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.
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
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.
SaaS growth rates are astonishing; just between 2015 and 2017, the number of SaaS apps averagely used by organizations doubled up from 8 to 16. This upward trend will continue as 73% of businesses have said all of their apps will be SaaS by 2020.
Many SaaS organization offers 14-day or 30-day trial. So, you have got enough time to check if the product matches the business requirement. As part of the POC check the following.
Deep dive into the critical features set like this should tick the checklist of must-haves and deal breakers. Don’t compromise on the deal-breakers
Business needs the ability to drill down the stats and make an informed decision down for the organization. Ensure that the product meets complexity of your reporting need.
When you have offices across global check the capabilities around internationalization and localization.
Your application is not only for desktop or laptop devices but also on various mobile devices. Task reminders as push notification make more sense and add value.
Mostly, data centers belong to a of third party. Verify the data center credentials and particulars. Check the policy terms with respect to who can access the data center? Does the vendor team has access to it?
Apart from the physical and data center security, you need to consider the encryption methodology during rest and transit. Strict password policies need to be enforced. Does it comply with your org, country policy such as GDPR
Does the vendor allow customers to import data on to the tool and export data outside? If no, there is a big chance of vendor lock-in and it is a high risk.
Most of the time, the data is on the public cloud. So, check with the companies on how data is segregated from other business. Get the architecture plan.
The application should provide an audit trail of every changes made to the application. Also, SaaS provider has typically to comply with norms and also undergo detailed audits to ensure that sensitive data is completely protected at all stages of storage, processing, and transmission.
Check for the best security practices followed by the SaaS vendor to ensure that your application stays unaffected by attacks. How would they facilitate business continuity in case of attacks such as ransomware attacks and denial of service (DoS) attacks.
When things go awry, it’s important to have a robust, targeted, and well-tested DR plan. Pay details to the RPO and RTO. Also, a few recent SaaS applications provide options for individual businesses to take their own back from the application.
Finally, we conclude
If you’re just starting your search for a SaaS product and wondering which products would fit your need, this guide is for you. Even if you’re midway or towards the end product selection, you may still want to check this guide. I have captured to the best of my knowledge all that I know about buyer experience and customer satisfaction.
Coming soon, DoyenThoughts will release a “The Ultimate SaaS buyers guide” pdf guide compiling all critical points for buyers to make their buying experience enjoyable and smooth.
By now, you all should have had a fair idea of the challenges faced by Buyers in the IT / SaaS market. In case, you missed my previous blogs, here is Part 1 and Part 2 of The ultimate SaaS buyers guide.
Organizations, these days – when the future of the pandemic is still uncertain – ought to be careful in their purchases. In doing so, they expect a long-term business relationship with a reliable and resilient vendor so that they get the maximum ROI.
By 2021, 73% of organizations will be using all or mostly SaaS solutions. Reference here
As a pre-sales, I have fielded questions to customers related to their business, demonstrated various products that fit their needs/requirements, handled many POC’s successfully, and guided customers until they achieve the ROI through the product/solution thus purchased. During this process, I have helped many customers overcome the challenges they faced in choosing the right product.
The choices for a decision maker are aplenty and that by itself, becomes a challenge during the buying process. Match your business needs with the software / solution capabilities is the primary motto during this process. Most vendors in the SaaS business are likely to keep the Customer Acquisition Cost to the minimum – that would mean the Salesperson will try to close the deal with minimal effort. Do your due diligence throughout the process to avoid surprises and frustrations.
Technology, Product, and Governance play a major role in the Buyer ecosystem. Let me share my thoughts on this, based on my experience. In this part, we will have a look at the technology aspect.
Understand your current eco system
It is better to understand the technology used by the vendor during the decision-making process. You will need a team of domain experts to help you during the process, lest you will have to be at the mercy of the vendor that will in turn add to your hidden costs.
Understand and review the integration capability of the application. Data should flow seamlessly between the legacy and on-cloud applications.
Most of these vendors could be focused on relatively smaller domains and this could make a customer subscribe to different products. Simultaneously, you may require data integration between certain mission-critical tools. Does the vendor provide APIs to achieve integration?
The Service Availability is perhaps one of the most important things to consider when signing up for a SaaS offering. Most service providers devise the SLA keeping their own best interests in mind, which makes it very important to evaluate the agreement before finalizing it.
This should be part of the Service Availability. You need to clearly define what is counted as downtime. Does scheduled maintenance count as downtime? From a provider’s perspective it probably won’t, but things are different from the end user’s perspective. You obviously would not want to pay when the system is down, which makes it important to consider how the provider would compensate if something goes wrong.
When you talk about availability, definitely you will have to consider scalability. Check the architecture with the vendor so that you ensure that there are no hiccups down the line.
The journey of a customer post-sales depends on customer support. So, check their support process, mode of contact, and operational hours. Are there ways to reach them during non-operational hours? SaaS organization, proactively, allocates a Customer Success Manager and Technical Account Manager when the deal value is high.
Emerging technologies are impacting business outcomes, especially in today’s unprecedented times. On-premises solutions operate in Silos and they take months of deployment. It lacks the agility, speed, interoperability, and simplicity required to tap into the business benefits of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, etc. This is why many organizations are turning to SaaS consumption models to adopt the pay as you go model.
Subscribe to my blogs to get notified when the final part of “The ulimate saas buyer guide” is released in a couple of weeks.
When you start evaluating SaaS products for Helpdesk or CRM, there is no dearth of available solutions and the task of selection becomes tedious. Instead of evaluating all the solutions that you come across, it is better to be selective. There are a few steps that will help you find the right product/service relevant to your business requirements.
Apply the requirement criteria
You have loads of information from across the internet after the internal discussion. With the list of must-haves and nice-to-haves, start to narrow down your choice of software or solution by striking out those that do not fulfil your overall goal or requirements
Sometimes referral may work wonders. Before you jump to pick the referred solution thus, you may want to check how the solution helped improve the efficiency or increase the ROI. The problem statement or business need should be aligned before you decide on the referral.
Do the research
By this time, you should have narrowed down on a handful of products / software. Look at those successful use cases that aligns with your business requirements. Take all comments into account before you jump into a conclusion. Also, explore those solutions that businesses similar to yours are using.
DoyenThoughts did a poll on the selection methodology via LinkedIn and blog posts. 53% of the users agreed that the tool needs to meet the required criteria while 36% rely on the research.
Once you have narrowed down your list of potential software/products, start evaluating each solution thoroughly. When conducting the evaluation, ensure to do the following.
Focus on long-term, not short-term
It is quite common to look at the short-term benefits and choose the most beneficial option, with little or no regard to the long-term potential of the requirement. When evaluating SaaS products, it is important to think big and look at the long-term benefits. For example, paying a little more upfront and getting a great ROI later down the line is better than buying at a lower price and regretting it.
Demo and POC
A product demo will help you to further narrow down the list. Go for a POC. All features such as workflow, automation etc, may look glossy during the technical discussion and demo, however, such features may struggle when put to practical use. Prepare use cases to be tested during POC. It is absolutely not a bad idea to go for a paid POC.
Ask the vendor to connect to similar customers
Do not be afraid to ask the vendors to connect to referral customers who have successfully implemented the product. It would be beneficial if such customers also belong to the same vertical as yours.
Do you agree with our above product evaluation technique? Help me by participating in the poll below. If you have anything else to add please share it in our comments section.
You know your goals and the service you expect. This will help you choose the right solution. Never settle for good enough products. Go for the best that matches your business requirements.