In the digital era, marketers are the heroes who are required to steer innovation that meets customer expectations while product managers become key decision-makers that adapt product and product cycles to create the perfect customer experience.
Product managers connect engineers, marketers, designers, salespeople, and customer success managers while managing every aspect of the product from conception through launch.
Now more then ever, product managers are responsible for setting the stage for a seamless user experience within the product and optimizing the customer journey.
Digital transformation requires companies to concentrate their focus on customer experience and therefore, product design, user onboarding and customer support become essential elements that determine the success of a product.
Product managers of the digital era need to be able to meet these new expectations and consider CX as their first priority and goal. But that’s not all. Here’s a list of characteristics that define successful product managers in a customer-centric market.
Ownership and Leadership
Product managers are often defined as the CEOs of their product. They need to cover several positions throughout the entire product cycle and now more then before also need to have a multi-disciplinary background to bring together cross-functional teams and guarantee for a correct alignment of all the units with the company vision.
They need to be fast decision-makers in key strategic areas that define successful operations. Their knowledge and leadership skills become essential elements in the coordination of critical activities that spread throughout different departments.
Not surprisingly, product management often becomes the launch platform for successful tech CEOs.
They Manage and make Sense of Big Data
Since customer experience is the central element of a digital strategy, product managers need to know everything about customer behavior.
Product managers have always been in the know regarding their customer persona. They’ve always been required to be totally focused on the who, why, how, and when of their product but now, they also need to take responsibility for every step that users take within their solution.
SaaS companies are required to deploy technology that allows them to collect data and analytics, and product managers need to be able to manage, visualize, and interpret this information.
Given the tremendous amount of granular data that can be collected, it is vital for product managers to be able to identify relevant and significant facts and determine the course of action to adjust their product strategy accordingly.
They’re able to deal with Trade-Offs in a fast-paced World
Product managers establish the mission for their product in compliance with the company’s vision.
Every decision they make is influenced by main elements of the overall strategy and by constraints.
Intrinsic and extrinsic constraints have always been unforgiving enemies of product management. Now, speed and ability to quickly respond to changing demand in the market and customer expectations are implacable forces that forge planning and operations.
Product managers of the digital era know how to combine speed of implementation and execution with data-driven accuracy and purpose. They have to optimize resources and focus all their attention on those trade-offs that could potentially cause delays in tight product cycles or that could negatively impact customer experience.
In a way, modern product managers are asked to do the impossible by over-performing and making compromises without any concessions.
They value measured Flexibility
If, on the one hand, the mission of the product is carved in stone, the rules of digital transformation force product managers to be flexible and know when it’s time to empower users and allow them to make a dent in their original vision.
Modern users are aware that their opinion matters and often transform products with their behavior. Product managers know how much freedom of customization they can plan and also how fast they need to adapt the product to meet floating demand and expectations.
They master Key Metrics
Analytics and customer data steer decision-making processes. Additionally, product managers need to have a full overview of key metrics connected to their company’s performance and are strictly correlated to their product.
When planning their customer journey, victorious product managers can always pinpoint those elements that create engagement, enthusiasm, and an overall positive user experience.
Each step in the journey is carefully mapped and adds value. Each element is put in place to create a positive brand experience and have a deep impact on the bottom line of the company.
Product managers know all the tactics that boost customer retention , activation, and reduce churn. They know what customers largely contribute to the MRR of the company and lead teams to put in place those measures that improve performance and creates growth.
They set goals and measure results on the basis of these metrics while constantly adjusting the aim.
They combine the Big Picture with Management
In such a complex mosaic of data and moving goalposts, micromanaging is a recipe for disaster.
Product managers are required to oversee day-to-day execution but they also need to spend most of their time concentrating on the big picture. Lean development methodologies ensure speed and adaptability but product managers mustn’t cover the role of project managers.
Analyzing fluctuations and changes in the market, together with mapping and adjusting the customer journey are time-consuming albeit essential activities that eventually influence the performance of the product.
The challenge is represented by wearing different hats and being in charge of both planning and execution.
Effective cross-functional cooperation relies on the fact that product managers can create short-term plans for feature releases while communicating long-term goals throughout the entire product road map.
They’re able to research and absorb Relevant Information
Product managers know how to navigate in the ocean of information that can be gathered online and can select all the relevant data that will influence their decisions.
They know everything about changes in technology and customer preferences. They’re familiar with their competitors and the key features of their application, they regularly assess products and analyze them trying to identify those useful characteristics that could also be implemented in their own solution.
They learn from the most prominent gurus in the industry as well as from creative newcomers while critically pinpointing mistakes and limitations of different solutions they look into and creating a knowledge base of best practices.
