Vivek Vadakkuppattu, Director of Product Management – AR/VR, IoT, Monotype [NASDAQ:TYPE]
I was an engineer in my previous Avatar, an electrical engineer solving complex problems, and building beautiful wireless products.
The Changing Moment
This avatar of my life continued until my first customer visit; that changed everything! Seeing a customer use a product I had built, and accomplish something critical to them was just so rewarding, exhilarating that every cell in me knew what I was going to do next–be in a customer-facing role, working with them to build awesome products that solved industry wide problems. Given my technical background, and continued desire to build products, a product manager role seemed like the perfect fit!
Moving into a product management role turned out to be a lot more challenging than I anticipated. You have fewer product managers compared to engineers, or maybe even sales folks, so how does one transition into this coveted role?
Here are the three things that you can do to groom yourself to become an awesome product manager:
1. Develop a Deep Understanding of Your Customers:
Any good product manager knows his/ her customers, and everything related - market trends, competitors, partners, ecosystem very well. As Jeff Bezos put it very nicely “Good inventors and designers deeply understand their customer. They spend tremendous energy developing that intuition.” And so should you. A good understanding of your customers and the overall market will help you immensely in transitioning, and succeeding in a product management role.
Here are a few things that will help you get a good understanding of the market:
a. Everything Customers: You need to uncover, and understand as much as you can, about your customers –segments, personas, problems, how they use your product, and how you fit with the other products they use.
b. Everything Industry: Most industries have associations (ex. American Marketing Association).
Good communication, writing, and presenting skills are critical for a product manager, so, take on every opportunity you get to build these skills
Participate in these associations. This will give you a lot of face time with people in your industry – your customers, competitors, partners. This will also give you a feel for the emerging trends, and industry wide challenges.
2. Maximize Face Time with Customers:
Most enterprise product managers spend a lot of time working with customers – be it for validating the next product idea, defining the roadmap, or helping them solve a problem, so it is important to build this customer facing experience.
Maximizing face time with customers can be hard to do (as an engineer), but there are still ways to make this happen:
a. Subject Matter Expertise: Become the subject matter expert for your space. This will open up a plethora of opportunities for you – customer seminars, customer events like workshops.
Needless to say these will help you hone your presentation, and communication skills – both key skills for a product manager.
b. Product Expertise: Become an expert at your product – this should be easy especially if you are one of the ones building the product. This will make you a key player in the sales, product teams pitching to customers, filling out RFPs.
c. Support: Regardless of how your support organization is setup, there are bound to be instances where some help is needed. Volunteer to be your team’s point of contact for these. Help customers and customer support with issues with your product.
This will help you immensely since you learn:
a. From those in customer facing roles day in, day out.
b. How to collaborate and engage customers who aren’t happy –as a product manager there will be times when you have to work with a customer who isn’t fully satisfied, so any prior experience in similar situations will come in very handy
3. Develop Your Communication Skills:
Good communication, writing, and presenting skills are critical for a product manager, so, take on every opportunity you get to build these skills. This could be through:
a. Webinars: Most educational webinars start with a technology/industry piece, and finish up with a product/ company pitch
Given their virtual nature, webinars have the added advantage of getting you comfortable presenting to a large audience even if you haven’t yet mastered the art of (physically) presenting in front of a large audience
b. Product/Technology videos: There is always demand for product, or technology videos. Jump on this! This has the added benefit of getting you comfortable presenting in front of a camera.
Last but not least, work on your public speaking and presentation skills. Take every opportunity you get to present, be it at a brownbag lunch, or a release review.
This will help you groom yourself to become an awesome product manager, so that you are ready to make your mark when the opportunity arises!