There is an extraordinary anomaly in the business world, which it seems very few are aware of, but which to anyone with a logical mind must surely seem rather strange. The fact is that whilst firms invest vast amounts in their sales and business development processes, they spend very little on their product management processes. To give that statement a little colour, a Gartner study recently showed that whilst $23 billion was invested in CRM tools for sales teams in 2014, 96% of product managers were left with MS Office as their main tool. Whilst some love, and some loathe, Microsoft’s software it is very clear that this was not designed to service the needs of the product manager, so this use is not by choice but simply the only option available.
Let’s take that situation and look at it from a different angle. What this, apparently, says is that firms would rather spend their money on teaching their sales teams to work more efficiently to sell average products, than spend that money on actually creating great products in the first place which sell themselves. Okay, so no product is actually going to sell itself, and the sales team will still need to earn their corn, but better products result in a much more pleasant experience for the sales teams too, as no one wants to bash their head against a wall trying to sell unattractive products.
The problem in the past was that there simply weren’t any tools available to make product management more efficient, which was a situation that I had also found myself in as a potential buyer in a global financial services organisation, but over the past couple of years that situation has changed dramatically. The good news is that firms are increasingly aware that they need to improve this area of their business, and a 280 Group survey found that 60% of the firms that they spoke to had plans in place to address this challenge. That still leaves a fairly alarming 40% who have not realized their exposure yet though, and those firms would do well to focus their attention on this in the very near future.
However, as these firms, the ones who have recognized the problem at least, go into the market to look for a tool a quite surprising trend has appeared. The teams who are going out looking for a solution have started to muddle product and project management solutions – just two letters different, but an absolute world apart in terms of their capabilities. I should take this opportunity to apologize to those firms who I have been speaking to about this recently, as they are certainly not the only ones who have fallen into this trap, but their situations have really brought home to me how big this problem is. The blame may also fall at the feet of those of us who offer product management solutions, perhaps for only bringing them to market comparatively recently, and also possibly for not having marketed them broadly enough. However, the onus is squarely on our shoulders to explain why they differ so much from our project management relatives.