Startup

Product Expert Vs Domain Expert - The Great Debate (And Why I Picked The First Option)

Roi Amior
June 15, 2021

Do you want your product to deeply impact the lives of your customers?

Of course you do.

But creating a product that really resonates with your target buyers means getting deep into their heads and understanding what they want even before they tell you. This task of reading their minds is no simple feat; accomplishing this requires having people on your team who can speak their language and profoundly recognize their pain points, while having the technical expertise to explain how they should be solved to the engineering team. Achieving this delicate balance is even more challenging in the b2b space, where companies are attempting to solve highly complex problems in unique, and often narrow, markets.

So how do we find this unicorn?

The PM, Your User Champion

Do we take someone who is a trained Product Manager (PM), with experience in product management but who knows nothing about the specific vertical? Or is it better to go with a domain expert and train them in the art and science of Product Management? While there are different schools of thought on the best approach here, I prefer to take the candidate with the PM experience.

But then we are left with a problem—if the PM is supposed to be the customer champion, that would imply that they must deeply know the customer, their challenges, and their pain points. It’s very nice to come prepared with platitudes about digging into customer research and understanding personas, but to design a product that truly and deeply answers their needs, we have to go further than that—much further.

How To Practically Close The PM Knowledge Gap

Here at anecdotes, we knew the first step to creating a product that resonated with our targets was to hire a few rockstar PMs. But we also knew it was up to us to help them close their inherent knowledge gaps. Here is how we recommend doing it (and yup, it’s the formula we used, too!):

  • Bring in a Subject Matter Expert - First and foremost, bring in a Subject Matter Expert (SME) whose job it is, at least for the early knowledge-building stage, to hold the PM team's hand and become their go-to resource. A good SME is not only a fantastic source of knowledge, but also experience—they already know what makes the target audience tick because they have lived it. They can also help the PMs understand what hasn't worked in the past and how to avoid such pitfalls.
  • Invest in design partner relationships - User feedback for a PM is like sunshine for a plant; it propels growth and ensures the product is deeply rooted on solid foundations. Working with design partners provides those critical insights in a safe space where it’s okay to miss the mark and get up again. This important relationship helps PMs understand what’s needed on the ground, enabling the development of features that precisely pinpoint real-world user needs.
  • Establish strong communication with front-line people - Your PMs serve as the brains and the brawn, but they aren't the ones conducting sales calls with prospects. While the idea of sitting in on calls is totally impractical and unscalable, those calls do yield tremendous insights into what users love or dislike, what’s working and what’s missing, and what can be improved. Missing out on these gems is a golden opportunity wasted; tools like Gong help our PMs extract key insights from calls, and simple practices like having a dedicated Slack channel where insights from every single sales call are shared helps PMs enjoy full transparency to any market feedback. Helping your sales team and PMs collaborate will deliver precious knowledge from the market directly to your backlog.
  • Leverage data - No matter the industry, data describes personal behavior. Adopting data analysis tools like we did with Amplitude right from the beginning will help your PMs guess less and focus on actual evidence as to what is really useful to customers and which features are just not interesting enough. This is always correct, but is especially crucial when trying to build a new type of product your users have never tried. Listening to users tells you what they think they need—and studying the data tells you what they actually need.
  • Recognize power users and foster relationships with them - Not all users are the same and not all feedback should be treated the same way. When you’re new to a market, it’s hard to judge how common and important each use case is. Identifying which users are top-level professionals can help you learn from industry leaders and close knowledge gaps, while skillfully prioritizing user feedback and feature requests.

Addressing The Gap = PM Success

These guidelines helped our PMs become true masters of their craft. By providing them with the proper resources, in just a few months, they have quickly become true and deep experts in the Compliance ecosystem and all of its intricacies—and even GRC professionals turn to our PMs for professional advice! This is all due to an acknowledgment of the inherent gap and our proactive stance of finding ways to address it.

Give your PMs the right support and they’ll no longer have to be mind-readers; instead, they’ll develop first-hand insights and awareness into the users’ needs, helping you deliver better, more targeted solutions with every new release.

Roi Amior
Passionate about Product, People and Ideas. Appreciate honesty, good wine and open-minded people. Co-Founder and CPO at anecdotes.

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