The relationship between seller and customer is crucial in product management. The customer success team makes sure that users are as happy and comfortable with the product as possible. But, how much should product managers focus on the happiness of a customer?
The Director of Enterprise at InVisionApp Inc joined us for a live AMA session and shared his insights on this, InVision’s culture, his overall motivation in product and much more.
Currently the Director of Enterprise Product at InvisionApp Inc and prior to that he was the Product Manager at the same company. He is the co-founder of Checkmate where he spent almost 4 years as the Vice President of Product and Customer Success. He has studied political science.
How did you get into product management and is an MBA required to score interviews?
I started my career at Deloitte consulting, working on large government ERP projects. I wasn’t passionate about the work, but learned a lot about project management and working with large teams. From there, I joined Jetsetter (a startup in the travel space) in an innovation role, that shared many attributes of product management.
An MBD/advanced degree is NOT required to be a great Product Manager. You can gain product management experience in many ways!
Which motivates you more, being a Customer Success Manager or Product Manager? What skill set overlaps in customer success and product?
There is a lot of overlap between these departments, and some organizations are even beginning to combine Customer Success and Product. As the name suggests, Customer Success is primarily responsible for ensuring customers are successfully using the product. This means they understand how product functionality can be best adapted to their needs and use cases.
Product Management is primarily responsible for creating alignment between customer problem’s, business/product strategy, and technical capabilities. Great Product Managers spend a lot of time with the Customer Success team, as the people on this team often have fantastic insights into how customers are using the product (in its current state), what gaps they experience, and what additional problems may be on their radar.
We have an incredible Customer Success team at InVision, and we work very closely together!
Are you more competition focused or client focused, when building your product roadmap?
At InVision, we are most focused on our customer’s priorities and problems, and our vision for the product and industry. We watch what our competitors are doing and monitor emerging start-ups and trends within the industry, but generally, these areas don’t contribute much to our roadmap. We have a strong vision for the future of the digital product design workflow, and we’re very focused on executing on that vision.
One caveat: this approach doesn’t work in every product category/space. My last company, Checkmate, was in a very competitive space (lots of companies providing messaging products to small businesses). In that environment, maintaining parity with competitor’s features and capabilities was important.
How different do you think the challenges are in B2B and the consumer product space?
From my perspective, the biggest differences between B2B and consumer businesses on the product side revolves around the persona’s you are serving. In consumer businesses, you typically have one customer: your consumer. So everything you do is focused on solving a problem or need for that customer, reaching this customer through marketing/growth initiatives, and staying relevant to this customer over time.
On the B2B side, you have many customers to think about. A product like InVision is used by designers, product managers, engineers, marketers, support teams, etc. Also, teams such as IT, Legal, Compliance, and Risk are very involved in the sales process. We need to consider all of these personas as our customer and ensure we are prioritizing initiatives that solve for all of their needs.
Could you give some recommendations on some tools or frameworks to identify customer needs?
Two great books I can recommend on this topic: Sprint is a book about surprising ideas: that the biggest challenges require less time, not more; that individuals produce better solutions than teams; and that you can test anything in one week by building a realistic façade.
The second recommendation is Inspired. Great practical, no-nonsense guide for design workshops and focused on real problem identification and validation.
Can you speak about InVision’s remote working culture? What are the challenges and benefits?
InVision’s remote culture is one of our most powerful super-powers. Being remote forces us to communicate clearly, provided regular status updates, and be very intentional about our projects and goals. Plus, we can hire the best people from anywhere in the world. It does require some additional planning and time management, but the benefits far outweigh any negatives.
One of my biggest challenges is to get Sr. Leadership aligned and focused around the OKR’s. Can you provide any feedback to help?
Alignment with Sr. Leadership is always a challenge. It has been (to some degree) at every organization that I’ve been a part of (even the one that I started in. As a Product Manager, my best advice would be:
- Regularly communicate goals/OKR’s and status to leadership to they always know what is being worked on.
- When new “urgent” things pop up, be sure to communicate the trade-offs and impacts of taking them on
- Share your OKR’s and goals broadly. Even when an entire team or department hasn’t adopted OKR’s, a single team taking the lead on this can help bring clarity and alignment to the rest of the organization.
What is your advice for budgeting and resource allocation? How do you plan for the unexpected?
This is super challenging! I haven’t found the perfect way to manage this challenge yet either. Currently, we’re experimenting with quarterly plans that focus on initiatives and the number of people (by function) that are needed to execute on each. We also include some buffer for unexpected and urgent work. We’re planning two quarters out so that we can stay ahead of hiring, and re-evaluating these plans monthly.
What key technical skills one should have to become a kick-ass product manager?
It depends on the type of role that you’re looking for. Some Product Manager roles are very business and strategy focused, others require more in-depth knowledge of a particular technical skillset. My best advice here would be to look for roles that align with your experience and skill set. JD’s for Product Manager roles can vary widely!
Regarding general skills/responsibilities, one of the best posts I’ve seen on this topic was from Ben Horowitz, called Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager. Though it was written 15 years ago, the concepts in this post still largely apply today.
What has been your biggest mistake as a product manager? What lessons did you obtain from it?
My biggest mistake (and a constant challenge) is getting caught up in the day-to-day demands of the role. As a Product Manager, it’s important to set aside enough time for product strategy work, planning, and thinking about the future of your product and market. If you’re always in the weeds, it’s challenging to see the bigger picture.
What is your final advice for aspiring product managers?
Many of you asked about skills required to become a product manager. One of the most important attributes that we look for in product managers is initiative and drive. When interviewing, I always look for people who have shown tremendous initiative. That doesn’t necessarily mean starting a company or building a product, or learning how to code. The initiative comes in many forms — working on side projects, contributing to a non-profit, etc.
My advice would be to invest your time in projects that you are passionate about. You can acquire Product Manager skills from nearly any project! As you’re interviewing, be sure to communicate how your learnings and skills from these experiences will apply for the role.