I am a self-trained product marketing person. Here is some practical advice to help improve as a product manager.
- Read: As much as
you can. There are really only two ways we
learn -- by doing things ourselves or by reading about how
others did them. I usually look at lists such
as the top business books recommended by BusinessWeek or
other similar magazines or websites. Read broadly:
marketing, business management, leadership, creativity,
- Write: As a
product manager, this can take many forms: customer ready
presentations, white papers, blogs, internal memos,
strategy docuements. Writing really helps
collate your thoughts. It forces you to
concisely communicate your ideas. It teaches
you to position -- your products, yourself, your
- Learn to write:
If you, like me, are an engineer who transitioned to
marketing, then you probably suck at writing. I
recommend reading The
Elements of Style, by Strunk and White.
The key thing in writing is presenting your ideas with as
few words as possible. As stated above, this forces
you to think through and concisely present your ideas.
- Learn Positioning: This is by far the toughest and most useful skill that a product manager possesses. If you become good at positioning, you are golden. Start by reading Al Ries books on Positioning. Positioning means owning a place in people's mind. You need to constantly position your product and its features and benefits to your customers. In fact, you constantly position yourself in front of colleagues and friends.
Just like writing, presenting also helps you collage your
thoughts and forces you to build a simple message to your
customers / audience. Make sure you
learn how to make good slides. There are several
books on this -- many of them teach you to mimic Steve
Jobs presentation style. Just like writing,
you want to learn to create slides with as many pictures
and as few words as possible.
- Meet customers:
There is nothing like knowing how good the presentations
you created are than presenting them in front of
customers. Product managers often create sales
presentations, but never deliver these to
- Learn from your customers. See how they
respond to your presentations. Find out what they
value in your product. Learn about their business
- Watch your customer:
The best sales guys are the ones who watch the customer
when you are presenting and not you. Our
natural instinct when someone presents is to look at the
slides on the screen. But if you want to see
how your customer or audience is reacting to the messages
on the slides, you should watch them.
- If someone looks like he or she is disagreeing with
what is being presented, then interrupt the presentation
and ask them "looks like you don't fully agree to
this. what do you think?".
- If someone nods their head in agreement, then say
"looks like this feature really applies to your
company". This will force them to tell you what
value the feature / point you are making brings to them.
- Listen before talking:
Whenever you go into a customer meeting, always start by
asking your customer questions. For example,
if a customer asks for a presentation on your roadmap,
then start by asking "what are your plans on software or
hardware procurement over the next few
years"? What are the most important
things you are going to be looking for? And so
- This way, when you are presenting the roadmap, you:
- Know that the customer is serious and actually plans
to buy something,
- What features to highlight in your products,
- Where to focus your presentation.
- I have been in situations, where we closed the deal
because we asked these questions before presenting and
also in situations where after learning that the
customer had no intention to buy, we refused to tell
them our roadmap (in a polite way of course).
- The most successful customer meetings are those in which the customer does most of the talking (at least 50% of the time).
- Help your sales team:
The first and most useful advice I got from the guy who
convinced me to go to marketing was "Always make sure you
are a resource to your sales guys (and
- Remember, marketing is a support function.
Engineering makes the product, sales sells
it. Marketing makes sure that engineering is
building the right product, it is priced right, and
sales has the sales tools to sell it. But
you can get rid of marketing and engineering would still
build a product and sales would still sell some of
- So, by helping the sales team, I mean making sure they have the right customer ready presentations, the value proposition and positioning of your product and its major benefits are well presented, you provide good tools to train your sales team, you provide additional tools that the sales team can use to convince customers of the value of the product, and so on.
- Learn to tell stories:
In everything you do in life, the most important advice I
can give you is Learn to Tell Stories.
Always start your presentations and pepper your
conversations with personal stories.
- For example, if you are building a more fuel efficient
car engine, then start with something like "I bought a
SUV a few years ago, when gas prices were $2 a
gallon. Of course, with my luck, as soon as
we got the SUV, prices shot up to $3. Boy,
it really pinches at the gas pump. So, I
can't wait to get this new car engine to the market that
will cut my monthly gas bill by $200".
- The most common pushback I hear to this is -- "My
company builds a technology component for other
businesses, so its really hard for me to tell simple
stories like this".
- That is the beauty of personal stories; there is
always something that you can talk to. For
example, a senior manager at my company recently
presented to a large audience and he started by
unwrapping a gift in front of the audience and pulling
out a magazine. He told the audience about
how he has kept that 10 year old magazine because it
represented the first time his company got on the front
cover, etc, etc, etc. It was a great story
that captured the audiences attention and made them want
to listen to this really interesting guy.
Other marketing articles I have written
- What do Product Managers do?
- Moving from engineering to product management
- I am
engineer; should I do a MBA?
- Its All About Figuring Out the Customers, Stupid!
- Why You Need a Marketing Person in Your Early Stage Startup
- Avoiding Common Startup Mistakes
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