Product managers (PMs) are popularly known as the ‘CEO of the product’, and the role demands many core competencies, insight and foresight, and a culture fit that make it genuinely challenging. In essence, they coordinate entire projects and work purposefully along with their teams to implement the product vision.
Although a PM brings strategic experience and domain-specific expertise to a company, he/she depends on the team’s execution for most other tasks, as delegation is always a top priority for managers. But when it comes to product management, one must understand all the different aspects of a product, be it resource management, engineering, marketing or customer engagement. This holistic approach is crucial as he/she must be a quick thinker and an effective decision-maker to ensure the success of a product and hence, the company’s growth. In other words, every product manager needs to be a little ‘Aatmanirbhar’ but that does not undermine the importance of the team.
At The Makers Summit 2021, hosted by Inc42 earlier this year, the opening day saw leaders from the product ecosystem come together to share their unique experiences, hold crucial discussions around design, technology and marketing campaigns, and deep-dive into the up-and-coming trends.
Kedar Parikh, senior vice-president (product management) at Mumbai-based Netcore solutions, a marketing automation venture, was one of the experts who shared his experience and revealed how to become a self-reliant product manager in a world rapidly moving towards specialisation.
The Product-Led Growth
When a company adopts a product-led growth strategy, user acquisition, conversion and retention are primarily driven by the product alone. As India is now focussing on indigenous products and better manufacturing processes, it is not surprising that the product-led growth (PLG) strategy is gaining momentum all over the country.
The buzzword is the antithesis of sales-led growth (SLG), where sales processes and teams drive a company’s revenue growth. Although the SLG strategy plays a key role in widening the revenue funnel, startups today are waking up to the huge potential of PLG due to lower customer acquisition cost, or CAC, and higher chances of customer retention.
The rise of PLG as a business strategy can also be attributed to the maturity of Indian consumers. Today, customers are product savvy, more focussed on utility instead of aesthetics and celeb endorsements, and ready to consider what the competition is offering instead of showing unwavering brand loyalty. In brief, buyers now believe in the dictum: Show, don’t tell”
When a startup’s primary focus is the product, that product takes centre stage, and all major aspects of customer acquisition and retention remain a direct consequence of the product’s merits. During his session at The Makers Summit, Parikh highlighted that product-led growth, when done right, would always lead to long-term success and ensure easy scalability.
To drive the point home, Parikh illustrated the example of Zoom and how the video calling and conferencing app generated a lot of interest in India during the 2020 lockdowns, implemented to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
The app’s popularity was not the outcome of a high-octane marketing campaign or great advertorial success. The success story was driven by excellent product and word-of-mouth marketing. Zoom’s easy-to-use interface, with just four buttons to start a video call, and high-quality videos were a few of the reasons behind its widespread use.
Growth Hacking By Improving The Right Metrics
According to Parikh, understanding the PLG formula would be the first step towards self-reliance, followed by a sound comprehension of lean product analytics. Swearing by Dan Olsen’s The Lean Product Playbook, he explained how businesses could grow with minimum resources by relying on customer feedback. These analytical processes help build a mental checklist to identify the most crucial startup metrics requiring prioritised action.
In a bid to do so, product managers must understand what a product’s key metrics are and how to track the most important metrics that impact the company. A PM should always look at the short-term and the long-term goals of the business to find the common metrics that matter. The next step is to set baselines, or the current levels of the key metrics, to determine where a startup is struggling the most and needs immediate intervention.
When the metrics are finally decided upon, the next few steps will involve brainstorming and working out the best-possible solutions to improve those metrics. Parikh said that the focus should be on the solution that would bring the highest ROI in the shortest possible time.
After designing and implementing the solution, one should analyse customer feedback to understand how the metric has changed and whether further brainstorming is needed. According to Parikh, the lean analytics process ensures the shortest path to ascertain product improvement and the subsequent growth of the startup.
The All-Important Metric Of Retention
No matter where one is in the product journey, retention is a good measure to know if there is a long-term product market. A startup may see a sudden spurt in the number of users or may go all out to acquire them, but unless those users return within 15-30 days, the product probably does not have a sustainable market. Moreover, if the retention bucket is profusely leaking, the acquisition rate, however high, will not be able to catch up or make an impact on the company’s growth. Therefore, retention would always be a necessary metric to focus upon at every stage of a startup, said Parikh.
However, customer retention is a vast playing field with numerous areas of improvement. From onboarding to app usage to actual conversion, the potential loopholes peppered across the process are just too many, and a prospect may easily escape the acquisition funnel if anything goes wrong. Besides, it is quite difficult to address them all as they require different strategies and approaches.
During his discussion, Parikh went on to explain how to improve retention during onboarding. Also known as the ‘day zero’ retention, onboarding is all about creating an ‘aha’ moment for users to captivate them. But the first mistake that many startups commit is not focussing on the onboarding experience. When users access the product for the first time, there is no hand-holding to guide them along or help them explore things in an interesting way. (Imagine a complicated and costly gadget landing up without a user manual and one can imagine the gravity of the situation.) As a result, many users lose their interest and never come back.
Parikh gave an example of the meditation app Calm, a client of Netcore. Calm’s main challenge was retention as people coming to the platform did not use it after the first time. To help resolve the problem, Parikh and his team used the ‘nudge’ system. Simply put, they added a feature so that the app would send out a notification at a scheduled time to remind the user to take a break and meditate. This little ‘nudge’ to make users mindful about the app and its purpose improved Calm’s retention rate by 3x.
The Low-Code/No-Code Path For Product Managers
The low-code/no-code technology with none-to-minimum hand coding helps developers of all skill levels design applications quickly and with minimum errors. The system is built on a visual programming language where visual blocks of code can be put into a workflow to create a system of operations and functionalities. Moreover, people with no coding skills can also develop certain backend functions with the help of this new software. This is a tech boon for product managers and they can easily leverage it to be more agile while developing a product road map. The new tech allows them to map out the entire product experience, from onboarding and activation to feature discovery and conversion funnels, with minimum time and efforts.
The technology also reduces the cost of experimentation as product managers themselves can try various iterations to see what works best. Parikh cited a number of no-code platforms and their benefits, including Hansel.io, a platform that enables customer acquisition and retention, design platform Canva, app development platform AppSheet and KNIME, a data analytics platform.
He concluded the session by saying that if a product manager wanted to be aatmanirbhar or self-reliant, technologies and the support of the ecosystem would always be there to help them. And product managers should be using these features to make their startups more agile and efficient in terms of resource management and sustainable growth.