They avidly consume tear-downs, trials and demos together with product reviews and spend time in researching and testing new solutions that could be integrated at different stages of the customer journey.
They show Technical Competence
Even though product managers are usually not required to be able to code, they are expected to have a solid technical know-how that allows them to understand intrinsic trade-offs and determine what’s feasible.
The ability to discern between essential, important and good-to-have features needs to be combined with the awareness of the processes and limitations that are inherent to engineering and development.
Excellent product managers know how to motivate teams and set realistic goals for them because they are aware of the difficulties they deal with.
They can envision a complete product road map but adjust aim and pace through teamwork and feedback.
Valuable communication is the key to creating valid requirements and product managers refine their strategies on the basis of what they learn from the teams they coordinate.
Dealing with Complexity and Modularity
Whereas just a decade ago one-size-fits-all applications were sold to customers in one single package, modern SaaS solutions are characterized by modularity.
Customers expect flexibility in terms of ad-hoc features and pricing models. Product managers need to maintain an overview of all the expectations of different customer personas and create bundles of features that can be packaged together for different tiers.
Dealing with multiple releases for different customer groups and segments is basically like managing several different product at the same time. And these products are linked to their own dynamic pricing and upsell strategies.
They work with the right Tools at the right Time
Great product managers of the digital era know several tools that can streamline and facilitate planning and execution.
At the same time, they can also discern situations and opt for lean solutions that could speed up or improve communication and implementation.
They know when it’s time to move away from detailed specs and blueprints and use very primitive wireframe tools to quickly circulate sketches and UX design ideas.
Expanding their Vision beyond the Borders of their Product
Digitization forces companies to create an entire ecosystem of interdependent processes that sync across multiple units. Their digital strategy is mirrored in the software architecture they select.
Each single application is just one station along an array of compound solutions that need to effortlessly sync and exchange data.
Product managers need to look way past the border of their product and envision all the possible ramifications and integrations within intricate ecosystems.
Functionality and features need to be designed to meet needs that are connected to an entire corporate strategy and that extend across different functional areas.
APIs become essential components that need to be managed alongside the product itself and product managers often have to take over responsibilities in distant domains such as business development.
Putting ‘Why’ and ‘Why Now’ before ‘What’
In order to prioritize and finalize a product road map, modern product managers must challenge themselves with questions.
The starting point of every decision is wondering ‘why’ and iterating this very same question multiple times until the root purpose of each UI change or new feature is reached. If the end point is strictly connected to an enhanced customer experience, then it is easier to set that feature as a priority.
Product managers who work in agile environments are also familiar with the ‘why now’ question.
They have a vivid idea of where the product is headed to but also know how to work with frequent releases. Velocity is everything but compromising on customer experience means immediately losing the game.
Every update brings the product closer to its original concept but none of the releases leads to frustration for the users.
A good strategy always takes into account at what point each feature is absolutely necessary and reaches the perfect balance between over-performing in terms of customer satisfaction and speed to market.
Choosing the right Talent Pool
In the light of DevOps practices that enable organizations to deliver frequent product improvements at high speed, product managers now need to work their own product task force.
This special team doesn’t just involve developers and designers but also product marketers, data analysts and operation managers that work closely side by side to deliver continuous upgrades on the basis of the expectations of their customers.
Successful Product Managers with inter-disciplinary backgrounds know what to expect from each single member of the product team and can spot the most suitable talents that will support their product strategy.
Ready for the Future
It seems clear that product managers in a CX-centric market need to gather experience or be trained and acquire skills in several different areas, from business strategy to marketing, customer experience, and engineering.
Product management needs to keep up with the ever-changing requirements of the market while being as close as possible to the customers to understand their needs and the ecosystem in which their application will operate.
In order to remain relevant, product managers must try out and incorporate new technologies and become always more self-sufficient with data collection and mining.
Product managers in today’s times of digital disruption must rely on their business acumen while also incorporating decision-making tools that leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning.
There certainly are way more characteristics that define successful SaaS product managers that also include additional areas of competence and soft skills..
Many successful companies, for instance, mentioned that they tend to work with risk-prone managers who value feedback and who are able to communicate clearly, simplify complex information and quickly draw conclusions.
The ideal product manager in the digital world has the key that opens the door that leads to market acceptance and customer success.
A product management strategy takes into account every step of the customer journey.
One of the most important stages along the journey is the onboarding phase, the very first time users get in touch with your product. This step irreversibly sets the tone of the relationship users will have with the brand and impact engagement, activation, conversion and retention.
Learning how to eliminate frustration and confusion during the onboarding phase dramatically reduces churn and is the first step toward customer success.