Greg Westrick has over 20 years of experience in digital commerce, consistently developing top performing teams that deliver client success at companies such as Volusion, Oracle, Art Technology Group, marchFIRST, and CompuServe. He is an accomplished leader and mentor. In this article, Greg shares his unique take on what Sales Leaders expect from Product Management.
This interview series provides one-on-one mentorship sessions with top executives in the Product world. You’ll learn how they got to be where they are today, important lessons from their career, what they look for in a Product Manager, and more.
#1 Greg, thank you so much for taking the time. Please tell me about yourself.
I was fortunate to start my career in eCommerce with CompuServe back in 1992 and have held positions from development to product management to managing a P&L to client side roles over a twenty-plus-year career. I’ve also been afforded the opportunity to create, manage, be the consumer of, and sell eCommerce solutions along the way.
My tenure in sales, specifically, started in 2002/3, but really got going in 2006 when I joined Art Technology Group, Inc. (now Oracle). As a programmer early in my career, I wasn’t a big fan of sales in general. However, as I progressed into the business of technology, I came to realize that being in sales was like solving business problems from all angles: the customer, the end user, and the company I represented; every day, and at a high velocity.
#2 Tell me about Volusion and about your role in the company.
Volusion Inc. is a great story, and one that continues to evolve and disrupt the status quo for the benefit of our customers. Short story is that Volusion Inc. built the Volusion eCommerce platform 15 years ago to serve the needs of the entrepreneur and SMB market. 40,000+ customers later, and through constant innovation, Volusion eCommerce customers enjoy over 3x more revenue on their sites than comparable solutions.
However, Volusion Inc. didn’t stop there, and on January 13th, 2014, Volusion Inc. launched Mozu, built from the ground up in the post–smart-phone era to meet the commerce–everywhere needs of enterprise customers that are either struggling with the cumbersome on-premise solutions, or find that the more consumable solutions available lack the flexibility that Mozu’s API–First architecture affords. With the launch of Mozu, Volusion Inc. is focused on providing a portfolio of Commerce solutions in the omni-channel, omni-device era.
My role at Volusion is Mozu, and specifically to take Mozu to the market and ensure success from a customer perspective as well as the business success of Mozu.
#3 In your opinion, what does the ideal collaboration between Sales and Product Management look like? (including Sales enablement)
I love answering this question in today’s paradigm, and especially from my Mozu perspective. In previous experiences with Commerce solutions optimized to be deployed primarily with on-premise deployment models, collaboration between sales and product was more of a paradigm of sales “pushing” whatever the Product team produced. It was largely a behind–the–scenes relationship.
For instance, with older technologies and deployment models, sales (and thus the market) was rather limited in their ability to impact product direction given that the release cycles are 12-18 months to include innovation, and then it would be months if not years before the market could take advantage of innovation due to long upgrade cycles. This boxed the relationship into “pushing” what was available, versus being able to collaborate on what is possible, and quickly including that into the feedback loop and innovation cycle.
With Mozu, for example, as a SaaS solution offering multiple releases every year, this empowers sales to truly partner with product management and development to represent the market feedback from, and innovating ahead of, the market. The net result is that the collaboration between sales and product is front and center in the customer relationship as the roadblocks to innovation have been solved.
#4 What are the top skills you think every Product Manager should have?
My context for answering emanates from the belief that technology exists to solve for most of today’s, and tomorrow’s, opportunities. The difference maker is building in market listeners and establishing a thorough process of leveraging this feedback into the innovation map.
The best Product Managers ensure the feedback loop casts a broad and diverse net, are skilled at recognizing the important trends, and then have the vision to innovate to meet those trends in a way that solves for the today, and the tomorrow.
#5 You have had experience with both established and new products. What different considerations should Product Managers have when working on established vs new products?
This is an interesting question in today’s paradigms of solution development cycles and deployment models. I will try not to get too commercial here, but comparing older technologies to API–First technologies like Mozu, I view the line to be less between established versus new products, and more about whether or not the solution the Product Manager is innovating against is a closed solution, or an open solution.
In a closed solution, tremendous attention is required to ensure that innovation is backward compatible, has a deployment and upgrade path for customers, and generally is a function of working within the box that has been created.
With an open solution, the focus becomes more about ensuring that the core of the solution allows customers and partners to innovate as much as the product team itself. This is massively different than just thinking about adding features, as the ability to enable capabilities for the benefit of the ecosystem is just as critical, if not more important, in the agile world of today.
