How the Product Manager Can Drive Growth

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In most successful businesses you will find the same dilemma. It occurs at a specific time in the company’s lifecycle. The story usually goes something like this:

A successful product hits the market. People love it. Initial growth attracts new investment. A brand develops on the back of the popularity of the initial product. And to improve the long term prospects of the company and capitalize on the existing customer base, the decision is made to invest in a new product or product line. The product development team does the research, commits the time, and creates something the entire company is excited about.

The new product launches, and…nothing happens. Sales are sluggish. This leads to some in-fighting and finger-pointing. Is it the fault of the product developers for creating a bad product? Is it the fault of the salespeople for their lack of enthusiasm? Is it the fault of the existing product line for hogging all the resources?

The Role of Product Managers

This is why we have product managers. Because it is inherently difficult to launch new products. And this is even more true when companies already have successful products in the marketplace.

It runs counter to what might seem like an obvious advantage. People will say that it’s easier to launch a new product within an existing brand because the brand already has credibility.

The problem is, a brand can fall victim to its own success. What worked with the first product might not work with the new. The same marketing strategy, pricing strategy, sales strategy – it might not work this time around. But companies, like people, can be set in their ways.

And so a product manager is needed to introduce a product to the company as much as they are introducing it to the marketplace.

What Does a Product Manager Do?

Product managers are like individual entrepreneurs running their own small business within a larger organization. They are responsible for the success of their product.

A good product manager develops the necessary relationships in every department in order to see that his or her product is successful. They work with the marketing team to make sure that the right customers are being served the right messaging. They work with the technology team to perfect the website and conversion processes. They work with the sales team to ensure they have the right resources and the right script.

It is natural for a company to favor those products that have historically been most successful. But that tendency limits the potential for growth by putting more faith in the past than in the future.

Product managers fight for resources and ensure that new launches get their due.

Using Product Managers for Growth

One affective strategy for growth is to assign product managers to set success metrics for their products and empower them to meet those goals. Incentivize them based on their product or product line, and organize all the departments within the company to support their efforts.

In this way, your company becomes the umbrella under which all of these smaller companies can grow and thrive.

Teams and individuals will still pick favorites, because it is in our nature to do so. But the more you can align departments in support of each and every product manager, the more you can keep that bias from acting as an obstacle to growth.

Who is Your Data Expert?

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Every marketing team in 2018 needs a data expert. Who’s yours?

Your data expert is the go-to person for questions that require data. And that’s most questions.

One of the greatest things about being a marketer in today’s world is the amount of raw data available. Companies can truly be data-driven, meaning that we no longer make guesses or use instincts to make some of the most important decisions in our organizations.

If we want to know whether customers who find us on Google are more valuable than customers who find us on Facebook, we can look it up. If we want to know whether a 20% off coupon increases revenue over the long term, we can look it up. If we want to know if changing the shopping cart pages on our website increase conversion rate, we can look it up.

The answers are out there. Your data expert is the person who is going to get them for you.

Data Expert Skills

Your data expert comes with a set of skills required to do the job. Ideally, these are skills that he or she has fine-tuned over many years in the field. But not always.

First and foremost, your data expert has a strong attention to detail. They are well-organized, and will take the time to fully understand the definition of every metric and piece of data. It is easy when looking at a large data set to miss errors and misclassify items. Your data expert will know how to avoid these types of mistakes that might lead you down the wrong path.

Your data expert will know what data to look for to answer your questions. They will be able to simplify the answer to your question by only showing you the analysis that matters and leaving out all of the data that has no bearing on the specific conversation.

In addition to mastery of statistics and statistical methods, your data expert will know how to tell a story with numbers. They will know how to present the analysis in such a way that you, and all other non-data experts, will be able to see and understand the conclusions clearly.

Lastly, your data expert will be able to identify and signal where the holes are in your data. They will be honest about the answers they are not able to get and why. And they should be able to recommend changes in business practices to fill those holes to make future analysis achievable.

