Manisha Bachpai is a Product Management Associate at Zoho. She started her career as a Customer support person, tailed slowly into Product Consulting and now she’s been into Product Management for around four months.
In this blog, she shares her beginnings, the influence of a mentor in her career, and much more.
We thought we could get a fresh chat as the transition is still fresh. Hope you too will find it refreshing.
1) We know you started your career as a product support specialist. How did it happen? Was it something you picked or came into your hands?
A product support specialist was something that I was unaware of. Even now, there is no proper awareness about this role, especially in the colleges. Anyone who is from a product-based company will be well versed in the roles and responsibilities of this domain. But, to the outer world, I personally feel that when people hear about support roles the first thing that hits their mind is a BPO.
So, immediately after college, I was left with zero options and had to take up this domain. This is something that came to me and after being a part of it, I understood a lot about this role. At times, we ourselves will not know what we are capable of and in that case, it is always better to try out whatever comes to us, work on that consistently for a few days and then decide if that is something we can stick with. I stress ‘work on that consistently for a few days as not everything will look like a piece of cake in the initial attempt.
After giving multiple attempts, if it’s something that doesn’t seek our attention, we can look for an alternative. This is what my mentor taught me.
In my case, customer support just came to me and I began to enjoy it over experience. I struggled a lot, initially. But, I went with the flow and did the groundwork to get the hang of it.
2) Mmm. Sounds approaching. So, what’s the most wanted quality that a product support person should have?
The most important quality is patience. Showing empathy is equally significant. But to me, communication skills are also equally important. By communication skills, I don’t mean that the person should have an excellent command of the language.
Communication skill is the ability to deliver information precisely to the other person be it internal or external stakeholders.
3) You were then into Product Consulting, right? How’s it? What’s the difference?
Product Consulting was also a part of my work life. I did not do the transition as such. It is a bundle package that serves various business requirements. It all started with my keen interest to know the domain and basic functionality of all the applications in that bundle.
I enjoyed handling consulting cases, as business and customer requirements helped me explore various domains and day-to-day scenarios.
However, here I did not find a very big difference between product support and product consultant. One such difference might be that in product support you need to have in-depth knowledge of the application you deal with, whereas in product consultancy, you will be pitching in for other products based on the requirement. So, cross-selling will be a part of product consultancy, not of product support.
4) And finally, what caused the interest to take up a product management role?
A couple of years back, I didn’t even know that there is something called Product Management. During my journey as a Product support specialist, I enjoyed exploring the product. Whenever I came across the customer’s pain points, I would put myself in the customer’s place and think of a solution. With this, I realized that I have eventually gone into the problem-solving mode.
So each time when a customer encountered such a usability issue, I would reach out to the product team with the issue and a few suggestions to solve it. I was lucky to have a team who took my recommendations and released them as a feature.
When I got a chance to take up this role, without any hesitation I decided to give it a try. Here I did not choose to be a part of the Product Management team by just going with the buzzword ‘Product Management’. I visioned my journey in this role. That gave me the confidence to take this up.
Luckily this worked for me. I’m not sure if this is something that will work for everyone.
5) Got it. During your stint as a Product Consultant was there any instances that motivated you to take this role?
Being in the customer-facing role, during the initial days, such a thought never stuck in my mind. Over time, I felt I’m more of a product person. When I got enough confidence, I got the urge to switch.
6) Great to hear that. How they helped you realize the same?
To me, the customer-facing role allowed me to explore the domain/product as much as I could. As mentioned earlier, I had a keen interest to propose solutions to all the unhandled issues and customer requests.
Thereby, my confidence boosted up considering the responses I received from the product team and I decided to make a switch.
7) To become a product manager or to be on a product management side, do you think, you should have technical knowledge?
A person in the product team should definitely have technical knowledge. I would say this is a myth. But it doesn’t mean that you should not have the basic technical knowledge. If a person has the technical knowledge, that will act as an add-on, compared to the ones who don’t have technical knowledge.
