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July 2005
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September 2005

To Simplify or Astound: The trials of product management

In the last couple of weeks, four different companies have brought up this subject to me.   And they all have something in common: they built a good product for a targeted market, and their markets have grown and their product has grown to reach the new market.   Engineering answered the call of sales who said "If only we had this feature, we could sell so much more."  And now their products astound their customers. 

Unfortunately the definition of astound is "to astonish and bewilder.

Bewildered customers don't buy much.   The trick here is using your product as a base, and building off simplified products which are targeted for a particular customer and use.   Look no further than the car industry.  What's the different between a VW Touareg and a Porsche Cayenne?  A little sheetmetal, a nameplate and five thousand dollars.

At Novell and Zenith we did this all the time.   I took solid desktop designs, combined them with solid server software, defeatured the product so it fit precisely for the market segment and sold $10M worth of product in 9 months.   At Novell we stripped back the OS, layered in a JVM and shipped Intel based Internet servers which beat Sun Sparc on both price and performance.

There are two gotchas in doing this.  The first requires you to do a lot of field work.  Talk to IDC or good analysts in your field.  Understand what you need to do.  Then you need face to face time with your sales force and customers to ensure you get it right.  After your prototype is ready, test market, test market, test market.  Have real people use it and talk to them.   Ask Apple what happened with the Newton

The second is keeping engineering on the straight and narrow.   As you are moving through development, you are getting feedback from the market.   Be prepared to drop a lot a features which are no longer relevant.  Engineering will be a lot more receptive to you if you drop 5 features and ask for 1 minor new one.   And communicate across product management and engineering.

Let me repeat that.  Communicate across product management and engineering.   One company I worked had a great application which worked on Sun stations.   We had worked for 6 months getting an audience with the correct group.   So the CTO and I go to Sun to give a demonstration.  Our product didn't run.  Why?   Well engineering revved the product for another platform and ended up breaking the Sun product.  I cannot print the CTO's reaction.

So simplify your product and make it fit precisely with each intended market.   Growth will happen.


Many times you present to a small group of people.   Marketing is full duplex.  Slide shows are one way.   Mary says: " We often talk a great game – “building personal relationships” “Listening more than talking.” etc. – and then when we actually get the folks in the room, what do we do? Dim the lights (so they can’t see us, much less each other), and go into PP pontification while they’re forced to stare politely at cells that are neither creative nor memorable."  PP = PowerPoint.Deathbyslides2_2

Here's how to do the small presentation.  First off know who is your audience.   What is their worldview, point of view on your topic?  Next answer the following question: "This meeting will be successful if ____ ".    Next figure out the minimum amount of information they need to get from where they are starting to where the results you want.   If you have some movies, nice graphics, etc.  , that and only that is what you have in your slides.   If you have graphics, think about putting them on a small poster boards.  Plus, of course, your aha factor.   Lose the words.   If you have dense information (market research, financials, etc.) print up handouts.  Plus handouts, illustrations, whatever you think they *may* want to talk about, but is not in your presentation.  Burn cd's with the movies on them, with a label with the date of the meeting (show them you care).

At the meeting go for the whiteboard.   The whiteboard is your friend.  It is interactive.  It shows you are listening and writing what they want to know.   When you have to pass out handouts, go to the whiteboard and bring out the main points.   If there is going to be lots of interaction and lots of writing invest in an easel flip chart.  The ones you can tear off and stick on the wall.   Finish a thought, tear it off and stick it on the wall.   

See, now you are talking with your audience about their issues and your solutions.   When done, make sure you have accomplished your objective.  If there is a call to action, list it with dates and followups and who is responsible.  When done, you jot down the notes.  Leave behind the flip charts, the cds and the handouts.   That way less time is spent with your audience writing things done, and more time interacting and getting the job done.

And that is why you are there, isn't it?

Forget Branding, it's your reputation

The classic marketing mistake is being concerned about branding, which usually means "let's design a cool logo".   Branding is for consumer marketing.  Like buying soup for dinner when you're in a hurry.  When you're in high tech marketing, you are talking to businesses about a fairly sophisticated product or service.  It's very personal.  One on one.   And brands don't mean much.

Reputation is everything.   Because buying high tech means have a long relationship.   If they know you, can reach you, and you are there when they are in trouble, that's a good reputation.  And word does get around (although a bad reputation moves 10X faster).

So don't fret about branding, but make sure your entire organization delivers a stellar experience from start to finish.  People remember that.

Open Source Communicator of the Year Award

If you know anything about Linux or open source in general, this should be no surprise.  It's Doc

" This recipient is the most natural choice for this award.  He defined the Cluetrain and hasn't gotten off since."

Here's what Doc knows:
engaging dialog = conversations = marketing

If you want to be in marketing, you need to live that.

And a word for Doc about his cars. Wrx Get a WRX wagon. You can afford one now.