Efficient product management is essential for startup and SaaS success, but the role is sometimes misunderstood by many in our industry.
If you’ve read our blogs before, you know we love learning from SaaS experts as much as you do. So, we reached out to successful SaaS product managers and asked them:
What is the most important tip you would share for becoming an effective product manager in the SaaS space?
Even if your current position doesn’t directly involve product management, this is an important read because successful product management for your SaaS shouldn’t exist in a silo. Everyone in the company, from developers to marketing, plays a role in making your product the best it can be.
As usual, when responses started to come in there were some common themes that began to emerge:
Talk to your customers. Communicate and engage with your product users from the very first user experience and throughout the lifecycle of the customer. It is mission critical for product managers to communicate directly with customers in order to be the most effective at their job.
Be data driven. Many of the SaaS product managers spoke about the necessity of both communicating with customers and monitoring metrics to manage and improve your product. Learning to incorporate both the qualitative and quantitative feedback is clearly a hallmark of an effective SaaS PM.
Learn to say “no.” Determining when to say “no” to product feature requests is one of the most important (but painful) aspects of a project manager’s job. We discussed this in length in our blog, “Feature Creep: What Causes It & How To Avoid It.” ChartMogul’s Vinay Seshadri advises the sooner you become comfortable saying no, the better PM you’ll become.
Teamwork. Product management goes beyond guiding your team. Rally and excite your coworkers around improvements that provide value to your customers. When there is buy-in, everyone is more excited and eager to work. And remember, great leaders lead by example.
A huge “thank you” to everyone who took the time to share their PM tips with us (and you, our readers)!
You need to spend more time than you think talking to your customers. Talking to customers is something that every product manager knows is important, but at this point, it’s become more of a buzzword than something that actually gets done. Everyone says they’re customer driven but very few teams make talking to customers a real priority. This one thing pays off more than almost anything else you can do. Stay laser focused on your customers and talk to them as often as you can.
As a product manager in the SaaS space, you have to deeply understand the metrics behind your performance (customer success and retention) and set a mission that unites your team around those goals. If you want to create real value for your customers, you need to be consistently connected with them through conversations and usage tracking, and bring these insights to the rest of Product.
When you’re working on SaaS products, you have the amazing super power that it’s easy to launch, learn, and iterate. You don’t have to figure it all out upfront or make giant guesses that you’ll be stuck with for years. Play around with smaller launches and optimizing your launches for learning. For example, I worked on a launch where we went through several internal design iterations on the layout of a new page. When we refocused on the learning mindset, we realized the most important question was whether people would get to the page or be interested in the functionality at all, not whether we’d optimized the secondary actions. That helped us stop iterating and get our work in front of customers where we learned some key feedback that customers weren’t that interested in our feature, but were really interested in some related functionality. It sent our future work in a different direction.
Director of Product
There’re dozens of relevant answers depending on the reader’s natural skill set. For me personally, the most important thing has been learning to say “No” – to customers, internal stakeholders, founders :). It’s crucial in order to maintain focus on priorities, and deliver quality product. A natural side effect of this is that, you’ll be antagonizing people all the time. The sooner you get past that as just part of the job, the sooner you’ll become more effective as a PM.
Head of Product
Product managers in the SaaS space have a real opportunity to better understand what their users are doing in their products in real time. Engage with users as they start to use your product to get immediate feedback about the experience. Gather qualitative and quantitative data to understand user behaviour. Use that data to inform the metrics you track, how you engage future users and the features you build. But don’t get overwhelmed with data. Before you start tracking data understand the goals and measures of success for the product. Blindly tracking data will not give you a product vision. Use data to inform decisions, not to drive your product direction or purpose.
Director of Product
The #1 thing I’ve learned is the importance of creating and cultivating a user centric culture within the company, and especially within the development team. When there is buy-in and empathy towards the users and their experiences across the board, features become opportunities for innovation, meetings become team building exercises and good product management becomes the most important ingredient in creating raving fans and a thriving community for your product.
Err on the side of over communicating. Communication is a critical part of being a product manager. I’ve learned to never assume that we are all on the same page, and to never expect someone else to “loop you in.” The transfer of information is a core responsibility for product managers — over communicating is much better than the alternative.
Product Management Consultant & Author
The Lean Product Playbook
In a SaaS business, your monthly retention rate — the percentage of customers that continue to pay you from one month to the next — is a very important metric that determines how successful your business is. As I mention in my Product Analytics talk, your retention rate is a direct measure of your level of product-market fit. As a SaaS product manager, you need to measure your retention rate, ideally using cohort analysis to compare it over time. Once you’ve done that, you need to generate and execute ideas to improve it. This requires identifying the underlying reasons why customers who cancel choose not to renew. It’s also beneficial to talk with your most loyal and active customers to understand why they value your product so much. These qualitative insights will help you come up with improvement ideas. Then, you test these ideas — ideally using an integrated A/B testing framework — to see if they improve your retention rate. A good SaaS PM has to manage both the quantitative and analytical parts of the job (which I call the “Spock” approach) as well as the qualitative and customer understanding parts of the job (which I call the “Oprah” approach).
Many product managers get so caught up in the technology aspects of the product that they fail to manage the product like a business. Today’s product managers need to look beyond the product to its promotion, sales, and operations characteristics, and become business managers instead of technologists.
SaaS product managers should leverage their product metrics to look for patterns. Are people coming back daily? Are they upgrading to your paid plan? Are they telling their friends? If not, why not?
Metrics are great—but they don’t answer the underlying questions. Just like product managers in any technology space, SaaS product managers must connect directly with customers to understand the “why” behind their product metrics.
The Clever PM
Get out of the office!! Especially when we’re working in SaaS, where we host all the servers, code, and data, it can be extremely tempting to just analyze what we have available to us from the quantitative side of things and drive our decisions, strategy, and vision from that. But when we do that, we’re missing an essential part of the picture — the humanity of our customers and our users. We don’t create software for other software to use (normally) — we create software and platforms to solve real problems that real people experience every single day. And the only way that we’re going to get a complete picture of what those problems really are is to actually engage with our customers in conversations — discussions about their lives, their work, their daily struggles, their pain points.
The data we have can be essential in telling us if what we’ve been doing or what we are doing works — but it will almost never give you the best insights into innovative and disruptive changes that you can make — those are held deep inside the people who use your software or who have problems that you can solve. And you’ll never uncover those sitting within the four walls of your office.
Co-Founder & CEO
You’re only as good as what you draw out of your team. The people you work with are experts from their own angle – each of them knows something you don’t. So support them, listen to them and bring out the best in them so they can help you make better product decisions.
What about you? What do you think is the most important tip for becoming an effective SaaS product manager? Share your tip in the comments below.
You don’t have to be a PM to contribute — what are the traits of effective SaaS PMs you work (or have worked) with? We always enjoy hearing from you!