Building Products for the Enterprise is live!

I’m thrilled to announce that Building Products for the Enterprise is now on sale on Amazon. Ebook versions can be downloaded immediately, and hard copies have begun shipping:

We’re authors!

Ben and I wrote this book because we thought it needed to be written. In it, we’ve tried to make a worthwhile contribution to the product management literature out there. We hope you agree that it lives up to that goal. If you do, would you mind leaving a good review? They help. Thanks a lot!


What Product Managers Can Learn From Digital Analytics

The first phase of enterprise SaaS was taking all the stuff that used to run on-premises, putting it in the cloud and changing up the billing/business model. This has unlocked a tremendous amount of flexibility, innovation and improvement in enterprise software, ranging from design to security to cost-effectiveness. Enterprise SaaS product managers have long used product data and analytics to improve those products, but it’s often been surprisingly difficult to do so. I should know. Getting usage analytics on pretty much all of the cloud products I’ve ever managed has been way harder than it should be.

But that’s changing, and there’s a whole new crop of PMs out there using new tools that make it easier than ever to both get product analytic data and to put this user feedback to direct use in honing their products. In fact, I increasingly see similarities between where product managers are today and where marketers were about ten years ago. Marketing’s adoption of digital analytics tools holds a ton of important lessons for enterprise SaaS product managers today to learn from, particularly in terms of how to consume and properly derive insight from those tools and make their outputs actionable.

In this blog post, I decided to call in some outside expertise who’s participated in that evolution in marketing firsthand. I asked Nancy Koons, who is something of a celebrity in the digital analytics world, to talk about some of the lessons she’s learned applying analytics to marketing, which I find highly transferable to product. We traded emails on this for a while, and I’ve distilled our exchange in the points below.

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What little companies don’t get about big ones

I frequently see discussion about/advice for startups about dealing with big companies (“BigCos”). Hunter Walk at Homebrew has this great, widely-shared piece on how startups can avoid wasting their time with big companies, and Steven Sinofsky has tips on competing with BigCo (and he would know). This is all very smart advice, but the way “BigCo” is often presented also struck me as somewhat unfamiliar, especially in that idiosyncratically Silly Valley way.

I’ve spent most of my tech career at big companies, not at startups, and I think a lot of startupland lacks an appreciation for the “BigCo” perspective on things. This is unfortunate, since many of those startups aspire to either (1) get bought by one of the BigCos they spend so much time complaining about, or (2) become a BigCo themselves. So here’s a few things I wish they understood.

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Learning by doing

Recently, I took on a new challenge that has stretched my boundaries a bit. If you’re into product management, I recommend it to you, too. I opened a store.

Product management is one of those gigs where it just takes time and experience to build your skills. But like a lot of things in life, I’ve found that I’ve improved and gotten better not when times were easy and good, but rather when I’ve struggled. I’ve long said that the best training ground for becoming a product manager is not to hop right into working with a first-class, dominant product, but instead, to start in the bottom/middle of the pack, where you have to fight and scramble. My first PM gig was perfect in this way: we were fighting tooth and nail against a much larger, aggressive competitor on one end, and commoditizing, “free” solutions on the other. Interesting times.

Any product manager, but especially in enterprise software, has to try to build empathy with their users. We usually do this through tried-and-true methods like customer interviews, job shadowing, questionnaires, and many other forms of research. These are all effective when done well, but they’re really attempts to make up for the fact that most of us just don’t have the same experiential background that our users do. The career paths that lead into a software vendor’s product team and a retail brand’s digital marketing group are usually quite different. I’ve never run a digital analytics group for a major corporation, or a brand’s data science center, or a company’s digital marketing division, and nor have the vast majority of my peers. I know most of these folks’ pain points pretty well… but do I really get it? That’s been a nagging doubt that has always bugged me.

I was pondering this not long ago when an idea struck me. Why not open my own ecommerce store and give it a go myself?

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Build versus buy

One very common question that you run into when building enterprise software is customers who ask: why should we buy this stuff at all? Can’t we just build it ourselves?

The build-versus-buy debate is remarkably common. Companies of all sizes wrestle with it, albeit in different ways, in almost every industry when they start adopting new software tools into their operations. Obviously, there is no blanket rule that can apply to everyone’s situation. But after being directly involved in a bunch of these discussions, across a couple of different software markets, I thought I would write down some things that I wish decisionmakers looking at this issue understood better.

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Resources I’d recommend to new Product Managers

I get asked from time to time what resources I’d recommend a new-ish product manager consult to prepare for the job and level up quickly. I thought about it. Ben, my co-author on Make It So, and I have discussed this a few times. Here’s what I came up with.

Part of the reason why we wrote Make It So was, honestly, because there was really nothing out there we thought fit very well for the challenges enterprise product managers face. So check out the book when it comes out! But in the meantime, here’s some other stuff that will probably help too.

  • Product Management in Practice by Matt LeMay. I was a reviewer for Matt’s book, and can attest that this is an outstanding practical guide to what product management is and day-to-day skills that PMs need to master.
  • The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. An obvious classic. This is not really PM specific, but key background and foundational stuff to understand.
  • Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore. Ditto the above, plus this offers a really valuable framework for thinking about types of users and customers to target.
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. This gets into the business management/leadership stuff, but I found it extremely readable and informative.
  • Product Management for the Enterprise – this is a video course that I recorded for O’Reilly. (Disclosure: I get paid a little when you watch this whole course.) It’s aimed at people working in product management for enterprise software. I hit on some of the themes from the book in a more encapsulated format, though not all. I think I sound funny.

There is no shortage of leadership/management-y books out there in our space, including many better known than some of these. I’ve read a bunch of them, but personally have found many to be lacking in applicability to what we do, either in terms of not being terribly enterprise-relevant or being hyperfocused on the startup life, which I’m not in. But your mileage may vary.

If I think of more, I’ll add them!