In the past few years, we’ve seen an explosion in the number and quality of resources for technology product managers to learn from. However, I’ve noticed that the vast majority of product management resources out there are heavily geared towards consumer products without much emphasis on enterprise products. As I made a transition from consumer to enterprise product management, I realized how different things are, and why product managers need a differentiated approach for enterprise products.
Enterprise products are hard to build and even harder to scale and manage. This article aims to nail down the absolute ‘must know’ for enterprise product managers. Our focus in this article is to outline problems more evident in small to growing enterprise companies, rather than structured bigger boys (read IBM, Salesforce).
Your enterprise customer may not be your enterprise product user — Serve both
In consumer technology, we build products for end-users. When you’re building an enterprise product, we serve two types of people — end-users and buyers. In a lot of companies (specially the bigger ones — the ones whose logo goes up on your website), the person who actually uses your product is not the person who signs the check to pay for it.
As an enterprise product manager, it is crucial to understand both end-users’ and buyers’ needs and to find the balance by delivering value to all stakeholders.
This means that your product should solve buyer’s business problem while giving a delightful experience for end users.
The path to burnout is paved with customizations
For a young product startup the biggest hurdle is to deliver long list of customization requests to nail the first big enterprise logo. Very quickly, companies start falling in love with customization as it gets them easy revenue. Everyone stays happy till they hit a point when they realize that every customer’s customized code is branched out and your engineering team has 100 code bases to support. After that, every single release looks like a mammoth exercise, many bugs remain unsolved and newer updates never reach end users. Also, by then customization requests become a full-time job of the product team, disrupting all product roadmaps.
Soon enough, the company becomes so culturally inclined towards customization that they will find themselves always building for one big customer and unable to build market features.
As an enterprise product manager, you have to be extremely careful while accessing new requests. Remember, an easy customization hack now will cost you more than anyone in the company, as the responsibility of ensuring releases reach end users rests on you. The success of a new age product company depends on how accurately the PM can classify those asks, incorporate identified generic asks into your product offering, and quickly turnaround on the lower demand tasks.
Not every requirement is critical, though it may sound so
In B2B most of the time we get product requirements which are to be tailor-made for specific clients. Some of them are blockers for a client launch and some of them are good to have; though on the surface of it everything looks super critical to achieve that million dollar deal. A good PM is able to prioritize the laundry list and make sure the client sees the proposed value with minimal disruption in the product roadmap. Learn how to say “no.”
Enterprise products have numerous stakeholders that you need to manage
Enterprise product management involves complex multilayered stakeholder management. Other than the customer/user you will be typically interacting with Sales, pre-sales, Customer success, Support (or more depending on the stage of your own company and the client) and they all have different agendas to drive. Being a PM you have to keep them updated on release cycle, roadmap planning, and feature success, otherwise, it just leads to a lot of pointed fingers.
Understand your customers’ timeline — that’s as important as your own timeline
In B2B, your release timeline gets impacted by a lot of external factors which are beyond the control of product team. As an example, most of the enterprise will not agree to a big release just before holiday season or fiscal year end. So while planning release cycle you need to anticipate such events so that your proposed plan actually materializes. Critical to understand here, some releases have a cascading effect on your rest of the roadmap, as managing un-merged code becomes a huge headache.
Enterprise product managers need to be very close to their tech teams
enterprise products, in general, have lot of strings attached (APIs, Reliability, Security aspect). As a product manager of an enterprise product, you need to closely understand the tech implementation to get it correct in one go. Also, a lot of tech tasks in B2B don’t have very clear impact areas (which gets engineering demotivated at times) so you always have to work closely with tech team to help them understand their impact in larger scheme of things.
Enterprise products are challenging to manage but an amazing opportunity
Enterprise product management can be extremely challenging based on the stage of the company. At the same time, it can be an accelerated, holistic learning experience if you start identifying your mistakes and start learning from them.
Agree? Disagree? Clap? Slap? Let us know what you feel in the comments, and do tell us what topics we should cover next.