Ask A Good Product Manager

Your product management questions answered

Should I just focus on my product or the supporting services too?

Posted on September 7, 2011 · 4 Comments

Question: Should the Product Manager care about just their product, or the enablement service that supports it too?

I’m a product manager in a services organization. As a “product manager,” should I be responsible for just the elements which go into the “product” which we’re selling, or do I need to worry about all of the other pieces which are part of the customer experience?

Answer from Derek Britton, Independent Product Management consultant: If a restaurant were to open, with no expense spared, with a lavish gala and a visit from the Mayor, with free cocktails greeting the hundreds of guests, hand-picked because of their influence, you’d think “great planning.” If they then didn’t have any chefs working that night, you’d think, “Oh dear, bad planning”.

And yet how many high tech organizations today see their “product” as merely the technology they are selling?

If you were to ask any of the customers, you’d expect them to describe their view of the “product” they are investing in as a combination of the technology, the services that go with it, the after-care hot-desk, the ongoing service to provide updates or fixes, the regular news and information from the vendor’s newsletters, regular visits from the vendor account team, and all points in between. Just the technology piece, while it is by one measure (fees) vital, is really nothing without the rest of it, which brings it to life and makes it work for that customer — wahich means they will come back.

So, as product managers, do we spend anywhere near the right amount of time thinking about and planning for improving the way the “other stuff” is provided to our clients? For example, for each of your products, do you KNOW what the value-add services should and could be provided by your services people or 3rd party partners? Do you know what’s mandatory in service terms to make that product “work” onsite? Do you know what else will then “up-sell” service opportunities and how to go and spot that in a post-implementation customer-care situation? Do you know what tangible customer product usage conditions would prompt your account managers or service leaders to instigate a new service initiative to tackle a particular pre-identified customer challenge and promote a new set of service offerings? Do your customer support people ask any questions about the product usage environment and “new projects” underway? Does your account team include the delivery services people or are they merely brought in to “deliver the service” and nothing more? Is your services delivery team carrying any incentive at all to spot up-sell oppourtunity of either product or service?

Typically, no one has satisfactory answers to these questions even though most of them are just common sense practices and relatively easy to implement.

However, most organizations will struggle with handling this internal business process of managing the knowledge of the customer across sales, support and then service delivery. And who is going to get a bad rap? The product manager, of course, simply because, as the CEO of their product, they ought to care about this business process, because that’s how THEIR CUSTOMER will see it. It is the customer who needs to be successful, and therefore the functions that do certain tasks based on a certain order of things, is not a sufficient reason to overlook basic business process.

If you care about the customer, put their view of working with your solution first and put what they might need as a key objective — and determine this in terms of the services you can offer. And then don’t let your structure or hierarchy stop you delivering on it.

Technology companies I have seen in action would sell the “product” including some nominal service, and then (if you were lucky) let the customer “opt” to take further services. What must the customer have felt of the vendor’s confidence in their own services? And who knows what else might have got left on the table if no one was really trying.

A go-to-market program should include all the relevant elements to make your product successful, and that must include a clear value matrix for the value-add services, which themselves must be clearly described and defined effectively as their own product.

Ensure you can describe each of the services you can provide in terms your client can understand. Ensure you robustly define rationale, pricing, target attach-rate (service-per-product ratios) and ensure you can set targets your delivery teams and revenue owners buy into. If you fail to define the breadth of total service you aspire to provide, you will surely fail to provide it.

Even if your service revenues (or margins) are low, setting no objective will reduce them further. Define what your overall solution includes, and ensure each piece can be defined in its own right and as part of the whole.

4 other answers so far ↓

  • Christina Saldivia // Sep 9, 2011 at 11:56 am

    I agree that services and support are a part of the complete customer experience regarding the product usage. The problem for product managers is breaking down the barriers between departmental silos so that everyone is working towards the same product or corporate strategy rather than individual departmental objectives.

  • Vitaliy // Oct 7, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    Agree 100%!

    Customers do not buy products; customers buy experiences which solve their problems.

  • Biggsie // Mar 8, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    At the same time, it’s incredibly important to have dedicated resources to handle conflicting demands: product management, implementation, customer support and sales engineering are the silos that come to mind.

    Way too often, a huge spike in sales will suck product mgrs into sales engineering and implementation tasks at the expense of moving the core product forward. Of course, these groups should share a common charter of delivering an outstanding solution.

  • Derek Britton // Jun 22, 2012 at 3:13 am

    I took this discussion further by trying to define some of the peripheral elements that compose the overall customer “solution”. The article is published in June 2012’s Pragmatic Marketing newsletter: http://www.pragmaticmarketing.com/publications/newsletter/when-is-a-product-not-a-product

What do you think?