Confessions Of A Product Killer

by drjim on February 27, 2012

Ever Product Manager Needs To Learn How To Be A Product Killer

Ever Product Manager Needs To Learn How To Be A Product Killer

I did it! I confess! Take me in! See that product over there on the floor lying in a pool of blood? I killed it. Don’t even begin to think that this was a crime of passion, this was most defiantly a pre-mediated product murder and I’ll gladly stand up in any product court and tell everyone who will listen to me that I’m the criminal – I murdered that product!

Motive

In all of those crime shows that we watch on TV, when the investigators show up they always start their murder investigation by looking for who had a motive. In the case of the product that got killed, I’m the one with the motive.

This grisly tale starts with me being asked by a client of mine to take a look at their plans for future products – the ones that they were gearing up to roll out, but which had not seen the light of day yet. Their question to me was “are we doing the right thing”. An important point to note here is that the senior management was asking this question – not the product managers or an account manager or even a business development manager. This will become important later on.

I started by sitting down with each of the firm’s product managers and going over what products they were currently selling and what they had in their new product pipeline. Pretty standard product management stuff that you’d find in any product manager’s product manager job description, right?

As I was sorting out what this firm had in their new product pipeline, I discovered a potential conflict. They had developed a fantastic new technology that was going to allow them to offer products that were very fast. In the market that they sell to, some of their customers would place a great value on this type of product. At the same time, some of their customers wouldn’t care – they liked the product, how fast it worked didn’t matter.

The issue that I had identified is that the company had two products in their new product pipeline that were designed to do the same thing – take advantage of the new high speed technology. However, one was going to be sold at a very high price (value-based pricing) and the other was going to be sold at a price that was just a bit higher (cost plus pricing) than what the current product was being offered at.

If this company wasn’t careful, they were going to end up shooting themselves in the foot. They had a product strategic management issue that they needed to find a way to deal with.

Opportunity

On TV, once the police have found somebody who had a motive to commit a murder, they next look to see if they had the opportunity to do the deed. In my case, doing the deed was what the client had brought me in to do.

I brought together the two product managers who were responsible for the two pipeline products that were in conflict. I sat them down and asked them if they knew that they were both championing products that did the same thing. I’m sure that you’re not going to be surprised when I tell you that they had no idea that the other product existed!

Clearly both products couldn’t keep on existing – one of them had to go away. The trick was going to be to find out which one needed to go.

As I talked with the product managers, it quickly became clear that the reason that there were two different products was because there were two different views of the world. The product manager for the high priced new product viewed a sub-segment of the market as being willing to pay almost anything for the new higher speed product. They’d be willing to do this because it would allow them to make more money.

The other product manager had been so beaten down by customers on price over the past few years that she was unable to imagine that any customer would be willing to pay more than a small premium for what was an enhanced version of an existing product.

Clearly, if this issue wasn’t resolved, a great deal of money was going to be left on the table. If both products were introduced, then customers could select the lower priced product and get the high speed that they would have been willing to pay much more for.

There was no nice way to do this: I killed the pipeline product with the lower price. The thinking was that eliminating customer confusion made killing the product well worth it. Yes, there were probably some customers who would have bought the lower priced product who would not buy the expensive product. However, the increase in sales of the expensive product now that there was no confusion about which product to buy more than made up for that.

What Does All Of This Mean For You?

What does it take to turn a mild mannered product manager into a homicidal product killer? One word: courage.

In my case, I was faced with the classic product manager problem: in order for one product to live and do well, another produce needed to die. Within my customer’s organization nobody else had the guts to pick up the gun and pull the trigger and so I did it. I killed the product for them.

Every product manager needs to develop this killer-instinct. Not all product ideas need to see the light of day and even those that do should not hang around forever. As product managers we are in the best position to determine if a product should go on living or should be put out of its misery. Develop the courage to make this kind of difficult decision and you’ll be able to add this to your product manager resume. Once you do this, you’ll become the hired gun that they always call on for the tough jobs.

- Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Who’s approval do you think that a product manager should get before deciding to kill a product?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So there sits your product. Sure, some people are buying it, but your product’s account manager and business development manager sure would like more people to buy it. What’s a product manager to do? Why not do what everyone else seems to be doing – have a promotion for your product? Hold on a minute, if you do a promotion wrong, you’ll end up damaging your brand and losing money. This was never part of your product manager job description. What’s the right way to do a promotion?

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