No Excuses Product Management (Part 3): I Have No Market Data

Please excuse the Cranky Product Manager with a long overdue post, to continue her “No Excuses Product Management” series.

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LAME-ASS PRODUCT MANAGEMENT EXCUSE #3: “I have no market data.  I don’t know the market size (or market share, competitor share, market growth, competitor features, or other relevant facts about the market) because there is no budget for market research.”

This excuse demonstrates a defeatist, passive, victim-ish attitude that the the Cranky PM always finds shocking in a product manager. Product Managers should have the OPPOSITE attitude.

When tripe like this is trotted out as a justification for not knowing basic market facts, well, The Cranky Product Manager’s Official Excuse-to-English Translator yields: “I don’t know how to use the Google. I’m not resourceful. I don’t know how to use SurveyMonkey or LinkedIn or email. I am uncomfortable with ambiguity. I have no idea how to make estimates (even though my two-year old learned how to do it from last week’s Sesame Street). I’m lazy. I expect someone else to do my job for me. I have no business judgment. I have no tolerance for risk. I don’t know how to dial the phone. I don’t care enough to put in the effort. I am, and always will be, merely a requirements monkey.”

The Cranky Product Manager sometimes hears this Lame Ass Excuse from former Proctor & Gamble-ish people who’ve given up the ivory tower life and are now “slumming it” in tech product management.

Sure, at P&G, the Market Research Fairy leaves conjoint analyses and detailed survey results under Brand Managers’ pillows (along with a few much-needed breath mints) a few times a week, and there is nary a question about the product or brand that is too minor (or too expensive) for P&G to research.  But you ain’t at P&G, are you?

Freshly-minted MBAs are also prone to trotted out this line of bull. Yes, we know your B-school professor told you that one-on-one interviews are no substitute for focus groups. And that focus groups are no substitute for surveys. And that if you’re going to do a survey, you better do it right with a sample size of at least n-hundred, a sample group that is exactly demographically representative of your target, and perfectly designed questions that have been psychographically proven to be 100% free of any trace of bias.  And this is why the Cranky PM loves hiring spankin’ new MBAs so much (for all you native Californians, we call this statement SARCASM).

Argh.  Here’s a NEWS BULLETIN for all you Rapunzels in CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) and all you shiny happy MBA grads: That ain’t life in tech,and probably never will be.  It ain’t life in any B2B industry, really.

In the world of tech, marketers don’t rule the roost, but instead technologists and former Sales Droids rule supreme.  In general (and yes, the Cranky PM realizes there are some exceptions), if a tech company has an extra $400K lying around (right!), it’ll probably hire a few more CodeBoys/Gurls or Droids, rather than ordering up a wicked huge market research study. 

You might think this tendency is dumb, dumb, dumb.  You might argue that without proper market research that your company will attack the wrong customer problems and will ultimately fail.  And you might be right.  No doubt, we could ALL use more “real” market research, especially about customer problems and whatnot. 

But guess what.  It ain’t gonna happen. This is tech, remember. Sure, you might get to do a bit of “real” market research now and then.  But it won’t be every year, and it will only cover a tiny fraction of the questions you need answered.  (After all, it’s a bit tougher to do a conjoint analysis on all the features of a CRM system than it is for a bag of flour. And since CPG companies spend big bucks to analyze flour, your dream conjoint study would probably cost a pretty penny – possibly more than your product’s revenue.)

So deal with it.  

Sure, continue to beg for that market research budget.  But in the extremely likely event you do not get it, do your own market research.  

Conduct your own customer interviews.  Use LinkedIn to find non-customers in your target market to interview.  Create you own surveys with SurveyMonkey, even though the questions will be imperfect and the respondents will undoubtedly be unrepresentative.  For market size estimates, create a model with high and low estimates, and fill in with data from as many distinct third party resources as you can find. Go at it top-down and then bottom-up – the answer is in the middle. Make adjustments based on reasonable assumptions. Be ingenious. Read everything you can. Talk to everyone who will talk to you.

Trust the Cranky Product Manager, you will learn something very important in this process.  Something you wouldn’t know if you just trotted out the Lame Excuse and punted on the research.  Something neither you, nor any of the CodeBoyz/Gurls, would have ever guessed.  

The endless quest for perfect research and perfect clarity is the enemy of the Product Manager.

As is the refusal to do any research because it would not be perfect enough to satisfy your Market Research Professor.

Taking action, based on reasonable though imperfect data, is the Product Manager’s friend.  80/20, baby.  80/20.

NO EXCUSES Product Management.  Try it, you might like it.

35 comments

  1. Tondin Banks

    Spot on! It is better to make decisions on ANY data than to make no decisions at all. If you’re not going to scroung around for data and the facts they contain, get out of the business.

  2. Matthew Glidden

    BAM! It’s so true, someone’s probably wrapping a whole “Surveying for Product Management 2.0″ technical course offering around your column this very minute.

  3. the Success Ladder

    Great article, thanks for sharing this. I have subscribed to your RSS feed and am looking forward to reading more from you.
    Keep up the good work and don’t stop posting please.

  4. Steve Johnson

    Sales people think 1 anecdote is data; developers want to survey humanity. Good product managers talk to a few people and then survey a bunch.

    Thanks for that hearty bitch-slap to all the defeatist, defeated product managers out there.

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