Two trends stand out to me when I reflect on my experience leading product teams over the past 10+ years. The first is the profound transformation the product management profession is undergoing and the second is that lessons learned from building B2C products are gradually changing how B2B products are designed, managed and built.
When looking at both trends more closely I got a strong sense of déjà-vu — both are reminiscent of the transformation the marketing profession underwent over the past 15 years:
Like in a game of Broken Telephone, some of the most common terms used to describe agility and the “new age” of startup culture and product development have taken a meaning quite different than their original intent, one that could be counter productive and in some cases destructive to teams’ ability to execute.
The essence of agile methodology is allowing teams to handle smaller, more manageable chunks of work, get market feedback, quickly adapt and correct course. The benefits of this approach are numerous but, like many other management approaches, the devil is in the details – how do you determine what those smaller chunks of work are and how do you find the best way to move forward after receiving feedback?
Here are a few common misconceptions of agile product development:
Many B2B SaaS startups I’ve met managed to find early product-market fit, but struggle to evolve their product to help them scale; they’ve achieved some good traction and need to expand their beachhead, cross the chasm and replicate their success into a much larger market.
To manage that transition, your product and offering will need to evolve in several significant aspects:
I’ve been talking to many early stage Enterprise SaaS companies recently and talked to them about their sales and marketing funnel. For many B2B SaaS companies it takes 3-12 months, depending on their ACV and other factors, to convert a lead to a paying customer.
For many SaaS companies, conversion rates change depending on the age of the prospect at every stage in the funnel. For example, they may close only 5% of their opportunities the same month they were created, but close an additional 10% the following month and 5% additional conversions 2 months after the opportunity is created.
The SaaS model had tremendous impact on various business roles and functions over the past few years. New financial models, sales methodologies, the rise of customer success and the widespread use of the agile development model are just a few examples.
The transformation of product management’s role in SaaS , on the other hand, is not discussed as often although it deeply impacts both business operations and strategy.
In addition to traditional PM skills, great SaaS product teams must be intimately connected with more stakeholders than ever and are required to be much more involved with the day to day operations of the business. This requires different skill sets from PMs and additional leadership and strategic skills from product leaders.