Just as Clark Kent (Superman) and Kara Daniels (Supergirl) performed Herculean exploits behind the guise of mere humans, product managers are challenged to work behind-the-scenes to achieve product success. (Yes, it’s a bit of a stretch. But don’t you like being compared to superheroes?)
Working faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a product bottleneck. Able to leap tall requirements in a single bound. Maintaining composure while working without direct authority. Surviving the kryptonite of firefighting and reactivity. It’s tough. And good advice can help.
At the end of every chapter of The Product Manager’s Handbook, I included an interview with a prominent business expert or consultant. Each offered perspectives for different product management challenges. Here are snippets of their words of wisdom.
This is the fourth and final of a four-part series of The Product Manager Advice Dossier.
Social Networking in a Scientific Industry
Gabriela Saldanha, Global Strategic Marketing Manager, Promega
[B]e open and attentive to changes in your field. You need to know and understand your customers, their habits, likes and dislikes, pains, needs and the solutions you are providing them. Social media may not work for everyone; it all depends on your understanding of you customer base. But it’s important to try new things, different things. If you don’t try, you won’t know what works or what the results and consequences might be. Some customer bases may be more conservative and not jump into new things. I believe scientists are by nature curious, innovative, risk takers. Much research is trial-based, with resulting failure and success. Based on that profile of my customers I knew they would adopt social media. After all we are all geeks.
Raise Your Global Product Management IQ
Mark Phillips, Chief Marketing and Commercial Officer, Imaging, GE Healthcare
A domestic product manager often manages a product that has been specifically designed for his or her market. The products are designed to serve the domestic customer needs and combat the domestic and key global competitors. Product managers outside of the domestic market, often “catch” these products “as is” and are charged with the task of launching them in international markets. This involves many challenges. Here again I’m going to give you my “laundry list” of bullets.
- While both domestic and international product managers face global competitors, the international product manager must also face local players. Combating local competitors—that specifically focus on local market needs—creates an additional battle front that domestic product managers do not face. Local players often have a better cost position, move faster and are very focused on local needs. This creates big challenges in value markets where price is a major driver, or in markets with complex / specific needs such as Japan.
- Diverse markets. People refer to Europe or Asia as markets in a similar way they refer to the US. However, the US is for the most part a homogeneous market. Asia and Europe are a mix of several cultures and economies, each with their own unique characteristics. In Asia for example, there are huge socioeconomic disparities across the region coupled with diverse culture, language, and political systems. Asia itself spans numerous time zones and countries. There is usually not a “one size fits all” strategy for Asia. This diversity of GTM (go-to-market) strategies makes the international product manager’s role much more complex.
- There is an added task of localizing marketing materials that have been designed for a different country and culture. This can include basic translation, to actually having to have your own photo-shoots to ensure “local faces” are included in your collateral. This cuts into your local GTM budget that is often based on a global benchmark of GTM spending. Domestic product managers do not have to cover this extra cost and thus can apply the funds to more strategic activity.
- Size matters. While international product managers may represent markets that are growing faster than domestic markets, the domestic markets are usually larger. Thus, it makes getting the features and functions needed for local markets very challenging compared against the needs of the larger domestic markets.
- Dealing with upstream teams in another time zone. This means early-morning and/or late-night conference calls to get the support you need. Product managers in Europe may have to stay up a little later than usual; Asia product managers are often squeezed at both ends of the day—both creating challenging schedules.
I still strongly believe that product managers need to think of themselves as the CEO or entrepreneurial head of their products to succeed. This includes:
- Going beyond purely product features to understand the distribution channels, manufacturing process, service processes, and detailed cost components of the product.
- Working to acquire basic financial skills to be able to create clear business cases for their products.
- Spending significant time in the field with the sales force and with users / buyers to hear product feedback directly from the market (not just by paying others to do market research).
- Looking at customer needs beyond their specific product. Step back to understand what surrounds the before-and-after of how and when the product is used, a type of 360-degree observational exercise. This can lead to many insights for additional services and adjacencies for expansion.
- Collaborating with others, either peers from other regions that own the same product or with product managers from other product lines. Dropping the insecurity and over-competitiveness that is the downfall of many products manages can be key to get to the next level. Leadership in the organization will always promote those who can work across functions and geographic lines to bring the entire organization forward. Look for ways to win together; that is what your leadership wants.
Product-Line Management Transformation
Stan Kopek, Adjunct Mathematics Professor at Middlesex Community College
John Luszczek, Former Product Line Manager
[Here’s our advice for firms striving to strengthen their product management organizations.] You absolutely need to get alignment on what the executive team is expecting from the PLM organization; get corporate-level buy-in. Be sure you understand the current capabilities of the PLM organization and customize the skills development and training to address those skill areas most needing enhancement. And finally, recognize that implementation skills (i.e., specific product-related skills such as VOC and go-to-market) are needed to accomplish the PLM role, but excellent general skills (leadership, strategy, innovation) are required to get to the next level.