A lot of us spend June to August waiting for football. As summer fades, as school starts, we anticipate spending our leisure time with greater focus and greater intensity. Those of us who were born shy look forward to having more to say around the water cooler.
For B2B product managers, the first kickoff signals a change in business seasons. Whether we follow NFL, college, high school or fantasy, having football again helps us hunker down at work, believing that our customers are back in the office, that meetings will be easier to schedule and that customer decision-making will emerge from limbo.
But on that first Monday morning, reality sets in. Time this year is running out. And we have a long way to go to make revenue targets.
This is the B2B product manager’s conundrum. Just as we come out of the doldrums of July and the dog days of August, the calendar becomes our primary challenge. Two problems, apparently out of our control, come into focus for the experienced product manager:
- Long sales cycles
- Not enough qualified sales opportunities
The unconstructive temptation for many product managers is to throw up our hands, shrug our shoulders and blame sales.
What kind of answer is that? If we neglect team play during football season, when will we ever act as good team players? We might as well quit before the season starts.
Instead, there are some fast, collaborative initiatives that we, as good product managers, can take to make goal:
1. Understand our product through the eyes of sales. Putting ourselves in their position, if we were in front of the customer for 30 seconds what would we say? The headline words should come straight to a product manager’s mind: “better, faster, cheaper.” Yet often we know our products so well that we have trouble stepping back to the elevator pitch. We take pride in our product’s features. The 12 bullet points about why our product is better roll off our tongues. We love the practiced, detailed answers that we, as product experts, can provide to challenging questions. But we fumble the clear, uncomplicated, 30-second message of why a customer should buy.
Sales wants to qualify and to move deals through the pipeline faster. They want the customer to engage, to trust them and to collaborate. They need to understand whether they are wasting their time with an individual contact or talking to someone who can drive a purchasing process and decision. They need to understand the stakeholder landscape at a customer: the influencers, the evaluators and how to build consensus.
As product managers, we need to design messages and tools that will help sales with their challenges. Sales needs to be able to articulate the 2 or 3 things that make us better, faster, cheaper. They need a one sentence, bottom line answer to the customer’s question of “how much money will your product make me or save me?”
2. Focus on making sales effective. A 40 page power point deck or a 25 page product brochure is rarely the answer. A clear, easy to find, easy to understand Value Proposition often works much better. Not the deep and detailed spreadsheet we might have developed. The key to sales effectiveness is that customer value is easy to find, easy to understand and easy to explain.
For good, customer-facing product managers, this often runs counter to our instincts for performance. We are so used to being pulled into the critical meeting to deliver the key messages that we let our control-freak instincts take over. Every time we have one of those great meetings that results in closing a deal we wonder why we aren’t having two of those meetings a day.
Seeing this as an answer misses the point. The sales force is in place precisely to provide leverage. As product managers, we are inherently limited in terms of time, availability and bandwidth. That is the reason that we are used in the critical meeting. But we need to understand that the part of the sales process that we see is the tip of the iceberg. Customer value is useful for other members of the team addressing multiple stakeholders at many points in the sales cycle. As product managers, we need to understand this and design good Value Propositions accordingly.
Quantified Value Propositions Can Improve Product Revenues Fast. There is still time in August and September. A winning game plan for product managers can be implemented in two to four weeks deploying good Value Propositions. Two to three sessions with four to six team members are usually enough to design a good Value Proposition that can make sales more effective.
A Value Proposition answers three central questions:
- Is our offering better?
- In what ways is it better and how much better is it?
- What is that worth to the customer?
To be useful in sales conversations, a good Value Proposition boils the answers to these questions down to the two to four ways that our offering is better than the competition and what that is worth to the customer. The key is to quantify these differentiators in a way that is clear and simple, cutting through technical complexity.
Fast Implementation. For good product managers, deploying Value Propositions fast requires an agile approach to product marketing. Agile marketing involves: (1) designing an initial version, v1, to limited objectives, (2) developing v1 fast, often in sprints, (3) testing v1 quickly and (4) iterating rapidly to improved versions. Value-based strategies work best when deployed through an agile marketing process where the content and data are continually improving.
It is important to realize that an agile approach is a departure from 20th century, perfectionist marketing. The formulae and presentation don’t have to be perfect to be useful. The data don’t have to be exact to help sales fill the pipeline. The very process of getting a Value Proposition into the hands of sales for early use will result in improvements in presentation and data quality as long as we product managers keep refining our Value Propositions based on customer-facing experience and sales feedback.
Agile deployment of customer value can obtain early success by targeting low-hanging fruit and focusing resources and training on the best opportunities. An agile approach has the benefit that successful tactics and positive results are contagious. A few war stories of good product launch decisions or of successful deal negotiations, properly broadcast, can build momentum and help make the language of value go viral. As a result, demonstrated success drives sales adoption and more effective sales.
Fast Results. Our job as product managers often seems complicated with multiple objectives and diverse challenges. Meeting or beating revenue targets helps cut through complex objectives. A focus on sales effectiveness driven by a good Value Proposition and teamwork is a great way to make the goal that matters strategically to our B2B enterprise. Good Value Propositions in the hands of sales helps to fill the pipeline faster with qualified deals.
Before BCS Brackets and Wild Card Weekend.