Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tips for Engaging with ‘Sage on the Stage’

In the age of Internet, trends change faster than blink of an eye and businesses are evolving faster than ever. By the time you realize that a technology or business trend is emerging, something else is already come up to disrupt the situation that quickly makes the business / technology plans you are thinking of, look obsolete.

This continuous churn creates challenges for entrepreneurs who may quickly get disoriented and confused. In order to demystify this churn, and make sense out of it, the entrepreneur begins to reach out to the ‘Sages’. Which begs the question, who are these Sages? These Sages can come under various names, such as Mentors, Advisors, Experts and so on….

Now, as an informed entrepreneur, it’s your responsibility to really understand how, when and what to engage these Sages on. You may approach one of these Sages for…
  • Getting highlight level perspective on a specific problem
  • Engage them for solving specific business / technology problems
  • Getting connected with the right people in the Industry, etc.

But as you think of engaging with Sage, I would suggest that you think of one, more or all of these things, so that you get best and most out of the engagement with the Sage. And it’s a fulfilling experience for both of you...

1. Think about what you want from the Sage: The input that you are going to get is going to be directly related to what and how you ask for it. Hence, define your ask as crisply as possible. This will prevent getting vague answers and keep the discussion focused. Another thing that will help, is, setting the context / background of where you are coming from and where you want to go as person and a company. Remember that right conditions are required for the catalyst to create a catalytic reaction. Therefore before you decide to engage, think about the following aspects of the engagement model:

a.     Time spent: How much time is the Sage expected to spend with you during the engagement? Is that time being spent in once a week meeting or on-going email communication? What is the protocol to respond to urgent issues where help / guidance is needed?

b.     Expected out come: What is expected out from the engagement? Is it only soft conversation or are there are any specific deliverables?

c.      Onsite / Off-site: Is the Sage supposed to be onsite for specific duration? Or is it a virtual engagement? What is the impact of that on the outcome of the engagement?

d.     Payment: Is it a retainer model with cash + equity / cash only / equity? Or is it milestone / deliverables based?

e.     Duration: What’s the duration of the engagement? What would be the minimum amount of time to figure out if the engagement is working as expected or not? Will it be sufficiently long for something meaningful to come out of it?

f.      Activities (core / non-core): Which activities will the Sage spend most time on? What are some of the associated auxiliary activities that you may want the Sage to focus on?

g.     Primary point of contacts: Who would be the primary point of contacts for engaging with Sage, so that Sage is not getting distracted?

h.     Communication methods: Given that Sages are busy people and communication methods like emails are abused, its best to discuss the communication method with the Sage for various type of activities? When would the Sage prefer phone to email or in-person meeting and vice-versa?

i.       Effectiveness metrics: Aspect of measurement should always be nailed down upfront, so that you can prevent having a conversation like… “I engaged with this Sage, but after 3 months I really don’t know what I got out of the engagement.” But as a person / company engaging with the Sage, you must know what you want out of it and how you are going to measure it, otherwise you will never know.

j.       Exit criteria: Knowing the exit criteria is as critical if not more than the entry criteria. Cause’ that is what, is going to decide the success or failure of the engagement with Sage. Hence think about when and how you would want to exit the engagement with the Sage.

2. Research the background of the Sage: Knowing the background ahead of time will help you in really understanding if the Sage can possibly provide you with the information that you are looking for. For example, if you are looking for business vertical specific information, then find a Sage that has deep background in that vertical and can connect you with others in that vertical. Talk to people and research to find out experience that the Sage has in solving business problems. Understand the scale of problems that the Sage has been a part of. Once you know what you are looking for in a Sage, it will help you immensely in identifying the right one directly or with the help of people.

