Please yell at me for doing my job badly

Last Saturday, at the Silicon Valley Product Camp, I was part of a panel on PM metrics. Any topic that's at the same time important and unsettled keeps you thinking long after the panel, so not surprisingly, almost a week later, I'm still chewing on it. Here's an observation I'll make today, after further pondering:

You know when you're doing well as a PM when someone yells at you for getting a persona, user story, use case, or task analysis wrong.

Understanding the world from the standpoint of the individual buyer or user is one of the primary responsibility of PM. According to some schools of thought, it's the core responsibility, especially since no one else in a technology company is responsible for collecting, analyzing, and distributing these deep customer insights. (There are other core responsibilities, too, related to the company's business and the technology itself.)

That information may look academic, but it should be immediately pertinent in very important ways. Understanding the way in which people in a variety of roles assess, purchase, and adopt technology is critical for making smart decisions about everything from product design to the product roadmap, from crafting messaging to choosing marketing channels. Unless you live in a Soviet-style command economy, in which manufacturing 3,000 left shoes is a problem for the consumer, not the producer, customer insights need to inform both strategic and tactical decisions.

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How demographics matter in B2B tech adoption

In case you wanted to attend tonight's open house on the demographics of B2B technology adoption, here's a pertinent diagram from a recent publication on the subject. As you can see, when they look for information, two people in the same department—an application developer and an enterprise architect—go to very different sources.

  • Conclusion 1: Demographics matter. A lot.
  • Conclusion 2: If you say that your target customer is developers, you need to take a big product marketing time-out. Not all development professionals are the same. Now march up to your room and think about that.

As important as conclusion 1 may be, it's not exactly profound. Sure, we all know that people are different, but what are the significant differences? And how should these variations affect the way we market our technology to rank-and-file developers versus the fancy-pants enterprise architects?

Many efforts at persona development break down at the very beginning, with the question, How many different personas do I need? There's no obviously correct answer to that question, especially when you haven't seen the data that indicates which demographic differences are significant, and which aren't. (Leaving aside the practical question of how many personas you can actually produce.)

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