Product Manage Your Website

  • You website is not just a tool, it is a service, and therefore a product.
  • Your prospects make buying decisions based on your website.
  • Your customers make repeat-buying decisions based on your website.
  • You risk losing future customers because of your website.

You Already Have Product Managers

You focus on a market, and based on the buyer personas and user personas in that market, you decide what products to create and what they will do.  If your product doesn’t match your buyer’s perceptions, you won’t sell it.  If your product doesn’t match your user’s expectations, you won’t sell them anything else, or sell anything to their friends.  As product managers, we do innumerable tasks to assure that we have the right products for our prospects and customers.  Why don’t our companies put the same effort into our websites?

Retailers Get it

Retailers get it.  They know that their website is the product that allows them to sell other products.  Amazon has product managers for its website, as well as other products (like Kindle and Video on Demand).  Newegg has product managers too, and their only product is the service of selling other products.  Why do many companies not get it?

I’ve worked with several larger clients in the past who viewed their website as a tool, as overhead.  A critical tool, yes, but a tool.  A mechanism for sales, just like a CRM system or an inventory management tool – it has to work, period.  It is all of those things, but it is a lot more.  When you sell products online, your website is how your customers see you, and how they see your products.  Your website shouldn’t just be a collection of technologies that grew out of engineering, supporting processes that have been “engineered for efficiency.”  Your website, assuming online presence is strategic for you (and if you’re reading this, and online isn’t strategic for you, please let me know, I’ll be shocked), should be developed with a strategy in mind.

Even Large Companies Can Change

I was recently working with a larger company who was changing their approach to their website (also known as their “online presence” and “online solutions”), re-aligning parts of their organization to allow them to product-manage their website.  There is a ton of work involved in changing how a large organization approaches this.  Changing how development of the website is prioritized, funded, managed, and executed.  Creating an explicit focus on markets and customers and partners, where before the focus was on features or capabilities.  Gaining insights into how competitors are serving those markets, and how the company needs to change – instead of telling the “other” product teams what choices they have for leveraging the tool.  Understanding the goals of your users – buyers, customers, prospects, and partners.  Incorporating the strategies of your business – the same strategies that drive your other products – into how you approach developing your website.

Here’s a litmus test.  When your company introduces a new product, or launches a new campaign, or enters a new market, does the team managing your website ask “what can we do?”  Or does that team say “here’s where you put the whitepapers; here’s what we need for product data; put your sku list and pricing rules in that system; your images must be this size.”

This isn’t directed at companies who’s product is their website like software-as-a-service companies.  This is focused on the companies who have other products, and treat their website like a tool or an asset.

By treating your website as an asset instead of a product, you create a liability instead of an opportunity.

I’ll be writing more in future articles about elements of product managing your website.  Some topics I may address:

  • Understand your markets.
  • Understand your buyers, customers, and prospects (and partners and internal users).
  • Understand your competitors.
  • Manage your internal stakeholders and their expectations.
  • Understand your distinctive competencies – what makes you better?
  • Understand your positioning – are there opportunities for thought leadership?
  • Understand technology – are there opportunities for technological advantage?
  • Assess your website as an element of a distribution strategy.

18 thoughts on “Product Manage Your Website

  1. Any transactional good is sold. It may not be sold for money. It may just be the selling of an idea. It might be a user-generated self-support forum. Regardless of whether the transactional good is information, goods, or services, someone still owns the P&L. That someone would be the product manager.

  2. I agree, in principle. However, if the person making all of the decisions for the website does not have P&L (profit and loss) responsibility for anything – managing the IT team as a “cost center” only, then there is no product manager. Or you could think of it as a latent, unfilled position with no open requisition.

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  5. Scott, I like your list of topics and think they capture many of the prerequisites to creating a good web site. In fact, I think they apply to almost all forms of marketing collateral.

  6. I finished reading the article and thought to myself that I totally agreed. Then I read the comments from Scott and it almost sounds like it’s an argument against his original idea.

    Nonetheless I still agree with the article. It makes sense to have a Product Manager controlling portions if not all of the website as it is in one way or another a revenue generation tool.

    1. @Roger – thanks! Yeah, it does make sense that these ideas apply to other outbound channels. Maybe the companies I’ve worked with get caught up in the “inbound” elements of the website and forget to do some of this stuff.

      @Haig – thanks, and welcome to Tyner Blain! My comment was definitely not clear. My point I guess is leading to an “org design” sub-topic of this. The website needs to be product-managed. I’ve worked with several companies where the websites are not being run by someone focused on the profit-impacts of their decisions, but only on the cost-impacts. Imagine what would happen to a product, if you only managed the cost-side of the equation – think you would gain many customers?

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  11. Scott, at USAA, we had product managers who handled the n-tiered services provided by other vendors. They had to manage things like change window and contact terms. They didn’t have any direct profitability. It was more a matter of the user experience.

    Every knowledge (content) transaction involves a conversion and a fulfillment. Every content transaction moves the reader across the sale funnel. The profit in a B2B enactment chain is a long time coming, but it is coming. Such enactment chains should not be indigenous or accidental. Eventually, revenue is generated.

    Open systems tend to find their profitability at their sidebands? But, the fundamental signal must still fulfill its customer’s need before the sidebands can be effective at generating revenue.

    Sure there is an attribution problem for deeper revenues, but the revenues are there, and the costs are there, so a product manager should be there.

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  14. I’m a huge fan of web site product management, and think it is a key success factor (after a compelling vision and the organizational support structures to maintain the site) that is often missed. Often, web sites are seen as one-time projects that are just “project” managed, rather than managed for overall ongoing quality and success.

    There are two aspects of product managing (at least large) web sites: product managing the external-facing site (so that the site does not quickly erode, and product managing the internal CMS / infrastructure (so that the system does not become unmanageable and therefore eventually impossible to satisfy site visitors In addition to product management, the overall decision structures need to be properly aligned. For example, a common issue is that the different factions of a large organization lobby and get effectively-duplicate subsites that are good for their ego but bad for the goals of the site.

    1. Hey David (jdavidhobbs on twitter), thanks for the great comment. I couldn’t agree more.

      The complexity of internal vs. external stakeholders for websites does make for an interesting turf-war in a lot of companies. The very visible engagement with customers makes this an ideal candidate for product management. The dependence on many internal business processes, combined with (typically) siloed “ownership” of content, positioning, branding, pricing (of the products displayed on the site) makes this a great project for business analysts.

      Kevin Brennan (bainsight on twitter) had a great conversation a couple weeks ago about product management and business analysis. Driving the vision and implementation of a website (or CMS or CRM system) is a great point for assertion of arguments on both sides. And a great example that demonstrates huge overlap in skills and responsibilities between the two mindsets/camps/careers.

      Thanks for sharing your really good article on CMS product management – folks should check it out. Your other link was broken.

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