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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Overlooked Sources of Product Management Power

The idea that knowledge is power is as true as it clichéd. I've noticed there are several sources of very powerful information that are often overlooked by product managers:

CRM System
If your organization has implemented and maintains a customer relationship management system, you should do your best to get access (even if it's "read only") and use it as a resource to understand what's going on with customers and prospects. You'll very quickly discover that the information stored in CRM can give insight unavailable almost anywhere else. Ideally, PMs should update CRM systems when they interact with customers so the entire account team is aware of discussions, issues etc. I'm amazed at how seldom this resource is leveraged (and how often customers get the impression that your company's right hand doesn't even know the left hand exists).

Customer Support Database
In my post on things to do when you take over a product as a PM, I discussed the importance to PMs of understanding support issues. If you're not browsing support tickets at least once a week and don't regularly engage with support to understand their pain, you're missing a massive learning experience. Investing 20 minutes a week reading about customer issues can inspire you with ideas and arm you with the data you need to influence others, whether they be execs, development or other PMs.

Business Motivation
Understanding the explicit vision, strategy and goals of your organization and/or company can give you insight that helps you define a product that is on-strategy and gives you an advantage when communicating with execs. Think about your most important executive sponsors and ask yourself "Do I really understand specifically what they're trying to achieve?" The sad truth is that most organizations don't have an explicit motivation model. In many cases, you'll have to use your network to get access to presentations or strategy papers that may not be widely disseminated. In others, you may have to ask execs verbally. Regardless, going a level deeper than the vision statement on your company's Web site can, at the very least, allow you to position yourself and your product much more convincingly.

Annual Report
Let's face it, almost no one reads a significant proportion of the content in an annual report. Regardless, as a PM you can often extract nice little nuggets of knowledge that help you understand the big picture, including a sense of the business performance of the entire company. It is not at all uncommon for us to be so focused on our product, that we forget the company is doing a million other important things. How many times have you been caught off-guard by a customer or another "external" that was more aware of developments at your company than you were? Taking time to read the annual report and memorize a few key factoids and maybe even a few financial figures may present you with the opportunity to demonstrate that you're a strategic thinker, impressing people with little more than an offhand comment about dwindling margins in Asia.

There you go, 4 sources of often untapped power. Happy reading! What other sources can you think of?

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