How Best to Run Product Management part 1

Product Management is not technical. Product Management is a business and professional function of a company in which goods or services are planned, marketed, and distributed.

“From a practical perspective, product management is an occupational domain which hold two professional disciplines: product planning and product marketing. This is because the product’s functionality is created for the user via product planning efforts, and product value is presented to the buyer via product marketing activities.”

For the Web Host industry, product management details the needs of your customers and how best to fulfill these needs with services. Its about finding not only the right feature set to support a platform, but the right voice to communicate these features. It starts with the planning of a service and continues with the refining of that service until the point were the service gets phased out.

You can never have a service that is so good there is zero room for improvement. Therefore a successful product management plan continues to refine and perhaps even redefine the service to benefit the needs of your customers. Quality product management plans take in feedback from customers, staff, potential customers (to include those who are with your competitors and those who have not yet started a Web site), and your own keen insights on the pulse of trends reflected in the market.

In order for you to have better success in your product management efforts, I have compiled a list of best practices.

Good Product Management Starts with the Support Staff
Your support staff has the unique ability as being the only group of individuals in your business who are paid to interact with the customer everyday all day. Support staff can tell you were the common problems lie. They can also tell you what about your service the customer likes and what about it that frustrates them.

Sales support can often tell you information about the features customers like in your competitors’ products. Often times customers will leverage other services to find out if your product is better; therefore pay attention to what the customers are trying to leverage in order to refine your service.

Customer service staffs are often given requests for new features, product support, or even new services. Discussion between you and customer service is critical in not only refining the services you provide, but in finding new avenues for future services.

Talk in the Voice of Your Customers
You are not selling GHz and Megabytes, you are selling a service and a personal or business solution. The average customer does not thoroughly understand computers to be able to translate their needs to hardware specs and the last thing your customer needs is to learn a new skill set. As I am sure you would not want to have to blow glass bulbs every time a light went out. Therefore, you need to provide this translation as a part of your service. If you do not, your competition will and they will gain that many more customers.

Thoroughly Understand the Question Before Answering It
If a customer asks you a question such as what is the capability of your service, can it handle X software, don’t just answer the question and move on. Find out why they asked the question. Find out why they need that capability or ask why they need it to handle X software. Every question can become a means to learn more about your customer base and their needs. Then once you understand the needs and the reasons behind the question you can best figure out how to answer the question. Perhaps the answer to the question could even be to augment the service you are currently providing.

Now if you do not thoroughly understand the question and just answer it you run the risk of alienating your customers. Perhaps they were looking for a specific answer and because you did not provide them that they feel you are not paying attention to them. I have seen this first hand when sending trouble tickets to support staff who send me a knee jerk, pre-programmed answer. I am left scratch my head wondering if I am talking to a human being or if I am merely having a monologue with a computer.

Filling a Void in Your Company’s Product Line is not a Good Reason
A service should never be offered because it fills in a void in your product line. It dilutes your branding, it dilutes your support staff, it increases your overhead, and it’s just bad business. Instead, design a service that fills a void in the MARKET. If that service fits with your business platform then include it with your own services, if it does not fit in your business platform, but all indications show that it will be a good seller, build a new brand and business platform for the service.

Cheap Hosting is NOT a Strategy
Offering cheap hosting is not a base strategy to plan the rest of your service offerings around. Cost is a big thing when it comes to hosting services, but it is NOT THE ONLY thing customers look at. Talk to your customers, figure out if pricing is a concern. If you provide a high quality service, chances are pricing will not be as important as keeping their Web site online for the maximum time possible or not as important as having high-grade support staffers.

Lowering price usually comes into the scene when there is no difference between your product and a competitor’s. The other reason is if it makes sense as a piece of your overall business strategy. Lowering the price and increasing its ROI for your customers and selling them on that is an example of it being a part of an overall business strategy. Having a barebones entry point into the world of e-commerce hosting at a lowered cost with add-ons or moving up the chain of hosting packages is another example.

We are only scratching the surface on how best to run your product management so stay tuned for me.
David Dunlap is the Editor in Chief for Web Host Magazine & Host Buyers’ Guide, the trusted authority for web host reviews. Dave’s articles on the web hosting industry can be found at www.WebHostMagazine.com and his blog at www.WebHostBlog.com.

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