CPO Series: Scaling Product for a Product-led business

Implementing a product-led growth strategy is a new trend for many SaaS companies. But, what does being product led actually mean?

Trisha Price, CPO at Pendo, shares key insights from her 20 years of experience in financial services and technology to highlight everything you need to know to drive a successful product-led strategy. She covers everything from focusing on the customer experience to building the internal culture you need to be successful. (Spoiler alert – product led requires outcome focused product practice.)

In this webinar, Trisha covers: 

  • The ins and outs of being product-led
  • How to set new product launches up for success
  • How to nurture high growth in mature products
  • The value of product operations

The full transcript is provided below.

Read the Full Transcript

The following transcript has been altered for readability. 

Trisha Price: Thank you for having me today, it’s exciting and fun to share the story around my experiences and advice around how you really invest and scale a product team in a high growth business. And so I’m excited to talk a little bit about some of those ideas and experiences that I’ve had today and also happy to just take questions. So really appreciate you having me. Today, my agenda, we’re going to jump right in because we don’t have a lot of time, I’m going to talk about two main different areas. First I’m going to talk about product-led, being product-led and how to utilize product-led strategies to drive both growth and efficiency. And then I’m going to switch gears a little bit and talk about team structure, culture, organization for scaling a product team. So let’s first start with the product-led piece.

And first I’m going to answer the question, what is a product-led organization? For those that don’t know. A lot of times people associate product-led with product-led growth. And yes, product-led growth is a piece, things like freemiums and free trial versions and really that product-led sales motion. That is definitely a piece of being product-led but it goes well beyond sales. So another idea here around product-led, does being product-led mean a product management led company? It can mean that but again, it doesn’t have to mean that, that’s one piece of being product-led. What product-led really means is putting your product at the center of the customer experience. So what do I mean by that? When you think about the customer experience, it’s not just the job to be done that they’re doing in your product, it’s their whole experience with you as a company and putting your product at the middle of that.

So we talked about product-led growth in sales and we know things like lead generations and freemium, but then you move on to customer success and you think about things like onboarding and education and training and support. And then how do you think about things like renewals and cross- sell upsells or even things in marketing, like announcements of webinars or new features. And so this product-led movement or this product-led concept is really, how do you do all of those things from within your product? And so we know customers don’t want to leave the product for those experiences. And so here’s one example, product is the new marketing. So how do you get virality and people talking about your product? Well, maybe right when they do something within your product, one of your aha moments you say, “Can we count on you as a reference?”

You should be able to segment those users and be able to find them and know who’s happy or know who just had an experience. Can you really double down and capitalize on that and ask them for a reference right there in that moment? Not a week later where they delete and forget about it, but when they’re super happy and engaged right within your product. That’s a great example of a product-led motion for marketing. Another one is onboarding. So we know that users who have taken part in formal onboarding tend to be much happier users than customers who have not taken part or users that have not taken part in informal onboarding. So how do you do onboarding? Well, there’s lots of ways, you can go on site and do training, you can have courses within your university, but you can also have in-app onboarding.

And that’s a great product-led motion versus the old school sort of thinking about things in more of a classroom setting, but how do you do that right within your product? How do you build your product so that, that new user experience is fantastic? And then where you need to augment with training and onboarding, that you do it in an in-app way. Another example, self-service, help users help themselves. People don’t want to have to go and try to find a how-to guide for your product and looking and searching, “Oh, I want to do this. How do I find it? Here, I found it. Here’s the guide on what I’m supposed to do.” And then I pop back to your product and then I try to do it. It’s a very disjointed experience. And what people want to do is be able to navigate that help right there when they need it.

They want you to proactively tell them, here’s how to do something. And sometimes that might be a how-to guide or a how-to document, sometimes it might be a series of in-app communications, but either way you want to provide that information, that help in a product-led way in the product at the time they need it. So when we talk about product-led, there’s sort of three things, leveraging data for product decisions. Which we didn’t talk about, I’ll talk about that in a minute. Putting product at the center of the customer experience. And then adjusting how you deliver your product. How you sell it, how you onboard customers and then how you continue to communicate with your users around new releases and new features. The first piece which we didn’t talk about is for us product managers, how do you leverage data for product decisions? So one example could be to your team, why as a product manager, would you want to invest money or make a page or a feature better if people don’t use it?

