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Product Management in Saas B2B Enterprise is easy

I've already described the differences between Saas B2B SMB and Saas B2B Enterprise. But to summarize, B2B Enterprise is when you customers buy you for your vision and your solutions and B2B SMB is when people buy you for your features. As a result B2B Enterprise is also usually when your customers are big companies (more than 250 employees).

Nobody cares about the product in Enterprise

Because the only people who care about the product are not the people who buy or sell your product. This can be simplified as : No important person cares about your product. I'm not even sure that the product quality of a B2B Saas company has any influence on the company's business success.

Let's first define a good product, a product of good quality. A good prodct is a product users are happy to use, it is heavily influenced by UI, UX and simplicity of doing common actions. If you want to understand if your product is good, talk to a new user, and ask him a feedback of your product, if he tells mostly things to improve, you have a bad product ! If most of your users are think the same, you have a bad product.

Let's look at the product quality of big Saas Enterprise products:

  • Is Salesforce a good CRM ?
  • Is SAP a good ERP ?
  • Is Team a good communication system ?
  • Is any Oracle product a good product ?
  • What about Workday, Atlassian, MongoDB, Alteryx ?

Most people who use those tools will tell you that the products are shit, while still being more or less satisfied with the overall functionalities it offers them.

Of course not all products are like that, Zoom comes to my mind as a good product in the Saas b2b enterprise space. But if you look at the 50 most successful business Saas b2b enterprise software in the world, most of them will have a shitty product. There are several explanations of why it is like that:

  • First, the bigger and the older a company is the worse the product is going to become, so of course the biggest companies have the shittiest product
  • Second, people who buy the product, are not the ones who are using it, as a result product quality is never something they care
  • Third, A good product is beneficial for referrals or inbound marketing, but most of B2B enterprise companies get their customers through outbound marketing

Should that change ? I don't think so. At the end of the day if you are obsessed about product quality you should not try to work in B2B enterprise. Working time is limited and the more you work on the product quality the less you work on other more important topics.

How to be a successful product manager in Saas B2B Enterprise

Most PM, read Inspired, like the book and would like to work inside their Product organization the same way it is described in the book. But the book, and most product management articles you can read online, are focusing on creating great products, or products that customers love. But one thing you need to always have in mind when you are working for a business, is that the business is paying you because your work is going to bring them money. And in the case of Saas Enterprise, making great products is not what is going to bring money to your company.

The result of that mindset is that you will see very often inside Saas B2B companies. Customer support, customer management and product management clashing with Sales and the execs about how the product is not what the end users want. There is this perpetual stupid loop of sales and execs saying, we dont care about those things because that is not what customers wants and the end users focused teams saying, but this is what end users are telling us on a daily basis. Both of those teams are right, they just don't talk about the same people.

If at heart, being a product manager is creating products that customers love, then product management in Saas Enterprise is closer to creating products which support the sales and customer team

If you look at your job from that angle, a lot of things change:

Instead of focusing on your users only, you need to focus on two kinds of groups, users and your sales colleagues. Most of the PM toolkits still apply when listening to users. But to listen to sales people things are different. You need to small talk with them, you need to go into sales meetings, you need to understand the sales cycle, you need to understand the value proposition of your company, you need to be in contact with sales guys.

First challenge : Every salesperson in the company is going to push you to build features that their prospects want. The sales team is not really a team, every member has its own objectives, and a small part of their salary comes from team objectives. So they are willing to 'fight' with each other to achieve their objectives.

Second challenge: Sales people have no idea of what features their customers want. First because the customers themselves don't know what they want. Second, salespeople are trained to sell some kinds of products, and are not really good at guessing new ideas and finding what is important or not. They will most of the time repeat what a customer is saying, without even trying to understand what that means or if the customer really needs it.

Third challenge: There is a ton of politics in sales. Execs directly step in into the sales cycle, promising things to customers. Some prospects are 'strategic', some prospects are more important than others ...

So if I can give you a few advice:

  • Be friend with sales people, you are going to tell them 'No' a lot of time (if not all of the time), but their feedbacks is important, so try to be as much friend with them as possible
  • Be friends with sales execs, involve them in your decisions, make them participate. They are not going to decide, but they will like being consulted, and will help you maintain a good relationships with them
  • Stop complaining that your product is not the best for your users. Your customers are not your users, treat them well but keep in mind they are not the only ones you need to care about
  • Always balance your decisions between what is great for your users and what is great for your sales colleagues. Are we spending enough time on things that help the business VS spending time on making users love the product ?
  • Keep fighting to improve the product because at some point a too bad product is going to be very bad for your company. But don't make product quality the most important decision in your prioritization and day to day decisions
  • Don't let the execs or salespeople or your manager make the decisions for you. Always stay in control. As soon as the execs are able to impose you their decisions, you lose all credibility as a product manager and you won't protect your developers, neither your users and it's going to be bad. You need to be able to say 'No' to your CEO, and you need to be able to tell him 'No' every day!
  • Forget what you have read in Inspired, almost none of it will help you be good in Saas Enterprise. Always search what impact this new thing is going to have in the overall product. Don't promise anything. Either say 'No' or say 'Yes' but don't do it afterwards. As a result it is also much more complex to evaluate a PM in that type of company.

You don't have any idea on how bad a product needs to be to really harm your business. It is almost as if the worst products make the best businesses.

This post can look a bit negative but don't interpret that as a critic. Some PM will prefer working with AB Tests and KPIs and others will like of the environement of Saas Enterprise, I personally prefer the latter !

If you have any question, send me an email.