Tag Archives: customer interviews

7 Tips for Fresh MBAs working as Offshore Product Managers

[Caution: long post]

Today, most business schools prefer candidates with some work experience, which is also useful during lateral placements. Hence you see an increasing number of candidates with exposure to IT services or software engineering joining these schools and completing their MBA. Post-MBA, it is inevitable that some of them will head towards product management during campus placements or shortly afterwards. This post is about the 7 things to focus on in your first year on the job, apart from working on PRDs or MRDs.

1. Build a rapport with program managers

In most offshore R&D centers, program managers play a key role in organizing projects, resources and schedules. Hence they know the resource costs and availability for any ongoing or upcoming project. And since engineering dominates decision-making in ODCs (offshore development centers), the program managers help to balance the engineering dominance.

2. Get customer exposure on a sales call

An enterprise sale is a complex process, involving dozens of people from different departments, and it typically has a long completion cycle. You must gain a first hand exposure to how this works, as this is the main source of revenue for the firm and for your product line. However, it can be difficult to gain a sales person’s attention, as he is always looking outwards for opportunities. As an incentive to sales folks to get them to talk to you, arrange a product demo or a feature presentation. If the demo is interesting enough, they will make sure that you get in front of the customer.

3. Gain the trust of engineering and service delivery managers

I have written previously about key stakeholders for offshore product managers. If you cannot get these people to trust you, you will never be able to drive product decisions, even with your supervisor’s help. And you cannot keep going to him all the time. One good technique to gain the engineering trust is the show them that you can deliver on the product requirements and are not simply there because of your MBA. Essentially, you need to prove yourself with every engineering resource, right from the VP to the intern.

4. Train yourself

If you are just coming out of b-school, with a few years of pre-MBA IT experience, you have NO relevant skills whatsoever. The people in the ODC do not care that you can prepare kick-ass powerpoint. Neither are they interested in the font, color or direction of arrows in you block diagram. You must focus on gaining survival skills, which today include, UI design using HTML, CSS and Javascript, UML and MS Visio usage, basic analytics, and programming skills in at least C++, Java or PHP. There is a lot more to gaining skills in multiple dimensions, and I will cover this in a future post.

Do not bother to go for a formal product management training yet. Without relevant experience, it will have very little value and you will forget most of it very soon.

5. Prepare for a change to your role/product within 12 months

In today’s connected, global economy, it is almost guaranteed that your first role will last no more than 12 months. The change could be due to external forces or internal restructuring (ODCs are very prone to this), but it will definitely happen. In the worst case, you might feel stagnating in your role, and you will yourself ask for or start looking out for a change. The best way to survive this is to shine in front of senior management, build a rapport with the US teams and network with HR and other support staff.

6. Connect with Solution Sales, Analytics, Customer Service Teams

This is probably the most important task that you can perform outside of self-training. To understand how the product is built, you need to sit with engineering teams. To understand how the product is sold, you need to work with sales teams. And if you really want to understand how the product is used, you need to work with solution sales, analytics and operations and customer service teams, who cover all real use cases that the product was designed for. And remember, you need to proactively seek them out and learn from them. As a fresher, it is expected that you will be learning all the time.

7. Network outside the firm

There are a lot of opportunities for networking in Bangalore, Hyderabad and all the other major tech. centers in India. You must go to these get-togethers (a few of them are listed in the resources section of the blog). It can be a lonely job, working as a product manager, with no outbound teams near you. Connecting with other people in similar situations is a good way to understand the challenges of an offshore product management role, and the different ways in which people are coping.

Summing Up

A product management role, even offshore, can be incredibly rewarding, but only if you take care of your first few years on the job. It is not for everyone, and you should make sure that you are still interested in it at the end of your first year. Else, as an MBA, it will be easy to find something else.


Customer Interviews: Collecting Product Feedback

So you are a product manager, and you wish to understand what customers do with your products. And you have management approval to do customer interviews to get product feedback. What comes next?

A. Identify your research hypothesis
Will you be doing a customer survey or in-depth interviews? Will you perform statistical analysis on the data. Are you going to conduct these interviews every quarter or is this a one-off initiative.

B. Create a contact list
Do you have designations, email ids and phone numbers for these people? Which verticals, geographies and account sizes are you targeting?

C. Check with do-not-call lists, account teams
The account teams will give you strong indications on whether the account is positive, neutral or negative. You must stay in contact with them before any interviews. In fact, it might be a good idea to invite them for the call/meeting.

D. Prepare a questionnaire
What features of the product do you want feedback on, what are the key product dimensions you want analyzed, what are the customers pain points, what is their perception of the market and so on. A formal questionnaire to follow-up with after your meeting will help both parties to stay focused.

E. Do the interview
Set up a suitable time and place, and collect the customer feedback. Make sure that you take extensive notes, or preferably record the interview for transcribing later. Ensure that the customer is aware that you are recording them.

F. Build a data collection and analysis plan
What data points are you collecting, how are the results presented (Powerpoint, Excel charts etc). How do you plan to keep the data confidential?

G. Share the results with everyone
It is important that you share your insights with the engineering, marketing and senior management teams. They are going to learn a lot about the product, and your customer interaction skills, from this initiative.

Bottom Line

Feedback forms by themselves are of little use in really understanding customers’ pain points. If you want to focus on customer development, or build awesome use cases or user stories, the key is to understand your customers. A good market research hypothesis, and your preparation for customer interviews, are vital to complete this initiative successfully.