Friday, April 10, 2009

motivation: the hidden lever

We spend an awful lot of time in ack/nak land talking about  personas and value propositions  and handling sales and where you can go to find poutine in Chicago.  You know, important stuff.  Such is the rich tapestry of life we weave together.

What we've never spoken about is motivation.  

Those of you who stayed awake through your psychology classes will recall that motivation is an internal process that makes a person move toward a goal.  The Wikipedia have a nice article on it you can read if you want more than my ham-fisted definition.

The enlightened product manager is very interested in motivation.  

Practitioners of the product management craft are used to saying things like "we want to build products that people want to buy" and "we want to meet needs that are pervasive, urgent and which people are willing to spend money to fix".   These are all true and good.

The keywords in the aforementioned statements are "want" and "urgent".   Without getting in to too much trouble, I'd like to suggest that forming a deep understanding of how these two concepts relate to each other in the mind of the buyer (and by association the target market as a whole) formulate a good-enough model for motivation.

The only way to find out about these is to actually talk to people.  You, on your own, inside your head or in the company of your coworkers, will not be able to accurately model what motivates your buyer.  You have to talk to people.  Not email them or survey them.  

Talk.  To lots of them.  Yourself.

"But why?  Can't we just take it as read that the buyer has the best interests of the organization at heart, and will take action to advance those interests?"


People buy for people-reasons, not organization-reasons.  

When you find an area that someone truly wants to explore - that's important to them - and which aligns with the immediate goals of the business, you've identified an important lever for movement.  

But be careful.  Want is not the same thing as need.  An individual may not be motivated to take action on something they need to the same degree as they are on something they want.

Here's an example from a previous life of mine.

Q1: "Do you need to know how your data warehouse is performing so you can anticipate changes you should make down the road?"
A1: "Yes."

Q2: "Is it important to your organization to maintain the availability of the data warehouse as new applications come on-line this year?"
A2: "Yes."

Q3: "Would you use a tool that would predict how your data warehouse will perform under different future load scenarios?"
A3: "No."

What this individual wanted to do was maintain the data warehouse, to tinker with the schema and the hardware and the applications themselves because that was more interesting.  This individual didn't want to be the person who got blamed for the company buying hardware it didn't need.  And this individual absolutely did not want to interview business groups on how they "thought" they might use the warehouse next year, because he was not a terrific "people person".

When pressed by the bosses, this individual would actively come out against a predictive tool because. . .and this was rich. . . "we do that already".   He would argue that real problems could not be predicted, and that he and the team dealt with emerging problems pretty well, and that it was easy enough to expand capacity on-demand by adding memory and faster disks and whatnot, and after all didn't the database people sell monitoring tools? "Besides, wouldn't you rather spend that money on some more BI tool licenses?"  

And the sale would not happen.

Now the technology behind the particular tool I reference was absolutely space-age stuff, backed up by years of work and some of the brightest people I've ever met.  It really worked.  But the company that sells it is still just puttering along, round after funding round, because they are selling something that companies are just not motivated to buy. 

There is a lot more to say on this topic, but I am more motivated to go to the gym.  Sorry.

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