It’s Usually Not a “Communications” Problem

When people aren’t sure what’s wrong, they often refer to it as a “communications problem.” But this is seldom the real problem.

The next time someone lays a “communication” issue on you, try this:

“That sounds interesting. Help me out. Describe specifically what you see happening and why it’s a problem.”

This should get the discussion going and help drill down to the real issue. This is helpful both internally and when working externally with partners.

source: All Things Workplace

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Don’t Suck At Meetings

I’m usually not a fan of infographics. They’re overused and typically not that good. But this one from visual.ly regarding meetings was an unexpected find on Pinterest. I recommend checking it out for Product Management professionals.

The take-aways for me were:

  • Respect the value of attendees’ time – a single meeting can literally eat up thousands of dollars
  • Stick to 30 minutes or less – anything more and people rapidly lose attention
  • Don’t do all the talking, engage your attendees – the more people participate, the more attention they’ll pay
  • Limit your presentation to 20 slides or less – anything more takes too much time to produce and reduces the likelihood of people reading it during the follow-up process

Don't Suck At Meetings

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Machiavelli and New Product Development

Niccolò  Machiavelli (1469 – 1527) was an Italian philosopher and writer. He is best known for his work The Prince. Most people think of this work as a political science or philosophical treatise. It’s also used in management training.

But I’ve always thought that Machiavelli had a lot to say that’s relevant to start-ups, product management, new product development, and partnership/business development. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

I’m not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it.

Never was anything great achieved without danger.

Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

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Avoiding Traps in New Product Development

Great post on The Software Maven that should help all product managers. A nice application of how to use the scientific method and some common logical fallacies to avoid.

When you’re gathering data to validate your market or product, pay attention to the following:

  • Confirmation Bias – Are you asking questions to find the truth or to prove yourself right?
  • Appeals to Authority – “Are you listening to experts instead of your customers?”
  • Misaligned Motivations – “Do you have an emotional connection that is clouding your vision?”
  • Overconfidence – “Are you…completely sure you know all the answers?”
  • Familiarity – “Are you digging to find the real needs that you wouldn’t hear about otherwise?”

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“Conscious Incompetence”

I was catching up on some old posts for some of my favorite blogs. The Slow Leadership blog has a great post on “Conscious Incompetence.”

If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly first. In the real world, doing something new almost always means doing it poorly the first few times. Improvising never produces a polished result, but it’s nearly always the first step towards creating something new and worthwhile. To do something new, you have to make a conscious decision to let yourself try things that you know you can’t do. That’s practicing “Conscious Incompetence.”

It served as a much needed reminder of how I learned what I know. There was lots of trial and error along the way. I highly recommend this post for those who’ve gotten really good at what they do and seldom venture outside of that area of expertise.

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So What? – A Book Review for Product Management and Business Development

So What? by Mark MagnaccaI just finished reading So What?: How to Communicate What Really Matters to Your Audience by Mark Magnacca. This book really opened my eyes. I found it highly applicable for both product management and business development.

The premise of the book is that your message should focus on what your product can do for your customer. There’s nothing new or revolutionary about this idea. In fact, most of it boils down to understanding the difference between features and benefits (it’s benefits that matter), figuring out which benefit matters the most to your customer, and then making sure that they hear it. It’s a good reminder that many marketers need to hear from time to time. But where this book excels is in helping you apply this idea in ways that you might not have thought of. This book is a nice evolution in how you can market yourself, your product, or business.

Key Take-Aways:

1) Your potential customer or partner is thinking “so what?” All your thoughts and efforts as a marketer should be focused on finding the “So What Benefit” for your customer or partner. They don’t care about you, your product, or your company until they know how it benefits them.

Having taken hundreds of phone calls from other companies wanting to partner with my company, I can tell you that this is the only thing I cared about when taking these calls. If the caller couldn’t quickly articulate what was in it for me, then it was over.

2) Think through the “So What Matrix” when giving a presentation:

  • “For What?” – Why are you giving the presentation?
  • “So What?” – Why is it important to the customer?
  • “Now What?” – What do you want the customer to do as a result of the presentation?

I’ve always been been stunned by how many product and partnership proposals I’ve seen that didn’t get these points across.

3) The goal is to get your customer to say:

  • “I love it.”
  • “I need it.”
  • “I’ll buy it.”

4) If you can’t think of a “So What Benefit,” just ask your customer or partner. The author suggests saying the following: “One of the the things that I have found that is really helpful in prioritizing what’s most important is to ask  you to complete the following sentence regarding this product/service.”