Okay. But you could counteract that argument and say, if people did use it, it would make my product stickier. If people did use it, it would solve a different job to be done that isn’t solved today. If people did use it, it would give them more value out of my product. If that’s your theory, then you want to measure that outcome. You want to say, “Yes, go ahead, invest, make this feature better. But then here’s the outcome we expect out of it. We expect a 30% uplift in the usage and adoption of that particular feature or page.” That’s a great example of leveraging data for product decisions. Sometimes it’s the opposite, how do I use data, maybe, to sunset a product or to say we shouldn’t invest as much in that product? So that’s really another example of being product-led is using that data to drive your own product decisions and product strategies.

And then once you do that and you have your product out, putting that product at the center of every experience from trial, to buying, to onboarding, to help, to renewal, to upsell. And really creating that whole flywheel of product-led across the life cycle of your customer’s journey. So switching gears a little bit from product-led and thinking about product-led strategies to drive making the right investments, gaining efficiency and scale in both sales and customer success to organizing your product team for scale. So I’m going to talk about this in sort of four buckets, one product areas, different areas or products that you might have in new product launches. I’m going to talk about commonality and platforms. And then I’m going to talk about product operations and the importance of product operations for scale. And finally finish on what I think is the most important piece is culture, because it is all about the people and attracting and retaining top talent for us as product leaders to be successful.

So let’s first start on product areas in different concepts. First of all, I truly believe and I always set up my teams for focus. And how do you organize where you need focus? So organizing byproduct line, you want somebody senior enough to wake up every day and think about, how do I make this product successful? How do I coordinate across marketing and sales, go to market concepts along with my product roadmap and product execution. And so I typically have what I call general managers of product over each product line or each area within my products where we know we need focus and where they wake up every day and think about that product. And there is a different personality often and a different motion from people who can go zero to one and one to 10. Meaning, can I launch a new product? Which takes incredible fortitude and resilience, not letting anything stop you because launching a new product is hard. Versus continuing to, in a high growth environment, grow and maintain an existing product.

And so that requires discipline around making sure you balance the voice of the customer and looking at that product data, the qualitative and the quantitative and being able to balance those decisions of keeping existing customers happy with, how do I enter new markets? Whether those are different global markets or maybe you’re moving up market into enterprise or down market or maybe you’re thinking about new modules to upsell. Grow and maintaining that existing product is a different motion than launching that new one. And so for me, when I think about organization, I try to think about the different people who are good at each of those things and keeping those separate as much as possible. And then I think about organizing for engineering efficiency and consistency versus organizing for end user delight. And I’m not trying to claim that there’s no intersection between them, but they are different. And here’s where I’ll give you an example.

You can think about building common components, which we all do, but how far do you take that? Because if you know you need to do a similar action in two different products, you can build it once and use it twice. And that’s great, that gives us all efficiency and it means we maintain the code once, we build it once. But if the end users or the job to be done is different in those different products, they may need tweaks. And so there is a balance when you’re organizing your team, how much do you put in platforms? How much do you put in shared components? How far do you take those versus making sure you’re still focused on that end user delight and job to be done? Personally, I don’t think you can go all one way where you have each product organized and I don’t think you can really just create all shared components and just organize them into these different products.

You’ve got to maintain that balance across each of those to maintain that engineering efficiency, but also focus on that end user delight. And certainly as you’re focusing on that end user delight, being able to measure it and optimize for it is something you should continue to do. So talking a little bit about product operations in that structure, PMs have a hard job. We all know this as product leaders. Sometimes people say things like, they’re the CEO of the product. I’m not sure that’s the right way to think about it, but there is a lot from listening, to voice a customer, to thinking about go-to-market, to owning their roadmap and planning execution, to understanding where customer pain is. They’re almost always the subject matter expert of their product and trying to get out there and enable and train on it and make people aware of what’s coming and what’s launching and jumping in with customer calls, whether that’s a mitigation for a risk or whether that’s assisting with a new deal.

We as product people are all over the place. We have so many things to do and product operations can really help keep PMs focused on what’s most important. And so this is a survey that we did, which was, what was the signal or pain in your organization that made your company invest in a product ops role? And you can see, it was because we’re asking these PMs to do so many things that a lot of companies suffer from things like lack of transparency or how to manage releases and beta management? How to make sure we have product training enablement? And then back to allowing PMs to focus on the plan. And so these are the reasons I believe product operations is such a key part of success when you look at a product organization.

