Typical – Pricing

CalculatorWith my abundance of spare time lately, I have been picking up some of the books I have on a variety of business topics. Books that I have skimmed or have done some spear fishing for in the past when I needed to quickly get up to speed.

As one of the core tasks of product management, pricing has always been somewhat of a challenge. Not the act of setting prices, although at some places I have been, that can be quite cumbersome, the hurdles and barriers put in place. No, the challenge is more on how to determine the reference price, and what “value” your differentiation brings to the plate and how to put a price on that.

One of the chapters in the book I am reading “The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing” is on the financial analysis around pricing. Cool, I have a degree in physics, and I love love mathematics. Right up my alley. So the big example is to calculate a break even table and graph for what happens when you reduce the price.

Conceptually, it is simple, you figure out the variable costs per unit, the number of units, calculate the contribution margin, and then figure out how many more units you need to sell so that your price reduction is profitable.

Me, being a physicist, mathematics geek, I look at how to make it more difficult than it is. I am building elaborate excel spreadsheets, doing regression analysis, and not quite getting it.

Then I go old school. I get pencil and paper out, my trusty HP-41C out and manually do the math.

Damn, I was making it far more difficult than it needed to be. It wasn’t even requiring algebra to get answers.

Curse my geek-y side.

The Dreaded Zombie Product

At every company I have been at with some history (more than a decade or two), I have found there to be at least one product that is long beyond the “Milk it” stage. Orders have dropped off, and customers have moved to either a different technology, or into a replacement product. Of course, you still get the occasional batch of orders for it, thus the hesitancy to discontinue it formally.

The development of a product should follow a lifecycle from investigation, definition, to alpha, then beta and production. You will note that I didn’t say “and finally, production”, that is because there is one more phase that is difficult to actually achieve, obsolescence or discontinuance. Continue reading →

Strategic Marketing Definition

The words “Strategic Marketing” evokes grand ideas and concepts. But as with many phrases, there is more than a little bit of ambiguity in the perception of those who hear it. Different groups within the organization will likely have quite different interpretations of “Strategic Marketing


When Sales hears the term “Strategic Marketing,” they think that means helping them sell more to what they know they can sell, focusing on the obvious, proven strengths and strong markets. They think of you helping them find more opportunities that are invisible today. Continue reading →

Managing un-sexy products

If you follow the #prodmgmt or #prodmktg hashtags on Twitter, and the ever increasing variety of product management blogs, it would seem like every product management job is some leading edge, hyper tech start up product that is positioned to be the next Facebook, (or Dropbox, or {insert cool cloud technology}).  However, it is much more likely that you work at a company that has a history, and that you will find yourself managing a ho-hum product, in a market that you may not be super excited about.

Example:  A foolish mistake on a recent trip found me without my toilet kit.  Yep, I forgot it hung in the bathroom.  Apart from my electric shaver, there wasn’t anything worth crying about.  But it did mean I needed to replace my shaver.  Bummer. Continue reading →

Product Management Truths

Being in the product management / product marketing game a long time, these are some truths that have been constants across my career. Time and time again, there are the same challenges, and I suspect that many of you have similar or related tales. This is by far not a complete list, but it is a start.

Here goes: Continue reading →

Five little words

Five little words. “That feature doesn’t sell products“. Seems innocuous enough, but it is the death of product development when uttered by engineering.

Product Management is tasked with defining what a product should do, what features are needed, and how to compare/differentiate vis-a-vis with the competitors. We write requirements, and guide them into and through the development process.

All to have engineering remove features that they don’t believe drive value. Unfortunately, engineering often isn’t cognizant the concept of “whole product“. That beyond the core widget are the services and traits of the product that extend the offering, and provide the unique value proposition, thus enticing the customer to choose to purchase your product or service. Continue reading →

Attributes of a Product Manager

The role of Product Manager is demanding in any organization. The list of what it takes to be successful is long, and daunting. A great product manager is a great communicator, has technical chops, can climb enormous learning curves with ease, and can contribute at all levels in the organization, from the production floor to the C-suite.

Often I am asked “Where do you find good product management candidates?” or “How do I become a product manager?”. Not easy questions to answer, and I have posts elsewhere to answer specifically. Continue reading →

Powerpoint HELL

Powerpoint HellNext week we have a sales meeting, and I have three hours of presentations scheduled (since I had control of the schedule, I was able to not do 15 hours of presentations in 3 days like the last meeting). Naturally, I am way behind on preparations. This is no surprise. So I am working the weekend.