3. Use the Sage’s time wisely: ‘Time is Money’ couldn’t be more true in case of your engagement with the Sage. This is because Sages are always time crunched and so are you, especially if you a Startup entrepreneur. Hence, think about how and where you would want Sage to spend their time. Otherwise you will end up being in a situation, where clock is rapidly ticking but value you are extracting from the Sage is minimal and below your expectations. To prevent getting into this situation, make a list of all the activities that you would want the Sage to be part of. Prioritize those activities based on your needs. After that review those with the Sage, so that you will know where you can leverage Sage’s time most effectively. Perform this activity with rigor every once a week or fortnight and you should be able to get best and most out of the Sage’s time.

4. Don’t abuse the Sages capabilities: There are a number of conversation which I have been a part of, where the Sage is asked to provide commentary on a topic that the Sage is not an expert on. Most Sages at that point will provide some high-level insights and stop at that. But there are a few that you should be aware of. The ones that provide misguiding advice in the hopes of squeezing more business from their clients. But as a person seeking advice, you must also be cautious of not providing encouragement for such conversations. Use your judgment wisely to save time, money and preventing yourself going on a wild goose chase based on misguided advice.

5. Don’t look for a Silver Bullet: As a Company / Person soliciting Sage’s advice, it’s your responsibility to not expect Silver Bullet answers from Sages for your business situations. In all probability, as a person who is in the middle of the situation, you have a better understanding of the situation. Leverage the Sage’s input as independent 3rd party perspective to see if you have missed anything from data or problem-solving perspective. Also, know that what the Sage is known for may not work for you. There might be some useful pointers there, but everything the Sage knows may not be always fully applicable to your situation. If you expect answers that will solve your problems then, you would have set wrong expectations and measure the Sage’s effectiveness on the wrong scale. This would be an injustice for both you and the Sage.

So as you begin your journey of looking for the Sage take these pointers into considerations and share you experiences…

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Are you asking the right questions?

Similar to the Chief Executive (CEO) of a company, a Product Manager should also question the process that goes into the creation of a product / service. Treating the organization like a living and breathing creature, a Product Manager should have in-depth understanding of the workings of its vital organs that are responsible for the following:

  1. Listening to external and internal business related signals
  2. Analyzing  the impact of the data signals collected from external and internal sources
  3. Taking appropriate actions based on impact analysis
  4. Measuring the effectiveness of the actions

If one or more of these vital functions are broken, then the organization cannot function at its peak capacity and may succumb to the dynamic business environment. One of the most critical questions to ask in any situation is…’What does it mean?’ ‘it’ could be an data point or an event or any other external  / internal stimulus. Then look at ‘it’ from different perspectives such as:
·         What does it mean from business perspective?
·         What does it mean from revenue perspective?
·         What does it mean from process perspective?
·         What does it mean from marketing perspective? Etc…

This line of questioning will help in the impact analysis across organization and take appropriate measure to react to the external stimulus.

This article focuses on ‘Listen’ and ‘Analyze’ aspect that has been shown in the virtuous cycle above.


A Product Manager should tap into and harvest as many sources of information as possible. Getting external business signals is not only a function of number of sources but also the frequencies with these sources are tapped into. It’s the continuous ‘chatter’ that really matters. Collecting information once in a while is not sufficient and may lead to incomplete information. Here are some of the questions that must be asked when validating the data collected from sources of listening:
  1. What sources of data collection were used?
    •  Internal
      • Customer service
      • Marketing
      • Sales, etc
    • External
      • Customers
      • Competition
      •   Industry experts
      •  Company executives
      • Partners, etc
  2. How recent is the data?
  3.  How frequently was this data collected?
  4. Which systems were leveraged to pull the data from? (e.g CRM)
  5.   How many direct customer inputs does this data include?
    •  How valuable are these customers to the business?
    •  Which revenue and vertical segments do they belong to?
  6.  How frequently was the data processed and conclusions from that data refreshed?
  7.  Who has reviewed this data prior to being getting used in the road mapping process?

