Contrasting the Traits of Good Product Managers & Competitive Intelligence Managers

Barbara Tallent

Barbara Tallent

Yesterday I listened to Barbara Tallent of LiveBinders deliver “Why are there so few good product managers: a CEO’s Perspective.” She has been both a CEO and product manager and had interviewed 6 CEOs to prepare for this webinar. As I listened, I couldn’t help but put on my competitive intelligence hat, as many of the traits that make a good product manager also make a good competitive intelligence manager. Yet the jobs are so different!

Product managers have all the responsibility for the product, yet none of the authority. The best product managers need to understand the customer’s world. Don’t filter customer’s input based on what you believe. A common question product managers ask executives is “what keeping you up at night?” to get focused on what the executive needs immediately. That is the same question I ask executives during the competitive intelligence needs analysis process, and for the same reasons.

Another big one was LISTEN. While you need to be an excellent communicator and deliver insightful and engaging presentations, you need to know when to stand back and listen.  That is a key competitive intelligence skill as well, and one of my key cooperative intelligence practices, since in any profession our communication too often is expressing our opinions without carefully listening to the other person.

Don’t let the appearance of process become more important than the outcome! Your career will advance once you prove yourself, just not today! Put the success of your product first and your career will follow!

Desirable traits for product managers include good communication, smart, articulate and dogged. I would add “curious” for a competitive intelligence professional since we do a lot of digging!

Here is what was different. While CEOs may be critical of product managers, they expect future leaders to have product management experience. Product management is more a career advancing position.  Product managers typically look to round out their background, so after a few years in the job are more apt to take jobs in marketing or development–somewhere new that moves them up the organization. Few competitive intelligence professionals have a progressive career path. And CEOs don’t look for leadership to have competitive intelligence experience!

Like product managers, competitive intelligence professionals rely on others in their company for support who do not report to them. Both jobs require that delicate balance of gaining cooperation from others by pushing the organization where it needs to go while being constructive and NOT creating an adversarial role with other people. Product managers focus on a product or service. Competitive intelligence professionals often do damage control and prevent companies from making the wrong moves and present opportunities for growth.

Competitive intelligence is a behind the scenes profession whereas product management is a visible position. Every company has product managers, and everyone knows what product management is. Many don’t know what competitive intelligence is, or who is spearheading the company’s initiative. In this weak economy many companies have laid off their competitive intelligence managers, so various employees in sales, marketing, product management, strategic planning, R&D and engineering are doing competitive intelligence as part of their job, and more companies are outsourcing competitive intelligence: they are not outsourcing product management!

Ryma provides free weekly webinars on topics of interest to product managers, open to anyone. If you miss a webinar, you can listen to it later as the sessions are taped and slides are included.

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2 Responses

  1. Ellen,

    Nice comparison. Your points make good sense. The observation that product management is viewed as a core and essential function is true in my experience. It often includes a measure of competitive intelligence just as it includes some financial, market research, product development and other things.

    The CI problem is that CI rarely stands alone especially when there is a choice between it and a core function like product management. The value from a dedicated CI professional is often not seen as meaningfully distinctive from what an “amateur” can do (no disrespect to product managers who are often quite smart and capable).

    Maybe there are two reasons. One, we might be too satisfied to be behind the scenes people. We work through and with people but this can be missed or devalued easily. Second, we market our distinctiveness poorly. Why use a CI specialist when a product management generalist appears to do everything that is necessary? Or do they?

    — Tom Hawes

  2. I think CI people always can add insight that product managers miss since our focus isn’t getting the product out to our customers. It’s digging up new opportunities; building on products or saving our companies from making bad investments.

    I think as a whole, we in CI are not good at marketing, and that is what’s behind cooperative intelligence: bascially marketing yourself almost indirectly by displaying an openly cooperative attitude and being a giver through leadership: managing by example and delivering when you say you’re going to; connection: recognizing the value of each connection and realizing that relationships don’t happen, you have to work at them one at time; and communication: the key to success: figuring out what they need to know and how they need it delivered, which is ongoing. Unfortunately with many in CI, we aren’t in our client’s faces enough to realize how quickly our information from them about their needs becomes outdated. We don’t have the confidence to stay in touch.

    What have you noticed? I think we have a lot to talk about, Tom!

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