Distributors Don’t “Sell”

When I was with the channel team at MessageLabs (now Symantec.cloud) we faced the problem Allen is describing:

The bad news: distributors completely, really, totally, absolutely don’t/can’t successfully sell/distribute a product (or service, or combination) that is (1) new, so requires educating the end-customer, (2) requires training of the distributor’s salesforce to understand, (3) isn’t immediately easy to sell.

MessageLabs was early mover in the cloud-based email security space.  We had a number of very large re-sellers that  gave us great reach, but their salesforces just weren’t suited to selling a product that required a high level of customer education.  Our channel partners became very effective “introducers” but  our direct sales team still had to do a lot of c0-selling.

The introductions gave us access to great accounts but the scale and economics companies typically look for from distributers wasn’t there.  In some ways, it was the worst of both worlds.  We were giving up margin to the partners and still incurring the high costs associated with a direct sales model.

Deaf Little Leaguer Throws Perfect Game

My 11 year-old nephew threw a perfect game in Little League a few weeks back and Newsday wrote about it it today.

It was a Sunday afternoon, the fourth inning and it would be the last pitch of the game. As he prepared his delivery, Thomas recalled, “I closed my eyes and prayed to God saying, I hope this is a strike.

It was.

The southpaw had faced 12 batters from Bellmores Long Island Storm, and struck out seven of them on the way to a 12-0 win. It was that rarity of rarities in the baseball world — major, minor or youth league — a perfect game.

He’s a great kid and I’m very proud of him.

Product Management Reading

For the past several years, I’ve made a habit of clipping interesting articles about Product Management.  A friend recently asked for reading suggestions, so I thought I’d share my favorites here.

Be a Great Product Leader (Adam Nash) – This recent favorite concisely breaks down the role of a Product Manager into three key responsibilities; product strategy, prioritization, and execution.  It’s hard to argue with these three.  On prioritization: “At any company with great talent, there will be a surplus of good ideas…As a result, brutal prioritization is a fact of life.”  On execution: “In the end, product managers ship, and that means that product managers cover whatever gaps in the process that need to be covered.”

What Makes Someone a Great Product Manager at Google? (Quora answer by Edward Ho) – This response by an engineer at Google had two recommendations that jumped out at me.  First, “be an engineer.  I don’t mean that you actually need to be coding the product.  I mean you should be curious about how the product is built  as if you were an engineer.” If you’re not curious in how the thing you manage works, you’re not doing it right.

Second, Edward calls on Product Managers to be “[f]earless…the best PMs will speak to founders the same way they speak to engineers.”  Product Managers need to have the ability to “influence without authority” (to quote an old business school professor).  They are often lower in the organizational chart than the people who are looking to them to make important calls.  A good product manager can’t be intimated by this.

Why it doesn’t matter where Product Management lives in the Organization (The Cranky Product Manager) – I firmly agree with Cranky’s thesis on this.  I’ve worked for three separate product organizations.  The first two reported up through marketing and the current one reports up through engineering.  When product management is done correctly, it straddles both the business and technical teams so which ever one it formally reports to doesn’t matter.

“The assumption is that if we sit in Engineering we’ll be too spineless and too tunnel-visioned to focus on the customer, market problems, issues for the field, the competition, or market positioning.  But if we sit in Marketing that we’ll be so focused on empty soundbites and website color schemes that we won’t be able to give Development detailed enough requirements, that we’ll conjure up product features that can’t possibly be built (a la Warp Drive), and that we’ll stare vacantly into space instead of considering technical extension points (i.e. APIs) for our products.”

Frankly, anything by the CrankyPM is pretty good reading.

You Can Build it, but Can You Sell and Support It? (Saeed Khan) – Saeed has a great answer for the question “should sales and execution capabilities be taken into account for a product’s strategy.”  This needs to be a resounding “Yes.”  If you are developing a high price, high margin, complex product that requires high touch after sales support, you better have the capability to deliver that support.  The product strategy needs to fit within the companies core capabilities.

How Do Awful Products Get Shipped (Quora answer by Michael Wolfe) – We’ve all seen products that have been released before they were ready and wondered “how did that happen?”  Michael lists some of the organizational pressures and dynamics that can cause this to happen including: “If you don’t ship, the project will get cancelled and you’ll lose your funding anyway.”

Spare Me from Product Guys (HackerNews Discussion) – Aaron Harris posted on Techcrunch about the problem of “Product Guys” without real experience and the HackerNews community responded.  There is a lot of skepticism from this engineering oriented group on the value of Product Managers (including this).

Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager (by Brad Horowitz) – This is a good overview for when Product Management is responsible for both the inbound and the outbound aspects of product management.  (It is also a great history piece on what it must have been like at Netscape during the browser wars.)  “Good product managers anticipate the serious product flaws and build real solutions.  Bad product managers put out fires all day.”  “Good product managers define good products that can be executed with a strong effort.  Bad product managers define good products that can’t be executed or let engineering build whatever they want.”

The Product Owner on One Page (Roman Pichler) – This is a nice, simple drawing of a Product Owners key responsibilities in an agile environment.

