would help us win more deals.

     

    Hmm…well, that may work OK at Thanksgiving when the allure of a ½ price turkey lures you to that particular store, where you then spend another $250 on groceries for the rest of your dinner.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate as well to a B2B software solution, where a prospective customer is interested in your core product, but just wants that ‘one extra feature’ as a custom development commitment to close the deal.  If it solved a need for a significant portion of our customer base, and they’d pay enough for it to be profitable (it wasn’t and they weren’t), then it would be worth considering.   Or, if it was an obvious gap in our core product that most of our target segments truly value, perhaps it would be worth adding to the roadmap for the core product.  Better yet, maybe a strategic partner could build and maintain it more cost effectively, sell it separately, and integrate with your core solution.   Just don’t get trapped into thinking you need to build unprofitable software to grow your business.  Remember…the sales team is appropriately responsible for revenue, but you must focus on revenue and profit!

     

     

    IF YOU ADD [insert cool feature here], I CAN SELL IT ALL DAY LONG…

    First, let’s acknowledge that sales is a challenging job, and it’s only natural for your reps to pass on requests from prospects and customers, so don’t ‘shoot the messenger’!  But, don’t be trapped into agreeing to build something on a whim.  Capture the request, and systematically combine it with all the others you receive so you can track frequency and impact.  Armed with this information, along with all the other market knowledge you’ve gathered in win/loss calls, customer visits, surveys, etc., you can then decide whether you’ll receive some combination of higher retention, increased revenue, or more profit to make it worth an investment.

     

     

    …I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of others!  If so, share them with a ‘reply’ to this post, or e-mail me at jhanson@marketviewconsulting.com.

     

    John Hanson is President of MarketView Consulting, LLC, which helps companies monetize more value with a repeatable product management process for discovering & delivering what the market wants and will pay for.For more information, please contact John via e-mail (jhanson@marketviewconsulting.com), or by calling 651-261-0344.

     

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