The many hats worn by a MarTech Product Manager

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What is a product manager?

It’s been 85 years now since Neil H. McElroy wrote his memo about the brand men. Since then, the role of product managers has heavily evolved, mainly due to the Internet Revolution generating new business models. One of which is SaaS, a model where the software, the product, is crucial. In this context, Product Managers are like conductors: they have to both communicate their ideas and effectively interpret them for the whole internal team and the customer.

One really interesting fact about SaaS products is their ability to evolve rapidly compared to other products. Nowadays, the distribution is generally handled through continuous integration by the tech team, allowing quick deployment to production, and hence to the customers.

This offers the Product Managers the ability to quickly implement and test their ideas.

 

So how does one conduct as a Product Manager?

There are several ways to conduct the product development of a company.

The whole process can be summarized in a few steps: gathering data by observing your Users, refining their feedback into UX requirement, designing the UI based on them, prioritizing the tasks in the roadmap, and finally communicating internally and externally.

 

  •  GATHERING DATA

The first step is to watch how your Users are utilizing your product by conducting interviews or focus groups. During these User Interviews, you should observe all User actions and should ask open-ended questions. Another key is to not start pitching to your User, as the benefit of the feedback would not overcome the noise generated by the pitch. You want your User to give you pristine feedback!

Feel free to ask your User “Why?” several times to make sure you leave no stone unturned and have a clear understanding of your User’s purpose in each action he/she undertakes.

Even if you are recording your sessions, it is good practice to take notes as well in order to pre-chew your observations for next steps. Your future self will thank you for that later down the line!

 

  • REFINING THE FEEDBACK

Once all your data has been gathered, you can start abstracting the commonalities, creating opportunities to improve your product. Refining these opportunities will require creativity and an analytical mindset.

Usually the output will be a UX requirement, which can be some kind of mockup or at least a very clear and short memo of the feature.

Connecting the dots when defining your requirement is key. To do this, the more culture you have about your industry the better. At this point you don’t need to have general culture (art, literature, games, …), but if you do that’s an added benefit: you’ll need it when designing the UI. It is a perfect idea at this point to consider benchmarking other products to get some inspiration. Studying how a reference in the industry is solving a typical issue can lend some great insight, even if the reference is not directly in your industry. For instance, if you need to learn how to create the perfect landing page, try clicking some Google Sponsored links and analyze any similarities you find to identify trends and best practices.

If you did a good job asking your User “Why?” previously, you should have no trouble finding concrete solutions to the common opportunities you observed. Product Managers should always simplify everything, in order to be straight to the point, following Occam’s Razor principle.

If you feel stuck, try my favorite trick: break things and see what happens! This will force you to think out of the box and not be stuck in a functional fixedness mentality. Think big, do not let yourself be limited by today’s resources, instead try to find the disruptive ideas! Using a systemic approach will help you, so feel free to start drafting some mockups and abstracting the system for a better understanding.

 

  • DESIGNING THE UI

As a Product Manager you need to understand good design. If you’ve never touched a paintbrush or opened Illustrator before, relax: I’ve got 4 letters for you!

CRAP: Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity. It’s really easy to remember: I love CRAP design!

Contrast is really important when designing an UI; for example, your Call To Action (CTA) can use a complementary color (orange with blue, green with red, etc.) in order to naturally draw the attention of the eye as it spans the page.

Also, you want to make sure that what you want the user to focus on has a stronger color than the rest of the page. For instance, the title may be bold, with a darker black; whilst annotation of a form control could be in italic in a lighter grey color.

See contrast as the attention seeker and use it to your advantage to guide the user, if you move your eyes away from the screen for few seconds and then look back at it, the first items you will notice should have a stronger contrast.

Repetition is based on POLA; yes, yet another acronym. You want your UI to be consistent, which will build trust with your User, impacting overall churn. A consistent UI will use the same button, the same link, the same styles, etc. But it will also rely on a consistent UX, if a modal is supposed to be displayed when an error occurs, this error should not be displayed in the same way a form alert appears, because the User would probably not even notice it as he has become used to seeing a modal in the case of an error. If users receive an error message when receiving a new email instead of the usual notification, this confuses the context and makes for a bad UX. Proper consistency for optimal UX ensures regular alerts and error messages are consumed in a different manner in order to differentiate between the two events.

Alignment is harmony. It will reduce the noise in the design. If elements are not aligned the user will waste energy trying to understand what goes where. Take this post for instance. If the beginning of each line was not aligned with the previous one it would be a nightmare to read.

Last but not least, we have Proximity which is a really important meta concept. If repetition could be defined as “every element sharing the same behaviour should share the same design,” proximity can be defined as “every element sharing the same purpose should share the same space.” But what does that mean? you ask eagerly. If you look at your browser right now, chances are you have multiple tabs open. Well, all tabs are located on top of your browser, because they all share the same purpose: when you click on them you’ll see the corresponding page below. Imagine for one second having your tabs not located in the same place, now that would be complicated to understand!