“All I really care about is ______________ .”

This is the recommendation that I really like. It’s so simple, why not just ask what someone wants? The problem is that people don’t always want to tell you what they want or can’t articulate it. The author gives good tips on how to get past this.

5) The author suggests creating a “personal biography” – a little about you, your background, what makes you different, and how you can benefit your customer. This helps your customer or partner better relate to you. The book goes into detail on how to do this and provides good examples.

This really changed my thinking in regards to the “about me” section on my blog, as well as my resume, my cover letter, and my personal business cards.

6) Next the author suggests creating a “So What Positioning Statement.” This helps you to answer the question “What do you do?” in such a way that people will easily understand how you can benefit them or other people they know. Most people waste the opportunity every time they are asked this question. The book goes into detail on this.

Answering this question properly isn’t easy to do. The author completely changed my thinking on how to do it.

7) And, finally, the author suggests that once you’ve identified your “So What Benefit,” you have to make sure that your product or service is always visible and consistent, and that your “So What Benefit” is constantly repeated. He calls this the “So What Reminder” – visibility, consistency, and repetition. Don’t assume people will remember your message. Make sure they remember it.

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Talk Less, Say More – A Great Resource for Product and Business Development Managers

Talk Less, Say More by Connie Dieken

I just finished reading Talk Less, Say More by Connie Dieken. It’s full of great tips on how to relate to your audience in order to connect with them and ultimately to compel them to act. This book is highly applicable for product management and business development. You’ll learn how to better pitch your concepts, your products, and your company to internal audiences, potential customers, and potential partners.

The book is very engaging and easy to read. But don’t let the simplicity fool you. It’s packed full of great ideas to make you a better communicator that gets results.

The premise of the book is that to be a successful communicator, you need to learn three habits:

  1. Connect
  2. Convey
  3. Convince

You have to connect with your audience, so you can convey your message and convince them to act.

Recurring themes throughout the book are that “less is more,” you have to be “likeable,” and three is “the world’s most powerful number.” These simple ideas will take you a long way when applied properly. This book will show you how to do that and more.

Synopsis and Comments

Habit 1: Connecting – give your audience what they want and value up front so they’ll tune in. There are 3 strategies, each with multiple tactics provided to help you connect.

  • Strategy 1: Stay In Their Moment – Be Fully Present
  • Strategy 2: Frontload – First Things First
  • Strategy 3: Goldilocks Candor – The Right Level of Candor Is Crucial to Stay Connected

A large part of this section deals with how to reach and work with difficult people. It’s full of tips that will prove very useful in product management as you try to sell your ideas internally and to get your projects implemented.

There are also great tips on how to read your audience and adjust your presentation accordingly which is very useful in business development.

My favorite tip – you have to know your recipient’s preferred method of communication (PMOC). Use their PMOC, instead of yours, and you’ll increase your chances of getting a response. If you don’t know their PMOC, just ask. Then put it in their contact file and always use this method as your default means of communicating with them. This is especially useful in business development.

Habit 2: Conveying – manage information by using portion control to get your point across with clarity. The chapter starts off with 10 signs you might be a weak conveyor and tips on how to address the problem. Next up are the 3 strategies, each with multiple tactics provided to help you convey.

  • Strategy 1: The Eyes Trump the Ears – Use the Dominant Sense
  • Strategy 2: Talk in Triplets – Tap into the Trilogy
  • Strategy 3: Tell Stories – Gain Longer Shelf Life

A great visual example of strategy 1 is the contrast used in before and after pictures by weight-loss companie.

Strategy 2 is another of my favorite tips – the concept of triplets. The brain is wired to think in 3s. Examples include:

  • “Stop, drop, and roll”
  • “Stop, look, and listen”
  • “The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”
  • “Hop, skip, and a jump”
  • “Blah, blah, blah”
  • “Yada, yada, yada”
  • And my own addition: “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” from the three wise monkeys.

Things just flow better in 3s. Try it.

One of the tactics for using triplets is to “preload three choices.” Start with the most important item first, the second most important item last, and the third most important item in the middle.

Alliteration is also recommended when telling stories – think Dr. Seuss.

Telling stories is the hardest thing for me to do. But the author gives some nice tips. If you can tell a story about how your product can solve a problem, show some visual examples, rattle off the benefits in triplets, and use some alliteration, then you should have a very powerful and memorable value proposition.

