Simple ideas aren't so simple

Sometimes I pine for the simple days of a single, great product. The product managers I meet are usually in an enterprise, B2B software world with a single sales force selling hundreds of products, each with its own message and value proposition. Product managers spend a disproportionate time selling to their sales people and then supporting each sale. Their web sites are a morass of links and it is truly difficult to find anything.

In some book I read recently (probably Good to Great) the author proposed that 250 people as the largest a company could be and remain effective. Beyond that, companies become internally focused and spend too much time talking to one another instead of to the market.

What got me thinking about this single product orientation is The Coffee Fool. They have a single value proposition: fresh coffee is better than store-bought. Period. Actually, they're not a "one product" company: they sell 30+ flavors of coffee. But they have positioned themselves as one thing, one product, one message: fresh coffee. The web site is humorous, easy to navigate, easy to use, and makes it easy to buy. They caution you to not buy or be forever dissatisfied with any other coffee. I've ordered some and I'll let you know if they keep the promise.

Could an enterprise company use this approach? First we'd need to organize our products into logical families or suites and then promote each with a single message. Most of all, we'd need the courage to keep it simple. Contrast the Yahoo! home page with Google's. Can you imagine how many product managers want their product featured on the Google home page? Yet someone there has the conviction to say no.

Could you use these techniques in marketing your products?

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success. 

Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.

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