Beyond the recession and blaming sales: check your Product Management

Now that we are starting to see the end of the tunnel with this recession and startups have used this as a strong reason for lackluster performances (when they are not blaming their sales or marketing), it’s time to really evaluate our product plans. I find that too many times (and I’ve done the same mistake more than once) we forget to closely look at the cause (product plans) and focus all our energies on the symptoms (sales, marketing, economy).

The Economy is not the mother of all problems
Yes everybody has been hit to some degree by the recession but as things are picking up, this will be less of a reason to explain you’re past couple of missed quarters … Of course, we can always feel better when we compare to our competitors but, and this is a big but: I strongly believe that startups can navigate better in a storm. Startups should be nimble and quick enough to move around (some regions are doing better than other, re-focusing sales efforts for example).

When beating on sales and marketing does not suffice anymore
Ok by now, you have changed more than 75% of your sales team, re-built your marketing team two or three times, the average tenure for anyone in sales and marketing is now below one year. There is so much you can do by shuffling around sales and marketing resources. Rarely a good person turns bad in a few months (unless you have a very bad environment but let’s assume that is not the case). So what happened? Well, just like you can build a new software product (from scratch) in a few months, a sales and marketing team takes time to build and strengthen.

When was your last deep product review?
If you can’t just blame the economy and beat on the sales and marketing team, what else can you do? Clearly there is nothing wrong with the engineering team … Well, how do you decide what features (and why) are being done? How many customers will want to buy this upcoming release – are you on the right time to market? When was your last product review? So maybe your engineers review code together. I am talking here about a market driven product review. What were the steps that you took to decide what goes in (or not)? Have you measured if there are sufficient customers out there ready to buy this? And to buy this WHEN it is released? Great ideas and innovative technologies are all over, building and bringing to market a great product – not so much.

Small steps in product management yield great results in sales
I will not say it enough. Product Management is a common weakness in engineering heavy startups. How many engineers do you have? How many product managers and product designers? While a proper Product Management process requires investment in market research, product validation, and other important facets – you can always start small. This is what a believe is the best thing to do in any engineering driven company that is looking to be more market driven. Of course, this will take a few years before you have a fully functional Product Management process, but at least you will do better during each step of the process. You will be surprised on how much little steps can yield a much better product plan and roadmap.

Don’t be shy to challenge status quo
Ok sometimes it is not so easy to do so from the inside. This is a great opportunity to bring a consultant in and help you assess where you stand on both your Product Management process and how you can quickly improve your product plans. If you want to see how Product Management can make your overall business run better, please contact me an I can put you in touch with a talented Product Manager in your area …

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