Habit 3: Convincing – use to create commitment and influence decisions, actions, and results. The chapter starts off with 10 signs you might be a weak convincer and tips on how to address the problem. It then follows with the 3 strategies, along with their tactics for helping you to convince your audience:

  • Strategy 1: Sound Decisive – Stop Babbling and Backpedaling
  • Strategy 2: Transfer Ownership – Create Commitment, Not Compliance
  • Strategy 3: Adjust Your Energy – Start Attracting, Stop Repelling

Product Managers and Business Development Managers need to be able to convince their audience in order to sell their products and get the deal done. This chapter helps you to put it all together to do just that.

Strategy 1 – You have to sound decisive. “If you sound like a wimp, you’ll be treated like one.”  The author provides 9 signs that you might have a problem.

Here are some things not to say:

  • “I’m not an expert, but…”
  • “I could be wrong, but…”
  • “I guess what I’m saying is…”
  • “I kind of feel like…”
  • “I’m only an assistant, but…”
  • “I’m probably the only person who feels this way, but…”

For those of you that sit on your hands and bite your lips in meetings, “it’s crucial to contribute to meetings if you want to convince others to see your viewpoints and act on them.”

Bottom Line: If you ramble, waffle, or never speak up, no one is going to take you seriously.

Strategy 2 is a biggie – transferring ownership.

Transferring ownership means shifting your ideas and decisions to others so they will embrace them and act on them.

It’s the difference between others feeling actively involved in their destiny and, therefore, committed to it versus feeling forced to comply. Buy-in leads people to change behaviors, decisions, and actions…

People should feel as if they’re volunteering, not surrendering.

The lesson here is that you shouldn’t shove your ideas down everyone’s throats. Ask for opinions. Find a way to use some of those opinions. Share credit.

Strategy 3 is the hardest one for me to get a handle on. It focuses on your voice, your face, and your body language. Most people don’t pay enough attention to how these things influence people’s opinion of you.

This section is full of great tips. Here are my favorites:

  • Record yourself to see how you sound. Likewise, video yourself to see how you look (watch it with the sound off).
  • Use shorter sentences.
  • Emphasize action verbs.
  • Use pauses for emphasis.
  • Don’t suck in your stomach. Breathe deeply from the diaphragm. This will help to calm you down and make your voice sound lower.
  • Maintain eye contact, but try looking at just one eye and then switch to the other eye.
  • Keep your lower body still.
  • Use the power stance – “When standing, keep your feet about shoulder-width apart. Soften the knees a tad. This is the best position for the lower body to come across as relaxed but powerful.” Shift your weight from one hip to the other to mix it up a bit.

Remember: connect, convey, convice.

I’ve only scratched the surface of all the great stuff that’s in this book. I highly recommend it to anyone in product management or business development looking for an edge to better sell your ideas, your products, or your proposals.

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Get Results by Listening with Intent

listen with intent

Leadership expert Art Petty shares some tips on listening with intent. “Listening with intent isn’t a technique, it’s a personal value backed by behaviors that cause us to shift from the movie about ourselves running in our own minds to focusing on the movie or picture being created by another.” When we understand the needs and motivations of others, we are in a much better position to meet those needs.

Petty notes that:

  • Great negotiators…strive to understand issues, goals and aspirations, which are often hiding out of sight behind positions.
  • The best salespeople…sell by…seeing the world and challenges and needs from our frame of reference.
  • Great strategists listen to customers and markets…[looking] for emerging patterns and [striving] to make sense of those patterns…They adapt their firms and products and services to fit the patterns…
  • … the best leaders strive to tune-in to their employees, particularly as it relates to professional development.

Bottom Line: You cannot get what you want if you cannot give someone what they want. And you can’t give someone what they want if you don’t know what that is. So listen.

Image: Michal Marcol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

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I Learned the Three Most Important Marketing Skills in Liberal Arts Classes, not in Business School

You Can't Learn Everything You Need To Know In Business School

I was chatting with a co-worker about a Logic class she was taking. This brought back memories from my college days – I minored in Philosophy. It also led to the inevitable discussion about how one’s education applies to their profession. Many people assume that I acquired my Marketing expertise while earning my MBA. Likewise, people often assume that my undergrad and graduate studies in the Social Sciences and Philosophy do not apply to my profession, but they’re wrong. Here are 3 reasons why:

1) Empathy – Sociology

Empathy is the most important skill for Marketers.

