Barbary Brunner | Crain's Austin

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Barbary Brunner

Background:  

The Austin Technology Council describes itself as the leading unifying voice of technology in Central Texas. Since 1992, ATC has worked to provide member companies with the insights, resources and connections they need to grow. As the oldest and largest technology industry association in Central Texas, ATC serves more than 200 member companies representing 60 percent of Austin's tech workforce.

The Mistake:

Not including sales, marketing and business development in the early processes of product development.

Earlier in my career, I worked for very big companies as a product leader. Historically, people on the engineering and product development side have a tendency to think the sales and marketing people are not as smart as they are. I think this is especially true in bigger companies. The engineering and product development folks are the ones building the product and have a certain sort of architectural view of creating a product. So in those early days there were a lot of decisions made without the sales, marketing and business development people in the room.

But if you look at the more successful products and companies, (such as Apple), you see that often the person that was uniting the company was a marketing or a business development person who had their pulse on customer innovation and was pushing engineering to meet a certain bar.

At one point when I was executive producer of a division, we built it from four products to 11 over the course of a few years. We had a couple of products that were category killers ­– just best in class. They were created with the help of people who understood the business development and marketing aspects of the particular target audience in addition to our team that understood the engineering and technology. With one of the products we had a very strong group of 250 users continually using the products and giving feedback

But we got really comfortable with our level of success and neglected to be as diligent in including sales, marketing and business development on another product launch. So despite having great heads of product, great heads of engineering and great creative and design folks, the product ended up failing miserably. We didn’t have folks with boots on the ground who understood all aspects of that particular industry.

You need to have every stakeholder at the table from the very beginning – it can’t just be product people with great ideas.

The Lesson:

I learned you are more likely to create elegant consumer and customer solutions when you bring all the disciplines together from the early stages. The more of the key disciplines you bring in at the beginning of the process, the more likely you are to create a solution that will appeal to a buyer on a lot of levels. Having insightful marketing and sales people in on the process early on helps ensure you won’t screw up your product from the beginning.

You need to have every stakeholder at the table from the very beginning – it can’t just be product people with great ideas. Otherwise you create things that sales and marketing people can’t sell, or sales will wind up selling things you can’t create.

Ultimately, I ended up moving to the sales and marketing side, including serving as the chief marketing officer for a division of Yahoo. I brought a different perspective to it, and no longer think sales and marketing folks are stupid.

Follow Austin Technology Council on Twitter at @ATCouncil.

Pictured: Barbary Brunner | Photo courtesy of Austin Technology Council.

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