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The Irony of Product Managers Struggling to Sell Themselves!

Author : Dilip Saraf

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One of the interesting ironies I encounter frequently in my career coaching is when product managers come to me and are not able to concisely and compellingly tell me about what their value proposition is. A value proposition is not about your job description; rather it is about how you do that job differently. This realization occurs even before we get into the business of positioning themselves for their next job, promotion, or change in how they engage in their role as product managers. The same irony repeats for those in marketing.

Why is this ironic? The essence of a product managers job is to be able to capture the soul of what a product does and to articulate that in verbal or other terms so that the targeted audience can get fired up about buying it, owning it, or experiencing its value (outbound product manager). Its flip side is to identify what market needs out there can be met by defining a non-existing product through a creative process of product generation. This is the inbound product manager. In many companies these roles are blended and are done by the same person.

Either way, a person steeped in the discipline of product management (inbound or outbound) should be able to see themselves as a product that can be marketed in the targeted job market or repackage that very product to target some unmet need in the existing or emerging market.

The problem is not as simple as it appears!

When I ask them bluntly as they struggle to articulate their message why they are not able to see themselves with a clear value proposition and what they are offering in the targeted job market as a product, their refrain is that their lost objectivity about themselves prevents them from seeing how they create and deliver value in a differentiated way.


After many such encounters Ive come to the conclusion that it is not so much their loss of objectivity about themselves that blocks them from articulating their true value or engaging in an exercise of redefining their value to address a new market opportunity (another job), but that it is their inability to clearly translate their features as compelling benefits they will deliver in their next role to their employer.

Let me explain:

If you ask anyone in product or marketing function they will emphatically tell you that what sells is not the features you tout in your product, but the benefits the customer receives from them. Simple enough, right? Yet for their own message they are not able to translate this insight into a practice that serves them in either inbound or outbound reinvention. To make my point let us take some examples and see how this can be made an object lesson for a product manager (or anyone else for that matter trying to sell themselves).

Let us start with an everyday example of a smart phoneFeature: Our next product release will be based on a chip with the new security standard and a low-noise front-end. Benefit: This new smart phone will be immune to hacking and will drop fewer calls.

The same theme repeats when a product manager is developing their message to market themselves. So, instead of touting that you bring 15 years experience in high-tech product management and boasting that you generated nearly $1B in revenues from different products that you managed, say: During 15 years, working as product manager in diverse verticals ranging from EDA products to enterprise infrastructure IT solutions, consistently delivered revenues that exceeded objectives immediately after products releases. What this statements trumpets is your benefit to the hiring manager that despite the different verticals in which you managed the products, you have (not, had) the ability to capture the market and to deliver beyond what you promise. So, if you are now moving from being a product manager of enterprise infrastructure products to some other new vertical, your message is more likely to resonate with the hiring manger.

Yet another feature example can be when you claim how customers trust you. Product Managers are fond of using the threadbare phrase, Trusted Advisor in their rsums to tout this feature. Instead, try its benefit to the hiring manager: Understanding customers business demands and tying their urgent needs to how a product could help them meet that need often resulted in much shorter sales cycles (typically 50%) and exceeding revenues (typically 30%), which also made up-selling easier and quicker. Remember, Trust is a feature; its benefit is shorter sales cycles, bigger revenues, and customer engagement.

So, there you have it! This verbal strategy is not only limited to those in product management or in marketing, but for anyone who is trying to sell themselves. The reason I stated this case with Product Managers as my focus is because even for those whose livelihood depends on understanding the difference between Features and Benefits in how they can sell their products, fail to apply the same strategy to their own ends. So, now you know what to do and what not to!

Good luck!

About Author
Dilip has distinguished himself as LinkedIn’s #1 career coach from among a global pool of over 1,000 peers ever since LinkedIn started ranking them professionally (LinkedIn selected 23 categories of professionals for this ranking and published this ranking from 2006 until 2012). Having worked with over 6,000 clients from all walks of professions and having worked with nearly the entire spectrum of age groups—from high-school graduates about to enter college to those in their 70s, not knowing what to do with their retirement—Dilip has developed a unique approach to bringing meaning to their professional and personal lives. Dilip’s professional success lies in his ability to codify what he has learned in his own varied life (he has changed careers four times and is currently in his fifth) and from those of his clients, and to apply the essence of that learning to each coaching situation.

After getting his B.Tech. (Honors) from IIT-Bombay and Master’s in electrical engineering(MSEE) from Stanford University, Dilip worked at various organizations, starting as an individual contributor and then progressing to head an engineering organization of a division of a high-tech company, with $2B in sales, in California’s Silicon Valley. His current interest in coaching resulted from his career experiences spanning nearly four decades, at four very diverse organizations–and industries, including a major conglomerate in India, and from what it takes to re-invent oneself time and again, especially after a lay-off and with constraints that are beyond your control.

During the 45-plus years since his graduation, Dilip has reinvented himself time and again to explore new career horizons. When he left the corporate world, as head of engineering of a technology company, he started his own technology consulting business, helping high-tech and biotech companies streamline their product development processes. Dilip’s third career was working as a marketing consultant helping Fortune-500 companies dramatically improve their sales, based on a novel concept. It is during this work that Dilip realized that the greatest challenge most corporations face is available leadership resources and effectiveness; too many followers looking up to rudderless leadership.

Dilip then decided to work with corporations helping them understand the leadership process and how to increase leadership effectiveness at every level. Soon afterwards, when the job-market tanked in Silicon Valley in 2001, Dilip changed his career track yet again and decided to work initially with many high-tech refugees, who wanted expert guidance in their reinvention and reemployment. Quickly, Dilip expanded his practice to help professionals from all walks of life.

Now in his fifth career, Dilip works with professionals in the Silicon Valley and around the world helping with reinvention to get their dream jobs or vocations. As a career counselor and life coach, Dilip’s focus has been career transitions for professionals at all levels and engaging them in a purposeful pursuit. Working with them, he has developed many groundbreaking approaches to career transition that are now published in five books, his weekly blogs, and hundreds of articles. He has worked with those looking for a change in their careers–re-invention–and jobs at levels ranging from CEOs to hospital orderlies. He has developed numerous seminars and workshops to complement his individual coaching for helping others with making career and life transitions.

Dilip’s central theme in his practice is to help clients discover their latent genius and then build a value proposition around it to articulate a strong verbal brand.

Throughout this journey, Dilip has come up with many groundbreaking practices such as an Inductive Résumé and the Genius Extraction Tool. Dilip owns two patents, has two publications in the Harvard Business Review and has led a CEO roundtable for Chief Executive on Customer Loyalty. Both Amazon and B&N list numerous reviews on his five books. Dilip is also listed in Who’s Who, has appeared several times on CNN Headline News/Comcast Local Edition, as well as in the San Francisco Chronicle in its career columns. Dilip is a contributing writer to several publications. Dilip is a sought-after speaker at public and private forums on jobs, careers, leadership challenges, and how to be an effective leader.



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