Inside Out Data Collection            

Product Manager doesn’t necessarily have to wait for signals to come from outside. In order to be on the top of the game the Product Manager can also initiate ‘Inside Out’ process for getting the pulse of the market and business environment. For example during the process of building business case for new feature / product or when conceptualizing solution at the time of writing PRD, the Product Manager can reach out to Customers, partners and internal entities.

These are some of the questions that a Product Manager must ask of him / team in order to ensure inside out approach of data collection:
  1. How many customers were involved in PRD process?
  2. How frequently were the customers contacted?
  3. How many of those customers are expected to use the feature / product after it’s rolled out?
  4. How many customers are holding their breath for the feature to be rolled out?
  5. How many prospects are cancelling deals for the feature?
  6. In which revenue and value bands do these Customers fall under?
  7. How the does the actual customer interactions compare with planned customer interactions?

Other entities within the organization that can use the Inside out approach are Marketing and Sales teams. For example Marketing team can involve Customers in the process of creating case studies and white papers.

Analyze Impact (immediate, medium and long term)

Once the data is collected and processed the next critical activity is to analyze the impact of that on the various aspects of the organization. Understanding only the Product impact is not sufficient. A holistic organization impact assessment should be done. The impact assessment questions that follow can be asked to:
  • Assess the impact of external events such as a competitor make announcements or change in industry regulations, etc.
  •  Assess the impact of features on roadmap, etc.

The goal is to really get a thorough understanding of the impact of external and internal events on the business.
  1. What is the revenue impact?
  2. What is the customer acquisition impact?
  3. What is the customer relationship impact?
  4. What is the new vertical (market) impact?
  5. What is the impact on strengthening position in the existing verticals?
  6. Impact on brand value of the company?
  7. What is the impact on employee skills acquisition?
  8. What is the marketing impact?
    •  Case study
    •   White paper
    •   References, etc
  9. How does the roadmap help plug competitive gaps?
    •  Fill gap
    •  Create gap
  10. How does the roadmap help displace competition?
  11. How does the roadmap help create though leadership?
  12. How does the roadmap differentiation from the competition?
  13. What Sales and Support changes need to be made?
  14. What Marketing changes need to be made?
  15. What changes need to be made to the Product development plan?

I’m sure most readers can add to this list of questions and make it even richer and actionable for Product Managers.  Remember the path to the right solutions begin by asking the right questions…

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The best decision to press forward... till now....

May people support underprivileged kids in different ways directly or though non-profit organizations. I have always dreamt of supporting kids education, especially for underprivileged kids.  But, it was not until yesterday, I really understood the meaning of what I was after and the impact of even the smallest things that you can do for the underprivileged kids.

Yesterday, on a typical rainy monsoon day, my family and I started our 150 Km journey to a very small town on Bombay- Goa highway.  My Aunt has been helping the schools in the region by providing books, bags and other necessary things. She found yet another school that could use some help. We talked to the teacher to identify their needs and decided to visit them with stuff that would fulfill their needs (books, pencils, sharpeners, erasers, rulers and bags for 25 kids enrolled in a government sponsored school.).

There are many routes to reach the small town that go across Western ghats in Maharashtra. In favor of shorter distance we decided to take the one that goes through Tamhini ghat. I had heard that the road is not very great and few villages on the way. We started from our place enthusiastically at 8:30 AM in the morning. By the time we had just reached the out skirts for Pune, I had started questioning my decision of opting for shorter route with bad roads for longer one with better roads. In some patches the roads barely existed. It was mostly loose gravel. In most places the notion of tar road was limited to the decorative rim of pot holes! After driving on such roads for about an hour we started driving up the Tamhini ghat. It had started raining and dark clouds every where. There were sheer cliffs with waterfalls on one side and deep ravines on the other. The roads didn't get any better and the curvy uphill made things go from bad to worse. At 10 AM in the morning it felt like evening with not a soul to be seen on the very lightly travelled road. In hind sight, now I know why the road is lightly travelled. And as all of this was not enough, my younger song got car sick. We pulled over in the middle of that uphill road, luckily in front of a small waterfall.

