Product Manager What Does Your Business Card Say About You?

by drjim on September 23, 2008

What's in YOUR wallet, Product Manager?

What’s In YOUR wallet, Product Manager?

So here’s a minor topic that might have some real significance for all product managers: what do you put on your business card? Yeah, yeah, I know that we’re living in the age of FaceBook and LinkedIn but business cards are still what we exchange when we meet people face-to-face. What this means is that business cards still matter. What’s on your business card?

At this point in my career I must have had no less than 20 different business cards. Every once in awhile I’ll see a collection of them huddled together in the bottom of some drawer somewhere and I’ll have to smile as I realize just how much my description of myself and what I do has changed over time. I’ll never forget when I got my first opportunity to sign up for business cards. This was it, I had made the big time. Despite being a lowly software engineer now I was finally going to have an “adult” way to communicate to others just how important I was. As with all large firms, most of the format of the business card was pre-established. However, I was given free rein to add my job title just under my name. Hmm, what to put? The first time out of the gate I put what the company listed for me in the corporate directory: “Software Engineer IV” or whatever.

It turns out that this was a big mistake. Outside of people who worked for my company, nobody else in the real world knew what a Software Engineer IV was! I’d get polite smiles and then the card would quickly disapper into someone’s pocket to probably be thrown away when it came time to do laundry.

A few business card iterations later, I started to get smarter. By this time I had moved over into the world of Product Management and so I changed my job title to “Product Manager”. This was much better. I don’t think very many people knew what a Product Manager was or did, but they sure thought that they knew what a manager did and so upon receiving my card they slotted me as a mid-level manager and left it at that.

The promotions came over time and whereas I was not yet a Vice President or a CIO yet, I had become a Senior Product Manager. At the next opportunity I updated the business card title to read “Senior Product Manager”. This seemed to garner me just a little bit more respect when I handed the card out. Once again, I don’t think that very many people knew what I did; however, they seemed to believe that I was now in the upper echelons of mid-level managers.

I was still finding that since folks didn’t actually know what a Product Manager does, they were struggling to pigeonhole me based on my title. The trick here is that if people can’t figure out quickly where you fit in the totem pole of responsibility, then they will end up not even bothering to try. I felt that one more evolution was required. I ended up dropping the “Product” and so today my business card reads simply “Senior Manager”. Although less descriptive, I’ve found this title to be of great use at trade shows and when meeting with vendors. No, they still really don’t seem to know what I do for the company; however, they are easily able to realize that a “Senior Manager” is someone who must be very important. This means that they treat me as being someone important because they don’t have any reason not to.

One final note, with my obtuse title the very first question that I get asked is “what do you do?” This is a make-or-break question. If I identify myself as a Product Manager, this will get me classified as a low-level worker bee because nobody really knows what a Product Manager does. Over countless encounters like this I have honed my response to reply with a quick “I make problems go away.” In most cases, this generates quiet respect and there are no more probing questions.

How does your business card currently describe you? Did you get to pick your title or did the company pick it for you? Do people that you give your busienss card to understand what you do? If you could change your title, what would you change it to? Leave a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ronald September 23, 2008 at 11:28 am

I have just had an internal thread within my company.

I was stuggling with the exact same problem introducing myself as a Technical marketing engineer.

I am still not a manager, so I wouldn’t know what to write exactly in the card, but I have found a good description, provided by my colleague:

My group is responsible for two main functions:

1. Communication of technical information to the field including Sales, SEs, partners, and customers

2. Communication of technical needs/requests/requirements back to product and development groups from the same people in the field.

We have also identified our selves as *Fixers* just like Winston Wolf in Pulp fiction.

It is very frustrating to know your value to the Orgnaization, but the difficutly to be able to express it to the outside world, and sometimes within the organization as well.

R.

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson September 23, 2008 at 11:33 am

Ronald: I like that – “Fixers” is just the kind of vague answer that will get people’s attention and won’t let them discard you. Here’s another thought – in the past I have identified myself as a “problem solver” (who wouldn’t want to be friends with one of those?) and when pressed, I said that I simply “…made problems go away.” This seemed to get good feedback. Yeah, they still don’t know what I do, but they do want to know more!

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Ronald September 23, 2008 at 12:08 pm

God….

Just wrote a LONG post, and it got erased in the submit before I was able to saved it…

I’ll try and re-write it.

Fixer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixer

(Not sure if you have seen Michael Clayton. If not, I recommend, although he is a law fixer).

Fixer’s solve problems. They deal with problems other don’t wanna deal with. This is somewhat actually part of our work.

The fact that in some organizations they work in the shadows is what cause their role to sound *sexy*.

Yet, they are usually not recognized for that formally. No organization wants to admit they have *fixers* for *problems*. It makes them look bad..

So, while their work is highly appreciated by those who know what problems they solved, the rest of the world is ignorence to these people that work in the shadows.

You wont find a “Fixer” title anywhere, right ?

Some of us actually, being cynical, describe them selves as “solve problems that others don’t wanna deal with”…

I understand what you mean. By saying “I solve problems”, you create very basic human curiousity. What problems is he solving ? What skills does he have ?

Yet I am not sure it is enough to describe yourself as problem solver, when you are not always coming to solve a *situation*.

I am still not a manager, nor a product manager.
Yet, I am far from being engineer.

You can, for sure, understand the contradiction in the title “Technical Marketing”.

Marketing=Bullshit
Technical = Engineer oriented

Doesn’t work well together right ?

This goes back to the 2 Items I wrote in my previous post..

This is why I find it really frustrating that EVERY time I not only tell my title I also have to describe it.

Reply

Ronald September 23, 2008 at 1:04 pm

I forgot to mention something about fixers.

Fixer is not really a title.
In a way, it is personality and set of skills.

People who get focused under stress and have the ability to solve complex
technical, psychological situations that involve various variables.

Some people crash under stress. Fixers, get sharper.

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