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Years ago, when I was getting started as a Product Manager in a Fortune 500 company, I had very little understanding of what a Product Manager actually did. Of course, I had a 30–60–90-day plan, but let's just say things weren't exactly going to it.
Coming into the job, my expectation was that most of my time would be spent working with the software and hardware teams trying to make the product better, new features, fixing bugs, and customer discovery. Nope. that was just 50% of the job.
I quickly realized that I had underestimated the amount of information a Product Manager must be able to grasp, store, and be prepared to communicate at the drop of a hat. I was not only expected to know everything about my products — but also be able to articulate and present what I knew.
Here is the thing, If you are a Product Manager there are always a lot of questions coming at you from people across the organization as well as from the external stakeholders. These are questions from your team, peers, bosses, executive management, and most importantly, from your customers.
Most of these questions, however, can be boiled down to the following six that any Product Manager should be prepared to answer at all times. In fact, if you are joining a new team as a PM, these are also a great framework to kick start your learning on the products that you will be managing.
Alright, here goes.
1. Why does your Product exist?
The question is simple, but the answer, profound. This question is relevant to both future products currently still in the idea stage — and well-established products that have been in the marketplace for a few years.
For products still in the idea stage, this is the question of existence that can get your idea funded or not funded. This is the whole reason why YOUR idea has the right to be funded amongst so many other ideas from other Product Managers that your company can put limited resources on. This question needs some thinking through and bringing solid data with your pitch deck is highly recommended.
This is also what makes a Product Manager’s role so pivotal because both funding a false positive, and not funding a potential winner can cost the organization lots of money.
For already established products the intent of the question is a little different. The question essentially means you being able to articulate what makes your product unique amongst a sea of competitors. Your salespeople will ask you this before they can start selling it, and your customers will ask you this before they make a purchase decision in your favor. Of course, Your management is interested in this question as well — to understand if you really know what is it that will keep your product ahead of the pack?
It is the Product Manager’s job to bring answers and those answers must be backed by data from the users. Your answer must layout how your product solves a problem that many people care about, and that these people would pay for the solution.
2. How does your Product work?
One of the first things that a new Product Manager should do is to get into the weeds of how the products they manage actually work. Sometimes given the distractions of the job, new PM folk spend too little time getting to know their products.
A Product Manager needs to know their products, it's inner workings, the little details that make it unique. If you manage a software product, you must understand its technology stack, the languages involved, how the whole thing comes together, and what are the costs of hosting it. You must know why these choices were made.
But why learn all these details?
Well, for one it will give you a unique perspective that many in your team won't have. Understanding and knowledge of the details and inner working will help you think through the product strategy, how your product stacks up against your competition, margin improvement opportunities, and much more.
Second, it will help you sell the product both internally as well as to customers. Understanding the details will help you craft a story around your product that will give it personality. Because without a story and a personality your product is, well, just another product.
Finally, When you are responsible for managing a product, there will be a consistent flow of customer support clarifications that will come your way. By the way, this last part is not on any PM job description, but believe me, the PM is the de facto Troubleshooter-in-Chief for the products they manage.
3. Does your Product Make money?
You are the General Manager of your Product. This means you need to be ready to understand the P&L statement for the product. This is to answer questions such as “Are your products making money?”, “How much profit $$ did you generate last quarter?”, “What are your customer acquisition costs?”, “What are your selling expenses?” and other questions regarding the financial health of your product.
If you work in a Fortune 500 company, it's likely that your finance manager keeps track of these financial metrics— but it is your responsibility to have a full understanding of the numbers and be able to tell a story with them when asked upon.
If you are managing a pure software/ SAAS/online product then, of course, you need to be focused on your metrics such as Monthly recurring revenue (MRR), Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV), Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC), Daily /Monthly Active User ratio, Session duration & Traffic (paid/organic), Bounce & Retention rates & Churn rate, Number of sessions/user, Number of user actions/session, Net Promoter Score (NPS) & Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT).
When answering this question, these metrics will help you draw a picture of your software product’s performance and adoption. Needless to mention, and more importantly these metrics will determine your revenue and the areas that need attention.
