Product Management Hub

What’s going on inside Big Blue today? When I started my career, their navy blue double-breasted suit wearing account managers had the appearance of a zombiefied religious sect. In fact, their collective noun could well have been a ‘cult’ of reps. They still majored on the classic FUD tactic (to spread ‘fear, uncertainty & doubt’); “no-one ever gets sacked for buying IBM”.

Today, Pareto seems to apply to their bottom-line. 20% of sales comes from software. It provides 80% of profits. Consequently the top brass want to grow software.

InfoSphere is the name of one such product from where growth is sought. It’s a hub for product management. Reading the 900 or so words on this from their website you realise how far from their goal they are. It demonstrates clearly how product management can go wrong. Their own prose is hardly a ringing endorsement for their own offering. Yet another software example of the cobblers children having no shoes.

You could almost feel sorry for Product Managers. Typically within Marketing, they tend to be viewed with disdain by Sales. Their normal backgrounds mean they approach their job from a totally different direction to that which a salesperson feels necessary. I’ve attended countless sales conferences where a product management exec presents the latest spec sheet, promotion offer or testimonial only for their output to be universally derided by the salesteam.

There’s enough material in that last sentence for a month’s worth of posts. Anyway, how IBM hope this product (from the acquisition of Trigo Technologies in 2004) will contribute is by creating a collaborative process for managing product information.

Their portal should produce all product help required. It also features a workflow capability, providing a central repository for a product launch system. This system allows for alarms on tasks with time sensitivity or dependency, and for completion in a non-linear manner.

What I like about the approach is that it gives structure to a launch that in my experience is otherwise little more than a rah-rah presentation to the troops, an opening offer to customers, and possibly a small sweetener for the salesforce.

Unfortunately, there remain many pitfalls.

The desire to pass ownership to salespeople rarely reaps rewards. Whether that should be the case or not is for another time. The fact is they need greater ongoing support than such a system supplies.

I have witnessed highly paid product management berate an entire salesteam for not filling in a spreadsheet that they sent around, relating to likelihood of new product take-up. It was a disgrace. The salespeople had every right to lynch their colleague. I’m not absolving the reps from any work here, but I do feel there are better ways of going about this kind of vital research.

If you do not have the squillions to take on Big Blue’s latest wonder, then at least you can borrow from its planning framework. What info do you need to nail that’ll best help stave off failure? And what are you going to find out in the crucial post-launch period that will help you improve results? And most vitally, how do you both capture and act upon it without causing a drain on those responsible?

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