And they really can help you align and communicate and connect to the rest of the company, customer success and engineering. Now there’s a warning here of being careful. What you don’t want to do is put your PMs sort of heads down in execution mode and not have them out with sales and listening to the field and talking to customer success. What you really want to do is help product ops, helps make that easier for them. Are they collecting the data that’s needed for these decisions? Are they raising up themes that they’re seeing or hearing in voice of the customer? But you do want to make sure that your product managers are still frontline, talking to customers and getting really that gut feel of what’s going on and being able to evangelize their product roadmaps and get feedback on them. But product ops is a big part of making that happen and making it scalable.

So my final piece before I open it up to questions is around culture. So I put a little funny quote in here, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast, operational excellence for lunch and everything else for dinner.” Because I truly believe that hiring and retaining the best talent that you can find is what’s going to make it successful. We talked about all of those things that product managers do and all of the ways that product operations can help. And we talked about this new world of product-led strategies, which means your product organization is key to your company’s success. If you’re putting the product at the center of sales and marketing and customer success and support, that product team has to be best-in-class. And in order to do that, that comes down to culture.

And so what is a good culture? To me, it is not snacks and foosball tables, although I love snacks with the best of them. Although with today’s remote world, I think that’s probably a little less important, but it’s not about the perks, that’s not culture. Culture is, do I have a safe place to innovate? Can I bring my whole self to work? Does my team look diverse? Are they diverse? Are they diverse in their education, in their backgrounds and where they come from in gender diversity and racial diversity? All of that is incredibly important so that we can have different opinions and innovate the best product out there. Being able to challenge each other in respectful way, but come from different views is what I think makes a best-in-class product team organization. Allowing people room to innovate, which means room to fail, but in a safe way, not in a way that has a customer impact or a quality impact.

I always tell my team, if you’re launching a new product and you’re trying something and you’re running an experiment, great, we should be running experiments. If we are releasing code that brings our service down and impacts customers and their own products, that’s not taking risks or innovating, that’s not putting customer first. And so I do think that maniacal focus on the customer is another huge part of culture that matters. How do we keep customers happy? How do we put them first? Is the final piece of the puzzle when it comes to culture for me.

Kalei White: First question is, how do you differentiate between a good chief product officer and a great one?

Trisha Price: Yeah. So I’m going to answer that first in terms of a leader. Because to me, when I think about my role as chief product officer, I think about myself as a C-suite team member and a leader of the company first. And so to me, it’s what makes a great product leader and what makes a great leader a great C-suite team member is putting the company first and putting your people first. Meaning not just my product agenda, when I think about my team and I think about their career growth and I think about the company’s good. If somebody wants to change jobs to another department and that’s what’s good for them and good for the company, I always put that first. It’s spending enough time with my peers as a leader to help ensure that the company is successful versus my team being successful.

And so I think that is a really important part of leadership is all being on the same page as a leadership team and spending time to build that healthy, clear leadership point of view, that everybody’s rowing in the same direction and hears that from our leadership team, I think is critical to be a great leader. And then specifically in terms of product, I think it’s being data driven, it’s listening, maniacal focus on the customer and then it’s setting that culture where people want to work for you, with you on this team. And I saw a comment in the chat around, “Lesson for me, don’t let your product managers work heads down on the product, it’s a team sport.” It’s a team sport and it’s a team sport as your group of product managers work together for the greater product vision, but it’s a team sport across customer success and sales. And so for me, that is how I feel that I’ve been successful as a chief product officer and as a leader at these companies.

Kalei White: Another question for you is, how do you grow into a leadership role as you get started as a product manager? What’s your advice for someone who would like to get to your position?

Trisha Price: So first I always, before I started giving advice, ask people, why do they want to grow into a manager, a director, a CPO? Sometimes I feel like it’s societal pressure, it’s peer pressure, LinkedIn, social media, all these things make us all feel not good enough and we always have to be striving for something that we perceive others to be doing. And so before I start giving advice, I always ask people to really ask yourself, why do you want this role? And if it’s not about building a great team, then I ask people to think before they really start rowing or climbing a ladder or getting to the other rung of the jungle gym, because careers really are a jungle gym and we’ll talk about that advice in a second. But really thinking about it and understanding what you’re giving up.

