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Not quite a business owner, but they need to think like one, and not quite an engineer, but they need to speak like one — the product manager (PM) is caught in a strange, yet exciting niche. Josh Elman, partner at Greylock Partners and former PM at Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, described the world of the PM like this: “You are kind of the mini-CEO, with all of the responsibility…but without any of the authority.” It’s easy to see why this is a pretty tough gig!
A great PM needs to have a blend of many areas of expertise — user experience (UX), technical strategy, product marketing, sales and, ultimately, an understanding of the data around those areas and its importance. This all adds up to a person who, in reality, must think like an entrepreneur.
This position carries the company’s future in their hands, creating the products, and analyzing the data involved with those products, that will either sail or sink the entire ship. Along with this, they must be one of the most people-savvy members of the team, both to get a great read from customers on what they want and to collaborate with the engineering team to execute on that vision. There are five areas that PMs can focus on to give themselves an entrepreneurial edge, ensuring that the direction they are taking the company’s products is a surefire path to success:
A PM is akin to the general manager for an organization’s new products — they must define the business and revenue metrics for a set product, define the market need, and collaborate with a slew of players. From prospects to current customers, a PM must be able to bring buyers’ needs back to the engineering team and then negotiate to create a final vision for the product. They must determine the features, scope and what exactly needs to be built. Through all these details, the PM must articulate other wide-lens factors, like pricing and value information, along with the Business Intelligence and Analytics behind those factors. And they need to work with their internal teams to identify priorities while keeping in mind how it will give the business a competitive edge.
You can’t be a good negotiator without impeccable communication skills. For PMs, they need to be articulate across the board. This means they must be adept technical writers, able to easily to turn buyer ideas into concrete features, and understand the Data Management practices and metrics that allow them to bind everything together into a coherent story. They also need to follow this up by consistently and clearly verbalizing instructions to the engineers.
PMs are sales people both inside and outside their organizations.
Internally, they need to rally the troops, educate management on why a feature or product needs to be built in the first place. At the same time, they must create interest in the market, easily expressing why buyers need a new product. There is nothing worse than spending a year building a beta product just to realize you don’t have any beta customers. Early adoption is key to product success, and having the acumen of a salesperson will ensure a PM’s product drives returns on investment.
- Domain and Data Expertise
What products already exist in the market that might rival a new product idea? What is their pricing? Would this new product be competitive? The only way to answer these questions is by having keen domain expertise.
A PM needs to have deep ties to the current market so they can understand the position their product fills in this space. Without a vast background knowledge, it would be difficult for a PM to make recommendations, project revenue, and categorize existing and new products.
- Customer Advocacy
What do your top 10 customers and contributors want? Advocating on their behalf internally when scoping out a product ensures that a PM will never lose this valuable revenue pool. Likely, whatever these customers want will also trickle down to represent the desires of a company’s other buyers, so understanding and advocating for these power players’ needs ensures satisfied customers and product success.
Being “mini-CEO” is no small task. But understanding the mind of an entrepreneur and all the accompanying responsibilities will help any PM rise from their man-in-the-middle position to transform into a company leader that has the opportunity to take their company’s success to the next level.