RULE 5：Product Management determines the go-to-market strategy; Marcom executes the strategy
First off, much of my career has been spent in smaller companies where Product Management/ Product Marketing and Marcom were housed under one very small group. Heck, I’ve been in places where they were me, myself, and I.
But I did spend several years in a large company where we had separate Product Management, Product Marketing, and Marcom groups. And herein lies a cautionary tale of what happens when it’s not clear who’s setting the strategic agenda.
At this company, Product Management and Product Marketing resided in the same group, and we were clear about the roles each group played. But Marcom was completely and utterly separate from us, connecting on the org chart only to the president’s box.
This would have worked out fine if someone in the president’s box or in the EVP boxes just below actually agreed that Product Marketing—which set the go-to-market strategy—and Marcom were separate functions, with different roles, responsibilities, and expertise. And then declared that the two groups were going to get along.
Well, that never happened. And, although the reasons had little to do with marketing, is it any wonder that the company folded?
Although I had many good friends and colleagues in Marcom, relationships between us (Product Marketing) and them were generally non-productive and rancorous.
Marcom was under Sales, and much of what they did was what Sales wanted them to do. Suffice it to say that Sales wanted the short-term hit, not the long-term build. It never seemed to matter what the overall corporate strategy was; if Sales didn’t think they could easily sell it tomorrow, it didn’t get marketed today.
Marcom also owned the entire budget, so Product Marketing was always in the position of begging to get any attention for our products.
Sometimes, the budget stuff played out in ridiculous ways. At one annual (internal) sales conference, we had an exhibit hall for the products. Product Marketing had draped tables, out-of-pocket signs printed at Kinko’s, photocopied sell sheets, no lights, and lame-o promotional gimmicks to attract the sales guys’ interest.
Marcom shipped in tradeshow booths—complete with beautiful lighting and nice signage—at which they showcased their new corporate brochures, ad campaigns, website, and corporate giveaways.
We had the content; they had the stuff.
Shouldn’t we have come together on this? But, no. The enmity between the two camps was just too great. The rap on Product Marketing: no sense of the real-world pressure from Sales. The rap on Marcom: no content, big spenders.
I spent half my life at this company just trying to define organizational roles, smooth ruffled feathers, make peace, and make some sense out of things. Believe me, if I couldn’t get things to work out between us, no one could.
What a waste!
So, I’ll add to Pragmatic’s rule: Ensure that the roles are clear, and insist on an environment of mutual trust and respect. Strategy and execution are both important. But if the executors aren’t bothering with the strategy, whatever happens will not be pretty.
RULE 6：Product Management should help sales channels, not individual salespeople.
Obviously, when you’re developing market approaches and sales tools, your product and company will be best served by your focusing on those that can be widely deployed across an entire sales channel—whether direct or indirect. Take it from someone who has done some serious hand holding with some fairly hapless sales folks, we all would have been better off if I’d spent my time on things that would be available and useful to everybody.
But is the converse true as well? What about time spent with the truly excellent salespeople?
Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time in small companies, there are plenty of circumstances in which I’ve spent what I considered very profitable time with individual salespeople who are pleasant, helpful, and insightful. In my experience, these have also tended to be the most successful sales folks.
You could argue, then, that they don’t need your help. Maybe. But, as a marketer, you still need to acknowledge that you might need their help for reviewing sales tools, great feedback, access to customers…and so on. Yes, there are plenty of reasons why you want and need to develop relationships with individual salespeople. And sometimes that will mean providing them with individual help. The good news? They’re not the kind who’ll ask for it unless they genuinely need it.
Of course, just as time spent helping out dunderheads detracts from working for the greater, common good, so does time spent working with the A students. So you have to be careful not to indulge yourself all that much.
As for spending time wisely, like a lot of product managers, I’ve spent hours concocting presentations on demand, pitching in on last minute RFP responses, tweaking data sheets—so much easier now that everything’s PDF’d rather than printed—when the same time could have been spent making sure that strong, current, baseline materials were made available in a shared space.
