Barbara Tallent is a former product manager turned CEO, who today is co-founder of LiveBinders, a social bookmarking application. I first connected with Barbara Tallent some years back after reading her informative article From Product Manager to CEO.
Barbara led a thought-provoking live presentation that asked the question, Why are there so few Great Product Managers?
Barbara Tallent interviewed six CEOs on a confidential basis to get their perspective on why there are so few great product managers. Much to her chagrin as a former product marketing executive, these CEOs were fairly jaded about the product marketing function: “I’ve never really worked with a great product manager,” one CEO told Barbara (and that CEO had worked with Barbara earlier in his career!). Another drolly responded, “Why aren’t there any great product managers?”
Another product manager turned CEO readily agreed that product marketing is “a really tough job,” for a number of reasons:
- The CEO, VP Development, VP Sales and sales team, etc. all see small portions of the overall product marketing job and assume what they see is all the product marketer does.
- Very few metrics – not all product marketers are judged based on sales success
- Risk of being the “fall guy” – product marketers and managers might be blamed if some issues with the product and/or sales levels come up; going back to the familiar refrain that the PM/PMM has all the responsibility and none of the line authority.
OK, now here’s the good news: There is ample reward to go with the above risk. CEOs also viewed product marketing and management as a key source of future company leadership.
Barbara Tallent proceeds to provide some useful, actionable advice that rang personally true to me, on how to present yourself as a great product marketer with what it takes to grow within the company. Here are just a few of Barbara’s very smart tips:
- Consider your “target market”: the CEO (as well as other senior executives). Above all, know that “CEOs as a whole are short on time and shorter on patience,” Barbara explained. This is because CEOs are constantly judged on the bottom line on a quarter to quarter basis (definitely NOT the best metric to judge a CEO on over the long haul, but that’s another story).
- Avoid the trap of working on “just the cool stuff.” A CEO told Barbara he was up in arms with a product manager who led the creation of a cool iPhone app, while the CEO had customers pleading for specific new product features.
- Avoid “creeping elegance,” which Barbara described as unduly withholding the release of a product because of missing features. Instead, great product marketers and managers will prioritize and effectively communicate with senior management what one or two core, game-changing features are absolutely essential for the product, which customers will eagerly accept despite its flaws.
- Always reference customer conversations when speaking with your CEO and senior executives. Remind your CEO that you know the customers, you know their worlds and their needs from directly and constantly interacting with them.
- “Your career will advance, just not today.” Establish credibility through successful products and marketing programs. Put the success of your products first, and your career will follow.
Barbara closed her presentation with a succinct description of the characteristics of the (presumably rare) great product manager/product marketer: a person who is technical enough to have a suitable level of understanding of the product; smart (and savvy) enough interpersonally to work effectively with others within the company, and articulate enough to be persuasive in his or her presentations and written communications).
Most important of all, Barbara noted, a great product marketer must be dogged enough to “not get pushed around.” I interpreted this as being willing to stand up for what is right for the customer and the products, based on customer-driven, market-driven input, thereby not letting the company get sidetracked with “cool stuff” or “creeping elegance”!
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