I recently read a post by a company I am affiliated with that talked about how companies fall into trouble by forgetting to listen to those who DON’T like your product, those who criticize your product, or those who show no interest in your product. These are important groups that, as a Product Manager, you MUST listen to. If the Product Manager isn’t listening to them, the truth is, nobody in the organization is listening to them.
All too often, successful products are brought to market because the company founder has identified a pervasive market pain point and has built a product to address that pain point. If successful, these founders tend to migrate up to management. Subsequent products typically falter because those who originally identified market pain points are no longer out in the field identifying those problems. More often than not, these products are built for what the founders ‘think’ the problem is.
Once detached from the job of ‘identifying pain points’, many companies begin to take product development direction from a different group. A group whose directive is to make money and close deals. That group is Sales.
Don’t get me wrong, we NEED sales people. Sales people bring in cash, they make companies profitable, and we reward them for doing so. However, it also results in them targeting a very specific group of people in ‘the market’. Take for example, the graph below. This may represent the WHOLE market in your industry:
From a sales standpoint, if I am interested in selling product (and making commission), there are only a few areas where I am going to focus my time. I may try to steal customers from my competitors (if I hear they aren’t happy with their current product), I will definitely try to ‘up sell’ my existing customers on new products, and I will certainly focus on those who are currently in the market and buying right now.
But what about the rest of the market? What about those customers of our competitors who are really happy with what they currently have? Or, the bigger and more important piece of the pie, what about those people who aren’t interested in buying your product at all?
This is where Product Management comes in.
The term “Product Management”, is misleading. Successful Product Managers are not necessarily the “product experts”(as we may have Product Owners that are truly the masters of product knowledge), but they must be “MARKET experts” for your product.
Product Managers cannot be solely driven by sales targets because they need to understand all aspects of the market (as in the above graph). They must be the ones to ask “why does this massive chunk of the market not want our product?”, “why DON’T they need our product?”, and “why do these customers love our competitors product so much?”.
These questions don’t generate immediate sales. This is also the reason why Product Managers cannot be reactionary to immediate, ‘one off’ sales demands (“if I just get this ONE feature, we can make this sale”).
Competent Product Managers see that with solid time put in with parts of ‘the market’ that nobody else cares about, innovation occurs, products flourish, and companies become a lot more profitable.