Product Managers: Don’t just Build Products – Build Bridges "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs 16 March 2016 True Collaboration, Cross-Functional Team, Traits, User-Centric, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 1252 Product managers build bridges Product Management 5.008
· 6 minute read

Product Managers: Don’t just Build Products – Build Bridges


As a product manager, your vision drives the heart of your company. You might be responsible for the product development roadmap, strategy and features, or even marketing and competitive market analysis. Because you wear so many hats, you’re the best person in your B2B company to form bridges between departments usually kept separate, including: product development, sales, marketing, customer success and customer service.

Why would you want to take on more when you are already responsible for so much?

It might seem like a fool’s errand – it isn’t. When you bring these departments together by finding where your goals intersect, you’ll be able to make each department’s job a little easier and a lot more effective in driving retention and revenue. And, you’ll become one of the most valuable, and valued, people in your company. Here’s how.

Step 1: Align behind a common cause – the customer

Your job description, in a nutshell, is to create a product people will want, buy, use, and love. In that order. When you achieve those four things, your company has the foundation it needs to grow into an industry juggernaut – but you can’t do it alone. Marketing, typically, is in charge of drumming up desire. Sales takes over the purchase process. Customer service is mostly in charge of helping customers use the product. And customer success works to make them love it.

Let’s consider the idea of customer success – that for a customer to be successful with your product not only means buying it and using it, but actually achieving their real-world goals with it. What if it is at the forefront of every single effort? From crafting your marketing language, to your onboarding process, to your customer service, to designing additional features – and beyond?

As product manager, you own the strategy behind your product. You work with product developers to build what matters. And, when you reach out to sales, customer service, and customer success, they are perfectly positioned to be able to tell you what matters most to your customers.

Step 2: Find where your goals dovetail

When constructing bridges into other territories, you have to first understand what’s in it for them, and what’s in it for you. How can you help each other? Where do your goals and their goals dovetail into each other?

Product & Sales: The sales department wants to make sales, but on a deeper level, they want to find that sweet spot of problem/solution fit. They can tell you, better than anyone else, what problems their ideal leads are looking to solve and how well your product hits the mark. When you use that information to improve your product, everyone wins. Caveat: Not all feedback is equally valuable, and you’ll want to check that the responses you receive aren’t just the byproducts of how the sales team is incentivized – and that they are aligned with company strategy. Otherwise, you may end up acting on insights that are only relevant to a very few (though probably high value) customers.

Product & Marketing: The marketing department wants to attract great leads, warm them up, lead them through the sales funnel and deliver them to sales ready, willing, and able to buy. To do that, they need to be able to give people a reason (a differentiator) why your product is the best solution around. You don’t want to build just any product. You want to build a uniquely valuable product. Let them in on your thought process as you ideate, create, fine-tune and add – and in return, listen to their insights on what your ideal client wants (because it’s their job to know your ideal client in depth).

Product & Customer Success: Customer success agents are looking at the end-game of helping customers find real-world success with your product, even if that success lies outside of your product. Often, this help takes the form of producing customer education materials for use during and after onboarding (which come with the added benefit of improving retention). These educational materials pull triple duty: They can be used in onboarding, retention, and by customer support to resolve problems more efficiently. When you use your expertise to support these functions, you’ll also save your product dev team time by diverting queries they may otherwise be drafted into resolving.

Product & Customer Service: Customer service’s raison d’etre is to retain customers and deliver positive experiences. Their goals might also include improving sales, and above all, they want to solve problems. But they’re working at a disadvantage. By the time a customer makes contact with them, a problem has already occurred. This is where a close relationship between product, customer success, and customer service can help catch problems before they happen and provide support before it’s desperately needed.

For product managers, customer service can be a goldmine of insights into where customers get into trouble. However, don’t treat every piece of feedback equally. Keep in mind that they deal with everyone – your ideal clients and the less-than-ideal clients. Feedback from the less-than-ideal clients is pyrite in your goldmine. It looks just as shiny, but it’s not worth a dime.

Step 3: Connect the dots – and departments

Too often, each of these departments are treated as separate kingdoms with very little communication between them. And, when communication does happen, it’s seen as a burden or inconvenience. This is the highest and toughest wall to break down, which is why identifying how each department can help the others is foundational to achieving a cohesive whole.

Consider hosting an informal meeting with the other department heads and their key employees to chart out how each can help serve the others’ interests. Draw it on a whiteboard. Then, make a wish list for each department of what feedback they’d like, and what feedback they’d like to give.

Jessica Pfeifer, Co-founder of Wootric, the in-app Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey platform, says you don’t have to organize a big meeting or start a company-wide movement to make yourself the company MVP.  Wootric customers are often product team leaders that are using NPS as a lean tool for gathering customer feedback inside their applications. Pfeifer says, “I get excited when I see PMs using Slack, Intercom or Zapier to route relevant qualitative feedback to other teams for action. They are increasing their value while meeting the needs of their colleagues and helping to knit the broader team together around a common goal: customer happiness. As a single  benchmark metric that everyone can rally around, NPS is such a natural unifier.”

A natural unifier. As product manager, that term describes you too. By offering to lend a hand (or lead the way) to customer success initiatives from all departments, you can become the epicenter of a culture of customer centricity. But it’s not all about customer success – this is about your success. When you help colleagues achieve their goals, you build a network of people who will consider you a go-to problem-solver. And, in the age of 360° reviews, these people are in position – as much as your boss and your team – to boost your career.

Where can you start? Take a look around your company, and keep your ears open, to find which departments may be feeling pain right now. You’ll make fast friends when you build your first bridge in that direction.

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