Product Love Podcast: State of Product Leadership With Jake Sorofman, CMO of Pendo

Published Jan 29, 2020

This week on Product Love, I sat down with my good friend, Jake Sorofman, the chief marketing officer of Pendo. Every year, Pendo collaborates with Product Collective to release the State of Product Leadership (SOPL), a report that captures what’s happening in the industry. This year, the survey included 600 product managers and executives from the US, UK, France, and Germany. 

What did they uncover with this research?

Some insights might surprise you, while others might just confirm your suspicions. We all saw the rise of the CPO coming — Product Love has a number of near-and-dear guests with the CPO title. However, some of the findings are a bit unexpected, like how product teams universally struggle with roadmaps. In the episode, Jake and I both dive into why that might be the case. 

There’s also another finding that I think is very interesting. The product managers surveyed in the 2020 edition are more quants than poets. I’ve talked to a variety of people who come from less technical backgrounds, so it’s definitely intriguing that product managers are now saying they have more technical aspirations.

We dive into the metrics that should matter to product managers and the unglamorous, rigorous side of the craft. And that’s when Jake brings up the importance of product ops. It’s an emerging role and (candidly) your next hire if your team doesn’t have product ops yet.

Want to know what else we learned from this year’s report, as well as what Jake recommends? Listen to the episode above.

Notable moments

1:14 – Jake provides an overview of his background and the State of Product Leadership. 

2:50 – Before product was given a seat at the table, product managers typically reported up to marketing or engineering. Jake explains why it made sense for marketing to oversee product. 

3:45 – What inspired Pendo to release the 2020 State of Product Leadership? 

4:53 – What was the process for this year’s SOPL? 

5:30 –  An interesting finding is that product teams and leaders are investing in product management training. In the past, product management was taught on the job. But now, there are curated training programs to help you study the craft. 

7:25 – Learn what’s new with product management reporting lines. This year, there’s a very dramatic shift. Product teams are reporting to a CPO more than half of the time. 

8:56 – Let’s talk about the characteristics of product leaders. Product managers are now reporting that they’re “more quants than poets.” Why is that? 

9:45 – Eric has met product leaders from diverse backgrounds and thought the trend would be going the opposite way.

10:20 – Why are they reporting more technical backgrounds and aspirations? What does that mean for product managers and engineers? 

11:20 – A significant percentage of PMs felt that their company was product-led. But it’s a relatively new movement. Why is being product-led so important these days? What does “product-led” even mean for companies? 

13:40 – It’s easy to be confused by the notion of becoming product-led, but it helps to start by thinking about the buying journey. Product-led is just focusing on your customers and delivering an experience that fulfills their needs and delights them. 

14:10 – How other departments can also get behind being product-led. 

14:58 – Jake talks about some of the challenges that product managers face. Spoiler alert: one is roadmaps. 

17:20 – So many factors influence roadmaps, including sales contracts and the highest-paid person’s opinion.

18:15 – Does this tie into product managers self-reporting that they’re more tactical than visionary? 

18:30 – The more unglamorous side of product management is that you do a lot of rigorous work and handle a lot of moving parts. That’s what it takes to build great products.

19:49 – Where does great thinking come from? Great thinking comes from the intersection of hard data and inspiration/instinct.

20:55 – The responsibility of customer onboarding is up in the air. Does product or CS own it?

22:40 – The relationship between CS and product is like the age-old feud between marketing and sales. It’s an important relationship to get right, but a lot of companies are still struggling with it. 

24:00 – Product and CS need to have a shared set of goals and metrics. Standardize around KPIs, set goals together, and have one shared view of the truth. 

25:20 –  Jake and Eric share some ways to strengthen the relationship between CS and PM. 

26:00 – Another huge SOPL finding was how prevalent product ops positions are. Jake discusses how product ops is an orchestrator role on the product team. It allows product managers to make better decisions by offloading the operational burden.

28:13 – Product leaders see themselves as having this holistic view of the customer and of market insights. Jake unpacks this finding.

29:45 – You can’t count on your customers being visionaries. 

30:27 – What metrics are important to product managers? In the past, the Pendo team reacted with mild horror to learn product teams measured success based on features shipped. 

31:33 – What’s the 2020 north star metric for product teams? 

32:57 – Jake shares recommendations for what product teams can do with the SOPL findings. He recommends getting a certification, taking a closer look at reporting lines, and getting roadmaps in order. 

35:56 – Consider doing a feature audit. 

36:45 – Final thing: think about product ops. Even though it sounds intimidating, it doesn’t need to be. 

38:00  – This is where you can find the SOPL report.