Here, in-depth technical knowledge is not asked for at the initial stage (this varies from team to team/company to company based on the product’s nature). But over time, I feel that (basic technical knowledge) is something a person will learn. This basic knowledge will eventually come while conversing with the engineering team and to understand the technical difficulties from scratch, it’s up to the product person to invest some time and effort to comprehend the root cause.
So it is totally fine if you do not have in-depth technical knowledge in the initial days. But one should have an open mindset to learn and understand how things work from the engineering perspective.
8) Learning is important. You’re there, Alright. So, how’s the role? What are the responsibilities you have now?
People say right, that if you like what you work, your work life will become your life’s work. I see myself in such a situation to an extent. It’s not as though I did not like the customer-facing role. But this is something I’m enjoying more compared to my previous role.
Every day is new learning, and I start my day with a mindset that I have a lot to learn. This mindset helps me explore a lot. With respect to responsibilities, it was more about knowing the need for a particular feature, analyze the cases and possibility and brainstorm with teams.
It involves a lot of team coordination with all the internal stakeholders.
9) Give us a sneak peek of your day as a product management associate?
There is actually no specific schedule for each day at work. To start with, I check the customer support requests, emails, and a few public forums to know what’s going around.
After that, each day depends on the work. Based on the features I have to work on, I come up with ideas after doing the initial groundwork.
The ideas were discussed with various teams based on which wireframes were built and enhancements were suggested. Sometimes we uncovered a few cases I would have missed.
So each discussion is like a brainstorming session with the internal stakeholders where we ensure to cover all the cases and then move them to deployment.
10) What are the tools you use every day? We had asked Sanjeev about this and he told us about some tools. Would love to hear from you as well!
Apart from the products I work on, to come up with basic wireframes, I use Figma. I found this tool very helpful.
11. Alright. Final one before we disperse, who was your inspiration to pick up this career?
My mentor motivated me a lot to get this. Thanks to Karthik Seshadri for guiding me in the right direction to take my career to this phase as per my interest.
A year back, he suggested me to pick up some scenario and come up with a solution in the form of an application wireframe. He recommended building something ground up keeping the customer’s perspective in mind. In simple, get on the field and get your hands dirty.
I guess this happens to a few people where they won’t be able to figure out the talent/skills they are good at. But a friend or a mentor will guess things quickly. I was lucky to have a mentor who identified where I will fit in.
Sanjeev is a Product Manager at Superops.ai. He started his career as a customer support at Capgemini, then laid hands on Sales during his stint at Make A Difference, then started evangelizing and marketing Freshservice when he was with Freshworks. Now, took the Product Manager seat at Superops.ai
To put exactly In his words, “I started selling when I was in support, started speaking at conferences when I was in sales and started building products when I was in marketing. The transition was natural“
We wanted to capture his story exclusively because it was something, we also observed, so naturally happened to him. In this convo, he shares how his career transitioned from Support to Product Management, his point of realization that he could be the one, things to have to be the one, the tools he uses everyday in his Product Management seat. So, here the conversation goes.
1) Sanjeev, we know you started your career as a product support specialist. How did it happen? Was it something you picked or it came in your hands?
I had no say in this. My first job was right out of college and they landed me in a support role. Thinking back, it’s one of the best things to have happened. Because, starting your career in support means you immediately understand what the business does. And Product Management is just the intersection of product, business and customers.
2) That’s correct. What’s the most wanted quality that a product support person should have?
Zooming out of the product and looking at the customers’ business problem. A support rep isn’t a product expert, their product knowledge is not worth much if they can’t solve the customers problem. So, a support rep shouldn’t limit themselves to just knowing their product.
3) Hmm.. It’s beyond that. Got it got it.. So, you were then into Product Consulting right? How’s it? What’s the difference?
Yes!! To me, the difference was the storytelling part. For example, as a product consultant my job was to get prospects excited about our solution. And I had to paint a lot of pictures in their heads about how their future would be if they went with our solution. In a nutshell, in support, you’re working with facts. In consulting, you’re working with a lot of what-ifs.
4) And finally, what caused the interest to take up product management role?
Ever since I learnt what product managers do, I’ve always wanted to be a product manager. I like the ambiguous nature of the role. Got to figure out everything from scratch and every day there are many micro decisions to be made. And product managers get to impact people at scale. Versus a customer facing role where the impact is 1:1. But, I do miss the instant gratification of talking to customers.