Just say “no” to creating a slight variation of the wheel every time a salesperson calls and asks you for something.
Similarly, when you’re eliciting feedback and product input from sales, it’s better to hear from many voices, rather than respond to the bleating of the lone sales wolf whose input is colored by the last lost deal.
But as a marketer, I really want to reserve some quality time with the quality salespeople.
RULE 7：Be able to articulate your distinctive competence.
So why, exactly, should someone buy your product as opposed to the other guy’s?
It may seem obvious that you need to be able to tell a prospect what’s distinctive about you, but we often get caught up in just getting the features and benefits out there. Our product is really good, and we want everyone to know about it—so sometimes we forget to mention “why us.” It’s also easy to fall into the trap of picking up on some picayune feature that nobody cares about and making a big show about how and why this is a big differentiator. I’ve certainly done it: our product is the only one on the market that brings a smiley face up on each screen…the only one written in an obscure, arcane language…the only one that comes in a plain, brown wrapper. But a differentiated feature of your product, no matter how meritorious (or not) is NOT a distinctive competence.
No, your distinctive competence is something that you genuinely excel at—and that benefits your customer.
We all know the standard ones: You’re the most efficient, with the most streamlined service and support; you’ve got the most advanced, the very best product; you’re the most in tune with your customers and what they actually want, need, and value.
What might your distinctive competence be? Here are a few examples:
- You may have deep-seated knowledge of an industry that enables you to develop products that solve vertical-specific problems in ways that generic, horizontal applications can’t.
- Your engineering approach may enable you to react to customer requests and emerging requirements more rapidly than others.
- Your implementation team may be so proficient that they can easily and cost-effectively customize your application.
- Your training approach may help your customers more easily “on-board” new employees.
- Your automation strategy may let your customers painlessly and quickly purchase and implement new modules.
Whatever it is, you need to know just what your distinctive competence is. And it should go without saying that it’s reality-based. Prospects and customers will figure it out pretty quickly if you’re blowing smoke here.
RULE 8：Your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant
As marketers, we’ve all had to put up with the “everyone’s an expert” syndrome, in which people feel free to second guess and take pot shots at everything we do.
Unveil the new logo? Someone will hate it—and let you know.
Name the new product? Guaranteed that someone will think the name is dumb—or inform you that they once had a dog with this name. (Come on, did someone really have a dog named OmniCentraSolvAll?)
Publish the list of new features? Why’d you pick those ones? Why didn’t you use my suggestion?
Color of the golf-outing t-shirt. Trade show graphics. Target market. Partner strategy.
Doesn’t matter how strategic, how tactical, how important, or how trivial: People always second guess what Marketing does.
In these circumstances, the rule about opinions holds.
But I have to add a big qualifier, because an informed opinion can be both interesting and relevant.
Sometimes the person with the informed opinion knows something you don’t know. Or thinks about something in a way that you don’t. Or just always seems worth listening to.
With any luck, you’ll know who the Informed Opinions are and include them somewhere in the process before decisions are made.
What can the Informed Opinion do for you?
It can save you from making a mistake.
You might have fallen in love with the new color scheme. Come on, who doesn’t like avocado and harvest gold? The Informed Opinion might inform you that two of your closest competitors are using the same colors, and you don’t want to look “me, too.”
UniCentraSolvAll may sound like a uniquely swell product name. Informed Opinion may be able to tell you that it’s actually a heavily marketed pesticide in one country, or a product that in another country unclogs drains.
You may have missed an important and compelling product feature, and Informed Opinion may be able to tell you what it is and why it’s so important.
Of course, Informed Opinion’s opinion is not so important if you’ve done your homework. But you can’t think of everything, so it’s always good to have a couple of trusted Informed Opinions you can count on.
As far as your own opinions go: Offer your opinions only when asked for them. Try to eradicate (or at least minimize) any after-the-fact sniping and second guessing. (You hate it when it’s done to you!) And keep in mind that an opinion that’s informed by facts and market information is genuinely valuable and generally welcomed.