How to maintain your product momentum when you’re out of development budget

How to maintain your product momentum when you’re out of development budget - the mobile spoon

Managing a product with no development budget can be a product manager’s worst nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be a death sentence for the product. 

If you manage a product in a company with few product lines - it can happen to you as well; new priorities, new initiatives and suddenly all of your development resources are moved elsewhere, leaving you with no development budget at all. 

You can sink into self-pity or work with what you’ve got, and what you’ve got is your product, your knowledge, your authority, and most of all: your creativity. 

Use them to deliver more value to your customers, support your marketing and sales teams, get more involved with your partners and more. 

There are many things you can do to make the product better and maintain its’ momentum, without involving the development team. Focus on those activities until something changes: a big customer comes in and shuffles the company’s priorities again, a new investment, a significant partnership, etc. Those things can happen every day so there’s no point in giving in to the depression.

Here are some great things you can do to maintain your product momentum with 0 development budget: 

Note: Many of the ideas here were written with B2B products in mind, but I’m sure many B2C product managers will find useful stuff in there as well.

Top priority: the customers

The customers are your most important asset. Make them happy.   

Push forward what’s already out there

This goes without saying, but just in case it doesn’t: 
The product’s recent developments are still fresh and valid, most of the new stuff is probably not fully utilized yet. Work closer with your customers to make it happen and earn their trust and satisfaction while doing so (not to mention the incredible insights).

The same goes for older stuff. Revisit your customers status and look for opportunities to deliver more value to them while potentially monetizing existing product capabilities. 

Continue to promote your product as if it’s the hottest dish on the CEO’s plate.

Create high-quality content everyone in your ecosystem will find valuable

Who’s better to contribute professional and practical content than the product leader himself? 
Leverage your business understanding, your wide view of the market and your authority as a subject matter expert to create content that is both authentic and enlightening. 

The key here is to combine objective content (such as business insights and useful tools), along with some product-specific content that you wish to promote. Do it elegantly without over-promoting your product. 

This will not only boost your product momentum but it will also help you build your personal authority among your customers, partners, and other stakeholders. 

There are various channels you can use to share your knowledge with the world: 

  • Webinars - webinars are a great way to promote your product to the relevant audience. Periodic webinars often focus on “what’s new”, but from time to time it’s also legitimate to recap some old stuff and package it up as a themed webinar.
    You can also talk about business trends and insights on topics that interest your audience.
    Make sure to deliver value in those sessions and make them available offline as well. 
  • Blog posts - your company has a blog and I’m pretty sure your high-quality and authentic content will generate more traffic than the usual marketing fluff-driven posts.
    Act as a thought leader in your domain and contribute valuable insights through blog posts and articles.
    Cross-promote it with LinkedIn and Medium posts (or any other channel that is popular in your industry). 
  • Newsletters - a few years back, when I was leading a large B2B platform, we promoted it with a video-based newsletter that we sent every month or so.
    It was short, funny, easy to digest and most importantly - didn’t take too much effort. 
  • Podcasts and/or YouTube channel - people don’t like reading long, heavy guides these days, and there’s a good chance some of your customers are missing out on some great capabilities in the product because of that.
    Imagine you could create a weekly YouTube video with a few useful tips and short guides, coming from the product master himself.
    That could be a very useful tool for your customers and partners and something that would eventually lead to better product results and higher customer satisfaction. 
[Read: 5 Unusual product management techniques you should know]

There are plenty of other ways to create high-quality content. You can conduct market research, send a survey to your customers that goes beyond the usual questions about the product, work on a few white papers, tips & tricks, FAQ’s, cheat shits, best practices and more. 

While those documents are not features, they can help your customers achieve better results with what's already out there, which is what they really wanted in the first place. 

Engage with your customers - beyond the usual customer visits and interviews

Customer visits are a must, but there are more activities you can initiate to double or triple the impact of your work: 

  • LinkedIn Groups - a great way to gather your customers, partners and service providers together and keep them engaged. My wife runs a pretty active LinkedIn group that is constantly growing and providing value for everyone involved with her products and it seems to be working well.
  • Slack Workspace - If the product is being used by hi-tech employees than slack might be a good fit: I’m participating in a few slack workspaces that deliver good value for entrepreneurs and product executives myself and they are pretty active.
  • In-house Workshops/Meetups - if possible (distance-wise), invite a few customers to a few hours meetup or even a full-day workshop.
    Here, again, the content should include some business-level discussions along with some product-specific sessions.
    From my experience, such encounters are always beneficial for the participants beyond their expectations and if they do not involve significant travel logistics - they are not very costly.

