Should you care about prod­uct man­age­ment?

Af­ter all, you’re not sell­ing soap. Or are you?

Accounting Today - - Practiceresources - By Gale Crosley

In­no­va­tion is a siz­zling hot topic in our in­dus­try, the sub­ject of count­less ar­ti­cles, con­fer­ences and memos from man­ag­ing part­ners. Much of what I read and hear, how­ever, fo­cuses on how to be more in­no­va­tive, and fails to ad­dress the foun­da­tion upon which in­no­va­tion is built. And that is prod­uct man­age­ment.

Prod­uct man­age­ment is a func­tional dis­ci­pline that dates back to the mid-19th cen­tury, when com­pa­nies like Proc­ter and Gam­ble pi­o­neered con­sumer-fac­ing ap­proaches that re­main rel­e­vant to­day. Prod­uct man­age­ment com­prises prod­uct de­vel­op­ment and prod­uct mar­ket­ing.

Prod­uct man­agers, es­pe­cially in tech­nol­ogy, part­ner with en­gi­neers, mar­keters and oth­ers to align mar­ket needs with in­no­va­tive new ser­vices and suc­cess­fully com­mer­cial­ize the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s in­no­va­tions.

New re­al­i­ties, new rules

For decades, ac­count­ing firms have man­aged to suc­cess­fully ig­nore prod­uct man­age­ment. In the not-so-dis­tant past, busi­ness for gen­er­al­ist firms washed up onto the shore, with lit­tle-to-no ac­tive fish­ing re­quired. For a num­ber of rea­sons, in­clud­ing dis­rupted mar­ket con­di­tions and the tsunami of tech­nol­ogy rush­ing to­ward us, con­tin­u­ing to refuse to en­gage in prod­uct man­age­ment is no longer an op­tion for growth-minded firms. While it may not be as finely honed as in the cor­po­rate world, un­der­stand­ing and ex­e­cut­ing the ba­sics of prod­uct man­age­ment has be­come es­sen­tial as a way of keep­ing the “shiny new stuff” on the shelves as our in­dus­try con­tin­ues to evolve.

Prod­uct man­age­ment al­lows you to nav­i­gate the sea of tech­nol­ogy that is dis­rupt­ing the prac­tice of ac­count­ing, from ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, data an­a­lyt­ics and cy­ber­se­cu­rity, to con­tin­u­ous au­dit and blockchain.

Imag­ine that you’re tar­get­ing the in­sti­tu­tional health care mar­ket. Your re­search re­veals that data an­a­lyt­ics is a highly in-de­mand ser­vice in the sec­tor, with sig­nif­i­cant up­side po­ten­tial. In or­der to rec­og­nize this po­ten­tial for in­no­va­tion and gain skill in prod­uct man­age­ment you’ll need to:

De­velop a deep un­der­stand­ing of the busi­ness prob­lem you are solv­ing.

Clar­ify the per­sonas of the buyer and buyer group.

Un­der­stand which dis­tri­bu­tion chan­nels are en­gaged in the prob­lem/ so­lu­tion.

Ar­tic­u­late a def­i­ni­tion and de­sign for the ser­vice.

Launch a suc­cess­ful early adopter pro­gram that will al­low in­cre­men­tal and col­lab­o­ra­tive ex­e­cu­tion.

Sell­ing soap

While our “prod­ucts” are vastly dif­fer­ent, ac­coun­tants have a lot to learn from the mak­ers of soap and ra­zors. P&G, home of iconic brands in­clud­ing Tide, Crest, Gil­lette and Olay, cham­pi­oned the idea of fash­ion­ing prod­ucts around what con­sumers want, and re­fash­ion­ing those of­fer­ings as wants evolved. Con­sider the ex­am­ple of Tide Pods. In 2012, P&G iden­ti­fied the fact that con­sumers had ap­par­ently be­come too time-strapped to mea­sure out laun­dry de­ter­gent. In re­sponse, the com­pany in­tro­duced and ag­gres­sively mar­keted a pre-mea­sured pod. In­no­va­tion with a cap­i­tal “I.”

This abil­ity to in­no­vate around shift­ing pri­or­i­ties has been el­e­vated with­out limit in the B-to-b tech sphere. Ap­ple, Google and oth­ers strive not only to un­der­stand and re­spond to con­sumer needs, but to an­tic­i­pate them and de­liver rel­e­vant prod­uct so­lu­tions. Iron­i­cally, the very tech­nolo­gies that are dis­rupt­ing our prac­tice of­fer a model for how to ad­dress dis­rup­tion.

Two lit­tle words

Whether we pat­tern our­selves af­ter mak­ers of B-to-c soap, or B-to-b soft­ware, CPA firms need to per­fect the process of fore­see­ing buy­ers’ needs, align­ing them with of­fer­ings at the mar­ket level and driv­ing their com­mer­cial­iza­tion. In two words — prod­uct man­age­ment.

So how do you de­velop this es­sen­tial skill? You can read my ar­ti­cles (thank you!), at­tend con­fer­ences, and talk to peo­ple within and out­side the field of ac­count­ing who are suc­cess­fully do­ing this. Seek them out at sem­i­nars, on so­cial me­dia, or wher­ever they re­side. Learn to look at the mar­ket from the out­side in. This means ask­ing what the mar­ket wants or needs first, rather than look­ing from the in­side out, which means cre­at­ing an of­fer­ing based on what you be­lieve some­one else needs. I first learned this key dis­tinc­tion at IBM in the 1980s, when I was a prod­uct man­ager there.

In­vest in­cre­men­tally so that, if it be­comes nec­es­sary to pull the plug at a given mo­ment, you can do so with­out sig­nif­i­cant loss. Be your own critic. Seek out flaws in your thought process about what the mar­ket wants un­til you get it right.

Yes, we must con­tinue to in­no­vate. But we need to do it through the proven dis­ci­pline of prod­uct man­age­ment.

Re­mem­ber the Tide pod and dream big.


Gale Crosley, CPA, con­sults with ac­count­ing firms on rev­enue growth. Reach her at [email protected] crosl­ey­

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