7 Ways A Product Manager Can Be A Success During A Recession

Product Managers Need To Take Advantage Of The Current Recession
Product Managers Need To Take Advantage Of The Current Recession

Psst – don’t look now, but it sorta looks like all of the economies in the world are all tanking at the same time. If you are a product manager, this sure does not look good for your career. I view a product manager as being the CEO of your product and so at the end of the day no matter what the economy is doing you are responsible for making sure that your  product is a success. Hmm, if only someone had 7 suggestions for what a product manager should be doing RIGHT NOW…!

Good news – I do. As the CEO of your product you are going to have stand up and take charge even as everyone else in your company may be ducking in order to avoid attracting attention and getting laid off. At this time you can’t afford to be quiet – if your product fails, you’ll be gone so you may as well go out swinging. If you are willing to work to make your product a success no matter what, then this list of 7 things that you should be doing is just what the economic doctor ordered:

  1. Get Offensive: No, I’m not talking about working (more) four-letter words into your everyday vocabulary. Rather, I’m suggesting that you realize that during a recession other product mangers are going to be playing defense. They are going to be trying to hang on to the customers that they have because they fear losing them and they’re going to not be spending enough time pursuing new customer opportunities. That means that that this recession is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you to build market share for your product. Work with your sales team and make sure that they are leaving no rock unturned right now in order to find new potential customers.
  2. Incent Your Customers: Once again, no – don’t get them angry; instead, get them motivated to try/buy your product. If ever there was a time to roll out a marketing program that is designed to get those customers who might be sitting on the fence eager to use your product, then this is the time to do it.
  3. Don’t Travel: Within your company, the bean counters are going to be keeping their beady little eyes posted in order to find ways to reduce costs. If you are hopping on a plane every week to go “gather requirements” from customers, all of a sudden you are going to find yourself wearing a nice bright set of concentric circles on you back when it comes time to reduce staff. Instead, use the full power of the 21st Century to reach out and contact both existing customers and new ones that your sales team has found. Although we are often tempted to use email for everything, don’t forget to pick up the phone and start calling!
  4. Get Creative: … with your marketing. One of my favorite quotes from the master marketeer, P.T. Barnum is “Without promotion, something terrible happens … NOTHING!” We’re not talking about a big iPhone launch ad campaign here, but rather a whole series of small marketing efforts that can have a big combined effect. Things like free trials of your product, special discounts, or even using the web to set up a customer portal to provide access to special information and support. Doing an online survey can be a great way to collect valuable customer information while reminding your customers that you are still here.
  5. Talk To Me Baby: How many times have you been told that an existing customer is 5x cheaper to sell to than getting a new customer? Well, now is the time to put that knowledge into action. Use your existing customers to help drive your product’s innovation direction. Collecting this type of information from customers who have already selected your product will allow you to make the product even better which will help capture more market share during the recession.
  6. Retrain Sales: We product managers know our products inside and out. How well does your sales team know your product? Probably not as well as you do. Use the recession to take the time to bring your sales teams up to speed on what they need to know: new features, planned features, competative info, etc. Once you’ve got them pumped up, there will be no stopping them from selling more of your product.
  7. Work Smarter: When times are good, we all have a tendency to focus on ourselves and try to meet our own objectives. During hard times, we need to instead look at our customers and try to figure out what we need to do to better met their objectives. This may be as simple as adjusting the hours that you work in order to better match your customer and to ensure that you’ll be there if they need to call you directly. Little things like this can make all the difference in ensuring that your product is a success even during a recession.

How is your product doing during this recession? Do you feel that your sales teams are out working hard enough to sell it? Have you done anything creative to help the company sell more of your products? Leave a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

6 thoughts on “7 Ways A Product Manager Can Be A Success During A Recession”

  1. You gotta love the “CEO Spirit” of a true product manager, who takes their product personally and truly leads the charge!

    I totally agree. In tough times, the tough get going. Focusing on the customer is the key, in both good times and bad.

    When in doubt, ask the customers and look for where they’ve shifted their priorities and follow them by matching and mirroring what they want most, and you’ll almost always be successful (I say ‘almost’ because there’s always an exception in everything).

