The SaaS business model is a lot more complex than it seems from the surface. Besides having a great product, there are lots of moving parts to take care of - marketing, customer interactions, retention, and more.
And while there are lots of specialist roles for each of these processes, there is one that is a jack-of-all-trades: a product manager. They emerged as the crucial link between customers and key stakeholders in a SaaS business. In other words, a product manager is necessary for a great SaaS business.
But how do you become one, especially if you’ve never had any experience in this role before? Let’s find out.
How to Get Into Product Management
The truth is, there is no specific education that you can take to become a product manager. Professionals in this role come from various backgrounds, from social sciences all the way to computer science. There are very few formal education programs for a product manager, so most of them start from something else.
The truth is, most product managers have some sort of a BA degree, so it’s good to have some university education before you start. Once you have that, you can start learning more about the role and looking into product management courses.
In reality, all it takes to get into product management is some formal education and lots of interest in the role and product management in general.
Product Management Jobs and Roles
The role of a product manager is very complex and you won’t have two similar days in your career. Here are some of the most typical duties that you may perform in your job as a product manager.
Representing customers and their needs
Product managers liaise between the actual users of the product and the team building it. While developers, designers, and marketers have one idea of how a product should work, the customer often has a completely different notion in their mind.
A product manager communicates the exact needs that customers have and makes sure that they are translated into messages and tasks that the internal team can understand.
Defining product vision
A SaaS product goes beyond a single feature or a bug fix that needs to be done. Product managers define the overall vision of the product and its purpose. This can be in relation to customers’ expectations, the overall company KPIs or something else.
Each move that the product team makes has to align with the overarching product vision - set by the product manager.
Prioritizing product features and development
A product manager needs to be well aware that there are countless paths to take when developing a product. On the other hand, the time and resources you have as a company are limited. Their role is to make sure to prioritize the right features and bug fixes so that the work delivered has an impact on customer acquisition, retention and overall growth.
Product managers can prioritize product features and the overall availability of the team using many techniques. User interviews, surveys, webinars, feedback tools, and product roadmaps, are some of the many tools you can use. The end goal is to build the features that:
- Your customers need
- Align with your product vision
- Are a good way to spend your resources
This is one of the most critical aspects of a product manager’s role that impacts an entire company.
While the main aim of your SaaS product should be to solve your customers’ pain points, you have to be aware of the competition too. A product manager is closely monitoring the competitors and any changes that they come up with, the comments and reviews from their customers, and more. This also includes website monitoring.
What Does a Typical Product Management Career Look Like?
If you want to become a product manager, the great news is that there is a clear career progression ahead of you. If you work hard on upgrading your skills and providing value to your team, you can move up the ranks effortlessly.
Here is what you can expect in terms of your career in product management:
- Associate product manager
- Product manager
- Senior product manager
- VP of product management
- Chief product officer
Of course, this is a fairly new field so there may be lots of different variations in job titles - but you should go through some variants of these 5.
How to Become a Product Manager
As mentioned above, you typically need a BA degree in some sort of field. When looking at which candidates to hire, employers usually look at experience and skills rather than education but having a solid foundation always helps.
The first thing to do is look around and get some more information about product management. There are plenty of articles, books, and courses that you can learn from to see what the role is really about. You don’t want to go into product management and change your mind because you had misaligned expectations.
You can talk to actual product managers by reaching out to them on LinkedIn. This is pretty easy to do because you can filter search results based on the role and you can just send a connection request and a message. A good idea would be to have a list of specific questions in advance - you don’t want to waste anyone’s time.
Then, look into some product management courses. This is not the time to be stingy because you want to spend money on some courses that will truly bring value - and they can be expensive. Product School, Coursera, Udemy, and even Stanford University - these are some great examples of courses that will teach you the fundamentals.
Once you have the framework figured out, it’s time to work on your technical skills. While not all product managers are into tech and dealing with code, having some knowledge of a language such as HTML or CSS would be a great addition to your skillset.
Last but not least, work on your soft skills. As a product manager, the bulk of your work will be managing people and projects. Some crucial soft skills you’ll need for this role include:
- Communication skills (e.g. via employee engagement surveys)
- Strategic thinking
- Creative problem solving
If you have the necessary soft skills, you’re already well on your way to becoming a product manager. Everything else can be taught as you go.
Apply for product manager roles
The pandemic brought us many bad things, but one thing that changed for the better is the availability of remote jobs. There are countless places where you can apply for product manager roles, including websites such as Remote.co, WeWorkRemotely, DynamiteJobs, WelcomeToTheJungle, and many others.
As mentioned, most employers will look for experience rather than education, so if you can’t break your way through in the very beginning, it’s worth doing an internship or managing a project of your own as a way to get your foot through the door.
How Do You Progress from An Entry-Level Role in Product?
The problem here is that there is not a lot of literature covering career growth in product. However, there are a few interviews out there, such as this one with Jackie Bavaro.
As Jackie says, the biggest difference between an entry-level product manager and a senior one is not the work that they show - it’s the work that happens behind the scenes. Senior product people have a clearer strategy, work with more autonomy and they are more nuanced in their ability to make critical decisions.
To get better in your role and advance in your career, you practically need plenty of hands-on experience with managing a product and working within a development team.
How to Become a Senior Product Manager / VP of Product
As mentioned above, advancing your product career entails focusing on just three things.
First of all, take time from your day to do deep work and strategize. Instead of falling into the trap of working by the framework, set aside time to develop a strategy and do your best to stay on track.
Second and equally important, own your work. Autonomy is not easy to get in a product management role, especially if you’re the first and only product hire in the team. As Jackie Bavaro says above, the irony is that in order to gain autonomy, you need to constantly seek approval.
Last but not least, nuance means that for every question you get, your answer should be “it depends” rather than taking default actions based on what you intuitively know should be done. Take time to reflect on every decision and imagine how many other things it affects.
Product management is an exciting career prospect and with the world of software advancing rapidly, it’s going to become even more popular in the future. The great news is that anyone can make an entry into the world of product management - all it takes is the right mix of hard work and soft skills.
Oh, and you’ll need the right tools for the job, too! Make sure to give FeedBear a try and you’ll have an easier time dealing with customer feedback and make your career progression a breeze too. Sign up for a free trial today!