rules of PM

Golden Rules of Product Manager in Software Company

If you haven’t read an article that describes the role of the product manager in a software company, I highly recommend you to read it first.

As we’ve learned, product management activities span across the two primary roles: Product Manager and Product Marketing Manager. The actual activities performed by one role or another and the importance of these activities greatly depend on the software product lifecycle stage and project specifics. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who performs the required job, more importantly, that the job gets done. Whether you are a product manager or a product marketing manager working on a software project, follow these simple rules to be more productive at your job:

  1. Be always focused and position your product carefully – do not shoot on everything that moves: The most common mistake is trying or pretending to be everything for everybody. Precisely position your product and make people think ‘Hey, this product is created especially for me.’ If you shoot on everything that moves, it is unlikely you will catch anything.
  2. Look at your offering from the customer’s perspective – do not look from the inside-out but from the outside-in: The way you see the world is not nearly as important as how the world sees you and your product. With everything you do, try to step out for a while and look at what you are doing, from a customer’s perspective. Imagine yourself as a buyer, using your product for the first time. Try to read your website or leaflet as an outsider. Are you speaking the target market language? Are you addressing their real needs and wants? When giving a demo or a presentation, ask yourself; how important and captivating is my 20-minute product/company introduction? As soon as you can look at your company and the product you are marketing from the outside-in, you will be able to reach the customers and gain their appreciation. The same principle applies not only to users of your product but to other market players, such as your partners and allies - review your product and campaigns you run from each participant’s point of view. Make sure each party wins, and that none of your partners gets an unfair share.
  3. Sell the solution, not features – the developers in your company won't do this for you. They live for technology and concerned about programming languages, libraries, and frameworks they use. Salespeople on the other hand are not able to figure out for themselves what’s the practical meaning of a given technology and the impact on customers it brings. Technology is just an enabler for the solution. Try to hide the technology as much as possible and communicate the solution and its advantages to customers and prospects from the user perspective. The more complex the technology, the more it should be hidden under an easy-to-understand user interface, demos, and ads.
  4. Keep your product simple. Review your product to ensure it has been reduced to its minimal set. In the modern oversaturated software market simplicity is a king. It’s hard enough to market a product without burdening it with unnecessary bells and whistles.
  5. Sell and communicate the whole solution, not just what you actually make. In our digital age, we live in the highly interconnected world. It’s very likely your software product or service is a part of the broader ecosystem with lots of integrations and dependencies. When selling your product never forget about this fact and look at your product or service as a whole product, including its surroundings, partners, and integrations with other services that delivers some value to end users.
  6. Communicate and share the information you have – do not sit on it. Product managers don’t have power to order people around, what they have instead is an enormous amount of information at their disposal. Be helpful to your multi-department team by sharing information with the rest of the company. Sharing information gets everybody on the same track, and it allows others to come forward with useful suggestions and feedback. By giving information, you will more likely receive valuable information from others and inspire the team to build better products and services around them.
  7. Take an active approach towards product development – do not wait for developers to come up with yet another feature or piece of technology: developers are very creative people. But, if you do not stimulate them to create something needed by your customers, they will define their challenges. Advanced technology and features do not add up to market acceptance or better sales. Solutions that cover some specific use cases do. Your attitude toward the developers should be an active and stimulating one. Be in touch, show your interest and visit their meetings on a regular, and not necessarily scheduled, basis. Be helpful - developers are happy when what they build is successfully used by others, so they won’t be reluctant to learn how to get more users or how to satisfy existing users better.
  8. Engage with sales – do not be passive: never just hand sales the product and the pricing and wish them good luck. That is a too passive approach. Ask them what you could do to help them be more successful? Sales are customer-facing people with lots of personal connections. They can be a unique source of information and can provide real customer feedback that you can’t get from anywhere else. Feedback which goes beyond technologies and is about real customers' needs. Salespeople also need you, because they can’t talk the same language with developers - the gap is too wide. Be their friend, and they’ll help you from their side. Always check to see if your efforts to help sales are having the desired effect and if not, adjust them. The more successful the sales team is, the more successful you are, and the more successful the whole company is. Consider yourself a critical member of the sales team because you are.
  9. Blame yourself when the product is not successful – do not blame others: You are responsible for the product success, and you can influence other departments to do what is needed to make the product a success. You and only you are responsible for your product.
    It is always easy to blame the sales department when sales are slow. So, sales are not aggressive enough? Then you go over there and do a better job motivating them, and provide them with the right tools to be aggressive. Sales do not know what they are talking about? Well, you teach them! You tell them how to sell the product, what the USPs are and how to deal with the competition. Are sales trying to sell the wrong features to the wrong prospects? Then point out who the right people are and what they care about. The same goes for developers. If they are not developing what you or customers expect, then first have a good look at how closely you are cooperating with product development. Did you supply developers with enough user/customer feedback? Did you deliver your message in a clear way?
    The design of your product could have been based on the wrong assumptions or perhaps market circumstances have changed. All this comes down to you. Your job is to make the product a success. You are the only one in the whole company, who can oversee the whole offering and the whole product lifecycle. Listen to the people around you – if they have a critique, there will most likely be useful information in it. Evaluate what is happening with your product and take the necessary measures. If the product is not successful, there is no one to blame but yourself.
  10. Be 100% result-oriented – no checkbox marketing: I do not think any concise PM or PMM would deny that at the end, it is the final result that counts. And yet, I have heard many times professional marketers talking only about what has been done during a marketing campaign, and the results are not mentioned. ‘We participated in ten conferences last year and talked to hundreds of people!’, “People received our souvenirs well,” “We ran a special offer, and a lot of people were happy about it,” “We created a nice looking landing page, look how cool it is” - So what? What was the outcome? And what is the ROI of the time and marketing dollars spent? Even when results are mentioned, many marketers prefer to juggle with vanity metrics, such as likes or retweets on SM, LP/blog post views or an email open rate. It’s called ‘checkbox marketing.’ Creating a landing page with 50.000 hits is not enough. Always ask "So what? How does it add up to the bottom line?". You should measure the conversion rate. Only the effectiveness of your marketing efforts counts.
  11. No spreadsheet marketing: A spreadsheet has magical powers. Show anybody an impressive spreadsheet full of numbers, and nobody will question the outcome. The danger of a spreadsheet is that you can easily manipulate the parameters to achieve an outcome to your liking. But the parameters should be based on honest facts and defendable assumptions.
    Do not fool yourself and the rest of the company by fumbling around with the parameters for the sake of a more desirable outcome, no matter how tempting it is.
  12. Sell what you have – no ‘next release’ marketing: No product is as important as the product you can currently sell, even though probably most of your time and attention is focused on the new release in development. Only the product that is available now can bring in cash. So when communicating with your target market, you have to stay focused on the benefits that the current version of your product offers. As soon as you start talking about the next release and that it will have even better features and is twice as fast, your prospect will wait for that next release. Or the prospect or current user will be less happy with the current version than he would have been without any knowledge of the next release. Another point - when you start selling the next release, you start selling promises and hope. The failure to deliver the hope may seriously harm your business. Hopes are hard to estimate as we all hope in different ways. Do not market your next release until it is available! Think about tech giants - Apple, Samsung, and other companies always sell current versions of their products and never disclose the specs for their next releases for the reasons mentioned above.

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