I did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on product management on NextBigWhat a couple of months ago. There were a bunch of questions I was asked about product management. I just realized that I had not cross-posted my responses on the AMA on my Medium blog.
Here are a select few questions I was asked in the NextBigWhat AMA and my answers to those questions.
What’s the difference between product management in B2B/SaaS and B2C?
To be honest, I haven’t worked in the B2C sector. I’m guessing the fundamentals of product management remain the same in both.
Following are some of the differences I can think of:
- Customer Research: B2B PMs tend to speak with customers a LOT more than B2C customers. In B2C, it is quite likely that you are an end user of your product (think PMs in Ola, Swiggy etc.). In B2B, you’re not always the primary user of your product. As such, it is even more important to speak with customers in B2B than in B2C.
- UI/UX: I think there’s a lot more focus on getting the UI/UX perfect in B2C than B2B. It’s not like the UI/UX doesn’t matter at all in B2B but you can build a great product/business with an average UI/UX in B2B.
- Quantitative Analysis: You will likely do a LOT of quantitative analysis in B2C compared to B2B. That’s just because you have so much data in B2C compared to B2B. You could build a B2B/SaaS company that does $50 million in revenues even with a few hundred customers. Would quantitative analysis based on data from a couple of hundred customers be enough to draw insights? Probably not.
- Feature Development: For B2C products, you’re likely to only develop those features that affect a majority of your customers. It can sometimes be a bit different in B2B where even if 20% of your customers strongly desire a feature, it is likely that you will consider developing this feature.
That said, a lot of B2B/SaaS companies (Dropbox, Mailchimp etc.) that focus on SMBs tend to behave a bit like B2C companies where UI/UX is important, they deal with thousands of customers etc.
How did you get into product management?
Back in 2011–12, I wanted to create products that would help solve the problems I was facing or that my friends were facing. I did not intend to make money out of these products nor build companies around them. Just wanted to create some interesting products. So I taught myself programming and created a bunch of web apps like ghatiparty.com, bridgebill.com, ndailydeals.com etc. back in 2011–12. I had a full-time sales job then so I was doing all this after office hours and on weekends. After a couple of years of doing this, I thought that I might as well take up product management on a full-time basis given how I interested I was in creating products.
Which is more exciting — B2B or B2C and why?
B2B is more exciting to me. In B2C, there seems to be a huge element of luck involved. Note that I’m only talking about pure-tech B2C products like Facebook / Instagram etc. and not offline-online plays such as Uber, Flipkart etc. I still don’t understand why Instagram succeeded and another product then called picplz did not. For some reason, some B2C companies take off and some others don’t.
It can also happen that you end up investing a lot of time, money and effort for a B2C play and have nothing to show for it. Things are a bit different in B2B. If you’re solving a critical business problem, you’re likely to be successful. It’s a different matter whether you’re moderately successful or highly successful.
Lastly, B2C seems to be a winner take-all market. B2B, on the other hand, is very different where you might have dozens of competitors solving a similar problem and all of them doing relatively well.
How do I get a break into doing product management?
A lot of people tend to ask this. There are a few standard ways actually:
- Try to move into a product management role in the current company you’re in. This is possibly the easiest and the most convenient route of getting your first break in product management.
- Do an MBA from a Tier 1 college (ISB, IIMs etc.). For some reason, companies tend to be open to PM roles for folks fresh out of an MBA program, even though these folks don’t have any experience in product management. I don’t know why this is so but it works.
- Work pro-bono part-time for 10–15 hours a week for an early-stage startup on their product. You can do this on weekends or in your free time on weekdays. Once you have done this for a few months, you will have something to show on your resume for your product experience.
- Learn coding and design and build your own products. Basically build a portfolio that you can then show off to potential recruiters. This is probably the toughest (since it takes a lot more time and effort compared to the options above) but I can guarantee you that this is a highly enjoyable experience.
I’m helping a client solve a customer retention problem by helping them identify leading indicators of churn for their software product. Any frameworks I can leverage?
