Traditionally, companies in the enterprise software industry have been known to be significantly different from their consumer based counterparts. While consumer companies are focused on quick iteration cycles, with extreme focus on user experience, and consumer virality, enterprise companies have been stereotyped to be far slower moving with more emphasis on pure functionality for enterprise clients.
However, the enterprise industry has recently been undergoing major developments and change as the industry shifts more towards cloud and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) based solutions, with Salesforce as the pioneer. Notably, this allows for faster iterations of the product, more metrics (as a faster rate) to help drive data-driven decisions, and more predictable recurring revenue models. In addition, building these SaaS products for hypergrowth has required Product Managers to rethink how they build and ship these products to their customers in order to maximize immediate value for the customer and be sticky in order to maintain and grow their revenue stream.
To share their stories and discuss their approaches to building SaaS products for hyper growth, Advancing Women in Product (AWIP) hosted a panel of Product Managers at the inaugural South Bay Chapter event at Rubrik’s HQ in Palo Alto. The panel featured speakers Shay Mowlem (SVP of Product, Rubrik), Nikita Maheshwari (Director of Product at Nutanix), and Aakrit Prasad (VP of Product at Applitools) with Judy Chang (Senior Product Manager at Google) as the moderator. The following are some of the highlights of the panel’s discussion.
How do you define a successful B2B product? What are some trends you’ve been seeing in the space?
From our hunch 10 to 15 years ago that customer experience was probably important, we’ve evolved to thinking that it’s absolutely foundational to the success of the product. The shift has gone to almost maniacal focus on the customer, their experience using the product, and helping them understand the true value of the product as quickly as possible, Shay shared.
Enterprise customers today expect their enterprise product design and experience to be as simple to use as consumer products. To that end, Nikita shared that at Nutanix, they have an entire team that is focused on setting up and installing the product as quickly as possible. In addition, it’s absolutely critical to make it easy to try new product offerings and get upsold on the value of these additional offerings. To do so, minimizing the friction to try these new products and services is tantamount to the growth of the business. The companies that are able to scale rapidly have products that are quick to setup, install, and start using.
Can you think of an example SaaS company that has done really well in this area of ease of use and great experience, besides Salesforce?
One great example of another company that has excelled in this area is Atlassian. Although some of their products didn’t do so well, such as their Slack competitor Stride, they nonetheless hit their target user bases needs very well. Specifically, they have done a great job in building a versatile suite of dev tools that resonate really well with their core users. Their main products (JIRA, Confluence, Bitbucket, etc.) have taken off so well and provide great end to end solutions for problems their customers face in their day to day. The products are well designed, easy to use, and Atlassian has done an awesome job in making it easy to try and purchase additional services/add-ons, which shows considering the impressive growth of the company over the years.
Another great example of a company with high focus on ease of use and customer experience is AppDynamics. As a part of a research study that Nikita and her team conducted, it was found that AppDynamics’ setup process involved only three clicks to get started with the product. Minimizing the friction in order to get started with the product helps the customer quickly understand the true value proposition of the product and how it can solve their problems for them. For businesses, this can mean faster sales cycles, more product stickiness, and far more opportunity to upsell customers beyond their traditional offerings and into their new services or addons, generating additional growth through this loop.
With SaaS products, you can get metrics/results quickly and iterate upon this. With all of these different data points, how do you most effectively prioritize features?
Indeed, with faster feedback loops that SaaS products offer, getting metrics, results, and general performance indicators of the product is easier than ever before. You can see how your product is performing, how your customers like the product, if it creates value for these customers, and if it’s a sticky solution. Having been at Nutanix when it grew from 250 employees to over 4,000 employees today, Nikita explained how the company made it easy to prioritize features that your large customers wanted since that would most easily push your metrics, particularly revenue figures. However, it’s still extremely important to also focus on the tail end of your customers (in size) to build features that work across all customers rather than ad-hoc solutions for larger individual customers who often may have specific, customized needs. While in the short term you may not notice the direct impacts of this, you’ll notice it over a period of time as these features that work across multiple types of customers will help attract new customers and further fuel your business.
It’s important to be aware and cognizant of your customers needs but you can’t let that entirely dictate your product roadmap and planning. In order to stay ahead in the market, it’s important to plan for the future and get to where the puck is going instead of only focusing on where the puck is today. In addition, the ability to try things, fail fast, and validate releases with a subset of customers before rolling out to all customers is important for staying ahead. Customers will always give their requirements, but as a Product Manager it’s important to be able to distill that into your roadmap that maps to the strategy you have based on the company’s business goals.
How do you make time to think 10x for your product and put together a strategy to get there?
It’s often too easy to have tunnel vision as you focus on the growth and success of your product, losing sight of the larger picture and landscape. It’s definitely important to take a step back and understand how your product strategy of today aligns with the goals you have outlined for the business moving forward over the next X years.
At Rubrik, Shay is focused not only on becoming a multibillion dollar company but also understanding where they need to be in the next 4–5 years. The goal isn’t just to have a high valuation but rather focus on how to become a staple company in the Enterprise market, joining the likes of Salesforce and Oracle. The main question then revolves more around how to keep delivering incremental value on top of the core backup and recovery over the years to keep growing at such a rapid scale, therefore building exponential value over time.
How many women PMs are there in your company? What percentage of the PMs in your company are women?
The general consensus here seemed to be “lower than it should be.” At AppDynamics, only 3 out of the 20 Product Managers were women. The story remains similar at Nutanix, where only 4 out of 60 Product Managers are women.
Clearly, there’s an imbalance in the ratio of women PMs in these companies, which is fairly reflective of the industry as a whole, especially in B2B companies. However, it’s important to have women in Product as it helps contribute to the diversity of thought and provides additional viewpoints that are impactful to the success of the product and therefore, a businesses’ bottom line. Nikita explained how originally, she was intimidated as a female Product Manager in a room full of men but turned this into her advantage as she found she was able to provide new perspectives and viewpoints that her male counterparts didn’t have.
On the topic of scaling, how do you help assist the rapid growth of a company as a Product Manager and how do you keep up with your goals?
It’s easy to get into the day to day doing deep dives on your product and develop a sort of tunnel vision in this way. However, it’s important to push yourself out and understand the larger picture and landscape of the industry. Nikita does this by attending conferences to understand the shifting of trends and learn about new developments in the field. To further broaden her understanding of her customers, she spent 3 months in the Amsterdam office of Nutanix to better understand her European customers, which often had different needs than the traditional American customers she was used to interacting with. When acquiring companies, it helps to sit down with the CEO to understand their story, background, and where they’re coming from to better understand the company’s context, mission, and user base. In addition, working at rapidly growing companies provides the unique opportunity of having many new people to speak with to learn from and help further broaden your understandings.
Overall, the inaugural South Bay chapter event for AWIP was a success and there were many insightful takeaways from these Product Managers who are working on scaling these B2B products for hypergrowth.
To watch the full panel discussion that was hosted by AWIP, you can watch the full video here.
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