#6 You have also had experience in companies big and small. From a Sales perspective, what differences and challenges should Product Managers be aware of, based on the size and maturity of the company?
Resources to enable innovation are always finite, regardless of the size of the company. Obviously, with smaller companies, and especially ones that are launching new solutions, I believe it is key to focus on building out a strong, flexible core, and being very critical of the ‘applications’ that are built out from the core, versus what is enabled through integration with qualified third-party solutions.
As discussed before, if an extensible core exists, priority should be given to development against extending the power of the core to enable more innovation from the market (partners and customers) versus building out a large feature set.
I’m not suggesting that building out application features are not important, quite the contrary, however by prioritizing API–First (again, in the case of Mozu), this enables partners, customers, and your own internal development team to innovate faster, and in a more durable manner.
#7 Your industry, eCommerce, is very complex and fast paced. How can a Product Manager, new to the eCommerce industry, gain domain knowledge?
Come work at a company like Volusion! All joking aside (and I’m actually not really joking there), it’s one thing to read books, blogs, trade material, etc., and this is also important, but it is critical to get a focus on your end customer and the value chain to bringing that value to the customer, and the end consumer.
It’s an old saying, but if you start with the end in mind, your perspective changes. The “end” is the ultimate consumer. Your customer needs the tools, applications, and capabilities to meet the needs of their customer; as a product manager, live in the space between your customer and their customer, and then ask how your efforts are going to improve that space.
With that as context, if you are new to eCommerce and looking to gain domain knowledge, focus your research and investigation on the three KPIs that matter in between your customer and their customer:
- Attention (Visitors / Repeat Visitors)
- Conversion Rate
- Average Order Value (AOV)
If you read about, and seek to observe, how your solution can improve these three tried and true KPIs, and ask the ‘so what’ question around everything you do, you will start to hone in on what really matters, what is baseline, and what isn’t important. In the end, every solution (eCommerce, CRM, etc.) has a simple equation with a few key variables that drive the business for your customer and customer’s customer; finding this equation will anchor your efforts.
#8 To better understand Enterprise Sales, what do you think are some must-reads (books, blogs, etc.) for every Product Manager?
I actually hate this question! In general, I don’t read “sales” books. I like to read books that help me think differently, gain the customer perspective, or perhaps take my mind off the intensity of business in general to allow me to reflect.
More importantly, the sales process is just that: process. Many sales books focus on a ‘process’ that will produce results. And process is important, but mostly to ensure that proper mechanics are in place to govern the investment companies make in pursuing business, and to ensure that investment is being applied to customers that will realize success with the solution. But, the real value of having a solid sales process is to free one up from the mechanics to focus on truly understanding how your customer is trying to improve their business, and that of your customer’s customer.
Sales is all about ‘show me’ because the market asks every day to see a solution in action, or demonstrated in some way. Product Management is often about what a solution ‘can’ do. When Sales and Product Management get together, I have found it helpful to stay aligned and grounded by keeping in mind three questions:
- What can the solution do?
- How does it do it?
- Can you show me?
Therefore, the best way a Product Manager can learn about Sales is by working closely with them and empowering them to answer these 3 very important questions.
#9 There’s always a push-and-pull relationship between Sales and Product about driving a roadmap (mid- to long-term needs) vs building features that can close a deal today (immediate need). Can you give me your perspective on this dichotomy, from the Sales point-of-view?
Great question, and a classic of course. Ultimately, with very few exceptions, any individual deal should not significantly impact a true roadmap. Most customers (or prospects), while they want influence, want to know that they are investing in a solution that is going to innovate for them versus simply respond to what they want.
Further, if it is becoming commonplace to shift roadmap based on short-term prospect desires, something is off. Either the roadmap is wrong, the target market is not aligned with the solution benefits and capabilities, or there are simply some big holes in the solution that need to catch up / clean up.
I go back to the discussion around building the core to allow for flexibility to handle one-off requests as well. Customer needs can be unique, and engineering in flexibility for the 20% of the 80/20 rule is critical.
#10 If a Product Manager walked up to you asking for your advice and you only had a few minutes to give ‘em your best tip, what would it be?
Have you validated your thoughts against your market? Have you not only listened to what they are asking for directly, but also inferred what they need but haven’t asked for? Do you really understand what the market is challenged with, and what the reward is for them if they solve for it?
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