Ask A Good Product Manager

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How do you manage a product as part of a portfolio?

Posted on July 30, 2008 · 1 Comment

Question: How do I manage my product as part of a portfolio?

Our company creates and also distributes a number of products. Of the products we distribute, some are made by us, some are made by other companies. The products are generally marketed and promoted together, though customers can pick and choose which products to buy. As a product manager, I am responsible for just one of the products which is sold alongside many others. I’m obviously interested in helping my company generate overall sales, though is there anything I can do to help market and sell my product specifically?

Answer from Michael Hopkin of Lead on Purpose: Because I do not know all the details, I will make the following assumptions:

  1. The company started out with one or a few products, and from the success of those first few products, other products were created and sold.
  2. Today the products are primarily sold in suites, though stand-alone sales are still made of individual products that have a long history or are otherwise popular and widely used by customers.
  3. The products distributed by your company are sold as part of the suites or as add-ons to the suites. That they are developed by other companies is downplayed in marketing and sales activities.

I was in a similar situation several years ago when I was asked to manage a product that had been the cash-cow of the company. Due to its success other products were funded, some of which were successful, others of which were mediocre at best. Because competition and market pressures drive prices down, and to make things “easier” to manage, several products were combined into suites and sold together. Most of the products in the suites were not sold standalone. However, because of its past success and large customer acceptance, my product was sold both in the suite and as a stand-alone product. The sales team loved it because they could always sell it. The product management leadership (read my boss and his boss) were frustrated because the sales team continued to milk the cash cow at the expense of selling the suite.

I decided the best thing I could do was to make sure the product integrated cleanly in the suite and promote it (internally) as the most important part of the suite. I downplayed its prowess as a leading stand-alone product because I felt ultimately it would serve the company better to sell the suite. The suite had a higher margin and also exposed customers to more of the company’s products. We significantly decreased the external marketing for the stand-alone product and increased the emphasis on the suite. I received calls and emails from customers wanting to know why we were not doing as much development on my product, to which I would reply we were, but in the context of the suite. Over time the majority of the customers migrated to the suite and the company reaped the rewards.

With that said, I would answer the last part of your question, “is there anything I can do to help market and sell my product specifically?” with a resounding “yes!” There are always things you can do to market and sell your product:

  • Make it a winner: First and foremost, do everything you can to make your product successful. If it sells in a suite, make sure it integrates cleanly and adds to the value of the suite. If it also sells standalone, make sure it installs cleanly without the suite and functions as designed. Make sure it exceeds customer expectations.
  • Understand its role: Know where your product fits in the company’s bigger picture. Help your team (read the development, QA, support, marketing, sales, etc.) understand that value of your product. Make sure it gets its share of attention throughout the entire process.
  • Support the company mission: Ultimately you want to make sure that your efforts to improve your product’s direction support the overall company mission. You should do everything you can to make sure your product generates increasing sales for the company. Doing so may mean that you do things that will ultimately downplay your product’s ability to sell stand-alone; however, if it helps the company it will likely be worth it.

The more you tune in to the market and where your product fits in, the better you will position it to sell, either in suites/bundles or stand-alone. Given that markets and products change and evolve over time, do not become overly tied to your current product; it won’t last forever. Look for ways to evolve it in the best way possible, and at the same time keep your eye out for new opportunities.

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