Software Marketing Resource Articles: Software Product Management

You wrote the code, now how do you sell it?

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Software Product Management

Are you facing difficulties in coordinating with development, marketing and the sales channel?

Is your marketing team understanding product features/trends apart from competitive trends?

Is your product feature and functionality evolution late or confused?

Its time for product management. It's time for a re-organization and recognition of product culture.

Product Management was created in the 40s at Proctor and Gamble for managing the business of a specific product. Through the years, product managers (and brand managers) have served as "chieftains of the product" in consumer goods companies. Here the product management was relatively easier for no need of technical knowledge. But in technology market, the three corners of the functional triangle are sales, marketing and development. Each of these function interact with each other but in an highly inefficient and stressful manner. This is because of the little understanding of each other's needs. Interaction with development and clients required technical knowledge, which pure sales and marketing people miss. Hence, came the Product Management at the interface of sales, marketing and development with technical, business and domain knowledge.

World's biggest software products company- Microsoft's careers section has listed numerous posting for the requirements of a 'Product Manager'. It demands business/domain knowledge along with technological expertise and indicates the emphasis it places on the 'product management' function and its skills. If today any IT company has global ambitions and is talking about moving up the software value chain, then it would be a folly, if it does not adopt a 'product management' culture. So what exactly is the product management and how it leads to successful product profit management?

'Cross-functional' challenge :
Developers know technology. Sales people know about the deals they're working. Marketing Communications knows how to communicate. Then where does Product Manager fit in? The Product Manager is the interface of all the three functions and hence 'cross-functional' in true sense. In technology companies, product management often plays a support role:
- supporting the channel with demos and product information,
- supporting developers with user requirements, project scheduling and prioritizing customer and sales requests for features
- supporting marketing communications with product and technical collaterals
As demands increase for more product management time, the product management role exceeds what can be done by a single person. Market-savvy executives rely on product management to identify and quantify market problems and bringing market information for product planning.

Knowledge warehouse
Good product decisions don't happen by accident. To make good product decisions, one must first understand the prospect, and the prospects problems, better than the prospect knows himself. Product management interacts with the market, observes customer problems that company can solve, and then tell the development team about the problem. For example, if one's customers are bank employees, one must understand at least: their education levels, what is their every day role, what their bosses expect from them, their purchase authority, what motivates them, specifically what problems one is trying to solve for them - in great detail and what alternatives exist to ones solution.

The more detail Product Manager has on his customers problems, the better chances of designing a solution that customers will purchase and use. This information is called domain knowledge. It often takes years to obtain this kind of knowledge, but without it, PM will feel blind when making decisions. One must also understand how those problems can be solved. This information is technical knowledge. A high-tech product marketing, PM will find it hard to design good products without specific high-tech knowledge. But there's more. Good business decisions also require business knowledge. Business knowledge includes strategic understanding, marketing techniques, management understanding, financial savvy, and just plain experience. Its easy to find product managers who have only one or two of these, the value is commanded by people who offer the triage of domain, technical and business knowledge.

Beyond titles:
Titles evolve as a company grows. In a small company, everyone does anything and everything. Product planning is done by the president and the developers. With a product in hand, company then hires sales people to find customers for it. Company then soon realizes that it cannot do all that it wants to do without adding some marketing professionals. Startups typically hire marketing communications (marcom) people to create promotional materials. But because marcom typically knows little about technology and the technology buyer, they struggle with messaging. Here comes product management to the rescue of the company by supporting marcom with content. And since they're the product experts, the sales channel starts requesting more and more support from product managers for "special" deals, or whenever a sales support rep is unavailable. The product management person takes on the role of market sensing: listening for market requirements, prioritizing them and analyzing the product roadmap with corresponding business/technical documents. The product marketing person is tasked to take the resulting product and appropriate communications to the market. Understanding technology is still key but now the role becomes one of "telling" rather than "listening."

Product managers serve as the CEOs eyes and ears in the market, and hence serve the business interests of the company by reducing the risk associated with building new products and product releases. In today's turbulent technology market if any company wished to develop product of global standards, it should adopt product management as corner-stone of its products strategy.

About Author: Rahul Choudaha Bachelor of Engineering (Electronics & Telecom), MBA (NITIE). Product Manager with Kale Consultants Ltd. Responsible for product management of airlines revenue accounting products and is involved in Pre-Sales consulting. Worked with Airtel and ITC Ltd. Articles published :

Reinventing Marketing' , Industry 2.O, Jasubhai Publications, Sept'01
'Technology Marketing' , Marketing Mastermind, ICFAI Publications, Nov'01 'm-commerce: are we ready?,
'Bioinformatics: Convergence revisited' in 'Vista' of IIM, Bangalore

The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of his organization .

Written by Rahul Choudaha.


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