But why is it that it takes at least 15 – 20 hours to prepare the slides for 3 hours? I swear it isn’t so much that I have to create from whole cloth, but most is repurposed, and reused. But it still takes five to seven times the time it takes to present to prepare.

Sigh, the life of a mid level product marketing person.

Linked in bullcrap

I have ranted often about LinkedIn, from their desire to be a destination as often and for as much time as Facebook, a tall order indeed. Many of the people I know in Marketing are hailing it as the B2B marketing platform, praising the blogs, the opinion leaders they have recruited, and the communities that can be created.

I naturally have a LinkedIn profile, and I am a member to many of these communities that are relevant to my field, and I will admit that there are some interesting discussions. But there is a downside. First is the volume of notifications. Holy moly, my social tab of my Gmail account must get 30+ notification emails a day (I am sure there is a way to turn that off, but like facebook, LinkedIn doesn’t make things like that easy). And they are mostly lame.

Continue reading →

Travel Horror Stories

Product management and product marketing are two fields where you can expect to travel often. Unlike sales, who usually have a territory, we cover the world and are called to travel widely.

Horror StoriesEvery one of these jobs I have been in has advertised 25% of travel. And every one of them has underestimated the percentage of travel required.

Pro-tip: If they tell you while interviewing that you will travel less than 25%, they don’t know what product management is.

Yes, we travel a lot, to a lot of places. Our IRL friends often think this is glamorous, and it was the first couple of years. But then it becomes a grind.

Fortunately, most travel is innocuous, and you are more likely to die of boredom waiting for planes, trains and automobiles than have a hair raising experience.

Thus, when something goes wrong, it will be a disaster:

Travel Agent Insanity

Today, most of my domestic travel I handle with the web based reservation system. It is usually efficient, and I have some control.

However, it hasn’t always been like that. When I first started in this career, we were at the mercy of the corporate travel agency. Being people, and having an “interest” in how they processed our travel, they would direct us to their preferred carriers and hotels (nb: places that gave them a commission or kickback)

Today it is better, but incompetence still rules the day. Some blunders:

Tickets not issued: this really happened. Circa 1999, I was flying to Japan in February to present a paper at a technical conference (I used to be really really smart). I booked the trip in November once I knew the paper had been accepted, knowing that I needed to be in Tokyo. At this time, I was quoted a pretty good fare (I don’t recall ever spending more than $800 round trip from SFO to NRT until 2006 or so).

So far so good.

I get to SFO on Saturday to catch my flight. I check in, and the counter agent sees my reservation but it wasn’t ticketed. apparently the agency didn’t ticket it because they thought I might not travel. So, it is Saturday, about 90 minutes before boarding time, and I am on the phone (on hold) waiting for an agent. Mind you this is in queue at the check-in counter, as I had no cell phone then. Then I get the message that I had been on hold for the maximum time they allowed for customer satisfaction purposes, that I could leave a message and an agent would get back to me.

Excuse me, I am at the airport, 90 minutes before my flight, I have a reservation, but the ticket was never purchased, and instead of answering the fucking phone, you dump me to voicemail?

Fortunately, I called our group administrative assistant at home, who got on the priority line and got my ticket purchased.

Today, I would just whip out a card and buy the ticket, but back then, if it wasn’t charged to the corporate card, it wouldn’t be reimbursed.

Going home wasn’t an option, as we co-wrote the paper with a large semiconductor manufacturer whose name begins with ‘i’, and is the largest IDM maker in the world.

Stupid routing: Once I was traveling to Busan South Korea from my home in Tucson Arizona. The way the ticket worked was that I flew through LAX to NRT, then switched carriers to get to Busan. I thought nothing of it when I booked the ticket.

I get to the airport to check in, and I get my ticket to Tokyo, but since the carrier from Tokyo to Busan was different, I needed to check in there. No big deal.

Except that it was a big deal. Apparently, you can’t check in more than 24 hours in advance, and I missed that by about 3 hours.

So, I get to Tokyo, needing to catch a flight to Busan, and I have 45 minutes between flights. A legal connection my idiot travel agent swears.

What I had to do: Land in Tokyo, go through customs, pick up my bags, go to the check-in counter at the other airline, check-in, go through immigration control and security, and board my plane. All in about 45 minutes.