Because I think often people want the role, but they don’t know what it means to take the role. And when you get to be a leader of a large company or a mid-size company, you give up a lot from your family, I hop on planes and I travel places and I’ll never forget when I was a part of the IPO at Encino. You’re going everywhere, you’re visiting customers all over the world. I have teams today at Pendo in Europe, I have teams all over San Francisco. And so it means time zones, it means travel. And so I do just say that and make sure you know what you’re going for because that’s a part of being successful.

But then specifically, when you do want those things and you’re driven and they feel like your path, how do you get there? I think a lot of it is curiosity, learning, reading, I’ve always been one to read everything I can get my hands on. Before I came to Pendo it was reading Todd’s book about product-led and learning about that. It’s learning from Becky and asking questions about what does she do and networking with other product leaders, reading blogs. So to me, I think constant curiosity is important.

And as a CPO, you really have to have empathy for the other leaders around you. When you think about the chief revenue officer and the pressure to make the number, how can you be a support and help and partner with that person? When you think about customer success and risk and escalations, when you do the wrong thing in the product, the impact on that person, how do you be supportive? And so I think as you go and you want to take on more, it’s building those relationships across the company, maybe even taking a job in other parts of the company. So I mentioned earlier, your career really is a jungle gym, I don’t think it’s always product manager to senior, to lead, to director, all in product. I think sometimes taking a role in another department helps you be a better product leader as well.

Kalei White: And then from one of the attendees, “Love what you said about culture, what are some examples of some team bonding exercises in the modern remote workplace?”

Trisha Price: So for me, this is where I am a little bit old school. I mean, I’m working from my home. I live in Wrightsville Beach, which is not where Pendo’s office is, it’s a few hours away. And I believe in remote work, I believe that people can be successful, you have to hire the best people and trust them. But I do believe that team bonding is best in person. I mean, I’ve done the charcuterie boards remote and I’ve done the cocktail classes remote and I think that got us by during the pandemic when we didn’t have a choice. But for me personally, when it comes to those true culture bonding moments and tying people to the company, I think nothing beats in person. We still do a company kickoff once a year where we do bring our employees together in person.

And at least once a quarter, I try it to be closer to once a month, that’s tough, I try to bring at least groups of my product team together in person, even though they live all over in most cases where they’re getting together. And sometimes it’s just the product team, sometimes it’s their scrum team, it’s engineering and agile, sometimes it’s with the go-to- market team where they’re listening and learning. But I do try to bring people together in person. And when we do that, I try to combine a combination of things to do. For example, our VP of UX and Research loves to roller skate, she roller skated 365 days last year. So one of our fun events happened to be roller skating last time because that’s fun and personal.

Kalei White: That’s awesome.

Trisha Price: It’s fun, right? But then you also need to get on a board and use that time to brainstorm and do those collaborative future roadmap strategy type things that to me, are still just best done in person.

Kalei White: Who would make a better product manager? A very talented but a generalist product manager or a deep subject matter expert in the domain area of the product?

Trisha Price: Well, personally, I like to have both of those types of people on my team because I think we are the best team when we’re not all the same. But I also think it depends on the type of product and the role. If you have a deeply technical product and your user persona is a developer or product managers, you may need a more technical, deep subject matter expert. Or like at Encino, where I came from before Pendo, it was hard for folks who didn’t have banking understanding. But we always had both because if you only took people with banking understanding, then who’s going to challenge the status quo of banking? And so I think that it’s a combo. The non-negotiables for me is the maniacal focus on the customer, the empathy, the curiosity, the being organized, are just critical. But then having a balance of those deep subject matter experts, really technical people versus people who might know the industry, I think having a combo of those all makes a great team.

Dragonboat is the de facto product and portfolio platform for outcome-focused teams to strategize, prioritize, plan and deliver products that drive business results. With Dragonboat, product teams can connect OKRs, customer insights, and product initiatives in one source of truth PPM platform. Sign up for a free trial or book a demo.

Strategic Planning Webinar CTA

Like this post? Please share it

This site uses cookies. Some of these cookies are essential, while others help us to improve your experience by providing insights into how the site is being used. For more information, please check our Privacy Policy. You can disable or remove cookies in your browser settings at any time. By clicking "Accept" or continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies across the site.