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Using Social Networking in Product Management

There are three categories of customers you should be talking to as a Product Manager: Current Customers, Evaluators, and Prospects.  If you have an established business, finding Current Customers to talk to should be easy.  Evaluators are slightly more problematic, but you can also access them via win/loss analysis.  Finding Prospects is always a challenge, but now finding them is easy if you know where to look.

Before you spend hours burning up Google, write down what you are looking for in a Prospect.  Are you looking for people who have the same characteristics as your current customer base?  People with certain demographics?  People with certain responsibilities in their organization (purchase authority, specific roles)?  If you don’t yet have a persona for your customers, this is a good place to start.  For example, in one of my current projects, I am looking for people that:

  • Are thinking about their organization’s IT security
  • Have purchase or recommend authority
  • Data is critical to their business or loss of data would be adverse, embarrassing, or force disclosure

That means I am targeting CIO’s, IT managers, and Security managers. Great – how do you find them? Traditionally, you meet them at trade shows, or you know them from past lives and keep a deep Rolodex, you have friends of friends, or you pay a market research firm to dig them up for you.  Some of those are OK, but in general they are either too slow, too expensive, too ineffective, or just suck.  There are better ways to connect with these people.

Everyone is online today, everyone who matters anyway.  If you’re a Product Manager working on products to sell into Africa, this might not apply to you – go hook up with the OLPC folks and get them online.  There are Billions of people online, and you must find a few needles in a very large haystack.  Thankfully, the tools you need are just a few clicks away.


I’ve written about LinkedIn before, in my changing jobs series.  In my opinion, there is no better tool for finding and connecting with people for business purposes.  Important to this conversation, you can search by title, company, and keyword.  To actually contact people you either have to have an direct or indirect connection and be introduced by a friend.  If you don’t have any connection through your network, you can use the “InMail” feature to send an email (more on this below).  The InMail feature costs money, and you can buy as needed or a monthly or annual subscription.  I recommend the subscription, and if you make your profile OpenLink enabled, it allows people to find you easily.  I often get contacts this way (aside: if you are a reader, please feel free to connect with me, just click the link to my profile on the right and mention this blog in your connection note so I know who you are!).


Blogs are a wonderful way to find Prospects.  Your Prospects read blogs that interest them, and since you grok your Prospects you have a pretty good idea about what they are reading.  If you don’t, ask your Current Customers what they read.  Go to these blogs yourself and read them, it will serve you in two ways.  First, you will increase your understanding of the pain points that your Prospects are having.  Second, the blogs you are reading are probably written by a Prospect, but more importantly Prospects are commenting on the blog posts.  The comments section is a goldmine for Prospects to talk to – and often times they link back to their own blog or email address.  Reach out to them over email (see below).


The business world has long dissed Facebook as a grafitti wall for college frat boys.  It is – but it’s also expanded into other audiences that you want to reach into.  Facebook has groups that you can join and access members, a great feature for Product Mangers.  Take my Prospect example above – I searched Facebook for “Information Security” and it returned more than five highly relevant groups with over 1500 members.  Think I can find a couple of good conversations out of that pool?  I do!


Twitter is the latest narcissistic social networking tool.  The signal to noise ratio is very high, but you can find gems on twitter.  Use twitter’s search tool to search on keywords that you think your Prospects will be talking about, e.g. “security.”  Once you find someone making an interesting comment, follow them for awhile and then decide if they’re worth contacting.

A Honeypot Blog

Honeypot blogs are blogs that you write for the purpose of attracting people that you want to meet.  Don’t start a blog, update it twice, and expect people to flock to you.  You need to “get it,” and stick with it.  If you start a blog, you need to provide valuable content to the people you want to reach.  Your blog must be a pitch free zone.  If you don’t know what to do here, first read about it, then consider hiring someone who knows their way around the blogging world.  It’s not that it’s hard, it’s that your mistakes get plastered all over the Internet, so you can’t make any.

Once you’ve used these tools to locate a pre-qualified Prospect, you need to make contact and convince them to talk with you.  In general, people don’t mind talking to Product Managers, but everyone is busy, and everyone is jaded since they get a million emails per day and most of them are spam.  You need to word your first contact very carefully or you will be immediately discarded as a salesperson.

This is the template that I use:

<Prospect Name>,

I found you online via <where you found them>.  My name is <your name>, and I am a Product Manager at <your company>, responsible for our <your product> products.  After reading your posts, I’d like to spend a few minutes with you listening to some of your challenges in <your product’s area, e.g. “security”> and your take on some ideas we have.

This isn’t a sales call; I am in Product Management and am only interested in building products that are interesting to people like you.

Could I give you a call?  When would be a good time for you?

<your name>

I’ve had good success with this and get a 30-50% hit rate of people writing back to me.  At that point you need to use your skills as a PM to qualify the Prospect further and decide if this is someone that you need to empathize with and listen to.  Be sure to follow up your meeting with a thank you email and send them a hat or t-shirt if you have the budget.

This approach won’t work for everyone.  Are all CEO’s and CIO’s on Facebook?  No.  There are only a couple of thousand of them in the World and every Marketing and Sales team everywhere has it in their goals to target them.  The good new for you is that your competition for their time is largely using interruption marketing techniques: banner ads, dead tree mailers, cold calls, etc.  If you can find them in their “native habitat,” or better, have them come to you, your chances for success go way up.

