What being a product-led company means for product teams
Product teams have always had a wide range of responsibilities—from setting the product strategy and ideating new features to building the roadmap and analyzing product performance. When companies are product led, these typical duties don’t necessarily change, but rather product teams need to also see themselves as orchestrators. They’re used to putting the product at the center of their work, and now, they’re tasked with ensuring the rest of the organization does, too.
Being product led doesn’t mean that the product team has the most influence or makes all of the important decisions. Instead, product leaders should help each department realize the value in leveraging the product to deliver a better customer experience at every stage of the journey. For teams like sales, marketing, and customer success, historically human-led activities (e.g. onboarding, upsell, and expansion) shift to being product led—allowing the product itself to do the heavy lifting. And who knows the product better than the product team?
The guiding product-led principles for product teams
The product experience is the customer experience
As more of (and in some cases, all of) the customer journey takes place inside the product, the product team has an increased responsibility to ensure the rest of the company feels empowered to leverage the product to enhance the customer experience. For sales, this could mean using the product for lead generation or in-app trial conversion. Customer success can bring onboarding inside the product, and also create on-demand education and training that’s available when and where users need it. And marketing now has arguably the best channel to drive renewals, cross-sells, and upsells. Collaboration is at the root of being product led, and the product team plays an incredibly important role in rallying their colleagues around the product.
Data-driven decision making
Product-led organizations live and breathe data. Product teams use product usage data to understand what’s happening inside their product—things like where users are struggling or which features are being used the most. They also pair this quantitative data with qualitative customer feedback, and use this holistic view of the customer experience to inform their decisions. Where product teams of the past have relied on gut instinct or listened to the loudest customer, product leaders at product-led companies root decision-making in data, and also make it easily available for other teams to utilize in their own efforts.
Iterative build and release cycles
Advancements in technology have given research and development (R&D) teams more power and flexibility in how they release new products and features. Instead of going straight from the build phase to the release phase, teams can drip out new capabilities over various stages and expose them to additional users over time—for example doing an internal release, limited beta, open beta, and finally general availability. At product-led organizations, product teams lean into this iterative approach: Engineering can still move quickly without sacrificing users’ experience, and product can catch bugs, collect feedback, and use product usage data to validate new offerings along the way.
The 3 pillars of modern product teams
As product-led organizations invest more and more in the product experience, they need to ensure they have the right team in place to build the best products possible. While many different types of product roles exist (and surely there are more to come), there are three core functions to remember:
Product managers (PMs) are likely what first comes to mind when you think of a product team. In short, PMs manage every step of a product’s lifecycle. This role requires a great deal of customer empathy, as product managers work to translate customer challenges into products or features that help solve them. They use quantitative (e.g. product usage) and qualitative (e.g. customer feedback) data to guide decision making, drive innovation, and deliver high-value products that meet customers’ needs and business goals.
Just as sales ops, marketing ops, and DevOps became essential for their respective departments, product teams also benefit from an operational complement, known as product operations (or product ops). Product ops functions aim to improve alignment, communication, and processes around the product, working as a cross-functional connective tissue between the product team and the rest of the organization.
Since becoming product led brings with it new ideas and ways of working, product ops can help manage many of these new processes. For example, product operations might oversee:
- Customer feedback
- Beta processes
- Launch planning and coordination
- Data consistency and centralization
- Experimentation schedules
- In-app communication governance
While product designers share a common goal (to solve users’ problems) with and work closely with product managers, the difference is in the “how.” Product and user experience designers work to deeply understand their target users so they can create the best possible product that addresses pain points and helps users achieve their goals.
At product-led companies in particular, product design functions use a data-driven approach, working to understand user behavior and sentiment to inform the experiences they create. They also embrace Agile thinking, and prioritize speed in prototyping and collaboration with both product and customer-facing teams.
The product-led tech stack for product teams
Product teams use a lot of tools, but there are certain types of solutions that best support and drive product-led strategies. Ideally, your product team is able to leverage a tool that combines multiple (if not all) of these capabilities in a single platform.
Product analytics is a type of business intelligence software that captures and exposes usage patterns from digital products like web and mobile applications through event tracking, event properties, and event and property grouping. This quantitative data is key for product teams, since the first step to improving one’s digital product is understanding how users are engaging with it. From there, product teams can also use data from a product analytics tool to track usage at every phase of a release, measure adoption and retention, and better understand how key personas navigate the application (signaling how their needs may differ). Without a product analytics tool in place, it’s difficult for product teams to embrace product-led strategies, and even more difficult to arm the rest of the company with the data they need to leverage the product in their own work.
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In-app guidance tools allow companies to communicate with users directly inside the product using a variety of formats like lightboxes, tooltips, carousels, and banners. These messages can serve many different purposes, from adding context to complex workflows, driving adoption of key features, and helping users get past friction points, to promoting upsell opportunities and collecting user feedback. What’s more, in-app guides are particularly effective since they reach users while they’re actually engaging with the product. Product-led organizations embrace the product itself as a communication channel. And the product team is often first in line to create in-app guides to validate ideas, increase adoption, and improve the user experience.
Feedback management tools help teams centralize and organize qualitative feedback that customers provide about their experience with the product. The best platforms also enable teams to collect feedback in-app, which makes it easier for customers to share their ideas and requests within the context of their product experience. Product teams can then view this feedback holistically and identify any common themes or trends. In addition to examining qualitative feedback on its own, it’s even more valuable when paired with quantitative data, like product usage insights coming from a product analytics tool. This way, product teams can further identify which feedback requests are worth pursuing. For example, if multiple users from accounts with high ARR request a certain feature, it might be worth investing in that capability. On the other hand, if there are feedback requests for a product area that gets very little usage, it probably doesn’t make sense to prioritize those updates.
Roadmapping tools help product teams plan, create, and share their product roadmaps, and can include various levels of granularity to help keep stakeholders organized and add context to specific items on the roadmap. At product-led organizations, it’s most effective to integrate roadmapping platforms with analytics and feedback tools. That way, product teams can better correlate customer requests, sentiment, and product usage and make more informed roadmap decisions. It’s also useful to use a roadmapping tool to create an internal version of the roadmap so that other teams feel informed of the latest vision coming out of the product team.
Product-led tactics for product teams
Check out these articles to learn more tactics product teams can use to drive product-led strategies across your organization:
- 8 KPIs that every product team should measure
- Building a product that sells—and grows—itself
- How the best product teams collect, manage, and act on customer feedback
- Taking a product-led approach to product and feature adoption
- How product ops drives collaboration in a product-led organization
- How product ops improves efficiency in a product-led organization
- Putting data at the center of your product design process
- How to bring product-led principles to your mobile app experience