Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Product Management: Attention is the scarcest resource.

I have a confession to make. I don't read all my emails. I don't even remember the last time my inbox was showing 0 unread message. I think it must have been back when I was in school using Pine to check my email over 14.4Kbps modem connection. Since then I practically gave up on keeping up with everything that came my way.

In my defense, large portion of those emails are hundreds of marketing promotions, notifications of one type or another, product announcements that I signed up but never cared to read, etc. But I'm even too lazy to clean them up. (Yes, I know there are tools out there to help, but that also takes time.)

Overflowing email inbox is just one of the symptoms of larger systemic problem. I simply don't have time to consume all the information available for me. Even if I wanted to, I now realize that I don't have time and energy or will to sit down and go through them all.

I open Twitter to get a couple of gulps from never-stopping torrent of live updates. I log on to Amazon Instant Video to choose a movie from many thousands of selections that can be immediately streamed to my iPad. (I hear Netflix has even more selections. Who knows what to do with ever expanding list to watch?) I google for any information that I want, and get millions of hits available with a click of mouse. I am inundated with information. I have way more than I can handle.

All these point to one thing. It is getting harder to share messages because our attention is getting scarcer.

This is a big problem for all entrepreneurs, sales and marketing people. Our coolest product announcement is yet another spam in the inbox that can be flat out ignored. I know because I have thousands of such emails in my inbox.

Then what can we do about them as sellers? How do we make our message stick out among sea of information?

1. Reframe our perspective: Our mission is to help people get ahead, not sell our widgets.

I just don't care for people pitching their ideas without having a clue about how my day goes around, what problems I have, what I spend the most time worrying about, and my goals for immediate and longer term future. Granted that sellers are not there to provide life coaching, but at the least I would expect them to first guess what kind of challenges I have, and offer the solutions around them.

Us sellers have to remember not to treat our customers like yet another account to close, but someone who we can help to get ahead.

This also means if we cannot help a customer, we may refer him to someone else who might be able to help him.

It's about whom we can help and how we can help them. It is not about us and our widgets.

2. Invest our own scarce resource: Spend our own attention on customers.

If we realize that our scarce resource is attention, then how could we expect customer to invest their resource to open up our automated spam mail that was generated by the latest marketing campaign program?

Before asking customer to invest their time and energy, spend our time to find out about customers and trying to understand what's bothering them the most. Pick a problem that we can solve for them, and talk to a few willing customers who need the solution now. Once customers understand that we are genuinely committed in helping them solve their problem, they will return the favor by investing their attention in us and our product.

Don't expect customers to start paying attention just because our product offers freemium model. Cost to customers is not zero because they have to go through the trouble of test driving our product.

3. Make personal relationship with customers.

No one likes to buy things from someone unknown. If I had a choice of buying from someone I know or someone I don't, I'll always go for someone I know. Even if I had to pay a bit more for the same product, I would choose to go with someone I know, provided that I like the seller.

It's the same reason why it's good to have a trusted mechanic. A mechanic who knows my car history and demonstrated trustworthiness with earlier work is a more attractive choice than trying to find someone new based on the lowest price or friend's recommendation each time. If I like the guy, it's an even easier choice for me.

Be a helper to customers first. Then become a friend to them. Earn their trust and build relationship that can last. It will pay for the investment itself and many times more by returned visits and their references.

Now even if marketers are doing all these, someone like me may not be the best person to market to. Only if I can share what my iPhone email client was showing the other day with all the spammers... (Luckily it turned out to be a bug that fixed itself shortly.)

Wow, 2.1 billion unread messages!
What did I do to deserve so much love!