Where to Find a Data Expert

These are roles that exist, and more and more people are learning the skills to fill them. You will find your data expert the same way you find the rest of your team.

  • Job boards – you are looking for data analysts, data scientists, statisticians, business analysts, or the like. Each of these titles carries different skills and levels of experience, so do some research on what separates them and understand who you are looking for.

  • Existing employees – perhaps you have someone on staff who is a data expert and you never even knew. Ask around and let people know you are looking to fill this type of role. You might be surprised at who raises their hand.

  • Consultants and outside groups – there are many companies who you can tap to supply data expertise on a part time or project by project basis. Find out who has experience in your industry and reach out to ask about rates and processes.

How to Get the Most from Your Data

Many companies today claim to be data-driven. But few of them actually are.

What most companies mean when they say that they are data-driven is…

  • We know we should be data-driven, and

  • We look at some data on a regular basis, but

  • We still make decisions based on anecdotes and gut instinct.

In order to become a data-driven company, in the truest sense of the description, you must do three things well:

  1. You must work toward a clean and complete data set. This requires a clearly articulated strategy around data collection and reporting.

  2. You must understand exactly what the data is telling you. Implied in this is the fact that data can be interpreted in a variety of ways.

  3. You must trust that relying on your data in all decision making processes will lead to better outcomes.

Your data expert will help you achieve each of these, if you find the right person.

Is AI Coming for Your Job?

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When you read anything about artificial intelligence or machine learning these days, you can sort it into one of two buckets: either it’s the greatest innovation ever and will make all of your dreams come true, or it’s the end of work as we know it.

The truth is, it’s probably a little bit of both, and a little bit of neither.

We already wrote a few months back about how machine learning will impact marketers from a process and performance standpoint. But what about jobs? Everyone wants to know – is AI going to make me obsolete?

Like so many other things, the answer is that it depends.

It depends on what role(s) you are playing in your company today. It depends what systems or processes you use. It depends how willing you are to learn and to grow your skillset. And it depends how willing your company will be to invest in both the technology and your career.

Let’s break those each down a bit further.

Your Role(s)

AI and machine learning have the potential to do many of the tasks that human beings do today. And depending on who you ask, that potential is either right around the corner or a decade or two away. Both scenarios are scary, because it means that the tasks we train for today might not exist in ten years’ time.

So the key to understanding how to proceed is to learn as much as you can about what role AI will play. We already know that computers can do simple tasks better than we can, whether it be straightforward data entry, normal mathematical calculations, etc. AI and machine learning will quickly become good at more complex processes, like statistical analysis and prediction.

In the marketing world, roles like media planning and buying, campaign management, pricing, promotions, content, and more will be threatened. If nothing else, the nature of those roles will change.

Human beings will still be necessary, at least in the near term, for strategic planning, as well as the development, installation, and maintenance of those systems that will be set up to improve marketing processes.

Systems and Processes

The roles that are most likely to be eliminated in your organization depend a lot on the types of systems that get developed. Until marketing programs are designed and trained on how to take over your role, your role is safe. And unless you work at a large organization with a huge R&D budget, odds are you are going to have to wait for another company to create the systems that your company will end up adopting.

So the reality is, the smaller your company, the less likely it is that AI is coming for your job anytime soon. Because the systems that get created in these early days of AI adoption are likely to be more expensive, and more complex than what will come later.

Learn and Grow

Either way, the time to adapt is now. Stop thinking about your job, and start thinking about your role. Each of our jobs is made up of a number of different tasks. AI will eliminate certain tasks, but it will also create new ones.

Start training now for the new tasks that your company is going to need you to work on. You can make yourself indispensable by learning the skills that no one else in your company is capable of.

Learn how to work with and manage data. Learn how to design the formulas and train the programs that are going to be used to implement these new technologies. And learn soft skills like people management, strategy, and communication that will always be in demand.

