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A product manager needs to know how customers of the future will generate value

Moving quickly to meet market demands with the correct product and recognizing how customers of the future will generate value—these are the central tasks of a product manager. They’re responsible for ensuring that their products find success.

This time around, the idea came from the market. “Customers wanted a system that they could use to register attendees for events and seminars reliably. In the times of the COVID pandemic, they wanted to know exactly who attended each event,” explains Klaus, Senior Manager Hardware Products at SKIDATA. Around the world, SKIDATA builds access systems to parking garages, ski resorts and large stadiums. “Here, we need fast and flexible solutions for places in which organizers don’t want to build additional short-term barriers. The system had to be completely contactless as well.”

That was at the end of March 2020. Klaus and his team got to work together with the developers. Ongoing projects were reprioritized, adapting the existing capacity to meet the new customer requirements so that a dedicated could work on the idea full steam ahead. In July 2020, after just three months of development, they brought their solution to the market: the innovative Door.Gate Pedestal. The slim device can be rolled on wheels like a suitcase, so it’s easy to move, and it works wirelessly—up to ten hours without recharging. Guests scan their tickets at the Door.Gate Pedestal itself, so they have no contact with the staff. The device can also read all common ticket formats: 1D and 2D barcodes, RFID tickets, and Apple NFC and Google NFC tickets as well. WLAN is the only requirement. “If necessary, a cell phone signal is enough for the connection,” says Klaus.

The development of the hardware, software and the integration of a wide range of technology—this all had to come together perfectly to make a central product ready for the market as quickly as possible, and one that covered all regions and diverse requirements. The development was made possible in record time thanks to the smooth cooperation between various SKIDATA teams. Klaus leads a team of 27 people, including product managers and quality assurance specialists, and some were assigned to the project at short notice.

In this team, Cornelius was in charge of the Door.Gate Pedestal project. His task? “As product managers, we do everything from market evaluation and product strategy to localizing marketing materials and supporting the first customer installations—as well as seeing the development process through at every step of the way,” he explains.

Every project begins with brainstorming. “A product manager must know the requirements of the market and the problems that customers have,” says Klaus. “Ideas for solutions are tested virtually with customers, evaluated and then presented internally alongside a profitability analysis to a committee. If we’re given a green light, the process continues quickly. Specification, resource planning and project prioritization come before the actual product development starts in R&D.” Concurrently, the product manager begins to think about the right pricing and product positioning on the global market, and developing marketing materials including fact sheets and other sales documents. Planning training courses is another more extensive task. “The product manager is responsible for ensuring the product’s success,” Klaus says. This also includes controlling the development process, staying within the allocated budget, monitoring feedback loops following the first customer installation and lifecycle management.

Product managers have to be generalists as well. They usually start with a basic education as economists, marketing experts or technicians, as Klaus was. He studied mechanical engineering and already worked in a wide variety of functions: A project manager, a development manager, in controlling, in sales. “That’s good preparation for a product manager,” he says, “because the range of requirements is so wide.”

The role also requires being forward-thinking: “We have to understand what customers need—not just today, but also in five or ten years. It’s about generating added value for the customers of the future,” Klaus explains. Value proposition design is one method for identifying and evaluating the needs of customers. To do this, for example, Klaus conducts interviews with customers, including those abroad. It’s a necessary step as SKIDATA works globally, and the requirement of customers often vary widely from region to region. “We develop new ideas and business models together with the customer,” Cornelius explains. “And we test the concept with our customers as well. It’s important so that we don’t develop something that no one needs in the end.”

That won’t be a problem with the Door.Gate Pedestal, in any case. “There’s plenty of interest in the market,” Klaus says. And it will surely continue to grow as events are held more regularly around the world once more. However, Klaus and his team have another application in mind: “The Door.Gate Pedestal is also fit for Corona vaccination stations, for example, to organize a fast and contactless registration process,” Cornelius says. Regardless, it’s an application that will still stay in demand for time to come.