Empathy is simply putting yourself in someone else’s shoes – like a potential customer or partner. For example:

  • “If I was a potential customer or partner, what problems might I have and how might this company’s products help me? If they don’t help me, how do I improve them so that they do help?”
  • “Looking at a competing product, how does it benefit me as a customer? If I had to decide between my company’s product and the competition’s, which one would I buy?  What can I do to ensure that my company’s product will win that decision?”
  • “How do I best explain the benefits of my product to a potential customer in a way that meets their specific needs and solves their specific problems?”

This is what Marketing, and in particular Product Management and Business Development, is all about – determining what someone values and figuring out how to provide that value or communicate that value to them. If you don’t get Empathy, you won’t be able to do this and you won’t be a successful Marketer.

Let me say it again: Empathy is the most important skill for Marketers. Where do you learn Empathy? Not in a Marketing class. Don’t believe me? Look up Marketing on Wikipedia. Then search that page for “empathy.” It’s not there. The closest concept you’ll find to Empathy is Marketing Research. Marketing Research is not Empathy. Marketing Research does not necessarily put you in someone else’s shoes. If you’re not already in their shoes, you won’t know what questions to ask.

So where can you learn about Empathy? In a Sociology class. Sociology is great for Marketers because it teaches you how to understand and apply Empathy. You also learn how to keep your own background or biases from getting in the way of seeing other perspectives. The trick is making the leap from using Empathy to understand societal issues to using it for business.

2) Opportunity Cost – Economics (yes, Economics is a Social Science)

If you hear things like “What do we have to lose by giving this a try?” to justify a new product or partnership, then you know that this person hasn’t considered the Opportunity Cost.

Opportunity Cost is about allocating resources between competing projects. It is the cost related to the next best alternative. If you can only do one thing, which one are you going to do and what are you forgoing to do it? For example, you have to decide between the following:

  • adding a new feature to your most popular product – Net Present Value (NPV) of $5 million,
  • entering a partnership to resell someone else’s complimentary product – NPV of $8 million, or
  • launching a new product that appeals to a new market segment – NPV of $10 million.

If you chose the partnership (perhaps because you wanted to get to market faster and thought it would be easier to implement), the Opportunity Cost is $2 million. It’s the difference between the new product which is valued at $10 million and the partnership which is valued at $8 million. As long as you understand the implications of this decision and have sound reasons for why you’re doing it (speed to market, easier to implement), then there’s nothing wrong it.

Once Marketers learn how to apply the concept of Opportunity Cost, they’ll make more informed arguments both for and against projects, develop stronger business cases, and make better decisions when choosing between competing projects.

3) Critical Thinking – Philosophy

Speaking of persuasive arguments, it is hard to be persuasive if you can’t think through both sides of an issue. Your brain gets a major work-out doing just that in every Philosophy course (particularly in the Logic class that started this whole discussion).

Philosophy is the study of the big ideas like why do we exist, how do you truly know something, and what is right or wrong. It is known for its critical, reasoned, and systematic examination of these ideas. These are extremely difficult concepts to grasp and every issue has multiple, nuanced sides. It’s enough to start yelling matches and to make your head hurt. Wars are fought over these very ideas. Just as in business, there isn’t always one right answer.

But there is a way to get to the best available answer. Philosophy teaches you Critical Thinking skills:

  • how to ask the tough questions designed to get at the heart of an issue,
  • how to think through complicated issues with multiple shades of grey, and
  • how to see things from multiple perspectives while recognizing that your biases can often cloud your viewpoint.

Armed with these skills, Marketers make better decisions regarding what types of customers to target, what types of products to launch, or what types or partnerships to pursue.

Final Thoughts

Understanding and applying Empathy, Opportunity Cost, and Critical Thinking are essential skills for Marketers. I learned these skills studying Sociology, Economics, and Philosophy. I use these skills more frequently as a Marketer than those I learned in business school. So the next time you see a BA instead of a BBA or an MA instead of an MBA on someone’s resume, don’t assume that the person with the business degree will add more value. Otherwise, you might be overlooking someone that could add a new perspective and significant value to your Marketing organization.

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Why Early-Stage Investors Should be Pumping Up Their Startups with Data

Why early-stage investors should be pumping up their startups with data

Jeb Stone posted some great insights on Venture Beat about why startups should be competing on data and how their investors can help.

What if VCs provided centralized analytics and data management resources as part of their investment in startups? Giving startups the tools and resources they need to compete on analytics would give investment firms and their startups a huge competitive advantage. Startups would grow revenue faster, reducing their level of technology debt, and giving them access to specialized skillsets typically available only to better-funded players. Investors would see a significantly enhanced probability of return.

Check it out. It’s well worth the read.

 

[Top image credit: Zurijeta/Shutterstock]

 

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