Respect Your Competition

Product managers and marketers are naturally competitive. They want their products to win in the marketplace, and they want to beat the competition. This trait is important to the success of a product manager or product marketer.

However, it’s important to balance support and bias toward your product with the realities of the marketplace. There’s a difference between being a champion for your product and being blind to the market, customer needs and perceptions.

There are countless examples of former industry leaders who underestimated their competition and were beat by scrappy upstarts. There are also countless examples of scrappy upstarts who have underestimated the reach and resources of industry leaders. In many of these cases, objectivity toward the market was overpowered by hubris.

Successful product managers and marketers walk a fine line between being completely objective and being a die-hard super-fan supporter. Here are two simple tips on how to respect your competition when it’s natural to be focused on how much better you are than them:

  1. Consciously seek out objective viewpoints. Spending all of your time in the office with colleagues or interacting only with happy customers isn’t going to provide you with a real picture of what’s going on in the market. Rather than hiding in a self-congratulating bubble, actively seek out places where you will get objective viewpoints. Go to a conference for an industry where you’re not the market leader. Reach out to customers who have left you for another vendor. Find places outside your product’s comfort zone and keep your ears open and your mouth closed. The feedback will be enlightening.
  2. Be conscious of the many roles you need to play. In a given week – or day – product managers need to wear a number of different hats. One hat might be the one you wear when you’re working a trade show booth and trying to make your pitch to prospects. Another hat might be the one you wear when you’re making your case to senior management for more funding to address weaknesses in your product. You wear another hat when you’re enabling your sales force and yet another when you’re conducting market research. In each of these scenarios, you’re in a different mode, that requires a particular attitude. Your “rah rah” attitude should be in full effect when you’re making your pitch to prospects at a trade show booth, but it should be put in check when you’re conducting site visits as part of a market research project.

About the Author

Jeff Lash is Research Director, Product Management, at SiriusDecisions. A recognized thought leader in product management, he has over 10 years of experience in product management, portfolio management, product development, and user/customer experience design. Follow Jeff on Twitter at @jefflash.


2 Comments

  • Giles Farrow, 22nd May 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Reply

    Very true.
    It sometimes can be hard to get access to your competitors’ software – but one way or another you need to understand it really well.
    Big mistakes I keep seeing people make
    - comparing “our” next version with “their” version before last
    - assuming we are smarter – almost never true
    - assuming their customers are stupid – definitely untrue
    - believing our own “rah rah” spiel – especially internal PowerPoint decks

  • Chris Bailey, 31st May 2013 at 8:52 am

    Reply

    Your point about getting objective perspectives is spot-on. I once had a manager who constantly reminded us of NIHITO (Nothing Important Happens In The Office) Principle. Our customers, partners, and marketplace is alive and well outside the walls of the company. It is our work to be relentless in interacting with those external voices, perspectives, and ideas because it’s far too easy to get sucked into the internal chatter and believe that’s all there is.


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