You understand your product, do others?

Product Mar 29, 2021

As a product manager, you need to manage your product and ensure it’s successful. In B2C, you have a direct relationship with your users: you gather metrics, see what gets used, see what doesn't, where they get lost, which flows don’t convert, and you can directly affect costs, pricing, and performance. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s all naturally under your direct control.

In B2B, you need to work with many customer-facing teams who are selling and supporting the product and, also, you have account managers or a customer success team that handle the relationship with customers and ensure the product is driving their success.

While B2C products usually come with a very clear user interface, as no customer would read a help guide, B2B products might get complex as they drive someone’s whole business. That doesn’t mean the UI needs to be complex, but some areas, flows, and concepts are just not easy and it’s actually the complexity of what the whole platform can do that makes it hard for everyone to keep up with changes and new capabilities.

So how do you keep all your customers and customer-facing teams up to date? Numerous times, I’ve walked into a hotel, they’ve started to describe a problem, and it’s taken me three clicks to show them that we already have a solution. They ask me how long the feature has been in the system and it’s usually weeks, even months. They simply didn’t see the change and didn’t read the particular release note.

Also, you’re an expert on a problem you’re solving and you’ve invented a great solution for it. But, in the end, what you’re giving to your customer is a tool, like a hammer. How do you make sure they use the hammer properly, to hit nails, and not to break windows? Do they know how to hold a hammer? How to hit a nail?

For both of these problems, you have the answers. Through discovery, you’ve become a subject matter expert and you need to ensure you hand over not just the tool, but also your knowledge and how to use it effectively. And also, how not to use it.

Naturally, you would think about writing a user guide. But you have a team for that, right? They get a ticket to write an article. They either describe the screen and each field on it or they have to reverse engineer and figure out the problem we’re solving, why we're solving it like this, and how to use the new functionality.

That’s why Vendula, from our product marketing team, has come up with what we started calling birth certificates. She’s put together a template, the birth certificate, which serves as a release manifest. Before we start developing a new initiative, the relevant product manager fills in this template to summarize the problem we're trying to solve and the solution we’re betting on. And they keep updating during development it with more details for the customer-facing teams.

Vendula explains why she believes birth certificates represent a powerful tool for product managers to ensure crucial information gets to customers: “Product teams might experience the frustration of developing their product with a strong proposition that gets lost in the process because, once they release a feature, they expect everyone to pick up the ball and run with it. However, the reality, in most cases, is that information might get lost throughout the process, so people ask questions. And it results in the situation where the product manager is answering the same questions repeatedly. Or supporting other teams in the sales and customer success processes. Just because they didn’t provide the right information at the right time, or the right format, or even to the right teams.”

That’s why we brought birth certificates to the game. They provide a single source of truth to all stakeholders in the company at the right time. The idea behind them is to start writing one once a product manager knows what they’re building and why. At this point, a birth certificate can contain only a short problem statement and expected impact on respective stakeholders. Throughout the development process, they add information to the birth certificate and the rest of the team is continuously notified. With evolving information, the team can react and plan their actions accordingly.

Birth certificates aren’t just about sharing the vision. Their main purpose is far less romantic. They need to provide “operational” information to all teams in the company that are in touch with customers. They need to understand what the building of your product means for them and how it may affect them. It can be anything from updating internal guides, creating new FAQs, updating sales pitches and other materials, or even updating your website. If you would like to make your product successful, you need to “sell” it to your team first. By providing the right information, the team will have time to be evangelized. They are the first “buyers” of your product and if they understand what you're building, you're halfway there.”

As a product manager, you are responsible for the success of your product and a huge part of that responsibility lies in passing on your knowledge to the rest of the organization, so that they can repeat that message in a consistent way to customers.

A written form, like a birth certificate, helps you articulate the key messages and value of a given release really well, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go beyond and not show&tell or do a live demo or training for your audience.

How are you making sure that your product is successful?


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Jirka Helmich

Chief Product Officer at Mews. Passionate skier born in Liberec.

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