Product Management is everything!

In 1991, Regis McKenna wrote a seminal article entitled Marketing is Everything that was published in the Harvard Business Review. The article paints a picture of technology as an agent of change in the market place. He wrote near the beginning of the article:

Technology is transforming choice, and choice is transforming the marketplace. As a result, we are witnessing the emergence of a new marketing paradigm– not a “do more” marketing that simply turns up the volume on the sales spiels of the past, but a knowledge- and experience-based marketing that represents the once-and-for-all death of the salesman.

These are bold words, particularly for the early 1990s. I’d say that those words are more true today than they were back then. While it is true that the need for salespeople still exists in many cases, it is also very true that there are MANY transactions that take place today without any sales intermediary that could not have been done without one 20 or so years ago.

Many years ago, someone once asked me, if I’d every bought something I’d never seen. I said, not that I could think of, except for maybe something mundane like ordering a pizza.

He then asked if I’d ever bought a computer online. The answer was yes. He then asked if I’d bought a specific model or a custom configuration. I said a custom configuration from a website. He then said, that was an example of buying something I’d never seen. True. I saw pictures of it on the website, configured the options I wanted and paid by credit card. And I did it without talking to a single person.

That transaction is an example of what McKenna was writing about in the early 1990s, except then, the Web was certainly not mainstream. The browser itself was a few years from being invented. But McKenna was right on the mark.

McKenna continues later in the article:

…successful companies are becoming market driven, adapting their products to fit their customers’ strategies. These companies will practice “let’s figure out together whether and how color matters to your larger goal” marketing. It is marketing that is oriented towards creating rather than controlling a market; it is based on developmental education, incremental improvement, and ongoing process rather than simple market share tactics, raw sales, and one time events. Most important, it draws on the base knowledge and experience that exists in the organization.

Hmmm…does that sound like marketing or more like some other discipline we are all familiar with? Well there’s more, as McKenna describes what he calls “knowledge-based and experience-based marketing.”

Knowledge-based marketing requires a company to master a scale of knowledge; of the technology in which it competes; of its competition; of its customers; of new sources of technology that can alter its competitive environment; and of its own organization, capabilities, plans and way of doing business.

I’m hoping this is sounding familiar. He continues:

Armed with this mastery, companies can put knowledge-based marketing to work in three essentials ways:

integrating the customer into the design process to guarantee a product that is tailored on only to the customers’ needs and desires but also to the customers’ strategies

generating niche thinking to use the company’s knowledge of channels and markets to identify segments of the market the company can own

and developing the infrastructure of suppliers, vendors, partners, and users whose relationships will help sustain and support the company’s reputation and technological edge.

So in short, work closely with customers, identify market segments (not entire markets) that can be dominated, and create an ecosystem of customers/partners etc. that can help the company push forward and continue to lead. All sounds pretty standard nowadays, but back then, this was new stuff. And it was less than 20 years ago.

McKenna continues:

The other half of this new marketing paradigm is experience-based marketing which emphasizes interactivity, connectivity and creativity. With this approach, companies spend time with their customers, constantly monitor their competitors, and develop a feedback-analysis system that turns this information about the market and the competition into important new product intelligence. At the same time, these companies must both evaluate their own technology to assess its currency and cooperate with other companies to create mutually advantageous systems and solutions. These close encounters–with customers, competitors, and internal and external technologies–give companies the first hand experience they need to invest in market development and to take intelligent, calculated risks.

Now before you think I’m just going to replay the entire article to you, let me say that there’s a point to this, but it needs the proper context. McKenna was stating, almost 20 years ago, that change was taking place in the Marketing profession, and that the old monolithic ways of marketing to customers were no longer valid. Embracing customers, instead of evangelizing to them was becoming critical.

But, McKenna didn’t have a good catch-phrase for this new discipline. He talked about knowledge-based and experience-based marketing. He also wrote:

In a time of exploding choice and unpredictable change, marketing–the new marketing–is the answer.

…The marketer must be an integrator, both internally–synthesizing technological capability with market needs–and externally–bringing the customer into the company as a participant in the development and adaptation of goods and services.

…Playing the integrator requires the marketer to command credibility. In
a marketplace characterized by rapid change and potentially paralyzing choice, credibility becomes the company’s sustaining value.

I’ll stop there. It should be clear where McKenna was heading with this. This new type of Marketing–that understands technology, the market, customer needs, and the competition; that works with partners, suppliers, vendors as well as customers; that integrates the customers into the development process to produce superior products and services–is what we today call Product Management.

Whether he intended it to be so or not, what Regis McKenna, one of the luminaries of high-tech marketing was saying, was that the critical function that companies must adopt to thrive in the market is Product Management.

And finally, not simply to paraphrase him, but to update what he was saying with our context, almost 20 years later:

Product Management is everything!

Now, before my marketing friends get upset and claim I’m deriding their work, I’m not. Marketing has an important role in the product lifecycle, but the role of Product Management is distinct and key. Each can deliver real benefit to a company, but only when the two work together efficiently and collaboratively, can the true benefit of what McKenna writes about be seen.