  2. Rick: that focus on the customer thing is one of those easy to say, hard to do things. I know that during my product manager career I’ve struggled to find the right way to “get into the customer’s mind” so that I’d know what features to add to my product.

    I not sure, but I may have found a way to do this – you will have to be the judge. I’ve got a 3-part posting coming up that talks about “job mapping”. Take a look and let me know what you think. The first posting has been published at:


  3. Dr. Jim. Thanks for the response.

    I agree. It is very easy to say and hard (or at least a lot of work) to do.

    In my experience, it starts by asking the right people the right questions…once you have the right business objectives in sight.

    First, about where we need to take our product and business.

    For example, when I was VP Product Management at Citrix, we had determined that we were a “mile wide and an inch deep” in accounts; in other words, we needed to go from “tactical adoption” to “strategic adoption” and “standardization” in accounts.

    So I asked the question, “OK. So what’s preventing our customers from standardizing on our products?” My PM team had no idea. So I told them to go find out.

    3 months later, after 3 customer focus groups in 3 major cities across the U.S. and numerous meetings with resellers who had their own points of view, we had the answers.

    Next, we reprioritized most of our product roadmap to eliminate the remaining “barriers to adoption” by enterprises. 18 months later, we went from being in a defensive posture with our customer council members to getting positive feedback and confirmation that our roadmap was properly trained on their biggest remaining issues.

    It is hard to do, but it is possible. It starts by having the right strategic objective (like deeper account penetration, in our case), then asking ourselves and customers the right questions, then making a lot of tough tradeoffs to get there.

    But then being in Product Management, you probably realize all this.

    The thing I find is that many teams aren’t willing to say No to some market segments and sacrifice those customers in order to dominate in other segments. Of course, when we do this, we’d better be right!

    Alas, one of the hardest lessons I learned as a technologist (the hard way, unfortunately) is to be very careful which customers we focus on when asking these questions, and to ensure there’s enough samples to be truly projectible across the entire market.

    I’ve become a big fan of proper market research over the years. There’s really no substitute for actually having the facts when making PM decisions.

    Fortunately for me in this instance, our senior management team had done their homework and had decided going deeper into the enterprise was the right strategic direction. And “enterprise standardization” had become a corporate imperative, which ensured we had proper go-to-market alignment that the product changes we made could benefit from.

    It’s tough to get all the internal planets lined up like this, but when we do, the results can be truly amazing.

  4. Dr. Jim,

    In response to your “job mapping” post, you’re definitely on to something there. I’m a big fan of the “disruptive innovation” theory that Professor Clayton Christensen has written so much about in books like “The Innovator’s Solution” et al, and that Innosight (his consulting company) puts into practice.

    Taking a “jobs to be done” point of view is a good first step. I believe an even better second step is to understand “customer outcomes”; i.e., what happens to customers as they use a product (ours or a competitor’s) in getting that job done.

    One of my favorite books on the topic is “What Customers Want: Using Outcome-driven Innovation To Create Breakthrough Products and Services’ by Anthony Ulwick.

    By concentrating on what happens (the “outcomes”) when a product is used to get a particular job done, both positive outcomes (we call those “benefits” and tout them :), and the unintended negative consequences of using that product, we gain clarity about where innovation matters most to customers – at least customers trying to get those jobs done in their life.

    So yes, I’m a big fan of jobs-based innovation, especially when augmented with outcome-centric innovation.

    Once again, though, it’s critically-important in practice to ensure that whatever customer jobs we choose to focus on (at the exclusion of others that could be suboptimized in the process), that we have go-to-market alignment to ensure that the company, its marketing and salesforce is committed to following through on those innovations to fully capitalize on these tradeoff decisions.

    As you can probably tell, I’ve found myself in situation where we did a marvelous job at innovating in one area, only to find that the go-to-market engine wasn’t fully aboard or shifted priorities by the time we could bring the new innovation to market – not a lot of fun…

    I’m looking forward to the balance of the posts on innovation.


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