One last thing: never, ever, under any circumstances give your contact list to Sales.  I hope this is obvious. If you do, and Sales starts pitching someone who thought that they were talking to you in confidence, they will immediately assume that all of the gritty details that they shared with you are now in the Salesperson’s hands.  They will resent you and your company.  Remember that you found these people online, so where will they go to vent?  Exactly…

Good luck and good hunting!  I’m also interested in other ways you use to connect with Prospects, either online or off – reply in comments.

UPDATE: CrankyPM has a good post about how to build and use Customer Advisory Groups.  More relevant to your existing customers, but if you can get Potentials to them, you are my hero.

Cisco Marketing Has Gone Crazy…Like a Fox!

CiscoUsually, when a big company decides to get hip to the newest Marketing trend, it’s like watching your Dad trying to dance to hip-hop: painful. Cisco is as big as they come, so I was really skeptical when I heard that they were putting a full court press on Product Marketing in new media like blogs, SecondLife , and Facebook (companies != people, you’re not my “friend”). Plus, Cisco has already had some bumps in the road with regards to blogging.

On the web, knowing your limits is key, and keeping the message light and self-depreciating is a skill that most big-company Product Marketers don’t have. No one wants to read a blog about heavy specifications; it’s boring. Believe me, as someone who is (gulp) responsible for some of that Cisco datasheet content, I can attest to how dry it is. Collateral might accurately convey information, but how do you capture mindshare and get in front of people in the first place? You need a hook, and Cisco’s trying to use new media for this purpose.

Cisco Edge QuestOne innovative tactic Cisco’s using is an online game called Edge Quest. It’s silly, but fun – you “fly” a “hovering router” around a virtual arena picking up “packets” to upgrade your “ship.” It reminded me of Tron. Cisco is running an contest for $10,000 and new ASR router give-away for the highest score. Here’s what I see as the pros and cons:


  • It’s different; there aren’t a lot of these advergames out there yet, so people will play out of curiosity
  • iMedia Connection says that games like these offer better brand retention and key message absorption than other methods and…
  • Games engage us at an emotional level…the place every Marketer wants to be! As much as we’d like to think that buying, especially B2B purchasing is rational, it’s not. Remember the saying “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM?”


  • Routers and switches are complex, high tech devices. I’m all for boiling down to key messages, but are they devaluing the product by associating it with a game? Would this be more appropriate for Linksys?
  • Some people turn up their noses at games that are also try to “teach.” I think Cisco struck a good balance here, but some people will take any product info in the game as an affront. Dude – it’s free.

Overall I think this is a really cool idea and I’m curious to see how it goes.

The Cisco Team pinged me about answering some questions on this topic, so I’ll close with these:

How many hours do you game each week (sandbag accordingly if your boss will read this) and whats your favorite one?

I’d say about 4 hours. I’m known as a merciless killer on Team Fortress 2.

What do you consider your biggest accomplishment in your gaming life? (Come on, I know you have one! Mine was mastering the expert slope on the Intellivision ski game If only my actual skiing were a tenth as good)

The original NFL2K on Dreamcast had a bug where you could throw a long bomb to Randy Moss and get a touchdown every time. I exploited that and had over 200 points scored in each of 16 games against the computer, and ended the season with something like 20,000 yards and 450 TDs. Just like in real life!

How key is the speed and quality of your broadband connection when you play games, and how much (if any) would you be willing to pay your provider for a faster, better connection?

That’s a really interesting question, because 6 months ago I would have said “very important” and “yes.” Since then, I paid for the upgrade to RoadRunner Turbo, and I didn’t see much of a difference, so I went back to the standard package. I’ll still say yes, but only if I can get Japan-like speeds to my desktop. C’mon Cisco, make it happen!

I am sure youve seen lots of game contests where you play to win skins or stickers or a virtual t-shirt but have you ever participated in an online gaming tournament where the winner won money, and how much of a draw was this prize to encourage you to participate?

I’ve played in online tournaments before that had money as a prize, but never with the expectation that I’d actually compete for the top spot, it was always about the competition and beating my personal best. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it since I didn’t win.

What will you do with $10,000 if you win the tournament?

To quote one of my favorite lines from my RTFProduction professor, Richard Lewis, “I have multiple projects in various stages of development.” I’m sure they could all benefit!

Also if you win, what would you do with the Cisco ASR 1002?

I dream of the day that I would actually need a router like that.

We have a lively debate going in the office along the lines of fantasy edgequest (you can tell we tend to live this stuff.): One camp says the eventual winner will be a technical networking type (and game enthusiast) who loves Cisco, the other says that pro gamers will come in dominate the leader board. What say you which camp will dominate?

The Pros, absolutely. At this very moment there are teams training around the clock in China to win this contest. Of course they just want to win the ASR to reverse engineer it!

Our intent with this game is to find new ways to engage with our customers and to have fun in the process (not to create a separate gaming line of business for the Company!) Is it effective, do you know more about the Cisco ASR 1000 as a result of playing, and should we continue to engage you with such games in the future?

Granted that I’m not Cisco’s target persona for this product, but I say at least this is different. It’s worth a try to get the feedback and then evaluate. The risk is that IT managers probably don’t want all of their vendors sending games to fill up their employees in-boxes. That will quickly devolve into “I can’t fix her laptop, I’m ‘learning’ about routers!”

The ROI may be tough to measure, but the great thing about Web 2.0 marketing is that the “I” does not have to be large, so you can try lots of different tactics and find what works.

Full Disclosure: I used to work @ Cisco until 2006, and still have many friends there.