When I speak with my friends in Product Management, one question that inevitably comes up is — “How does that work in Enterprise (B2B) Product Management?” As you must have guessed, I have quite a few friends who work in consumer and a few (including yours truly) who work in the enterprise space. What's really interesting is that more often than not, the answer is “Exactly the same way”. This post will try to highlight some of the key differences and provide a deep-dive into what I do as a PM in Enterprise SaaS. Hopefully, this sheds some light for any reader who wants to make a choice.
When we look at differences, there are 2 fundamental differences:
- Multiple personas — The user is not the buyer.
- The number of users — For a million-dollar company, an enterprise product can have as few as hundreds of users whereas a consumer product typically has tens of thousands if not more.
Any differences in product management will rise only from the above 2 differences. Let's look a bit deeper at the impact of each difference.
More often than not, in enterprise software, the buyer is not the user. What this means is that in addition to the features which directly add value to the user, we need to think about features that the buyer wants as well. In a lot of enterprise software, Reporting is such a feature. There are different variants of this multiple personas problem and thereby a different set of product management activities that are important.
Depending upon the price point and the policies of the company you are selling to, IT might be involved in the software procurement. When IT becomes the buyer or when IT is helping the buyer, there are a lot of other aspects that come into play such as Compliance, Security, etc. Even Slack, a product that grew via a bottoms-up adoption strategy had to focus on IT-centric features after a couple of years. What does IT focus on? Security policies, privacy policies, availability SLA’s, support SLA’s, data backup, recovery, integration capabilities, customizations, industry-specific practices such as HIPAA for health care, etc. Sometimes these can go as detailed as — the financial health of the company, which VC firms funded it, product roadmap/strategy, how does the company handle enhancement requests, etc.
Most of these do not impact the product team as much on an ongoing basis, but for every new feature we implement, some of these things are on top of my mind. For example: If we are building a new feature, is our support and customer success team enabled enough to maintain the support SLA’s? Is our infra/tech ops team equipped correctly to deal with any outages or any custom customer requests? These again impact the availability SLA’s.
Let's move away from IT persona and look at the Executive persona. Typically any enterprise software has a sponsor who is purchasing it for their team. Sometimes, appealing to this person’s needs can act as a core differentiator during the sales process. Reporting typically falls into this bucket. Can I see high-level metrics that I purchased this software to impact? Can I see my team’s performance, i.e. which team is performing well, which team is lagging? These are some of the questions that execs typically want the answers to.
With the advent of AI technologies, some of the questions that the execs are asking have changed from “Can I see my teams performance” to “Can the software predict and assist me/my team to better perform”?
Number of users:
This difference is not as important, but nonetheless significant in defining what I do as a product manager. Typically, in the consumer world, there are a lot more users than in the enterprise world. No matter which world, to understand how people use the software, a PM needs to resort to analytics. But in the enterprise world, having some calls with customers can go a long way too. Imagine if you have 300 users - if you see how 30 (10%)of them are using your product, you can learn a lot more than just looking at the numbers. While it might seem true for the consumer world as well, 30 out of 300K users might be a drop in the ocean. What this means is, I am always speaking to some customer or other on a weekly basis.
These things that don’t scale in the consumer world are often better ways to do product management in the enterprise world
Then there is Experimentation. While in the consumer world experimenting with growth hacks is the bread and butter of product management, it's a luxury in the enterprise world. For starters, there are a lesser number of uses, which means to collect data for statistical significance, it will take much longer. Secondly, qualitative methods such as customer calls, virtual advisories act as better inputs to understand the customers’ problems first-hand. These things that don't scale in the consumer world are often better ways to do product management in the enterprise world. Example: To understand if onboarding is proper, in the consumer world ‘Funnel analysis’ might help the best because the aggregated data tells a better story. In the enterprise world, you can actually see how a new user is onboarding. You can ask a customer why are they not using feature x on a call to dig deeper.
I want to close out by mentioning that in this new product-led world, lack of focus on UX, clunky interfaces, end-user experiences is not what defines enterprise software. The differences in the activities in product management that define how to build the product which delivers the most value are merely arising from very limited fundamental differences.