How product managers make the most of large teams and high-value customer relationships
A new book by O’Reilly Press discusses product management for B2B software applications. It’s titled Building for Business. Much has been written about product management and the development of software products, but little that specifically addresses the characteristics of the B2B environment. The authors join this episode to discuss how product management is different for enterprise software products, including:
- Differences in consumers from B2B and B2C
- The impact a direct sales team has
- How the scale of enterprise customers impacts product work
- The need for effective collaboration
- Using organizational knowledge
The authors are Blair Reeves and Ben Gaines. Blair is a Principal Product Manager at SAS Software and has previously held senior roles at Demandware (now a Salesforce company) and IBM. Ben is a Group Product Manager for Adobe Analytics and previously managed digital analytics at ESPN.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[1:50] Why did you write this book?
The idea came about over dinner. We realized that none of the writing about product management was focused on building products for businesses and the challenges that come with it. As soon as we said the idea out loud, we knew that we had to do it. We had been sharing articles for a while and joking about how they didn’t apply at all to what we did in the B2B space.
[6:19] How do you define the enterprise when it comes to product management?
We definite it as software that businesses buy to meet a need that they have. It’s not an internal tool, but more of a B2B mindset — things like CRMs, ERPs, HR, and finance systems.
[8:15] What are the differences between B2B and B2C product management?
In consumer software, you have lots of different business models — advertising, affiliate, direct sales, etc. They tend to have a lot of customers, whereas enterprise products have a much smaller customer base. The sales cycles are longer and the investment per customer is much higher. As product managers, the planning and maintenance timelines are very different. Your customers may never log into the product but are tasked with buying or procurement and providing IT support. The concerns those people have are very different than the traditional customer or user and the stakes are much higher. In the traditional software industry, the user is king. In the enterprise world, the user might not matter at all. It’s all about ROI as opposed to customer enjoyment.
[18:24] Another difference you identify is effective collaboration. What do you mean by that?
Product managers in the enterprise world tend to have more collaborators than those in the consumer world. We work very closely with marketing and sales at all levels and have a lot of different stakeholders to collaborate with. Learning how to work with those stakeholders is one of the big challenges for an enterprise product manager. Having that organizational knowledge is essential.
[20:26] How does the small number of customers impact product management?
With a smaller number of customers, you can go spend a week with a company and really learn how they are using the software and figure out the problems you are trying to solve. It can be more difficult to settle on what you’re to do when you have tens or hundreds of thousands of customers. On the consumer side, there’s an anthropologic element that doesn’t exist as much on the enterprise side. There are also a lot more people involved in making the sale — account managers, sales engineers, consultants, and many others. The relationships are bigger and require more people to make them successful.
[27:22] How should enterprise product managers gain organizational knowledge?
It’s important to understand what each person needs from a product manager. What do they know that they need and what do they don’t know they need? Product managers aren’t in charge of anyone so we have to lead through influence and by providing value to other teams. Understanding what those stakeholders need from a product manager is a good first step in doing that. Often, those stakeholders will find you. Understanding the customer journey is also important — how they engaged with the sales team and who they contact when they have questions or concerns. Those are the people internally you’ll want to work most closely with. This is a good approach for people who are interviewing for product management jobs, too.
“You’ll never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” – Winston Churchill
“Ask forgiveness, not permission.” – Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper
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