A few months ago, I had a very animated discussion with a few product managers and analysts at a seminar. There is no denying the fact that customers are the focal point in the SaaS business and there was unison on this fact, but that’s where the consensus ended! There were extreme positions taken in terms of what and how Product Management has changed and what they should be doing in the SaaS world.
Has it really changed? Some wanted to bring pricing into the Product Management bucket, while some argued that product pricing is really not a product manager’s job. They provide inputs based on which the pricing is calculated, but their inputs are not final. While few wanted to engage social media to track customers and their feedback, there were some who said that it was overhyped!
In today’s connected and so-called social world, product managers need to be more involved and engaged with the customer. Customers are the best marketing channel anyone can have, and word of mouth has found a new meaning in social media today. So why not use it for one’s own benefit? Customers can be engaged in multiple ways – the easiest being a periodic customer council or a conference, an event where customers come together and product managers get the forum that they always wanted. But it is expensive and most of the time, not inclusive!
Instead, it would be a better option for product managers to take the additional role of a Community Manager, create a community of their customers and representatives. This will encourage customers to use the community to debate, raise feature requests and vote on feature prioritization, etc. While it provides an intuitive way for a customer to participate, it also provides flexibility on how and when they would like to engage. It will also provide a very powerful platform for customers to collaborate and help each other. After all, they use the product and know it better than the Product Management team and the support teams put together! They can be the encyclopedia of the product, creating avenues to identify the enhancements and additional features and help you debug and create more values than one can imagine!
So where does it leave product managers? It is the product managers, who have to manage the community, identify and moderate the fruitful discussions. They have to keep an eye on feature enhancements or feature requests or even usefulness of a feature. With their extensive knowledge of the market and the domain, they have to seed the discussion, associate it quickly and help create or change the product roadmap based on the inputs from the community. They can even identify the premium options so that it adds to the top line of the organization.
There are different terminologies used for a product manager today – Community Managers, Innovation Managers, Product Strategy Managers, etc. But all put together, they are product managers and they own the product, and these are the new roles that product managers have to play in today’s fast changing world.