Yes I made it, but the stress was incredible. And the irony is that the travel agent didn’t understand why it was stupid. And his fault.

Botched Instructions: One time, I was on a trip to California. I was in meetings, and supposed to return on Thursday. But I needed to extend the trip a day. So I called the travel agency and had them change my flight out on Thursday to be Friday. Seemed clear to me.

bzzzt: Wrong answer. The doofus travel agent canceled my return trip, and canceled my flight to Austin, TX the following Monday. So I had a trip with a flight into San Jose, and returning from Austin the following Friday (and I was already in San Jose). Nothing in the middle.

When I called up livid, he said he thought I wanted to cancel my return from San Jose and my flight to Austin.

I asked him if he thought how I was to get from San Jose to Austin, he thought I would just drive. Just 1,716 miles by road. Idiot.

Ended up re-booking my return, and my entire Austin trip. Of course < 6 day advanced notice meant that my return from San Jose was $800 (when my entire ticket was $250 before), and my trip to Austin was $1,400 (when it was $300 RT before he messed it up).

Naturally my boss wasn’t amused. Neither was I.

Canceled Flights and missed connections

Nothing is worse than that sinking feeling when you are going to miss a flight. Perhaps a meeting ran long. Or traffic snarls prevent you from getting to the airport. Whatever the reason, it can be a sucky day.

Those are things that you ultimately have some control over. But there are a class of insanity that will screw you even if you do it all right.

Canceled Flights: It used to be that flights were never canceled unless there was a DGR (damned good reason). A DGR would be a Typhoon headed for your destination. Or a plane crashed on the runway at an airport. Rare, and special.

But now the carriers are maximizing their revenue by ensuring that seats are filled. All too often, an underutilized flight will be canceled, and the luckless passengers will be crammed into the next flight. This happens all the time now (cough US-Air cough, cough United cough). Last month I got my ass out of bed at 3:30 to catch a 6:30 flight to be in San Jose by 8:30. Of course, they canceled my 6:30 flight due to “mechanical” troubles (the trouble being that it was only about a quarter full), and instead crammed us all into the 8:30 flight. Got to San Jose at 11:30 (one stop instead of non-stop).

This used to happen a lot when I lived in Tucson. United would get you to Phoenix, then cancel the last flight to Tucson at night, so you would end up renting a car and driving the 2 hours home.

Even Southwest, a carrier that almost never canceled flights is getting into the game.

The worst one for me was a flight to Dublin (via London). British Airways, direct from PHX to LHR. Departs at 9:00PM. Except that when I got to the airport, it was delayed 6 hours, and wouldn’t depart until 4:00AM. Of course, that fouled up my connecting flight, so I got to stay in the LHR hotel, and get up at 4:00AM to catch the first flight to Dublin. Fun.

Once, I was flying to Taiwan. There was a Typhoon, but as I checked in for my first flight to Tokyo, the agent said all was well, that the Typhoon wouldn’t interfere. Lies. The typhoon camped out on the Taiwan island for several hours, so I got to spend a night at the Narita airport, before getting on a plane at 5:00AM specially for us to get to Taiwan the next day.

Missed Flights: Of course, since flights are fuller, and the advent of baggage fees means that people are trying to carry on way too much baggage, this makes for fun if you happen to miss a flight.

It used to be (and as an elite traveler) pretty simple to get on another flight later. But this is no longer true or applicable. If you miss a flight, it will often take 5 or 6 hours, and as likely as not a bizarre connection to get home. Oh, and if you miss an evening flight, I hope you enjoy the hotel they put you up in.

This usually means that you get to spend some quality time at the customer service desk. It can be entertaining to see the people in front of you reading the riot act to the customer service personnel, but it really isn’t helpful to yell at them. They didn’t make the plane late, or decide to cancel the flight. They are victims as much as you are. Be polite to them, and they may give you an extra meal voucher.


When you put as many miles on as a typical product manager, you are bound to experience the best and worst of travel. At one point I flew so much international United Airlines flights that I got free upgrades to business class almost every flight. That was choice. Of course it no longer happens.

With the advent of telepresence and webcasts, the demise of the need to travel has been foretold, but in the end, a good fraction of what I do requires making personal connections, and that means going out to visit customers in their native environments.

As long as I will be traveling, I am certain I will continue to amass horror stories.