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From Product Support to Product Management : A Fireside Chat With Product Manager Manisha

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.

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