5) Yes, that would always be fun to look back. Were there any instances you thought you could become a product manager during your stint as Product Consultant?
Yes! Whenever I faced a customer problem, I would start imagining solutions in my head. I would keep thinking, “If I were to solve this, I would’ve done it like this”. I also enjoyed solutioning conversation with product managers and that’s when I realized, I’d like to be a PM
6) How they helped you realize the same?
My time as a product consultant helped me understand customer problems much better. Because we deal with prospects, we talk more about their problems than our product. This meant that I got immersed in customer environments. And I started thinking for them. And that’s when I started thinking that I could sculpt the hero, the product, to solve the problem.
7) So much energy. So, this is something we wanted to clarify. To become a product manager or to be in a product management side, do you think, you should have technical knowledge?
It’s not a pre requisite but any kind of knowledge helps. For example, I like dabbling in code but that doesn’t help me directly in my job. But, that helps me empathize better with engineers. Sometimes, it’s also a curse. It’s better for PMs to be one level away from execution, so that they can keep the focus on the vision.
8) Haha.. Empathy stays on top. How’s the role? What are the responsibilities you have now?
The role is amazing. Especially, at a startup, when you get to build the product from scratch. Currently, my job is to figure out what problems we need to solve for our target segment.
9) Give us a sneak peek of your day as a product manager?
Haha, it’s a bunch of different things. I usually start my day reading about updates from the industry and catching up on industry forums. Then, I identify areas where devs or designers might be blocked and my top priority is to unblock them. Then, I spend time in conversations where we have to iron out the solutions. Towards the end, I spend time watching/reading educational content about the domain or product management or SaaS in general.
10) What are the tools you use everyday?
Notion for organizing work and documenting requirements. Roam Research for personal note taking. Things 3 for task management. Loom for recording videos an sharing.
11) Finally, before we let you go, who was your inspiration to pick this career up?
I don’t have a single inspiration because I got into it very early. Now, I follow Shreyas Doshi and John Cutler on Twitter who share interesting perspectives on product management.
In our last blog, we discussed the three reasons why SaaS will dominate the future. With no time wasted, let’s look at the 3 vital steps build a SaaS product.
Market research plays an important role when we want our idea to be executed in a seamless manner and for a long run benefit. Performing a market research will give deep insights about the market, reviews of the competitors’ products, what the customers need from the present vendor and what they are not giving to customers. Insights like these will definitely help decide whether to take the idea forward for execution or not.
Market research helps you identify what your customers want over what you have.
Defining and developing.
Once the market research is done. Once the report from the market research is positive, we need to define a clear plan for the SaaS product we are going to build. This plan should contain the programming language, tools, framework, and last but not least UI. While we met the technical aspect now, we should make sure what exact buyer persona (which market research would have denoted).
This targeted buyer persona will help us understand the problems they are facing. The more big and clear the problem is, the more chance for us to give accurate solutions.
After defining comes the development part. We can either have an in-house development team to build the product or collaborate with an external agency that can do it. Just keep in mind the plan meticulously explained to the development team and they keep that in mind.
Remember, neither YOU nor I can save the product if the UI is bad.
MVP or EVP Strategy.
During the build of the product, we should choose which strategy we are going to adopt. MVP or EVP. MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product. EVP stands for Exceptional Viable Product. The difference between MVP and EVP is that in MVP strategy, we will be developing the product at minimal costs. It is not exactly a full-fledged product but nevertheless, not less than that. It’s playing the game safely keeping the costs minimal in development, test the viability, get feedback from closed group (this group can be your target persona)
In EVP strategy, we will have the product developed completely to go live in the real market. The risk factor is high as the customers may turn down the product’s arrival in the market. If the welcome turns bad, then the huge amount invested is burned in no time. If we’re very confident about the product, or if our product is a new entrant in the market that tries to solve a big problem, then we may opt for it.
It’s all about identifying a sweet spot. Whichever suits our business, our financial capability we may go with that.