And at that point, me and my wife both thought that we have had enough of the treacherous journey and it was time for us to turn back. We didn't know if we could survive the bumpy road ahead with the possibility of weather taking the turn for the worse. But, then there were 25 kids waiting for us. 25 kids who would most probably be deprived of a whole years worth of school supplies. But then, was it worth taking the risk? Not knowing the path between where we were and the school itself. We had not even reached the top of the ghat and there was not a soul around if the car was to break down. We were still hour and a couple of hours away from our destination. We cleaned up quickly and got in the car and decided to take U turn back to Pune. As I turned on the car ignition, we looked at each other and without saying any words just nodded to press on with our journey towards the school.

As we kept moving forward, in about 15 mins we reach the top of the ghat and after that quality of the road had suddenly improved. All the way down the ghat and till we reached the school the roads were very good.

We finally reached the school which was just of off the Bombay-Goa highway. It had stopped raining but humidity had caught up with us. We were sweating profusely. The school was a small building with 3 rooms. One was principals office and two other were class rooms. It was a government funded school which gets around Rs. 400 per student per year. This amount isnot enough and leaves number of schools and student needs unfulfilled. Std. I, II and III were grouped together and Std. IV was separate.  There were about 15 kids in the class and it had been decorated with whatever had been donated to the school. There was no electricity since the school didn't have funding ( or may be the funds didn't' reach the school). So the kids were sitting in a naturally lit semi-lit classroom. The teacher and kids were very happy to see us. My kids and their cousin started distributing the bags, sweets and biscuits to the kids. They were ecstatic to get these. We gave the books to the teacher for distribution and also gave her money to pay off the electricity bill so that they can get electricity turned on in the school.

Some background about these kids who were enrolled in the school. Their parents worked in the nearby farms or construction sites. Kids attending this school attend till their parents are around till end of farming season (October/November). After that their parents move to different places to find temporary work. The kids go along with them not knowing if there will be another school in the new place. In case there are schools in the new place they attend, if not then take care of their siblings or spend their time at construction site or any of their parents place of occupation. Come June, they are back to the school, if the school is still functional! Cause their parents are back working in the farms.

Even with all the unpredictability, chaos, deprivation of basic kids life and many other horrible things that may be happening to them, there's still that sparkle...that ray of hope...that human nature to forget all the bad and enjoy the present when good things happen...that willingness to share with friends even in the most dire and desperate circumstances. These kids are an inspiration,they teach us the valuable lesson of hope, sharing and living in the present.

We ended up spending roughly around Rs. 6,000 to set the students up for their annual needs. My Aunt paid roughly Rs. 4,000 for their electricity bill so that they get electricity turned on in the school. This is not a lot of money for most middle and upper middle class people. They will spend Rs. 4,000 - 5,000 for a dinner in fancy restaurant. That same money spent once a year can help take our nation one step at a time.

All in all, as I look back to that point in Tamhini ghat, where everything looked dark, treacherous and unknown...where we had almost decided to take the U turn back to Pune, I'm glad to have taken the spurn-of-the-moment instinctive decision to press forward with our journey to reach the opened our doors to new and meaningful experience!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Leadership and the Art of Pruning

My Mother is an avid gardener. Even in a small place around our house she plants all sorts of things, flowers, veggies, etc. There are seasonal plants and then there are perennial plants that have been in the garden forever. These perennial plants typically are the ones that grow tall and wide.
I have always loved the way make their presence felt in the garden, providing shadow in the summer and breaking winds during the storms. One of the things that I hated was my Mother cutting these trees. And by cutting I don’t mean from the roots but just pruning them. Recently, I decided to strongly register my protest with her regarding her tree pruning activity. It was at that time she explained to me the criticality of tree pruning activity. After listening to her about the reasons and process of tree pruning, I couldn't but help think about organizations and the importance of pruning from a leadership perspective.  Like a gardener, a leader must learn and practice the art and science of pruning talent and associated responsibilities in his/her organization. Pruning of talent and responsibilities can be done in many ways.

