I wasn't surprised when I saw the title of a recently published Forrester report by analyst Tom Grant — "Product Managers are Working on the Wrong Things." Based on a quantitative survey, Forrester put numbers to a set of problems I've seen for years. Pragmatic Marketing also does a survey on this topic each year, so I thought I knew what to expect.
But one part of the Forrester survey showed me that the situation is far worse than I thought. Through a series of questions, product managers were asked to compare their top five "high frequency" activities to their top five "high priority" activities. Separate tables compare the results for inbound (product management) and outbound (product marketing) activities.
On the inbound rankings, the differences between the highest frequency and highest priority activities are just what I expected. While product managers are spending their time on short-term tactical work, they did a decent job of defining the strategic work that needs to be done. My takeaway — inbound product managers understand their priorities and are trying to improve.
Turn to the outbound rankings, however, and the survey demonstrates that our industry has a completely dysfunctional view of product marketing. At a time when management is asking a lot of questions about marketing output, product marketers said that four out of five of their activities are aligned with their priorities. I don't think so. Those who were surveyed identified only one area of difficulty. They said that developing sales/marketing collateral is a "high activity" task that is not a priority. What appeared in its place on their list of priorities? Working with customer and partner advisory councils!
Don't get me wrong — I wasn't expecting to see "buyer personas" in the survey responses. But I was dismayed that outbound marketers didn't regret that their activities prevent them from the high priority work to know their buying audiences — arguably the most critical expertise needed to do the positioning, messaging and other external work that Forrester ascribes to this role.
I suppose I could be consoled that marketers want to work with customer advisory councils. At least this reflects a desire to listen to someone who doesn't work for the company. But this response tells me that marketers still don't know that current customers can't tell us what we need to do to influence non-customers — the potential buyers who are spending their money elsewhere.
Customers are predisposed to doing business with us and talk about using criteria — the aspects of the solution that became important once they started using it. To attract buyers we need to understand buying criteria — the details that tell us what we need to do and say to bring non-customers into and through the sales process.
Small wonder that the survey reflected the desire to offload sales and marketing collateral on someone else. Without deep insight into the buyers who are not yet customers and not in the sales pipeline. what is the collateral supposed to talk about? Trying to make this stuff up is a thankless, brain numbing task, subject to endless revisions based on internal reviews.
Now I know why I get blank stares when I ask marketers to describe the buyers the collateral is meant to influence, or to tell me how it will help the salespeople to close more business.