Your Company

Much of what comes next will rely as much on your company as it will on you. Some companies will invest in new technology early because they feel that it will give them a competitive advantage. Others will wait for the technology to prove its effects before they take the time to deploy it themselves.

Similarly, some companies will invest in retraining and preparing their workforce for the coming change. Others will be eager to downsize their teams and take advantage of the promised savings and efficiency that the next technology revolution will bring.

You can get a head start on that future reality by talking to your manager today about what it will mean for your organization. And the choice will be yours to either take the necessary steps to solidify your role in your current organization or prepare for a new role at the next organization.

How to Hire for an Undefined Role

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Hiring is not easy. But it is a critical part of growing a successful business. Time and again we find that the most productive or the most innovative organizations are the ones with highly competent, diverse teams. At the end of the day, it starts with the people in your company.

And hiring is hard enough when you know exactly who you need. When you have a detailed list of tasks and responsibilities that someone will need to do once they get hired, with a clear title and vision for where and how this person fits into the organization, it makes your job much easier.

But what happens when none of those things is true?

Sometimes you just need to hire someone. You know that there are things that need to get done that aren’t, either because you don’t have enough time or enough know-how. Your team is stretched too thin and you need to add another player to meet your growth targets.

Here are a few things you can do to get started:

1. Review Your Strategic Goals

What are you hoping to accomplish this year? What new initiatives do you have planned? How do you plan to grow the business?

These kinds of questions are the ones you will answer in your strategic plan. If you don’t have a strategic plan, I recommend starting there. You need a roadmap that details how you plan to get from A (where you are today) to B (where you want to be in 1-, 5-, and 10- years).

A careful review of your strategic plan will highlight key areas you need to pursue.

2. Look for Gaps on Your Existing Team

Once you have reviewed your strategic plan, you must review your existing team. Match people up with the plan, highlighting their current skill sets and where they can continue to add value.

In most organizations, this will reveal certain gaps. These gaps are areas where you don’t currently have the right people to do the job.

Perhaps there are skills or sets of experiences that your team is missing. This will clue you in to what a new hire should add.

3. Find Out What Peer Companies are Doing

It’s possible that you are working in uncharted territory. Perhaps you have many different gaps and aren’t sure how to prioritize them.

It can help to take a look at what other companies are doing. Look to peers in the industry, even competitors. Find out who they are hiring, and how they are planning to grow and succeed. Often this will open your eyes to the types of positions needed to achieve your goals.

4. Look for Soft Skills

Whenever the hard skills for a position are not well-defined, you will need to rely on soft skills. You are going to look for someone who fits well within your existing culture, someone who is passionate about the company and its mission.

You also want to find someone who has demonstrated the ability to learn and grow professionally. This person should have strong creative thinking skills, as you may end up relying on them to define their role and think up new ways to add value.

5. Hire and Adapt

Hire the best person available and design the role to fit them rather than the other way around. The exact responsibilities that this person has on their list might change over time, but if you have the right person, everything else should fall into place.

Fill In Your Skills Gaps to Advance Your Career

Marketers of all stripes likely have ambitions to advance their careers. One can only assume that most business folks would like to someday get promoted, gain a larger role in their company or industry, or another. That’s the nature of business.

So the question is, what can you do today to set yourself up for the future?

One simple answer is, figure out what you’re missing.

If you know now what you’d like to do next, or what role you aspire to, there are a few steps you can take to help support your future ambitions. Begin by researching the skills and experience necessary for that kind of role. You can do this by seeking out and communicating with someone in this type of role today, or more simply by searching job postings around the web.

Once you have a good sense of what skills and experience is necessary to succeed in your future position, you should compare that to a list of skills and experience you have today. Put the two lists side by side, and identify the gaps.

These skill gaps are the areas should work to fill sooner, rather than later. You can do this through:

  1. Coursework and education
  2. Asking your boss to expand your current role
  3. Finding a mentor with these specific skills
  4. Joining a professional organization or meetup group that deals in these areas

It is on you to grow your career. You can do this by staying active outside your current role. Ambition is a choice.