But before the process can begin, there are a couple of things that a Leader needs to take into account:
  1. Goals and reasons behind pruning
  2. Using the right pruning tools
  3.  Pruning timing

Let’s examine some of the pruning opportunities that typically show up in every organization. This information should provide you with some basic directional knowledge about organizational talent and responsibilities of pruning.

1.       The Floaters: These are employees who have been in the organization for a while and have tried their hands on different roles and associated activities. Their role seems to change every 6 months to a year, in some cases moving from one team to another. Unless as a leader you have a hand in these changes, this is a tell-tell sign of an area where pruning is needed. It’s best to have a heart to heart conversation in such situation with the concerned employee to find out the appropriate solution.

2.       The Over Shadowers: These are the employees who dwarf everyone with their presence in the team, in a negative manner. It is always good to have mentors who are the guiding post in the teams. But as Leader, your responsibility is to ensure those same people don’t start over shadowing junior less experienced team members. The symptoms of over shadowing are very clearly seen, for example:
  • Same team member name appears everywhere (typically when things are going good).
  • There are not enough good ideas / innovations coming from the team.
  • Team starts losing its diversity, especially in problem solving and operations.

As a leader you should keep getting exposed to various members from different teams. This will help you in getting better understanding of ground reality and cut through the political and bureaucratic mess.

3.       The ‘Single-Point-of-Failure’ Experts (aka bottlenecks): Everyone loves to be the expert on a particular topic / product functionality / technology as part of their team. It’s good to have experts – the ‘Go to Guys’. Having them helps team stay ahead of the curve and reduce the time it takes to solve the problems. But if you keep hearing the there are projects that are getting delayed due the fact that your ‘Go to Guy’ has become the bottleneck or the critical issues is not solved because your ‘Go to Guy’ is out of office, then it time to think of pruning. In a case like this, pruning can be done be cross training others on various topics or creating responsibilities sharing with your ‘Go to Guy’, etc.

4.       The Self-Proclaimed Gatekeepers: These are a one of the most interesting types of people in the organization. These people almost always show up as long poles when postmortem is preformed on projects that have gone south. They typically show up last minute to proclaim their stake on the approval process for the project to move ahead. It’s OK for such situations to arise once in a while, but if the occurrence is frequent then as leader you need to address this situation by fixing the process or people or both. If not addressed in a timely manner this can cause teams to feel demoralized and pull down team productivity and output speed.

5.       The Life-Timers: These are employees who have been in same role for a very long time. More often than not they have been performing the same job function over a period of time and most of the time they are very good at performing their job duties. As a leader you, should be concerned when same type of problems keep coming and are being solved by the same set of people in the same manner. Irrespective of business impact that these business problems have, it is critical to examine if such pruning opportunities can be fixed by more experienced employees or employees from different business background or by training the life-timers.

This talent and responsibilities pruning activity is an extremely critical and ongoing process for a leader at any level in the organization. As the organizations grow and organizations age, the impacts of ignoring pruning issues can get more chronic. The top leadership should take time and effort to ensure the other leaders in the organization have tools at their disposal to identify pruning opportunities and address those opportunities in the timely manner. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

For Harsha Bhogle - Don't cry for cricket

This blog is in response to Harsha Bhogle's article in Indian Express: Don't cry for cricket

Hi! Harsha,

As always a great article. But at this point we need more than just great commentary about the dark times that cricket is facing.  

It is easy for all of us mere mortals (excluding you :) to tell the players to stay away from greed of money. But how can they? There's just too much of it. It's humanly impossible to stay away from it, unless you are the master of your domain. You are dealing here with very basic human tendency - Greed, power and fame. We all have it and the temptation is just too powerful to control. Infact these grown up players are no different from 10 year olds. They see candy and they want it. Who wouldn't?  

