Product Manager Contact Points
Product Managers have a lot of responsibilities. They must build an effective strategy and make sure it is implemented and measured. They need data-backed insights to guide the strategy and support from other functions to execute it. Therefore, product managers spend a lot of time with two major contact points: customers and the cross-functional team.
ThunderAct surveyed over 100 product managers to learn about responsibilities and challenges. In this post we’ll talk about the two major contact points and how product managers work with them to enhance products and services.
Working with Customers
Only by owning customer insights can you get and maintain product-market fit in your category. Real product-market fit happens when customers are willing to pay a price for the core values the product provides. Therefore, customers are the top priority for a product manager (and for the entire company), so regular interactions are expected.
Product Managers, must understand customer’s needs, market, lifecycle, purchasing process, usage information, success metrics, and challenges. Today a typical product manager would usually interact with customers mainly at conferences, design or roadmap sessions, and sales or support focused interactions (such as support or deal support).
But just how often are product managers meeting with customers? When we asked how many direct customer interactions a product manager had each quarter, 36% reported the number was less than 10 and 42% reported between 11-50 direct interactions. By doing a simple math it seems that even for the best scenario, interacting with customers is not a daily activity even though their voice is critical for the product and strategy success.
All product managers want to have dedicated learning sessions or VOC interviews with customers, but many simply lack the time. Our survey revealed that 42% feel they have too many fires to put out, and the same number report a lack of time to handle their responsibilities. When asked the question about customer interactions, one product manager remarked “I don’t go to any, my VP goes”. Working with customers should not be an executive task only. We feel that customer interactions are a vital activity for product managers and organizations that prioritize them enjoy a better understanding of the market and the challenger so they can gain competitive advantage.
With the number of direct interactions low for many product managers, it is important to look throughout the entire organization for other sources to learn and to complete the picture of the customer’s experience and needs. Why all the organization? Because 30% of enterprise employees are customer facing and likely interact with customers daily, their feedback is an important source of information for product managers. Those teams such as sales, support, customer success, professional services and others interact with various functions within the customer’s organization to understand a wide range of feedback and data.
Those interactions between your organization employees are priceless as they are always in context and provide as close to a 360 view as possible of the customers state, experience and needs.
It is also important to remember that the execution of that strategy the product manager sets requires teamwork and collaboration. Today, it is often that a business-decision made by product managers or other decision makers is being challenged by others in the company in which creates delays and disruptions or even failure. Product managers lead a cross-functional team that works toward common goals and metrics. The top 3 internal functions our survey respondents reported working with were marketing, customer success, and sales. When product managers collaborate closely with these functions, they tend to see higher levels of customer satisfaction.
These three functions have many customer interactions themselves, and can feed insights to product managers in an indirect way. Unfortunately, the interactions are in many cases not recorded at all, and in other cases kept in various tools (even notebooks), unstandardized, unstructured, siloed, and therefore, unanalyzed.
The product manager role is so challenging because they must have excellent customer interview skills and be able to lead a cross-functional team without authority. They do this while juggling both long-term planning and fighting the fires needed to keep customers successful. Product managers with great customer and team collaboration have set themselves up for success.
To summarize, two main contact points for the product manager in his job fulfillment are customers and customer-facing functions who work with customers and can voice their needs, experience and challenges. It seems that since the product manager has so much to do, those sources are considered at times a “fire” to be handled or as a disturbance to regular tasks.
In the next post we will discuss the importance of data for product managers, and the unique challenges that come with managing it.
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