One thing we should keep in mind is, there is always a room for innovation. In this era, everything is invented. The real entrepreneur would always identify pain points of the customers using or consuming a product and try to bring that new element along with all existing elements. In SaaS business too, we should look at what we can innovate that would give superior customer experience as well as customer satisfaction.
In this era, customer satisfaction is just normal. Customer experience is the norm
Some Statistics before handpicks
According to a BCC study done in 2018, “the global software as a service (SaaS) market for business applications should total $94.9 billion by 2022 from $44.4 billion in 2017 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.4% from 2017 to 2022”.
Interestingly with no surprise, the recent study done by Gartner said, “Software as a service (SaaS) remains the largest market segment and is forecast to grow to $104.7 billion in 2020”.
The forecast ratio keeps increasing as the SaaS businesses are witnessing phenomenal growth amidst the pandemic. Or due to pandemic?! Maybe, yes.
The SaaS market is growing and we can definitely be sure of the fact that it is the future. Advent of cloud computing is treading the increasing demand of the sector and Gartner has estimated that the market will attain around 140 billion dollars by 2022.
Handpicks – 3 Reasons For The SaaS Business to become predominant in future.
Technology innovations can be more efficient when they are cloud dependent. And, to achieve that these cloud products and services need the internet connection to perform the activities.
4G and 5G. Internet.
The whole world is on the internet now. Then why don’t the businesses take that path? Advent of faster networks and connectivity is a major boon for the SaaS products to penetrate, proliferate and dominate the business environment. With internet connectivity around and a SaaS mobile application on the phone, not only we can like and comment on social media but also send out invoices to our customers (Accounting/billing mobile applications), record our customers’ data (CRM, Marketing mobile applications) , manage office projects (Project management applications) and many more.
With the internet’s omnipresent feature, the SaaS software and mobile applications can be fully potential with no barriers. Both tech and non tech companies can make use of these SaaS applications according to their business requirements. From an IT company to a dairy industry, from a supply chain company to a retailer shop, everyone who has the internet can do business functionalities using these SaaS applications.
This combination of internet connectivity and SaaS software will enrich the productivity, capacity of the businesses.
Now, having a smart phone in hand is working a smart business.
Collaboration and productivity.
The Covid19 pandemic has come as a testament to people’s adaptability to changes. There was not much necessity for us to invent (except for the vaccine) or discover something new to withstand the situation. Only thing we were required to do was adapt to the changes happening. Similarly, in business context, businesses didn’t have to worry much about the absence of any platform, feature to withstand the pandemic. They were and are required to just adapt to changes. From on-premise to cloud-software adoption. Because, they witnessed that their teams working remotely lacked collaboration and productivity as they can’t sit together to discuss and work together.
SaaS software tools have the capacity to engage all the employees and extract their full potential in working. This increased demand for collaboration and productivity boosts the demand for SaaS products and services in high lines. Just with the internet connectivity, anyone can access the software (which means they can access their work) from any part of the world. Companies from small to large have realized the fact. And so they are starting to adopt the cloud in every possible department/team of their businesses.
Usage of SaaS in business enables employees to work together despite not sitting together.
The last reason but not the least. SaaS model is going to be predominant and prevalent in future owing to its capability to get integrated with each other. One software can be integrated with another to perform an activity or action.
Normally, the different departments in a company, using other software models, find it hard to bring the collaboration to the work context. The water-cooler conversations are for sharing random stuff and not for sharing business related things. With this integration benefit, businesses can enable the contextual connection between different departments in it. Teams can collaborate, get the software connected and do the workflows, and bring results to the table.
SaaS can bring harmony in your business processes and workflows as well.
Bonus Point – In addition to these aforesaid reasons, we would like to comment on the deciding factor. Yes, money. The SaaS software model doesn’t require the customers to invest in maintenance, software development and so on. Also, its subscription model enables them to own their investment. If they want they can subscribe to it and leverage. If not, they can cancel the subscription anytime.
Closing for now to opening a next topic later in this SaaS series
Having seen the three reasons for SaaS businesses to rule the industry in future, we will be covering what are the three important steps to follow to building a successful SaaS product. Stay close. Block your time then for us.
