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How to be an effective product leader in a bear market, with Shelley Perry

How to be an effective product leader in a bear market, with Shelley Perry

Meet Shelley Perry, seasoned investor, entrepreneur, and board director for several ScaleUp ventures. 

Shelley recently joined our Product Excellence AMA Hour to share advice for product leaders navigating the uncertainties of today’s world. In times of recession, product leaders are finding themselves challenged to achieve ambitious targets with fewer resources and more pressure from the board and leadership. Many are experiencing an economic downturn and negotiating the complexities of a bear market for the first time.

In an hour-long discussion, Shelley covered what product leaders need to do to adapt to these new market conditions — especially product leaders in ScaleUp companies.

Continue reading for a lightly edited version of the conversation.

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In your experience, what does a good CPO look like, and what are some of the responsibilities they take on?

There isn’t an overarching “good” CPO; there is a good CPO for whatever the opportunity is. 

“CPOs are responsible for prioritizing the needs of all stakeholders, managing change, focusing the product roadmap, and providing long-term value to customers and the business. What that means changes every day.”

Most product people don’t do a great job of identifying themselves. Are you better in a ScaleUp environment, at a larger organization, or at finding innovation in a mature product? Do you have a financial or tech background? It’s critical that you identify what kind of leader you are and then match yourself to the right opportunity.

How has the CPO role shifted in the last three months considering that we’re moving to the bear market?

Many of the people who are in CPO roles today became leaders in the last decade. They haven’t worked through a recession or in an environment where they’ve had to make do with limited resources and lay off people — all while still driving innovation. They don’t understand the business trade-offs well enough and tend to be less mature in the strategic conversations. 

Many product leaders haven’t worked through a recession or in an environment where they’ve had to make do with limited resources and lay off people — all while still driving innovation.

With these massive changes that no one can predict, product leaders must become far more business savvy. They need to take an example from the rest of the C-suite and learn financials, participate more in business trade-offs, and practice making difficult decisions.

How would you advise first-time product managers to become more business savvy?

First, learn the job. Product management is an art and a skill, and you need to learn it. 

As you start moving through the ranks, it is important to create a cross-functional network with sales, legal, marketing, etc.

As you start moving through the ranks, it is important to create a cross-functional network. Being a new profession, product people tend to hang out with other product people from the community. Instead, you should create a network of people that work in sales, legal, marketing, etc.. Try to get their perspective and create empathy for these stakeholders and peers. It will help you enrich the decision criteria of what is the right thing for your company to work on and improve your cross-functional understanding of running a business.

What are still some of the biggest challenges that product managers face today?

Many product people don’t use data appropriately; they see the future without understanding where the business is today, or they fail to objectively evaluate data that comes from many different sources.

Most product people don’t understand all of the areas to find data, whether that’s feedback from phone calls, activity captured in a product analytics platform, social media activity, or something else. All of these data points are indications of things that are working or not working. They are little crumbs of information that, when correlated, start to surface things that no human can process that fast.

Understanding the data that’s out there, the correlation, and what it means is one of the weaknesses of most product people today.

What critical data should CPOs be looking at?

One of the first things product people should be looking at is their customers. Who’s calling in, who’s using what, what product did they buy, was there actual usage? Most importantly, it’s not about what they’re using at any given moment, but how their usage change over time. Usage patterns will indicate when a customer is moving away from your product and allow you to act on that information.

One of the first things product people should be looking at is their customers. Who’s calling in, who’s using what, what product did they buy, was there actual usage?

How can companies become even better business partners for their customers?

It’s all about making suggestions and understanding. You need to understand your customers, where you’re going to be able to spend money, where your products are weaker, and where your product fits in their workflow.

For example, when you’re no longer able to invest in a product used by a customer, you need to be upfront with them and let them. As a business partner, you need to help customers fill the gap by offering suggestions and other options.

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