We recently spoke with Todd Wells, the senior vice president of product development at Frontier Communications. Todd is responsible for the product strategy at this $11 billion dollar telecommunications company, which has over 17,000 employees. He has been with the company for over 20 years. And he leads the development of the product roadmap, product launches, and management of the product portfolio.
Your product strategy plays a vital role in the success of the sales and marketing teams. And there must be strategic alignment between the functions. For example, the product leader must ensure that the products being released solve critical problems customers are willing to fix. Marketing must understand this, and know how to position the points of differentiation. They need to create demand for highly differentiated, competitively priced products. So, how does Todd and his team set sales and marketing up for success?
Determining Where and How Should You Compete
The first topic we broached with Todd was determining which markets to compete in. “When we’re looking at either the portfolio or tackling new markets, it becomes a very traditional business case approach,” explains Todd. They look at things like what is the cost to deploy and support the products? What is the competition doing? And what is the opportunity cost if nothing is done?
Todd also recommends considering your customer’s wants and needs. What problems are you trying to solve? And how can you win in the marketplace by fulfilling their need and solving their problem? “To a certain extent it’s exciting, because there is so much going on in the industry and it all starts with the consumer,” explains Todd.
Product Profitability and Pricing
Todd next looks at product profitability and pricing. How does he determine product profitability and how does that feed into his pricing strategy? “At the end of the day, you’ve got to look at things from two directions,” said Todd. First, what is the market willing to bear? As he looks at customers, and their options, he understands that everyone has a price point. They are going to look at what they can buy, the value attributes for that product and the price they’re willing to pay. Todd then compares that to their costs to provide and support the service to marry the two together.
Frontier also goes to market with a number of different channels. Each channel has a different cost structure. They pay attention to what the different channels will do, and what the sales and marketing cycle for each will be. Todd recommends working closely with the sales team. “We also want to make sure we are equipping them with the knowledge to sell against objections,” he explains. And price is always an objection that Frontier’s sales team faces. It has to be viewed through a value lens to determine how well they’re solving the customer’s problem.
Todd works hard to determine what the market will pay for a product. For example, they often perform focus groups to determine what customers would pay for certain options. They also look to the competition. Are they offering similar products? And if so, what kind of results are they getting? “We structure our pricing in such a way that if we’re not seeing the market react to product and the price value equation, then we’ll adjust,” explains Todd.
We next spoke about Frontier’s approach to product launches. What does Todd do in order to equip both sales and marketing?
Ultimately, Todd recommends being a very sales and marketing friendly product leader. He has built a bridge with his sales and marketing teams. For example, Frontier’s product team often goes on sales calls. This helps them not only be useful to the sales team, but also to build their knowledge. Essentially, it allows his team to be more intelligent as to the wants and needs of the customer.This information then gets factored into the product roadmap, allowing them to develop products that marketing can create demand for. This collaboration is key to Todd’s success.
Todd wrapped up the interview by sharing three key pieces of advice to create strategic alignment with sales and marketing. First, don’t accept status quo. Recognize that you can make a difference, through finding the right product and product positioning. Second, create strong partnerships. There has to be constant communication between sales, marketing and the product team in order to be successful. And finally, always keep the customer in mind. Remember, you are trying to fill a customer need and solve a customer problem. Marrying the two must be your goal as a product leader.