The 6th Product Manager Sense: I See Dead Products

by drjim on December 2, 2009

During A Recession, Could Your Product Already Be Dead?

During A Recession, Could Your Product Already Be Dead?

Does the recession have you down? How’s your product doing — nobody buying, nobody interested? Cheer up — it turns out that this is actually the best time to be a product manager. Recessions are some of the best times for product managers to create new products that shake up the market and make your existing customers want you even more. The secret is to realize that what you have to do is to challenge convention…

What Does A Product Manager Need To Do To Survive A Recession?

If you decide to hunker down and try to wait out the current recession, then what you are really doing is acting like a blade of grass that doesn’t realize that the lawnmower will eventually come around and get it. All product managers know that ideas are cheap. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to solve problems with your product, instead what you do need to spend is that most precious of all resources: your time.

Dr. Andrew Razeghi is an author, consultant, and teacher at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management who has written about how to prosper in tough times. He has some suggestions for all of us.

He points out that product managers only need three things in order to innovate: ideas, talent, and capital. As we are all probably painfully aware of, your company is probably currently totally focused on capital and what they can do to conserve it.

Just so that we’re all on the same page here, let us agree that the right thing to be doing is to be mindful of capital spending even as we stay in front of our customers so that we can hear what they are telling us. We then need to use this information to make investments in our product that will pay off in the long term.

The Worst Thing That A Product Manager Can Do

Right now the #1 thing that most product managers don’t want to do is go out and be in front of our customers — why bother, nobody’s buying. This is exactly the wrong thing to do. Cutting off communication with your customers is (always) a terrible thing to do.

When your customers and potential customers stop hearing from you this causes them to start to wonder. They start to think to themselves “Are these guys still in business?”, “Should I buy from them — are they stable?”, etc.

The right thing to do now is to find more ways to stay in contact with your customers. Your goal needs to be to do everything that you can to increase your customer’s confidence not only in your product, but also in the company that stands behind that product.

What Should A Product Manager Be Doing?

Saying that you should be challenging convention is one thing and actually doing it is something else. Forget about flashy Superbowl ads, the key thing to remember is that anything that you can do that will save your customers time or make their job easier will always be relevant and interesting to them.

In this age of Internet-everything, one possible way for a product manager to make his / her product more relevant to their customers is to engage in some sensory branding with your customers. This sounds all new-agey, but it’s really a very old concept.

Product marketing that is done over the Internet can only really appeal to one of your customer’s senses: sight. That leaves four others that are not being used. If you can find a way to engage two or more of these senses, then you’ve got a much better chance of making a lasting connection with your customer.

This could be as simple as postal mailing a letter to your customer that is printed on heavy parchment paper. It has been shown that people still trust what they read on paper more than what they read on a screen. The use of heavy paper will appeal to your customer’s sense of touch and will add “weight” to your words.

What All Of This Means For You

It’s all too easy to get yourself down during a recession — your sales are slipping and everyone (including your customers) seems to be in a blue funk. Hold on a minute, since when were you ever taught to do exactly what everyone else is doing?

Since no product manager ever made their product a success by following the herd, this is exactly the time for you to try different things — what’s the risk? One simple and effective technique that any product manager can try is to study how they are currently connecting with their customers. The next step is to build on this and find ways to engage more of your customer’s senses in order to build their interest in and desire for your product.

These are both the best of times and worst of times. As a successful product manager you need to take action to make sure that both you and your product come out of it ahead of the pack.

What’s the simplest thing that a product manager can do to make contact with more of his / her customer’s senses?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So let me guess, the travel budget for your product which was measly to begin with has been slashed to the bone and you’re going to be home for dinner for the foreseeable future. That’s great news if you don’t like to travel, but it sorta sucks if you want to stay in contact with your customer, discover their pain points, and uncover new product requirements. What’s a product manager to do?

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