Questions and Answers

One thing that enjoy most about running this site is the great questions that I get.  I have included some of them here in hopes that the answers may be of use to others.  This section is new, so it is going to take me a little while to get all the questions up.

Question - How does a product manager influence a technology-centric organization?

You talk a lot on your site about creating process and getting the company behind getting close to the customer.  You can clearly do this as a VP of marketing or a CEO, but you may have forgotten what it is like for a product manager.  How can I, as a product manager, have the influence to change my technology-driven company into a customer-focused company?

Answer

Oh yes, I remember well the enormous frustration of trying to drive customer focus in a technology-driven company.  I was at one company where engineering refused to let customers review an interface before it was released - and the management backed them up!  Ok, before I get too carried away with my own emotional baggage on the subject, let me try to answer the question.

Engineering folks and technical founders and management all have an orientation toward hard data.  Telling them that "a customer won't like that" is like nails on a chalk board.  But exposing the technical group to customers and letting them ask the customers "why?" is extremely effective.  The hard part is ever getting the two to meet.  The email advisory board (detailed in Chapter 2 - The Customers) is about the best way that an individual product manager can start getting a technical group to pay attention to customer input.  It lets you establish a group of customers that will give you immediate feedback and that feedback is in a form that can be forwarded to the technology folks in its raw form.  I think you will find that after establishing this capability at your company, the technology people will start asking you to send questions to the advisory board.

Question - How do I "break into" product marketing?

I have been employed at a software company in the pre-sales technical ranks for 9 years and feel I'm overdue for a change. I have held many roles from System Engineer, SE Manager, Regional Specialist, to Business Development Manager.  I am well liked and well respected at my company, but want to move into product marketing.  However, it seems that everyone wants a PM who has direct experience in that role.

Do you have any advice for me to transition my career into PM? 

Answer

It sounds like you have the perfect background for product marketing.  However, it would be close to impossible to get a product marketing job at a company different from your current one today with market conditions being what they are.  The tech job market is so tight that I know people who have VP of marketing experience that are taking product manager jobs.  When companies can get this much experience on the street, they just won't look to someone just entering the role.

However, that doesn't mean you can't work into product marketing at your current company.   The first thing you should do is establish a strong bond with the product marketing group.  You are the closest to the customer.  Make sure that you are providing lots of customer feedback to them.  Ask to be included on MRD reviews and help them work through new product ideas.

I always searched the SE ranks for my next product manager when I was running product marketing because they have such great knowledge of the customers and the customer requirements.  In fact, that is how I worked myself into a product marketing role.  

The second thing you should do is offered to help out product marketing by making a first pass at an MRD for them.  Product marketing is always so overwhelmed, they normally jump at the idea of help.  Product marketing usually has a long list of MRDs that are supposed to be written and never has the bandwidth to do it all.  Ask to help out on one of the less popular products - the one no one wants to do.  Once you establish yourself as a key resource to the product marketing department, they will want you in their own ranks.

Question - Can you give some general advice on being successful in a corporate environment?

You seem to have accomplished a lot over your career, and the lessons you have learned will of great value to me and others like myself who aspire to become great leaders in our professional careers and our personal lives. I would appreciate your feedback.

Answer

Hmm, I'm not sure if I am qualified on giving advice on how to be successful, but I will tell you the one thing that I have always had going for me - ignorance.  I was guest-speaking at an MBA class the other day, when a gentleman raised his hand and asked if all the analysis skills that they learn in their MBA courses could be a determent to being a successful entrepreneur.  There may be some small truth in that line of thought.  I do think that the one thing that I have always had going for me is the fearlessness of jumping into something that I know absolutely nothing about.  I have always just figured that I will learn things very quickly along the way.  In fact, most of my career moves where done exactly this way, from my first move off the assembly line, to my last stint as CEO.  Experience, education, and analysis are very important, so I don't want to underrate them in any way.  But there is a time in everyone's career for unbridled enthusiasm and fearlessness of the unknown.

Question - You have an extraordinary number of typos on your site.  Why?

Don't you know how to proofread? 

Answer

Yes, I have a terrible number of typos on my site!  Help!  I am a terrible proof-reader and, in my exuberance for getting information up on the site, I often write sentences that are either run-ons or fragments. 

Please send me any typos or nonsensical sentences and I will promise to correct them and try to do better.

Question - Where do I send my questions?

Please send questions to "tallent" at "infrasystems.com".  (Sorry that there is not a clickable email address here, but I am trying to avoid spammers.)

If you don't like my answers, send me better ones!