One of the key attributes of a great Product Manager is their ability to listen. The fact that product management as a function is at the center of almost everything (as shown below); one's ability to listen, comprehend and then take action / provide a solution, is what makes a good product manager.
A one liner job description of a product manager is to “build a product”. But what does it even mean? How can one person or a team of PMs build an end-to-end product without active collaboration from other functions . Does a product manager know all the functions well enough to understand the varied use-cases and customers' needs? Does a product manager really understand all the technical challenges? This is where a good product manager's ability to listen, coordinate and collaborate with all the stakeholders, can potentially result in outstanding success.
Let's look at each of the stakeholders and the kind of inputs / feedback that can help a product manager.
PG Tip: It's very important to bring yourself to the stakeholder’s level to ensure a free-flowing & honest conversation.
One of the most difficult jobs on the block is the ability to sell. If your product is good, it makes the life of a sales person “slightly'' easy. But in today's age & time when there is fierce competition, selling a product, be it B2B or B2C, is incredibly difficult. This is where, sales team is a window to the customer and competition, for all the product managers. They are constantly bombarded with questions like:
- Why should we buy your product?
- How are you better than your competitors etc.
and also receive honest feedback from their clients as to what does the product lack, or what else would make them buy/use the product.
All these exchanges become real-time feedback in terms of where our product stands. By listening to sales folks, a product manager can get insights like:
- Missing Features (which are impactful)
- Product Direction (if its an early stage product)
- Product Market Fit
* In B2C setups, we can replace the sales people with internal business/operations folks who would represent the voice of the customer in many ways.
PG Tip: It’s imperative that every product manager makes it a point to ‘listen’ to the customer feedback directly as well - by participating in these customer interviews together with their sales/business counterparts.
Marketing / Growth Hack
At the outset, it might look like just an enabler function from a product management perspective, but one could not be more wrong. For all the consumer / B2C products, marketing is the consumer feedback channel. Even for B2B products, Covid has changed the game. Direct Sales has become more Inbound Marketing driven. On a related note, how do we incorporate the growth hack elements within the product and ensure that the product is discovered well for first time users, becomes an important aspect for product managers. By listening to marketing or growth hack managers, product managers will become aware of key-metrics like
- Retention Rate (in case of APPs)
- Time spent
- Play-store reviews / online reviews (including user complaints)
One can then collaborate, brain-storm and ideate on how to improve / solve for these metrics.
PG Tip: Try picking up growth hack skills and get familiar with analytics tool like Google Analytics, Mixpanel etc.
In an early stage product, product managers are the ones who take the product to market, along with sales. And in some cases, they double up as sales as well. In such a case, there is close collaboration with the legal team. There is so much to learn from the legal team by just listening to their feedbacks on various aspect like:
- User data
- Place of arbitration (and why is it important)
- Indemnity clause (more prominent in B2B contracts)
- Liability clause (and capping the amount to which one can be panelized)
Each contract presents nuggets of knowledge. Some of the key learnings & important clauses to look for (from our past experience and listening to legal team’s feedback) are:
- Exit clause: Depending on business to business, one should be very clear in terms of
- How do you want to lock a potential client to ensure you get a minimum period to demonstrate the product value (in B2B setups)
- If you are consumer of the product, then the clause which can help you exit with minimum hassle (one of our mentors has personally suffered where in spite of seeing no value, they could not exit the contract for 1 yr and had to pay minimum amount of 10k USD each month)
- Payment Terms: Cash Flow management is a big aspect for any business to be successful. Be clear in terms of by when will you receive the money from partners / clients and ensure that the period is minimum and in the range of ~ 30 days
PG Tip: Try google and understand certain keywords like 'indemnity', 'liability' etc.
Operations / Customer Support
Operations team is the actual eyes and ears for Product Managers. They are the ones who use the product on a daily basis or interact with end consumers who use the product. They get customer queries / complaints on a daily basis, and these can become impactful insights to the product manager. It's important to schedule regular meetings with them and listen to their summaries for the past week or month. Some of those feedbacks will be eye-opener and if you are lucky, you might discover a game changing feature (in form of a customer feedback).
PG Tip: If possible, get access to internal tools and operate yur own product to get a hands-on experience
For a fintech startup, the finance team is your de facto buddy. For e.g. for a startup like Razorpay which offers Payment Gateway as service, there is daily reconciliation involved etc. With the kind of volumes involved, it's imperative to build features which can simplify the finance team’s lives. For a startup that involves generating invoices to consumers, how do you handle GST is an important regulatory obligation for the finance team (since they need to file GST on behalf of the company). Similarly, there are many areas which involve close working with the finance team even for non-fintech companies. Hence, in order to move forward, one has to keep automating processes which involve dealing with finance. And all of this can happen by listening to your finance point of contact and keep checking with them for important feedback.
Also, equally importantly, if any company has to become profitable, the finance team is the key to understanding the health aspects of a business, how is the current & future P&L structured, etc. and a good product manager can lean on them to discover the insights which can help achieve profitability.
PG Tip: Go through some of the invoices which finance team generates and understand the importance of each information mentioned in it
Engineers & Product Managers are like brothers-in-arms. Their close working relationship is the biggest defining factor in a product’s success. Which is why it's important that the product manager listens to her engineering team’s inputs. Some of the factors that play a critical role in building & delivering product on time (through engineering) is by listening to them in every possible forum like scrum meetings, weekly syncups etc. What can be identified and absorbed is:
- Realistic estimates w.r.t delivery (so that your roadmap is intact)
- Complexity involved (so that you don't miss on your deliverables)
- Tech stack needed (to future plan the scale)
- Feedback session (for course correction)
Now, if you look at all the stakeholders mentioned above, it is clear that the “listening” and collecting inputs across channels is a very important task. All the inputs essentially helps you identify:
- Gaps / Product Market Fit
- Improvement (needed) in existing features
- And more importantly Vision and what to build over next 3-5 yrs
Happy Listening (& Reading) :-)