Killing a Killer Product in 5 Easy Steps

First of all I have to stay that this week totally stank.  It stank like a poopy diaper, like a bag full of used hockey equipment, like a movie with John Travolta that isn’t Pulp Fiction.  Yes people this week was *that* bad. One of the reasons this week was so darn smelly was that one of the really promising products that I am working on has been suddenly besieged by “helpful” folks that haven’t had much experience with new product introduction.  This got me thinking of all ways that a great product could be managed right into non-existence and I give you this: Killing a Killer Product in 5 Easy Steps Remove the Passionate Leaders and Replace Them with “Professional Management” – People that drive new products to market aren’t like the professional managers you know.  They’re nuts.  They are so personally invested in their product they make Steve Jobs look uncommitted to Apple.  They will get past any roadblock and solve any problem.  They are changing the world.  They might not be the right folks to grow it past $20M or $100M revenue but replace them too soon and what do you get?  You get an organization driven by someone who sees the product as nothing more than a step on his/her personal career ladder.  Will they fight your CEO when he makes a bad call?  Will they be at the office at midnight on Saturday elbow to elbow with the rest of the team getting product out the door?   Will they personally concern themselves with all of the stupid piddling little details necessary to get the...

Customer References 101

We all know references are critical to closing deals but most companies don’t get around to actively managing them until the 2 referenceable customers they do have are all yelling “Am I your only crummy reference?!  Pick on someone else!!”  I launched a customer reference program from the ground up once and it was PAINFUL!  I’ve now seen it all from big companies and small ones and here’s what I’ve learned. Starting a Customer Reference Program – A Few Things to Think About Partner with Your Sales and Professional Services Teams – The key function of this program is to increase revenue.  Never forget that.  You need to understand how to build something that the sales team will find valuable.  Decide up front who does what.  Professional Services needs to be involved because they are going to help you qualify the reference, figure out who the spokespeople should be and how to articulate the value of the solution. Set Goals and Success Metrics and Revisit them Often – Here is how a customer reference program gets started and killed.  Marketing spends all their time writing success stories that sales never uses. Sales continues to use their own set of references because “the marketing references are crap.”  One day the execs get in a room and the CEO says, “What about this reference thing?”  Everyone looks at each other and says “I have no idea what they do.”  Snip, snip and the program is history.  Figure out how you are going to measure the success of the program and make sure Sales, Marketing and anyone else involved agrees.  These cannot...

The Broke Marketers Guide to Brand Tracking

I’ve had a lot of branding discussions this week that were spawned from my branding rant earlier.  One of the most frequent questions I get is “How do I measure branding?” and then “How much does it cost to do that?” At the bigger companies I have looked at there were two big pillars of activity going on: monitoring media mentions over time and brand tracking surveys.  But just because you don’t have the budget and market intelligence department of a bigger company, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be tracking this stuff. Brand Tracking the Big Budget Way – The Brand Tracking Survey My experience is that large companies spend a lot of time and money doing brand tracking studies.  These tend to be very well architected surveys to measure awareness, consideration and preference of a brand vs. other folks in the space.  These surveys also get into brand attributes where your brand gets ranked against others for things like reliability, performance, ease of doing business with, etc.  The results from these surveys are hugely useful.  The only problem is that it took a squadron of Market Intelligence professions to get it, and more importantly interpret it.  There are outside agencies that can do this stuff for you too, but as you might imagine, this kind of work is time intensive and therefore not cheap and getting decent post-survey insight without a deep understanding of your space and customers is difficult. Customer Satisfaction surveys aren’t a lot better.  I’ve worked at companies that spent months of effort building and executing these surveys only to get questionable results.  One company I...

Keep Your Filthy Brands off of Me

I haven’t had a serious rant on this blog yet so today is the day!  Corporate marketers at big companies, you can just ignore this post, it’s not for you.  I’m talking to you product marketers at little companies or you folks that own marketing budget for new products at bigger companies.  You know who you are. Lately I am hearing the word “brand” so much it’s making me ill.  Seriously.  Worse than having to watch people use the word brand inappropriately all over the place, is when I see “branding” used as an excuse for bad marketing. Maybe it’s because I spent so many years of my life marketing database software but I am a bit of an analytics nut.  In my world if you aren’t measuring it you aren’t managing it and if you aren’t managing your marketing spend then you might as well hand out $20 bills on the street asking for sales calls. So you have a marketing budget.  It’s puny.  In fact your CEO and your Finance guy are probably in a room right now cutting it as we speak.  Why are you still spending money on things you can’t or don’t measure and calling it “Branding”? Oh I can hear you right now – “April, we have to run those ads – we are building our brand!”  “We have to be at those tradeshows, it’s important for our brand!” “We are spending tens of thousands of dollars on graphics and art and colors and logos and naming, and all that because we are building a brand!”  So how exactly are you tracking that? ...

How to Find a Billion Dollar Business Idea

I attended ProductCamp Toronto this past weekend (which was a lot of fun, thanks to everyone who helped organize it) and one of the discussions I participated in was titled “Looking for That Next Billion Dollar Idea.”   Well if that doesn’t get you into the room, I’m not sure what does.  The discussion was kicked off by Chris Herbert who had participated in a year-long innovation contest run by a large technology company.  His group came close to winning the contest and he shared the positives and negatives of the experience.  We talked about how great ideas get formed an developed and then we ended up talking a bit about how to foster and manage innovation inside a larger company.  Yeah, OK, I admit it, I might have given the conversation a nudge in that direction.  I’m a bossy betty, I can’t help it. Having run marketing for a couple of incubation projects at IBM and working inside an incubator right now – this is a topic close to my heart.  The interesting thing is how our conversation touched on many of the things that I think are critical to fostering innovation inside a large organization. Here are a few we talked about in the session: Innovative ideas are nothing without a passionate idea team – In smaller companies or startups the person with an innovative idea naturally becomes the one to drive it through to deployment.  At larger companies, this doesn’t always happen but it should.  A great new idea needs to fight its way past doubters and skeptics.  It needs to not compromise in the face of...

Notes from a Conversation with a Dozen CIO’s

I spent a couple of days in New York this week with a CIO Customer Advisory Board.  The main purpose of the meeting was to get their un-filtered feedback on my company’s strategy and direction.  That part of the meeting was confidential of course but I still wanted to share some observations from the  meeting about the general mood and attitude of the group. Who were they? The group was just under a dozen CIO’s from the Financial Services, manufacturing, medial/entertainment, hospitality, technology and communications industries. What I Heard They Expect 2009 Spending to be Flat – This surprised me.  For now, at least budgets are not getting cut. 2009 Spending will be Focused on Revenue Generation – The allocation of budgets however, is shifting toward revenue generation. Cost-Cutting Projects Must Show Fast, measurable ROI – This also surprised me a bit.  In general cost-cutting projects are not happening in 2009 unless they can show very fast ROI. Speed Matters – CIO’s are moving quickly right now and they expect vendors to keep up with them.  If they ask for something they need it now and vendors who can respond quickly have an advantage. So What Should Marketing Do? Messages and Value Propositions Must Focus On Revenue Generation – Your customers need to understand how your product/service can help their businesses make more money.  You, your sales force and your customers all need to understand that in very simple terms. Give Your Customers Tools to Measure ROI – Don’t make your customer do the work to determine ROI.  Give them tools to help them do it.  Provide them case...
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