Learning to be a B2B product manager after a career as a B2C product manager
Making a move from B2C to B2B product manager was not a straightforward process for me. I ran into a few pitfalls, dead-ends, and ultimately learnings that I want to share here. Four years ago, I moved from B2C product manager to B2B product manager. I’d spent seven years at eBay building products that helped consumer sellers list items to sell. I left eBay and moved to ServiceNow, where my focus was on delivering a self-serve customer success solution for B2B customers. To be successful, I had to learn a new approach to product management.
I’ll share the three main pivots I made in order to:
- Define and get support for my vision.
- Design and validate a solution.
- To build a team that delivered measurable and delightful results that exceeded our goals.
The three pivots are to:
- Understand the sales process.
- Identify new ways to find the voice and insights of the customer.
- Think carefully about selecting business and product metrics.
First, trust in the skills, instincts, and experiences that have made you successful in the past. You may have to use different frameworks and look to new sources for insights and measurement. However, be confident that the core PM skills of curiosity, customer focus, and ability to get things done will serve you well in any context. Embrace your new environment as a puzzle to solve. Enjoy the discovery process as you try new ways to apply your skills and past experiences. You’re not in this alone. Reach out to those in your network who have B2B product experience. Find more seasoned PMs in your new company, and look to established product experts to get answers to specific questions.
Sales Process vs Transaction Funnels
The first area I needed to understand was the sales process. At eBay, I focused on optimizing my transaction funnel. A consumer seller could simply open an app or browser. Then, follow the flow, and a few minutes later, they would have an item listed for sale to the world. For a B2B customer, the process of getting from purchase through implementation and achieving value was more complicated. Moving from B2C to B2B product management meant I needed to learn about the people involved in buying decisions. What were their motivations and goals? I sought out colleagues from sales and account management. And I talked with others that spoke with prospective customers and talked to people responsible for go-to-market activities.
I asked many questions about existing personas, their definitions, and how they were used, and I learned more about various roles such as the buyer, admin, business owner, and end user. And I gained insight from colleagues about the goals and motivation of each of these personas. Finally, I learned the sequencing of when each persona participated in the sales, implementation, and value realization process.
At the end of this discovery phase, I created a mental map of the sales process. And I had an understanding of the people that took part in buying and implementation. This brought me closer to the customer and helped me start to identify opportunities for a self-serve customer success experience. I could refine and iterate on my understanding with each new conversation. In the end, I could confidently make the case for the handful of specific user personas that I would solve for. This helped me collaborate more effectively with the research team as we agreed on the goals and scope of our research efforts.
Frontline experts unlock customer insights
As a B2C product manager, I had access to millions of customers and ample behavioral data. I could contact customers directly and assemble research studies for specific populations of users (by segment, region, and tenure) as often as needed. I relied on A/B tests that reached statistical significance relatively easily. As I moved from B2C to B2B product management, the number of customers and ways of getting them differed. My early discovery efforts had shown me the multiple roles involved in the process from buying to implementation to value realization. Customers had strong relationships with account executives. My reliance on A/B tests had to evolve. I needed to identify new sources of customer insights. Two paths helped me pivot to a better way to derive the voice of the customer: One was to find proxies for the customer and the other was to invest in building relationships with key customers.
At the start of my transition from B2C to B2B product manager, I had to rely on internal proxies. I use proxies here to identify people within the company who could speak for the customer and share the same goals and motivations. For example, our Success Architects were intimately involved in helping customers plan and execute implementations. Success Architects shared the customer goal of getting to successful implementations and value realization.
My team and I interviewed these frontline colleagues to understand what was working and where there were opportunities my team could address. The teams were excited to talk with us once they realized we were interested in creating solutions that would help streamline the post-sales experience. The solutions would be a benefit for the customer and for these internal teams. In the end, these teams were one of the most prolific internal users of our Customer Success portal. They continued to be a good source of insight and feedback. While we had initially approached them as proxies for the customer, we realized they were just as valuable in their own right.
Using a Customer Advisory Board for frequent and expert feedback
Another valuable pathway to gather and validate customer insights came from a collaboration with my Product Marketing colleague. He and I both needed reliable and frequent sources of wisdom. He needed to validate value propositions and marketing messages, and I needed feedback on prototypes and design mock-ups. Together we draft a proposal for a Customer Advisor Board. The Customer Advisor Board (CAB) was made up of customers who were invested in achieving successful implementations and realizing value from their companies’ investments in the product. The CAB appealed to customers who wanted an early look at our product ideas, who had a point of view about what could be better, and who appreciated the recognition that came from being a part of the CAB. Account executives were open to helping us identify customers who might want to participate and appreciated our transparency around the frequency and content of our CAB meetings.
The Customer Advisory Board became a valuable pathway in my transition from B2C to B2B product manager. Our quarterly CAB meetings gave us an open channel to hear directly from customers and to get feedback on proposed product solutions. As we built relationships, we showed the CAB members that we were eager to hear both the good and the bad. And because of this, we could come up with great ideas together. When it came time to record webinars and customer testimonials for our big conferences, CAB members were invited to share their stories.
Setting the right metrics and measurement timelines
As you make a move from B2C to B2B product management, consider the business and product metrics you’ll want to measure. In my past roles as a B2C product manager, I focused on transactional product metrics like conversion and completion rates that supported top-line business goals. I spent time with my analytics and go-to-market partners in my new role. We aligned on goals that would let us know we were meeting customer and business goals. In my case, my analytics partner also had a B2C product background. We realized that the timelines to success were different for the B2B customer experience we built.
As we developed the product solution and built a customer success portal, we were able to make the case for engagement metrics that lined up with customer success goals. Over the course of the launch and iterations, the engagement metrics remained the core of our metrics portfolio. However, we did see a need to iterate and add metrics around satisfaction and content consumption.
Make the move from B2C to B2B product with confidence and a sense of curiosity
As you move from B2C to B2B product management, take stock of how these differences may apply to your situation. Assess whether a pivot in your approach to product management can help you understand the customer, navigate the buying decision process, and use the right metrics to measure successful outcomes.