Professional life, personal life – Balanced or Mixed?
Most professions in this world are not oriented with the personal attitude and personality of a person. For example, a civil engineer may be excellent at his job – planning, constructing, and so on. But, in real personal life, he may be liberal, relaxing.
There are a very small number of professions that involve great personality influence also. We can even say it this way, “these professions rely greatly on the real personality, the attitude of the persons being in those professions”. One concrete example of such a profession is “Product Support”. This role needs no personal, professional life balance because it’s already a mix of both.
What we are not talking about in this blog?
So, let’s tell you right here – This blog is not going to have keywords such as empathy, inquisitiveness to learn, problem-solving etcetera, that are used as constant keywords for product support roles.
So, what are we talking about?
This blog is going to encompass 5 elements that a product support person should have in his real life, which has a great impact on his profession. In short, it’s all about understanding the real personality of a person who aspires to become product support.
1) Thirst for winning the game.
Customer support is a game. It’s the game of happiness. An ideal product support person should have the capability to first understand the mindset of the customer, how he is talking. Normally, customers would come frustrated with the support person. This person should make his mind that the frustration is not with him but with the problem in the product. As said, it’s a happiness game. Now, it’s in the hands of the customer support to listen, grasp, find solutions for the customer. At the end of the day, he should make sure that he has turned the frustration into happiness.
So, the recruiters should look for this tendency in a product support aspirant. One who loves to bring happiness in people surrounding them, one who works to change the unhappy mindset of a person to a happy mindset is good to score.
Rating – 20% Done.
2) Lover of the product.
What? Love? Does it sound weird? Then ask these questions to yourselves, “Do we fight for what we love?” , “Do we work hard for a thing we love?”. If the answer is yes, the same ideology applies here – One who loves the product, will support it and play the happiness game for it.
Though it’s not mandatory for the aspirant to be well-versed with the product, it’s important that the recruiter should understand why the person wants to support their product. What are the things he loves about the product? How he heard about those products and so on. It’s one of the very crucial elements that the recruiters should look for in a product support aspirant.
Rating – 40% Done.
3) Being a friend or being friendly?
Would you like to be a friend or friendly to the customers?
This is another question to be asked to a product support aspirant. Though sound similar, there is a big difference to the context. If the support aspirant likes to be a friend of the customer then there is a high chance that they may get hurt during a rough stint, may be biased about picking tickets, apprehensive about giving solutions. Ideal product support should be friendly to all kinds of customers and all types of customers. Asking this question helps the recruiter understand the emotional intelligence of the aspirant and move it forward.
Rating – 60 % Done.
4) Proper/prompt communicator in general.
Normally, product support persons are required to be efficient communicators. Though it’s valid, it’s essential to first know whether they are proper and prompt communicators.
Want us to show real-life examples? How many times would we have got emails saying, “We will update you on this regard” but never would’ve got one?
Remember what we said in the beginning? The professional side of the product support person lies heavily on the personal side of them. Now, coming back here, it’s crucial to study this in the aspirant – “Are they a prompt communicator in their general life?” If this question may trigger the consciousness of the aspirant while answering, we may tweak this to be indirect. “Tell me about any incident where you were the point of contact to perform activities”, “Tell me about any event when you needed to collaborate with your friends/colleagues to complete a task”. Some questions like these will help us find and understand whether they have been a prompt communicator.
Rating – 80 % Done.
5) Affinity toward hearing stories.
Product support person would need to listen to a lot of use-cases, workflows, business models in a day. Forget about working on that. First, they should have big ears to listen to. Now, putting this into account, the recruiters should find the tendency of the support aspirant. Do they like to hear stories? Do they have an interest in knowing more about general stuff? The recruiter may tune the questions like, “Who are your friends?”, “What are their parents doing?” etcetera. This will extract the mindset of the aspirant and help the recruiters move the needle forward.
Rating – 100% Done.
You’ve got complete product support person. Now, score high on customer happiness and satisfaction with the team.
If you have reached here, then you may be also interested to know the “5 key ingredients to become a successful presales engineer”. Check this blog