A Brief History of Product Management: Starts With a Spark
Product management was originally seated in marketing but has evolved. It's still misunderstood but it's now getting the recognition it deserves with product people...
If you had to choose only one, how would you describe the primary persona for the Amazon Fire Kids Edition tablet?
It’s a tricky question. And reviewing the product page might even make it more difficult to answer because Amazon has so clearly designed the product with equal attention to both child and parent. The screen’s big buttons, fun-looking app icons and colorful rubber bumper casing all signal fun to the child. But the parental controls, the massive free educational content library, and even that same drop-safe bumper casing are all strong value propositions for the parent.
We often hear that being a product manager for B2B products is an entirely different role from product management in a B2C environment. But that isn’t always the case. And the persona example for the Amazon Fire tablet for kids is just one instance. One of the most common myths about the difference between B2B and B2C product management is that when you’re developing products for businesses, you have to always satisfy multiple personas across the organization; when designing for consumers, on the other hand, you need only to create a value proposition for a single, end-user persona.
As the Amazon example illustrates, this isn’t always true. Here are a couple of other reasons we believe that being a product manager and designing products for any type of market — B2B, B2C, and even B2G — will, for the most part, require the same priorities, knowledge, and skills.
1. It always comes down to the same thing — the persona.
Yes, designing an enterprise software product such as PeopleSoft will likely mean understanding a larger number of personas than designing an educational app for a first-grader.
In the case of PeopleSoft, you will need to identify the many possible stakeholders involved in the sale and use of the product — IT, the sales department, the company’s executive management, and any other departments or business units across the organization that might use the PeopleSoft platform. And you will need to understand those personas so that you can develop appropriate value propositions for each of them.
But you’ll need to do that same persona research for your educational app as well. The primary difference here will be that you’ll likely have only a couple of personas to focus on — the buyer (mom and dad) and the user (the first-grader).
From there, things start to look similar, albeit on a completely different production and monetary scale. For both types of products (your B2B CRM platform and your B2C app), you’ll need to understand what your personas want, what benefits they’re seeking, what challenges they’re looking to avoid, what price points they’ll be comfortable with, what the user experience should be and why, what competitive products are already available and how yours will be better, etc.
“Whether you’re designing products for businesses or consumers, it’s all about solving problems.”
Whether you’re designing products for businesses or for individual consumers, as a product manager it is crucial to know all of your personas and understand how to solve their problems.
2. You’re always creating multiple value propositions — even for a single persona.
Another myth we often hear about the difference between B2B and B2C product management is that the B2B environment is complicated because you also have to keep in mind conflicting agendas, politics and different priorities within the buyer’s organization. With a consumer product, on the other hand, you just have to figure out what a single person (or a couple or a family) wants, and sell that to them.
Sorry, but it’s always a little more complicated than that — even if you’re designing a product that’s meant only for a single end-user.
Why? Because even as individuals, we rarely make purchase decisions based on just a single factor. We usually weigh a combination of factors — and each requires its own value proposition.
For example, there’s a well-established truism in sales that people typically decide to buy something based on emotion, and this often happens on a subconscious level, so they don’t even realize it. Then, after their emotional trigger has convinced them to buy, they will find ways to support the purchase decision with logic.
This is why, for example, you’ll often see a television commercial for a high-end luxury car, backlit to look gorgeous — and yet most of the commercial’s voice-over dialogue will be about safety and fuel economy.
Those product managers and marketers know how to appeal to your brain’s “buying” triggers — with an emotional appeal to how cool you’ll feel behind the wheel of that car. At the same time, they know how to supply the rationalization centers of your brain with a set of logical “reasons” for your purchase.
This isn’t altogether different from how you’d have to approach the senior IT executive at your enterprise buyer’s organization. For that persona, you’ll present your logical case for deploying your hardware infrastructure: It will save the company money, allow them to retire legacy systems nearing end-of-life before they start creating problems, and enhance the company’s data security and regulatory compliance. At the same time, you will want to have your emotional triggers ready: Deploying your system will make your IT professional look like a hero to the rest of the executive team, for example, or will reduce his daily maintenance and troubleshooting headaches.
When you’re selling into a business environment you’ll need to understand the multiple reasons that the various stakeholders across the buyer’s company make their purchase decisions. And you’ll need to develop value propositions and ways of overcoming objections from both of those stakeholders.
But you’ll need to do similar work in understanding the psychology and the internal conflicts of your B2C persona — even if it’s a just single person.
We will concede, however, that there is at least one area of product management where your processes will often be different based on whether you’re designing products for a B2B or B2C customer: The sales channels in B2B and B2C are different, at least for now.
“How are B2B and B2C product management different? The sales channels (at least for now).”
Because an enterprise sale is often more complicated than a consumer sale and often requires the participation of many departments and stakeholders across the organization, such a sale typically requires an actual salesperson and perhaps even a sales engineer as well. These professionals are often needed to help articulate the product’s value as it relates specifically to a buyer’s organization, usually in multiple contexts — costs, technical deployment, business benefits, training, customer support, etc.
With few exceptions — such as household appliances, furniture, and cars — most consumer sales are largely automated. We fill our own carts at the store, and we can buy just about every consumer item (and even many business items) online.
For you as a product manager, this means that — for the time being, at least — you can expect that when you design a product for businesses you will probably be working closely with a team of salespeople to deliver those products to your market. When you design consumer-based products, on the other hand, you can expect to rely on your sales channel primarily on marketing, advertising, and other automated processes.
Yet we believe that even this will change in the near future. We are all becoming accustomed to the self-serve purchase experience in our lives as consumers — where even a once-complicated task like deploying a piece of software on our computers is now a simple matter of downloading the tool from an app store and clicking a few buttons.
We believe that this is already informing our habits and demands as business buyers as well. This means that over time your enterprise buyers will increasingly expect to be able to buy and deploy your products on their own, without a long sales process and a lot of conversations with your account reps.
If that happens, there will be virtually no distinction between being a product manager for a B2B product or a product sold only to consumers.
But regardless of whether or not even the sales processes for B2B and B2C converge, we’d still argue that the role of a product manager is largely the same no matter which type of buyer you are targeting — business, individual consumer, family, government entity, nonprofit, etc. If you’re doing an effective job as a product manager in any of these environments, the same fundamentals will apply:
Agree? Disagree? Have you experienced other differences in product management for business or consumer products? Let us know in the comment section below.