Do we need more people or stronger people?

Myopia will blind you

The product groups within most companies add more and more people as the company grows. It is exciting to be a part of a company that is in the midst of a meteoric growth. New faces bring new experiences and feed the high emotional energy already present to create an overwhelming euphoria. There is a feeling that this will go on forever. The Finance and HR teams try to be the pragmatic voices; however, how can you challenge our success? After all, we ARE Compaq, Digital, Wang, Concurrent, NetFRAME, AST Research, etc.!!! When one brings up the fact that the next tier is very aggressive and is about to kick us between the legs, you hear things like “THAT will never happen!” Or “You don’t know what you are talking about.” However, when business slows and their jobs or bonuses are jeopardized, the upper management of a company then looks at these same groups to cut overhead to make the P&L look better. Too cynical a viewpoint? For the purposes of this article…no. I have seen this phenomenon many times.

What can you do?

Now that the framework has been set up, what can you do as a product person?! It seems rather bleak…doesn’t it? Hardly. A Product Manager (PM) or a Product Marketing Manager (PMM) can have a profound impact on an organization by managing up and over, regardless of the size of the company. Do we need both PMs and PMMS? The answer is…it depends. As the company grows, the decisions carry with them more responsibility (dollars); consequently, the quality of output is heavily stressed versus the quantity. The activities are very similar in both company types. It’s the depth that changes. It’s for this reason that a functional shift occurs and new titles emerge—Planners, Business Development Managers, PMs, PMMs, SEO Managers, geo marketing managers, channel marketing managers, industry marketing managers, BI, Analytics Manager. The market gets sliced and diced until there is a marketing manager responsible for every major segment of the market and every customer type. As a PM/PMM, what does this mean? Please Chris…tell me something good!      

Grab the wheel

You are, for the most part, in the driver’s seat. Given that what you do touches every part of the company, you have a huge opportunity to do two things: (1) increase your skill set as a business person; and (2) develop relationships across an organization. For this article, let’s focus on (1). Are you working with the following groups weekly?

  • Development
    • Engineering
    • R&D
    • Regulatory
    • Quality Control
    • Technical support
  • Sales
    • Geography
    • Direct (field and phone)
    • Channel
  • Product Marketing
    • Your peers in the same product group
    • Peers in other product groups
  • Marketing Communications
  • Finance
  • Manufacturing
  • Distribution
  • Human Resources
  • Training

Do you know what they do? Do they know what you do? Do you know what your personal brand is in their eyes? If you don’t have the relationships built, the answers will be “no” to all three questions.

Be inquisitive

As professionals, we should be constantly focused on learning. If you have to rely on someone else to answer customer questions about product details, this is a natural place for you to start. Find out who knows more about the product or technology than anyone in your company and pick their brain. Chances are that they will seem quite insulted that you don’t know more than you do. Don’t worry about it. Your value is to translate what they have to say into benefits to the customer in digestible terms for a larger audience. Keep in mind that if you can’t teach or write about it, you don’t know enough. Take your new skill and analyze your competition. How do you stack up? Take this information back to your technical contact and share what you have found. They will most likely not be as insulted this time and will most likely enjoy the conversation. You have most likely done an analysis of which your contact had not the time to do and will want a copy. Bottom line: know your product.

Do you know how it’s made and packaged? If not, leverage your new technical contact to introduce you to someone in manufacturing who can go over it with you. If you are lucky enough to be located near the factory in which it is made, go there and watch them come down the line—from start to finish. Become familiar with the equipment and the processes involved with making the product. Ask people on the line to explain what they are doing. If you can talk about how it’s made when the question of quality is brought up, you are way ahead of the game. There may be something in the way your company makes its products that is unique enough to be a “silver bullet” in your marketing gun. Do you know what manufacturing certifications your plant has? Do you know what they mean? If you don’t, I can guarantee you that someone from manufacturing would enjoy talking with you about it. Make sure you have plenty of time because they will talk your ears off. Bottom line: know how your product is made.

Knowledge empowers

While I won’t cover the rest of the list in this article, I’m sure you can see the value in ferreting through your organization as you learn about what your “product” really is, the expanding breadth and depth of your business knowledge from this exercise and the value you could provide the organization by sharing what you have learned each step of the way.  The deeper you go, the more tools you add to your skills tool box and the stronger you become.  Once you have this complete knowledge, think of the impact you could have in the planning process for a new product.  Since you now know how the other groups work, you will also know the types of information they need to do their job.  You will find that you will begin to ask different types of questions of customers that lead the customer to believe that someone actually cares.  Being strong and credible in a company opens a lot of doors that might otherwise have been closed.

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