Recently, in conversations with Product Leaders in my network, I have noticed a strategic shift within businesses, towards a more product-led growth strategy, which uses the product as a channel to drive organisational KPIs. User acquisition, expansion, conversion and retention are all driven by the product itself primarily, and all departments across the company are aligned around the product. It means putting the product at the heart of everything the business does and becoming really customer-centric, because a product cannot exist without happy customers and clients.
One great example of a product-led company is Zoom. Set up in 2011, it grew to 3 million users in 2013, 30 million users in 2014, 100 million users in 2015, and by 2019 the company IPO’d with a market cap of $15.9 billion. Whilst not all product-led businesses will be successful, Zoom is perhaps one of the best examples of how a well-executed Product-Led Growth strategy can work.
However, for a product-led growth to be successful you need a strong Product team, and this means hiring great talent.
A great product team are completely customer-centric and interact with their customers to gain first-hand feedback which they can use to shape their decisions. Great product teams have a passion for customers and become experts on the customer. This means they come up with the best concepts, products, and features because they know what their customer's pain points and challenges are and can create products with clear intentions.
Equally, a great product team values focus. They understand that having a robust strategy means that more ideas are rejected than accepted and that this is all part of the process of testing and refining their vision. This may sound like it should be more time-consuming, however a good product team is optimised for learning and can fail fast. They are constantly moving forwards and analysing data that identifies features that are and are not working for the customer so they can quickly make amends and changes, and most importantly innovate!
Communication is key in product teams. A great product team communicates their goals in advance and also shares frequent updates (the good and the bad) and the impact of their work on the wider business. They can communicate their successes and progress because they have usually taken the time to select and define a set of core metrics that are specific to the company and the customers. By carefully selecting and defining these metrics, the product team can measure meaningful results and data as opposed to vanity metrics that don’t really contribute to the business goals.
Great product teams are fully invested in their customers, understand the values of focus, learning, and communication, as know that failing fast is the best route to continuous innovation and creating an overall better product.
The age-old question of what a Product Manager is compared to what a Product Owner is, is still something that doesn’t have one set answer in the Product space because the role definitions tend to change between business to business. From discussions I have had within my network the majority of people seemed to agree with the following.
The Product Owner is a Scrum development position that translates the customer's needs into a product vision. They’re customer-centric and stay updated on market trends and customer demands, to deliver products and features that customers want. They communicate needs and issues to the wider team and prioritising the backlog. They also manage user stories, organise customer feedback, and identify common roadblocks by acting as customer support representatives. A Product owner focusses on and approves Product quality to maintain conceptual and technical integrity.
The Product Manager guides the process from start to finish, engages and communicates to stakeholders and other internal departments, and makes sure the team are working to deadlines, as well as making any tough logistical decisions that may influence the delivery timeline. They work closely with the design and engineering teams and focus on long-term strategy, the product vision, market trends and the identification of new opportunities. They also perform customer behaviour analyses and monitor usage charts in order to identify the most optimal release strategy. They are also more focussed on the logistical timelines of product development and work to determine accurate deadlines ad timelines, which they can then communicate to stakeholders and other management teams.
Whilst many businesses tend to merge these roles, there are benefits to hiring both Product Owners and Product Managers, given that you define these roles as suggested above. These include:
Like with other roles in Product, the role of a CPO is relatively arbitrary and is often seen used interchangeably with role titles such as Head of Product or whatever the most senior role in a company is. Mind the Product defines the CPO as the most senior Product person in an organisation. They often manage more than one Product team and represent product in the C-suite. They are responsible for overall product strategy and alignment within their teams and across the whole organisation.
The requirement for a CPO really seems to depend on the size of your business. If you are a small start-up who is Product-Led, but there is only one product team and very few layers between Product and the C suite, you can most likely suffice with a strong Product Manager to connect the teams. However, in larger organisations or growing organisations where the suite of products is expanding and the number of product teams is increasing, it becomes important to consider adding in new layers to ensure all layers are connecting and communicating efficiently. However, as previously suggested, the requirement for these higher-level product tiers really depends on the company goals, size, and the customer needs.
In Manchester so far it has been relatively difficult to hire these CPO level roles due to a talent shortage. What I have seen so far, is many businesses merging their CTO roles with a CPO roles and having one person doing two roles, but whilst this might be an acceptable compromise for now, I personally question how sustainable that is long term, especially in product-led businesses. I therefore expect to see many businesses relying on their Head of Products or Senior Product Managers to fill this gap, and with time see internal promotions to level. In comparison to other European cities, including London, the Product market in Manchester is still relatively young and therefore I expect that it will take a few years for these product role tiers to fully emerged and become fully defined.
The strengths of a great product team highlighted above speak for themselves, but in a product-led company, these points become even more important. If everything in the business is built upon and around the product, it’s imperative that your product function is effective and efficient.
In a product-led company, the product team glues all your departments together, keeping them aligned, informed, and on track to hit growth targets, which results in creating high-quality products faster and consistently, improved profits, happier customers, and overall business success. Structuring a team efficiently also boosts business success, because when employees can easily share information with each other they can make better decisions, faster.
Hiring the wrong product specialists can result in huge financial losses, as well as causing damage to team morale, productivity, customer churn, and delivery time. In a company with product at its centre, this damage would be felt throughout the whole company and would have a huge knock-on effect through all departments.
If you’re looking to hire your next Head of Product, Product Manager, Product Owner or anything in between, Maxwell Bond can help.
Maxwell Bond is the partner of choice for specialist tech recruitment consultancy across the UK and Germany, identifying and hiring top product professionals for a variety of businesses, from SMEs to global FTSE250 corporations.