6 ways COVID-19 is changing product management in Europe

Published Oct 26, 2020

COVID-19 has changed everything, and that has required product teams to quickly pivot more than at nearly any time in the past. Roadmaps took some serious detours in March, and many are still up in the air. For many businesses, the ability to adapt has become a matter of survival.

Every product team has developed their own way of rising to meet this challenge, and as product people, we at Pendo were curious to see how product leaders across Europe have been doing it. So, we polled 200 of them and published the results in our new white paper, “The View Ahead: Product Management in Europe’s New Normal.” 

In a recent webinar, EMEA Senior Marketing Director Juliet Strong and Product Marketing Director Hannah Chaplin provided a rundown of the findings.

1. COVID-19 has impacted business growth, but product-led efforts are still on the rise.

It’s obvious that the coronavirus pandemic and the toll that it’s taken on the global economy has slowed growth in most business sectors, but it still remains higher than expected at an average of 27%, and efforts to become more product-led don’t seem to have missed a beat.

In fact, every company surveyed indicated that they are implementing some form of product-led strategy, Strong noted, with many having made substantial progress. “Despite COVID’s pretty harsh impact, it doesn’t seem to have slowed down product-led momentum,” she said. “People are recognizing the advantage of a product-led strategy to growth.” Germany, with its stronger focus on sales-led strategies, was the sole exception.

 Three-quarters of respondents said they anticipate their products becoming a pivotal component of their customer experience and efforts to grow their businesses moving forward. This didn’t come as a surprise, Chaplin noted: “People are relying on technology more, they’re spending more time on products both at home and at work. Education is being delivered not in person, but through technology, so it makes sense that customer experience and personalization does matter.”

2. Product digitization is one of many areas that have been positively affected.

For some product leaders, the pandemic hasn’t been entirely doom-and-gloom for business. Some areas have actually a boost, including a trend toward product digitization. Many product executives expect product management to have an even larger impact on their businesses in the near future.

“Businesses are focusing on ways that they can increase value to their current customers, rather than trying to go out and attract lots of new customers, which in these economic times is pretty difficult,” Strong said.

On the flip side, other areas like revenue, retention, growth, and customer expansion took big hits from the virus. The impact varied by country.

3. Product teams are shifting focus, and investment in R&D is up.

Before the pandemic, revenue and customer satisfaction were the north star success metrics for most companies, while there was less of a focus on retention, adoption, usage, road mapping, and growth. Now, however, that’s flipped, Chaplin said: “Customer retention and product usage really shot up to be the leading metrics. They’re trying to understand how people are using their products, so they can find where to add more value.”

As a result, research and development saw a 60% increase in spending. Chaplin said it’s likely a result of product teams taking a step back to look for opportunities to improve their product and hang on to customers.

“It is teams really saying, ‘Let’s make the best of this situation in terms of helping our customers navigate and giving them the experiences that they need and having to invest a little to provide those new capabilities,” Strong said.

4. Businesses are adapting their product offerings to better serve customers

In fact, half of all product leaders surveyed said they’ve made significant adaptions to their product to better serve their users’ needs in the last six months, especially as processes changed and working remotely became much more prevalent.

Much of the focus was on pricing and packaging, digital engagement, improving customer experiences, and bolstering security. This trend was most pronounced in the Nordic countries and least in Germany.

“Embracing these challenges and being fast to respond with product development is something that’s come out strongly across all of the business sizes and countries,” Strong said.

5. Analytics are fueling new ideas and innovation

Data is the product peoples’ DNA, and the research confirms that: 70% of respondents said the analytics that they’ve put in place has allowed them to understand the impact of COVID-19 and make the changes they needed to make.  

The data informing these teams’ strategies is coming primarily from product analytics tools, which provide insight needed to come up with the right ideas to improve their products. They’re relying less on both customer and internal feedback, external research, and competitive analyses.

Chaplin said this could be indicative of a trend toward product teams needing to quickly take stock of what was happening in their product as COVID-19 ramped up. What better way to get that baseline view than rapid, objective usage analytics?

“I do wonder if customer feedback has been pushed to the side a little as people worked to make sense of what was happening around them,” she said. “I’m hopeful that we’ll see customer feedback come back up once things have settled enough.”

Since essentially every company was scrambling to right their own ships as the wave of infections and shutdowns spread across the world, it may also be the case that getting time with customers to collect that feedback may have simply become much harder, Strong said. “It’s not that it’s less important, it’s a less accessible source for them right now.”

6. Product engagement will play the most influential role in future success

Product engagement is and will continue to be the driving force in future success, respondents said, and product teams will be at the helm of efforts to drive it up, Chaplin noted.

“Product teams are not only pivoting to deliver against needed business outcomes, but they’re actually finding ways to really drive that forward and use the challenging times as a way to innovate and be the change agents in the business, to be on the forefront of innovation,” Strong said.