I tend to analyze churn based on Who is churning and When they are churning. Based on this, I then devise a plan of action.
The ‘Who’ of churn can be understood by analyzing/segmenting churning customers basis any of these dimensions or a mix of these dimensions: Pricing Plan, Regions/Countries, Source of Acquisition, Size of Company, Industry etc.
The ‘When’ of churn can be understood by analyzing the lifecycle of the churning segment.
Early stages: Are they churning in the early stages? Maybe it is an onboarding problem.
Middle stages: If they are churning in the middle stages, problems could be any of the following:
- Team adoption issues
- Irregular use
- Product issues
- Poor support/service
- Cheaper competitors
- Low RoI on product
Later stages: If it’s in the later stages during renewal, it is likely to be an adoption issue, not enough RoI or maybe a recurring credit card failure issue.
I’ve explained this in a series of blog posts here.
How did BrowserStack became so successful in a short time?
BrowserStack folks are just excellent at spotting the most critical problems to solve for a customer. And their execution is flawless. You cannot help but love the product.
How do I stay ahead of the curve in my industry for new feature development?
You have to genuinely understand the problems your customers are facing. The only way to do this is to speak with your customers on a regular basis. Indirect feedback through sales/success can only help to a certain extent. I have done both telephonic calls as well as in-person meetings. Nothing beats in-person meetings. The more customers you speak with and the more different types of customers you speak with, the more ahead of the curve you will be in your industry. In fact, whenever possible, don’t just always talk to existing customers. You should also be speaking with prospects or even folks who never became your customers. Just helps to have different perspectives.
Any pointers on conducting customer meetings?
I wrote a long blog post on this actually. You can refer to that for more details.
I do find the following list of questions very useful in validating whether a business problem that a customer is telling you is actually a critical business problem or not:
- When was the last time they faced this business problem and how often do they face it? This helps in understanding whether the problem is occasional or if it is persistent. It might be difficult to build a business around a product that solves only occasional problems for a customer.
- How does the problem impact their business or how much time and money does the problem cost their business? This helps in understanding the gravity of the problem. Even if the business problem is persistent, if it doesn’t cost the customer substantial time and money, they wouldn’t be that keen on solving the problem
- How are they currently solving the problem? Even if the customer claims that the problem is persistent and that it results in a substantial loss of time and money, a good way to further validate the problem is by asking the customers about their current solution to the problem. If the problem is critical, the customer would already have some sort of a solution to alleviate the problem. If there is no solution currently, then is the problem as grave as the customer is making it out to be?
- What are the challenges with the current solution? This helps in understanding why the customer still perceives the problem to be a problem even though they’ve figured out a solution to it.
How is the product experience at WebEngage different from BrowserStack?
One huge difference between the two companies is that BrowserStack has thousands of customers but the ACV (Annual Contract Value) of each customer is not that high. WebEngage on the other hand has hundreds of customers but the ACV is much much higher. So one is a high volume, low transaction value business and the other is a low volume, high transaction value business. As a result, it was much easier to quantitatively measure the impact of various initiatives at BrowserStack. At WebEngage, it’s not that easy.
Another big difference is that majority of BrowserStack’s revenues comes from the US and Western Europe whereas with WebEngage most revenues come from India, Middle East, South East Asia and some from the US. There is considerable difference in how users in these regions behave.
What growth hacks did BrowserStack use?
No hacks for sure.
There are a bunch of things we did while I was there to increase conversion and reduce churn. It will be too many to cover here (although I did cover a few in my blog post). We did a bunch of things — made the free trial more restrictive, changed the content of the lifecycle emails to show more product value, changed the pricing plans etc. There are no one or two hacks that stand out. Of course all of this is from 2014–16 while I was there so things should be a lot different now.
Any thoughts on SaaS sector in India?