There's just too much money being pumped into IPL. It is impossible to separate candy from the game. Cause people who are putting money in IPL are not putting in for the sake of the sport. They are in it for the money. If you ask me, IPL and cricket are two different things. IPL is business and cricket is a sport. Their combination is dangerous and that is what has exactly happened here in the case of match fixing. You tell me otherwise how else are these people (aka investors), who are pumping in Corers of Rs., expected to get their money out?  

So, the focus now has to be on how the candy can be separated form sports? You inherently need some candy since that's also the motivate to make the sport worthwhile. Hence that economic element (candy) has to be there. The key is balancing the candy and protecting the sport from it. What steps can be taken to bring that balance? This is something that the BCCI has to think about. I haven't seen BCCI do anything about the balance, do they even know that such a balance is needed? OR have they succumbed to investors?  

My question to gods of cricket such as GavaskarJi, KapilJi, DarvidJi, SachinJi and others is how get the sport called CRICKET back to life? Please let them know that me, my 10 year old son and my 13 year old niece are waiting for Gods to answers our prayers, just like drought hit farmers wait for rains....


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Stop and Think...And Think Through…

One of the perks that I get as part of leading a company that focuses on starts ups is that I get to meet with a number of eager beavers. These are typically founder, co-founders or part of the core startup team that has embarked on an exciting journey. They are all about action…now or never, just do it, should have been done yesterday… type of attitude. Nothing fundamentally wrong with this attitude, but this attitude should come with a warning label of ‘Don’t overdo it’ and more importantly ‘don’t overdo it by trying to do it all by yourself’.

Hence as work with startups every day, I ask them to follow the principle that was taught to my elder son when he was in first grade.
The principle…simple….STOP & THINK! His school emphasized so much on this principle that they would give out STOP & THINK award at the end of school year.

There's a reason why this principle of STOP & THINK is applicable in case of startups and especially the technology focused ones in India is for a few reasons:
  1. They focus on their organizational strengths and put all their precious resources toward that. For example, most startups (the core team) are extremely technology focused. This means that the little precious resources they have are exhausted in writing the last line of core for beta or buying software or getting that one additional developer to speed up development. More often than not this leads to no resources, mostly money, being left for other critical activities like Product Strategy, Product Marketing, Sales, etc. This leads to the next reason…
  2. Since there is no money / resources left they venturing into attempting to taken on tasks that are not their core strengths.  In the example that I mentioned, it would be a person focused on technology trying to get into Product Strategy, Marketing and Sales activities. Due to these none core skill set activities that they perform, they not only lose focus on core activities but badly botch other key activities that are not core to them.

A thoughtful balanced approach…
Balanced Approach

Here’s the guidance that I provide to startups that I work with...

STOP & THINK: Every time there is a task or a type of activity that you have perform…STOP & THINK…ask yourself the following questions: 
  1. Do you have skills to perform that activity?
  2. Is the right activity to be focusing your time and attention on?
  3. Is it going to take you away from your core activities?
  4. Are there other related activities that might come up?
  5. Is this activity going to end up being huge time sink?

9 out of 10 times as an entrepreneur you will be better off getting paid professional help for taking care of your non core functions. It doesn’t have to be super expensive. But you will end up being saving time, money and make faster progress on things that you want to focus and spend time on.

One of the most common mistakes that technology focused startups do is not getting the appropriate help for Product Strategy and Marketing. These critical functions when done right can help in many ways, some of them being:
  1. Identifying the right customer and market segment.
  2. Building the right product by putting yourself in customers’ shoes.
  3. Putting the development team on right product development roadmap.
  4. Identify partnerships for expanding product offering and increasing product adoption with large customer base.
  5. Position the Product in a way so that customers of the product can relate to it.
If not done correctly and at the right time, lack of Product Strategy and Marketing can spell doom on the startup because…
  1. Team has built technology that the user doesn't want.
  2. The technology is cool but cannot be monetize
  3.  Team has run out of resources to make any course corrections.