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Make marketing a priority

Product managers can contribute a lot to the marketing activities of their products. 
When there are no new developments occupying the majority of your time - you have more capacity to work closely with your marketing team and push forward some of the tasks you may have neglected in the past:  
Case studies, analyst briefings, press releases, well-designed brochures, those are all activities that complement each other and need to be executed repeatedly across weeks and months in order to establish momentum. 

If there’s nothing new in the product - find other exciting news to announce:

  • Share a mind-blowing case studies
  • Brag about another big brand that started using your product 
  • There’s a new wearable in the market? Explain how your product can seamlessly integrate with it to deliver more value to the users (even if this feature was originally developed 2 years ago). 
  • Did you just hit a new milestone? Sure you did.
    There’s always a milestone you can find such as a number of customers, live customers, users, territories, new partnerships, integrations, patents, etc.
  • let the world know about this significant milestone. Share some fascinating facts about your industry (based on your knowledge or based on a recent research/survey you conducted). These ones often get the biggest exposure by the press. 

Make business development a priority

New business opportunities will help you convey your product message externally and internally. 
If there are no internal advocates for your product, bring some from the outside. 

Work closer than ever with the BD team and if there isn’t one - do it yourself. 

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Work proactively with the sales team

Don’t wait for your sales reps to contact you when they are in trouble. 
Train them in advance. 
Support them proactively with useful resources such as documents, slides, guides, tips and tricks, customer studies and testimonials, competitors analysis, insights, business trends, technical stuff, KPI’s and basically whatever they can leverage to win more deals.

New deals are the best way to get your precious development resources back, but even minor upgrades, upsells and new licenses can contribute to your product’s growth. 

Develop without spending budget on development 

Sounds impossible? Here are a few ways to make it possible: 

Try some initiatives that do not require R&D commitments, but can definitely end up with some developements coming through the back-door 
There are ways to steal some horses without creating a crisis over R&D budget. 
Here are a few ideas I used in the past (more than once, to be honest) and always yielded surprisingly positive results: 

Turn bugs into features (lame, but still works)

In most cases, important bugs get prioritized over other development tasks.
If you are able to maintain a small budget for bug fixes, you can bundle a few important bugs, and package them up as a small release. If those fixes are significant enough - there is value there. 
It's OK... If Apple can do it, so can you...  

Plug-ins, custom components, even skins...

I remember I once created a few simple skins for my product just to demonstrate how flexible it is. 
Skins are dumb, but since I didn’t have anything “fresh” to show, I figured it was better than nothing. It turned out to be a hit (well… a “hit” might be an exaggeration), and many customers found one of the skins (a dark-mode) to be valuable when working in late-night shifts. For those customers, it was just like a new product capability although it was a simple tweak that didn’t involve any coding.  

Contests and Hackathons 

Another thing we tried was to promote the capability to create small plugins using our product API’s. 
It started as a side initiative: I collected a few components that were developed by our professional services and shared them with the rest of the company. 
Then, we initiated an internal contest, a game, inviting everyone in the company to develop plugins and win prizes. We gave it a cool name (“AppsMania”) and invited everyone to join (there were 2 tracks: a technical track and a business track for non-developers). 
What started as a small, low-budget initiative, ended up with over 40 new plug-ins, tons of great ideas, a lot of buzz (internal and external) and along the years, this side initiative evolved into building a small marketplace for the product that acted as an app store for plugins. 

There was no formal development budget spent on this initiative, but since it was an engaging event - many of our developers spent time on this beyond their formal working hours and the product gained a lot of momentum as a result. 

Market your product, internally

Losing your development resources might mean you didn’t do a good enough job convincing the C-level management that investing more in your product will generate more revenue or growth opportunities for the company. 

Time to be more aggressive with that part of the job and the best way to do that is to become the internal marketer of your product. 

In fact, most of the activities mentioned throughout this post are worthy of some sort of internal PR.
Make sure to always have something fascinating going on with your product and start promoting your product's achievements more aggressively. Make it part of your schedule. Send periodic status reports and make sure to mention everything that is significant and noticeable. 

At the end of the day, all the activities mentioned above can help your customers achieve better business results with the product, but no one knows about them - it will not put your product back in top priority. 

Be the ambassador of your product and convince everyone around you that this product still has the potential you believe it has. 

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