The 14 Product Manager Skills You Need to Build a Better Product Team

9 min read
Frank L.
Frank L.
Published May 14, 2021 Updated June 29, 2021

Product managers have one of the most critical roles in a SaaS company, with a lot of weight on their shoulders. On top of keeping customers satisfied with their company’s product, they’ll also be in charge of cross-collaboration between different departments.

Product managers therefore need various skills across different areas. It’s vital for building a product that meets customer needs and helps their company reach its business goals. Here are the different types of product manager skills you’ll need to build throughout your career:

Business and Strategy Skills

A great product manager must have a full understanding of how a business works, so set up the product development process in a way that fits with your company's strategy. These different business and strategic thinking skills consist of:

1. Understanding Business Terms

To lead product development, a critical aspect of a product manager’s skills is the ability to speak the language of business.

You don’t necessarily need a background in entrepreneurship or a degree in the field but understanding key business terms goes a long way. For example, some of these business definitions will include:

  • Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR): The recurring income your software company can count on from month to month.
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS): A score that measures how likely customers are to recommend your company’s product to others.
  • Churn Rate: The number of customers who unsubscribe from your software product over a given period.

By understanding these terms, you’ll have a clear idea of what’s going on within your company. It will be easier to structure product development in a way that drives growth. To learn more about key business terms for product managers, ProductPlan has an excellent glossary on product strategy that you can go through.

2. Sales and Revenue Forecasting

As you build your company’s software, you must have the skills to project the impact of the feature’s development on revenue.

It’s not enough to get the executives excited about a new feature. You’ll need numbers to back up the decision and collaborate with your sales team to explain how the feature aligns with your company’s goals.

Your revenue projection must be clear while staying realistic. Here are the outcomes you should estimate as you forecast your company’s future revenue:

  • Out of all the people you’ll reach during the year, how many of them will sign up for a free trial?
  • How many of those will eventually become paying customers?
  • How will the implementation of your new features improve the average user lifespan?

3. Defining and Measuring Key Metrics

During development, product managers must also have the skills to identify which metrics matter to each feature and how they plan on measuring them. Of course, all of it will depend on the type of product you’re building and your company goals.

For example, let’s say that you’re a product manager at a SaaS company. Some of the metrics that will matter the most include Customer Aquicisition Cost (CAC), Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), and Monthly Active Users (MAU).

If your company is selling a subscription product, the essential metrics will be slightly different. You’ll be more on the lookout for such metrics as subscriber lifetime value and number of active users.

4. Product Development Budgeting

Companies must always stay within their means when it comes to product development. It’s why a product manager must accurately estimate the budget it will take to build out certain features of their products.

However, that can often seem easier said than done. If you’re building a product no one has created before, it’s not always clear how much development will cost. Here are some vital factors you’ll have to consider as you budget:

  • Number of Features: It’s simple math — the more features you want to include in your product, the more money you’ll have to invest.
  • Effort Required: You’ll have to consider the effort and time investment it will take to create the new features. Depending on the functionality, you may have to outsource and hire more people (such as freelancers).
  • Overhead Costs: Outside of building your product, you may also be responsible for any other expenses, such as technical support, licensing, and subscription fees.

Research Skills

A product manager will spend a great deal of their time researching their market, customers, and opportunities where they can shine to create the best product experience. It’s a role that requires you to be curious and always hungry to learn more.

5. Customer Research

Ask yourself: how well do you know your audience? To deliver the best product for your customers, you have to understand who they are. Customer and market research will be the key to gaining insights into their expectations and needs from your software product.

For example, you’ll have to segment your customers into different categories: geography, demographics, personal interest, etc. Based on this data, you can focus on developing features that are relevant to these factors.

As a product manager, you’ll also have to run customer interviews and question them directly. It will help you get solid insights into their pain points and what their specific needs are.

6. Competitor Research

A product manager must also be proficient at competitor research to understand their competition’s strategy for getting customers and what they can do to make your product even better. Some of the critical factors that you’ll need to keep track of include:

  • Differentiators: What differentiates your product from others in the same market? For example, is your pricing higher or lower?
  • Strengths: Next, dive deep into areas that your competition excels in. What unique user experience or features are they offering to their audience? One of the best ways to access these insights is to sign up for your competition’s free trial.
  • Weaknesses: In what areas is the competition behind? For example, what online complaints about their product frequently arise from their customer base?

You can document all of this information into a Google Sheets or Excel document, making it easy to share with the rest of your team. From there, you can start a discussion with your team to find ways to adapt and outcompete them.

7. Data Analysis

Compiling all the research on your market, customers, and competitors is just the first step. Product managers must be able to look at all the information and become effective at data-driven decision making.

