This is one of the best panel discussions on Product Marketing and Product Management conducted by Stanford Graduate School of Business many moons ago. Though the world has moved from waterfall model to agile, the basic tenets of product management remains the same.

The speakers are Rita Iorfida, VP Products, Liquid Engines; Rich Mironov, former VP Product Marketing, AirMagnet; Tiffany Riley, VP Marketing at Nextance; David Straus, SVP Worldwide Sales and Marketing, Corticon.

For those of you who do not have the patience to go through the entire video can scan through the notes that I picked up from the video.

Here are the notes:

What are the most important skills for product marketing and product management?

  • Too many people focus on product as the center of the job. But the also important thing is the customer. In this role, there are two core constituencies, people who eventually buy the product and people who sell the product. Whenever the product managers have focused on product more than the customers, they have failed.
  • Have a process for yourself to digest the tremendous amount of information that’s going to come to you; about your markets, about your customers, from sales organization, and the product organization. You should be able to maintain a discipline in digesting the information or you will go nuts. One of the toughest thing is that you sit in the middle of so many divisions of the company and everybody wants a piece of your time. So, a big part of the skill is able to balance and manage the trade offs between all the groups.  If you have a good handle on what the objectives of the company and your team’s alignment to it, you wont be able to have effective management.
  •  Skill of listening is one of the most important skills that you can learn and you really have to start doing that very early in your career.
  • You need to be bilingual: you can speak customer and you can speak engineering. Be simulatenous translator between the two. You are watching for organizational breakages.
  • You have to be the market expert. You need to have extraordinary credibility when you take to engineering if they trust that you know the customers and then they will follow you. If the sales people believe that you know the market then they will alow you to show them the path.
  • You have to be outbound.  You have to tie yourself to the customers. You have to become sales focused in your mind. The objective of a product manager is to create a successful product that drives a lot of revenue.
  • You have to take solution focused not product focused. People don’t buy product, they buy a solution to a problem.
  • You have to be bipolar. On one side you have to have the optimism, enthusiasm and belief in your product. You have to be an evangelist. You have to know and reflect that positive nature. The other side of the skill is to be brutally honest and critical. Otherwise you end up believing your own marketing.

Leadership and Management Skills.

  • At the management level, its important to foster the shared belief that the right answer is more important than whose answer it is. If you are the glue that holds the organization together, whats really important is pulling people together to get things done.
  • Recognizing that I don’t have to do everything. It’s easy to get all the weight on your shoulders. Most important thing to learn is to let go. You need to let go the details that you help so close to your heart. To trust people you have hired because they will make you successful.
  • Once you have gained credibility, be careful of not to lose it. And you continue to foster that credibility. That will make you successful.

What advice do you give your team to be successful?

  • Absolutely know your market and know your customers. Not from feature function perspective but to live and breathe the world of so what, who cares and why.  Sales people will come back at you with these questions.
  • One of the powerful things is to use examples when talking to sales or customers or analysts. What customers are doing with the products, what are their problems.
  • Encourage people to think from the other side of the table. As you negotiate features from engineering, think how do we build all these pieces. As you are dealing with executives, they are working at with way too much information. They need to know things very succinctly, very precisely and at just the right level. And leverage all the great ideas that you gather.
  • You cant take things as a one of or one case basis. For example, sales has a request. So what? A customer wants a certain feature. You have to constantly take things into context.

On Mentors

  • David: Everyone around you is a learning experience. If you have some value to add to somebody, there is a reason for them to spend time with you in terms of their world and you are willing to listen to them, which is the key. There is a tremendous amount of learning and from people who don’t even know that they are mentoring you. You need to stay open and look for their value.
  • Rich: People are out there waiting and willing to help you if you are willing to let them help you.
  • Tiffany:

What mistakes are most common for product managers and marketers?

  • Tiffany: It is a really really challenging role. It is really easy to get sucked into this tasmanian devil called sales. While we need to be sales focused, you cant let them drive you. If you allow them, it will drive you crazy.
  • Product managers need to be aggressive in terms of  vision stand point, work load, pushing organization to help you get done.
  • Your first time you sit with a tough customer and demands a feature. You make a commitment under pressure without the organization behind you. That’s symptomatic of not having a long enough view horizon. It’s really hard for a product manager to go to a customer and not say a thing  that the customer wants you to say.
  • RITA: One mistake I did was not understanding when the pendulum was swinging from outbound to inbound but I was aligned more outbound, it was painful to let it accept.
  • Tiffany: Mistakes was Not trusting my instincts and being influenced by the developers.
  • David: Big lesson for me that took me years was to realize that products don’t matter. They are a means to an end. The fact is when customers are buying, don’t confuses selling with implementation. Huge lesson I learnt is that sometimes you put features in a product not because they are good for the product but because they are good for the sales process. Because ultimately if you believe that your solution will truly solve the customer problem once they acquire it, our job is make sure that do acquire it. It’s not about the product but about successful result in both selling and implementation.

What advice you would give someone who has just starting in product management to get successful?

  • Network. Network. Network. Build network early on in the career.
  • Don’t be afraid to say you made a mistake.
  • Ultimately, you need to be get skilled at a given role. You have to know how to do a product managers job well.
  • You need to know how to sell.

What they look for when they are interviewing candidates to work in their team?

  • Customer focus
  • Sales focussed
  • Personal characteristics: judgement, sense of confidence, presence of persona, clear communication, energy and passion, rally the cross functional team
  • Job experience: Product lifecycle knowledge.
  • Domain expertise in that area

Keys to success:

  • Excellent listener
  • Passion
  • Don’t stay in any one place for too long. Otherwise you will lose value that you created.