I’m extremely bullish on the SaaS sector in India. I don’t see any reason why we won’t have a number of Freshdesks and BrowserStacks in the next few years. Seeing a long list of Indian SaaS startups as you can see in this blog post makes me very happy.
Can you talk about the core skills needed as a PM?
- Strategy & big picture thinking
- Product sense
- Structuring problems & analytics
- Soft skills & communication
- Attention to detail
- Project execution
I wrote a blog post on a similar topic. That blog post covers what each of the points above mean. See this.
I loved your blog post on product roadmap. Where did you find this model? Is this how you guys build product at WebEngage?
Yes that is exactly how we build products at WebEngage.
We had to stop using the Theme aspect of the roadmap as things are slightly more chaotic given that it’s a startup so it’s difficult to work only based on Themes. We built this model internally. I guess I was just looking for something very simple and this model fit the bill perfectly.
How do you effectively allocate resources for user growth or how do you accurately determine total cost per acquisition for each channel?
That’s a tough one. Funnels are not linear by any means. To be honest, we’ve struggled with truly understanding the attribution for the leads we get. There are so many different ways in which we target customers that the attribution needs to be weighted for all the different sources. That said, if its a B2C scenario and you have enough volume, even looking at last-click, first-click etc. model will throw some insights. It may not be entirely accurate. But it’s definitely enough to make certain decisions.
How do you decide the success of a feature or improvement?
Most important features tend to move the needle for you whether in the form of more sales, more conversions, more expansion revenue, increase in leads etc. This, I suppose, is the ultimate criteria of the success of a feature.
However, not all features are disruptive in nature. Maybe there are a bunch of small UX improvements that need to be made to make the life of the customer easier. There’s no monetary impact here. But it certainly makes the customer very happy.
What are the typical documents that a PM at WebEngage is expected to produce?
Just the detailed spec sheet actually. If it is a complex feature then we also end up making PPTs to explain to the larger team what the feature is about (this is quite rare though).
Other than these, there’s just the product roadmap that we maintain in a Google Sheet.
Any thoughts on how to organize PMs? Should they be oriented on basis of product area/customer journey/business goals? How is this achieved at WebEngage?
Great question. I don’t actually have enough experience with it, to be honest.
At BrowserStack, engineering & product teams were organized mostly based on the product you’re working on (so product A has 1 team, product B another team) with design & QA being shared resources.
It’s very different in WebEngage. The product & engineering team is extremely lean. Just two of us in the product team and 20–22 folks in the engineering team. Right now the engineering teams are divided based on the function (so front-end team, mobile SDK team etc.). Product team currently oversees the entire product as a monolith. Definitely not the most efficient way of doing it but this is what works for us for now at least.
Hey Arpit, thank you for being here. Would love for you to share how you see the SaaS mar-tech industry evolving with greater integration of AI & ML.
I don’t know about the industry but our product vision at WebEngage is to empower the marketer to run their retention marketing on autopilot. Instead of using only your intelligence to run marketing, let the platform guide your marketing. The idea is that you just set up WebEngage once and then you just optimize based on what WebEngage tells you. There is no reason marketers should be limited to their own intelligence to figure out which users to target, when to target them, what journeys to run etc. The software should be able to do this and much more for you.
What framework do you use to prioritize features? Plus, do you use/recommend PRD format ?
We use our own framework actually. I’ve covered this in a lot of detail here.
We just stack rank all our features based on this formula:
Total Score = 100 x Urgency + 10 x Impact — 1 x Effort
Of course there is a lot more to this than just coming up with a score for the feature. We ensure that we work on a mix of disruptive features, minor improvements etc. every quarter. The blog post above has the details.
How do you decide on urgency? How much of that is sales influenced — how do you convince Engineering when it comes to a controversial feature?
Qualitative call, really. It’s always a mix of urgency, impact and effort for us. Sales does influence the roadmap as well. Can’t quantify it but it does influence the roadmap in a big way for us at WebEngage. Given that WebEngage is in the SaaS space, we haven’t really built any controversial features as yet.