Seven Traits of Successful Product Managers (Michael Shrivathsan) – This was one of the first articles I read when I made the transition from business development to product management.  Hard to argue with any of this.

Annual “Normals” Research

I love the term “normals” as a descriptor for non-techies and thought that this tweet by Gabe Riveria, the founder of TechMeme, over the holiday week expressed a great sentiment:

Hoping that my friends returning to Silicon Valley have had a very Merry Annual Normals Market Research With The Family.

It encouraged me to observe my less technical family members more closely.  Here are some things I noticed:

  • Casual gaming is huge.  My mother and wife played Words With Friends constantly often playing each other in the same room.
  • Managing across multiple devices is important.  My father was a satisfied Andriod user and switched to the iPhone because he wanted a seemless cross-device experience with his iPad.  One of his major pain points is synching his contacts off Outlook on his PC to his phone.  (This also illustrates the stickiness of existing solutions for Normals.  As a retiree, he has no real reason to still be on Outlook other than habit.)
  • Tablets can make the web accessible to new browsers.  My mother-in-law is an avowed technophobe and was very proud of herself when she located a hard-to-find item on the web using the browser on my iPad.  It is impossible to image her doing the same thing with a Mac or PC.
  • The Kindle Fire may be the tablet of choice for Tweens.  My 11 year old nephew received a Kindle Fire as a Christmas gift and is thrilled with it.  He had been saving for an iPad for over a year but was not making meaningful progress. To him (the user) the Fire is the same as an iPad and to his mother (the economic buyer), it is actually affordable.
  • No one gets Twitter.  Despite its huge user base and prominence in the media, zero people in my family use it and no one could comprehend why I do.

Obviously, a family is not a representative sample size but making an effort to stay grounded in what is important to the average user is critical so I’m glad I came across Gabe’s comment even if he was joking.

Newsday Trash Delivery Service

It seems that every means of legitimate direct marketing has a way for consumers to opt-out.  There is the do-not-call list for telemarketing.  There are rules requiring e-mailers and direct mail marketing to remove you from their lists if requested.   Online advertising has the About Ads program.

Newsday has a weekly circular called “This Week’s PennySaver” that they have been delivering to my house every Saturday.  They might call it marketing.  I call it trash.  I looked through it today, and there wasn’t any obvious way to opt-out so I tweeted the following:

Hey @newsday, how do I opt out of your weekly trash delivery service?  Didn’t ask for it, don’t want it.

Surprisingly, they responded pretty quickly with:

@kreilly Here’s contact info for the delivery services: bit.ly/mZz7it Or call: call 1-800-NEWSDAY (1-800-639-7329)

To be honest, at first I thought it was a pretty nice use of Twitter for customer service.  But, unhelpfully, no one is manning the phone number on Saturdays and the link doesn’t give me any obvious way to opt-out on the web.   Now I wonder if the tweet was an automated response based on my use of the word “delivery.”

Chances are good that I’ll forget to call again this week and wind up annoyed again next Saturday.  There’s a pretty good chance that I’ll be receiving this for a long time to come.  No opt-out.  Bad job.

More Jobs from 1985

The man was truely a visionary. There is no question that this statement proved to be true. As the Internet grew in adoption, you absolutely needed a home computer.

The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it into a nationwide communications network. We’re just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people‐‑as remarkable as the telephone.

Steve Jobs Defines What a Computer Is

I never thought of it in these terms, but leave it to Steve Jobs to provide a great definition of what a computer is (in 1985):

Jobs: Computers are actually pretty simple. We’re sitting here on a bench in this cafe [for this part of the Interview]. Let’s assume that you understood only the most rudimentary of directions and you asked how to find the rest room. I would have to describe it to you in very specific and precise instructions. I might say, “Scoot sideways two meters off the bench. Stand erect. Lift left foot. Bend left knee until it is horizontal. Extend left foot and shift weight 300 centimeters forward .” and on and on. If you could interpret all those instructions 100 times faster than any other person in this cafe, you would appear to be a magician: You could run over and grab a milk shake and bring it back and set it on the table and snap your fingers, and I’d think you made the milk shake appear, because it was so fast relative to my perception. That’s exactly what a computer does. It takes these very, very simple-minded instructions‐-”Go fetch a number, add it to this number, put the result there, perceive if it’s greater than this other number”‐‑but executes them at a rate of, let’s say, 1,000,000 per second. At 1,000,000 per second, the results appear to be magic. That’s a simple explanation, and the point is that people really don’t have to understand how computers work.

Post from Media6Degrees Blog: Ad Choices Update

As part of an industry-wide self regulatory effort, Media6Degrees has been displaying a notice in its advertisements to help consumers understand their choices around privacy.  I recently posted an update on how that program was performing:

[T]his initiative provides real information and choice to the subset of people who are interested in opting-out. A 3% post-click conversion rate is not bad from a direct response perspective. The people who are concerned about their privacy are taking action when the option is offered to them. This is exactly how the program is designed to work.

You can read the whole thing here.