For PMs managing hardware products, apart from the financials, you must also know a lot about your supply chain, where your parts and components come from, who your key suppliers are and what their financial health is. You also need to get comfortable with your product’s manufacturing process — if not in-depth, at least at a high level.
4. Who buys your Product?
You are also the Marketer-in-Chief for your products, for you will have to define and articulate the type of people that will be interested in using your product and will pay in return. Your marketing team will ask you this question — they will need this insight to build a narrative that can attract the right prospective buyers and users for your products.
As you think about this, be prepared to be constantly challenged on whether or not your target market is well defined, whether it is too narrow or too broad, and sometimes if it is the right market at all. For products that are already established and positioned in a mature market, you’ll be expected to break into new or adjacent verticals, re-build narratives and find new customers.
As a Product Manager, you need to spend a lot of time making sure you understand who your customer really is, what they like and don’t like, what they are likely to respond to, and how to get their attention.
Why? Because resources are limited, and every dollar that you spend on a dummy lead is a dollar down the drain — not including the lost opportunity of that dollar’s potential.
Therefore, it is key that you spend the marketing budgets targeting the right ‘personas’, and that can only happen if you really know who your customer is. That’s why this is a key question. That’s why you will keep getting this question, to make sure you are on your toes.
5. How do customers find your Product?
Hundreds of promising products are launched every day, but a vast majority of them never hit commercial success because nobody knows they exist.
Their target customers never find these products and these products are lost into oblivion even before they take off. This is why a Product Manager needs to make sure they have a robust distribution plan for their product such that the target customer can find their products as they are going about their day.
Having said that, I’ll be the first one to admit that it's easier said than done.
Figuring out a Scaleable Distribution model for your product is arguably the single most important and also one of the hardest things to crack in Product Management. Especially important if you are about to launch a new product in the market — your distribution strategy can be the difference between success and failure.
Unfortunately, many Product Managers think about their distribution strategy too late in the game. Their teams are busy iterating on products and getting customer feedback — all great things, but simultaneously thinking about a scaleable distribution plan and testing it on the go as the product is being developed can yield high returns.
So who will ask you about your distribution & channel strategy?
First, it should be you asking yourself. Early in the game, the PM must think through how their products will reach customers, articulate the strategy internally, review it with the sales teams to make sure the strategy can really be executed. You must constantly review the distribution strategy for your products and pressure test the plan. You should start talking to your channel partners early in the process, giving them a feel of the product and what to expect much much earlier than the launch date.
In large companies, Your sales teams will expect you to come up with a distribution strategy proposal that can be critiqued and perfected. Your sales leader will expect you to share with the sales teams what you think are the best ways to sell your product, what channels to spend their time and effort on so salesperson productivity is maximized.
6. What are customers saying about your Product?
For any product organization what customers are saying about their product is the most important leading indicator of the product’s future success. It is a leading indicator also of future revenues, a source of information on what features your customers love and hate, and also a source of inspiration for ideas that will fuel your product expansion.
In other words, Customer feedback is a Product Manager’s friend at all stages of building a product, as well as after you have launched it. If your product is on Amazon, you need to monitor the reviews that your products been receiving. You need to have an NPS survey for your product to understand if your users and customers would recommend your product to others. You must also have a line of communication open at all times with your customer support organization, learn about the support calls they are receiving, and understand how they are triaged.
Guess who else wants to know what your customers are saying?
Your Future Customers. It's the people that haven’t made up their minds about your product yet. When was the last time you bought a product at Amazon without looking at their reviews? A key purchase decision driver for potential customers is what existing customers are saying about the product.
Customer Feedback is gold, and Product Managers must put it to good use. They should talk about what customers are saying about your product within the organization. When looking at the feedback, they must deduce objectively what the customer really means — because the real feedback is sometimes hidden between the lines.
If you are new to Product Management and just getting started here’s a piece of advice — There will be a lot more questions than there will be answers, but that's okay. The goal should be to identify and answer the most pressing and the most important questions that will make your product successful and profitable.
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