CRAP is just one of many product design frameworks you can use, it’s really a solid basis but it is not collectively exhaustive (unlike MECE, yes I’m an acronym addict).

Gestalt design is another good one:

  1. Similarity
  2. Continuation
  3. Closure
  4. Proximity
  5. Figure/Ground
  6. Symmetry and order

 

Here are some other quick UI design tips:

  • Heaviness of the page: maybe a paragraph’s width is too long or too short, try playing with it to optimize readability.
  • If there are some blank spaces, that’s generally where you’ll find floating elements that need to have more meaning attached to them, whether by making them closer to other similar elements (proximity) or by adding text/icons to better illustrate its purpose.

 

  • PRIORITIZING THE ROADMAP

You’ve done it! You successfully managed to define all the requirements for your new features, and mentally frame them within an awesome design! But now you need to implement them inside the product. To do so, you need to collaborate with your Tech team. When working with other people’s time it’s quite healthy to start planning things so we don’t demotivate everyone with lack of autonomy (by micro-managing), or purpose (by not sharing the context and the big picture).

To help you with that you’ve got two tools: the roadmap (or product backlog), and the sprint backlog, assuming you are working with an agile scrum team.

These are the tasks that the Tech team can accomplish 80% of with 20% of the effort. Oh, yes, understanding the technical tradeoff is a must have for any Product Manager! And your Tech team will love you for simplifying the tasks: for them you will be part of the solution, not the root of the problem. Once you have tagged all the quick wins you can start identifying offense and defense tasks. You want to balance those tasks. Offense projects are defined as tasks that will grow your business, like adding insights based on your data. Defense projects will remove the drag on your business, like fixing bug or reducing the technical debt by refactoring.

To prioritize your tasks you can group them into 3 categories:

  • P0 = will be done ASAP
  • P1 = must have
  • P2 = nice to have

Now that your roadmap is ready you can go ahead and sync up with your Tech team. The prioritized work is divided into chunks called sprints, allotting time to properly implement each task. Our sprint sessions here at BidMotion are one week long with a Sprint Review that only last for 1 hour every Friday. Here, we review what has been done during the previous sprint (take good notes, you’ll need it for next step: communicating with your Users!), and then we plan the upcoming Sprint session. Our week-long sprints are considered as only four days of work, saving one day for buffering bad estimations / bug fixing / learning new things.

 If you’ve already identified some quick wins, they will appreciate it!

 

  • COMMUNICATING INTERNALLY AND EXTERNALLY

You made it that far, and it’s almost over! The customer should be at the center of any SaaS company, and as a Product Manager you are the voice of the customer within the company. Communicating with both the customer and with your team is essential to the success of your work, and building healthy customer relationships is vital. Try using tools such as Helpscout  to track all customer issues. You should also keep communication open and update your customer regarding the new features. Sometimes this will be in the form of  a newsletter, other times it will just be a notification pin on the UI that will pop out. Or even sometimes you’ll say nothing at all to simply test if the feature is actually adopted and used naturally without issue.

Internally, you can share your progress with the team during daily stand-up meetings. Be like an open door, take the time to answer questions, even the ones that haven’t been asked! Having a high Emotional IQ is key, empathy is necessary in almost every role of the Product manager (understanding the User, understanding the competitor designs while benchmarking, identifying quick-wins for your Tech team, and communicating effectively with others).

Assertiveness will help you a lot, if you want more information you can check NVC. Don’t worry: I know you had a craving for more acronyms.

When a customer gives positive feedback, celebrate it by sharing it with the team! Don’t forget that most of the people working internally, like the developers or the designers, will never receive these positives vibes from the customer as they are not in direct contact. So go ahead and share the joy to ensure the team feels the rewards of their efforts!

 

And to finish…

  • You should execute and ship. Recognize no specific bound to the scope of your role. Ship, ship, ship. Some prefer to be right, I prefer to be effective.
  • Be data-driven. Forecast and measure everything you do. Having a draft & play strategy will help you receive feedback much earlier, so don’t try to be a perfectionist.
  • Give meanings and purpose to everything you do. Stop using lorem ipsum inside mockups/template. Start writing good copy.
  • Think broad and narrow.

 

Being a Product manager is an amazing chance. You get to be a Customer Success Manager, an UX designer, a Project Manager, an UI designer, and a developer (if you want to help your Tech team in your free time!). T-shaped profiles with a Tech background are most likely to succeed in a Tech company, so if you are in a Tech team right now and you are quite curious about pretty much everything, feel free to challenge yourself apply to a Product Manager position! It is definitely worth the ride.

 

BONUS:

It’s not easy to measure the impact a Product Manager has on a company.

Here are some KPIs to help:

  • Customer satisfaction: number of feedbacks, NPS, …
  • Financial: indirect impact on PNL (churn, time to convert, lifetime value, …)
  • Operational: number of defects, on-time and within budget delivery, complaints, …
  • Product Management: customer visits, roadmap clarity, product strategy, quality requirements, communicating…

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