If you are one of those technology focused entrepreneur, then I strongly recommend that you take a balanced approach and pull in experts where needed, when building your products and services, early on.

Remember you are sufficient for your idea, but call on experts for running a successful business built on that idea…

Monday, April 8, 2013

Leveraging Customer relationships as a Product Manager

There have been epics written on ways businesses should be:
1.     Identifying customers
2.     Acquiring new customers from competition
3.     Retaining customers
4.     Cross selling and up selling into existing customers 
5.     Leveraging Customers for expanding business

For a Product Manager, who has to deal with many internal and external entities, Customer is by far one of the most business critical entities that he has to deal with. And rightly so, since it's the customers who not only pay for your product but help in innovation, evangelizing product and most importantly give you the credibility to make the right product / business decision and the confidence to stand by it.

Every organization has different dynamics around customer management. Hence as a Product Manager, once you get into a new organization you have to feel your way into the customer management dynamics. Let’s focus on some of the common trends and techniques used for successfully getting a handle on building successful Customer relationships.

1.     Identifying Customers: One of the first and the foremost tasks is to identify the customer. There are two types of customer:
o    Internal Customer: These can be folks within in your organization who use your product or service to assist your external customer or use the product / service on behalf of your external customer. As a Product Manager you should give their voice a significant ear, since they can not only share their experience but also be a voice for external customer. Another benefit is that since they are part of your organization you can leverage them for beta testing, brain storming ideas, hand holding external customer and even for evangelizing products

o    External Customer: These are your paying customer. As a company you have made a promise to them for delivering a product / service and that must be kept. You should categorize the customers in terms of their value to the organization:
§  Revenue (current and potential)
§  Brand value
§  New market beach head
§  New geo beach head

2.   Initial Customer Contact: Initial customer contact is a crucial point in your relationship with the customer. Hence it is critical that you do all the necessary research on the customer account prior to the meeting whether it’s in person meeting or on the phone. The per-call prep can help you gain insights into customers:
o    Business
o    Current issues
o    Temperament
As part of this initial introduction to the Customer, you must establish credibility by highlighting your relevant past experiences and listen intently by being the fly on the wall. One the key things to remember is that as a Product Manager you must align and fit well into the Sales team dynamics, since they are typically the owner of the customer relationships.

     3.   Basic Ground Rules for Ongoing Customer Engagement: Once your initial introduction is done, managing the ongoing customer contact is delicate balancing  act. A customer managed properly can help take your product to the next level along with its revenue.

o    You must establish basic ground rules:
§  Reviewing meeting agenda with the sales team
§  Sending meeting agenda in advance to the customer
§  Follow through plan after the meeting
§  Set up meeting success criteria

o    You have to be careful not to overwhelm the Customer with long and frequent meetings since it can cause confusion and delay in reaching your goal. This is especially true when you and your Customers are geographically apart. Crisp, succinct and to the point conversation is critical for ongoing communication with any Customer.

o    Remember the Buddha story about teaching Nirvana to a starving disciple? As long as the disciple was starving, there was no way he would have been interested in learning about Nirvana. Similarly, focus on the immediate needs of your Customer before offering him advance solutions. Once you solve Customer’s immediate business problems, he will be interested in working with you since trust in the relationship is built.

o    It’s critical to set expectations when you have conversation with Customers. Typically, if you ask customers to share their pain points, they will open the floodgates and expect those pain points to be fixed immediately. Hence before asking the Customer to open the floodgates, you should make sure that you set the right Customer expectations so that Customer doesn’t loose interest and let down. No one wants to tell the same story again and again, especially if your organization is expected to fix at some point. This same principle goes for sharing product and services roadmap. You should help Customers understand that documents like these are for confidential and for directional purposes only.      
These basic principles for managing customer interaction will vary based on geography, industry vertical, business model, company size, number of products, product life cycle, etc. But, if followed consistently will take your business to the next level by forging long lasting relationships with your loyal Customers...