Technology can help product managers a lot when it comes to data analysis. A tool such as Domo, for example, provides you with real-time data on how customers are using your product. The platform comes accurate analysis on the growth of your company, along with revenue forecasts.

domo data science dashboard

Time Management and Productivity Skills

The product development process typically has a long cycle. Therefore, product managers must find ways to optimize their team’s productivity, improve their project management, and speed up their product launch:

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8. Feature Prioritization

Product managers often experience pressure from stakeholders to include as many features as possible in their software. However, not all features are worth focusing on in the product roadmap.

Learning which features are the highest priority will prevent you from building a product that customers don’t want. There are various forms of methodology that you can apply to determine which features you should focus on first.

For example, one tactic is the MoSCoW method, which stands for Must Have, Should Have, Could Have, and Will Not Have. It’s an effective way to prioritize your product features based on their necessity:

MoSCoW Prioritization

Another tactic you can use is weighted scoring, which provides a score for your feature based on different criteria: Increase Revenue, Customer Value, Strategic Value, and more.

Revenue, Customer Value, Strategic Value

9. Task Delegation

There’s only so much you can do in your limited schedule as a product manager. If you frequently find yourself balancing five projects at a time, then you’re clearly doing something wrong.

It all comes down to setting up boundaries. The best product managers know when to delegate tasks that are eating away their time so they can focus on their job's most critical areas.

Technology can make it easier for product managers to delegate tasks to other members of their product team. Tools such as Productboard allow you to assign tasks to others and manage them all from one dashboard:

ProductBoard Project Management

10. Shorten and optimize Meetings

Meetings that are too long or unproductive can take a toll on your schedule. A product manager must find ways to shorten meetings and make them as straight to the point and productive as possible, so they don’t become bottlenecks.

For example, one way to host more productive meetings is to only invite people who need to be there. You don’t want to waste your time having too many participants in each session — it’s not fair to their own schedule and yours.

Preparing a clear agenda before each event will also be helpful. Without a plan, you’ll enter the conference call with no goal or purpose in mind and lead the meeting nowhere.

Interpersonal Skills

A product manager will be leading various departments of a company, which makes interpersonal management skills a must. You'll have to talk with different teams and adapt your communication with each department:

11. Collaboration and Teamwork

Part of a successful product manager’s role is to bring different departments together to work on the same goal, which can become a significant challenge as the company continues to scale. Product managers must encourage collaboration between cross-functional teams so that the company achieves its goals on time.

For example, let’s say that some engineering development team members don’t understand how a specific feature fits with the company strategy. You can set up a meeting between the engineering and sales departments, so both teams can align to discuss the reasoning behind the feature development.

Also, improving collaboration could be as simple as giving praise where it’s due. You can encourage different team members to praise each other's work to create a bond between departments.

12. Persuasion and Negotiation

As a product manager, having discussions with executives on your product roadmap trajectory will be a big part of what you do. You’ll have to convince them why certain features are worth focusing on and how they contribute to your company’s mission.

It requires that you develop your sense of empathy and put yourself in the shoes of others. What metrics matter the most to executives? What features will help achieve the company’s strategic goals?

This information will be vital to keep in mind during your discussions with stakeholders. Also, think about any potential objections that may come your way, so you know how to respond to them in advance.

13. Active Listening

Product managers will be interviewing customers, subject matter experts, and more sources. They’ll also be switching back and forth between different departments and dealing with their requests.

As a result, active listening is a must-have skill for product managers. For example, if you want the most productive team possible, you’ll need to listen to their needs, so you can provide them with the right resources to do their best.

Also, don’t forget that no one has the answers to everything. Part of active listening means accepting that your views on certain aspects of your product might be wrong and opening yourself to any suggestions that might help.

Technical Skills

While a product manager won’t necessarily have to write code, technical knowledge will help them collaborate with the engineering team. It will help you understand the technology behind the tool you’re building and lead product development better.

14. Understand The Coding Technologies At Play

A good product manager needs to understand which coding technologies the engineering team is using to build the product to better communicate and collaborate on the development process.

For example, if your team is building the product on Python, you can take a couple of online courses on the technology to familiarize yourself with it. There are great online learning platforms, such as Udemy, that offer various courses on coding technologies.

Udemy education

Build a Stronger Team with the Right Product Manager Skills

Product management goes beyond the scope of just focusing on your product development. It also involves cross-collaboration between different departments and tapping into new skillsets, so you get the big picture of what it takes to make a product succeed.

With the right combination of skills across different areas, product managers will have all the tools they need to take their team to the next level. You’ll be on your way to standing out from the crowd and creating a product that customers love.

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