Growth Product Managers Will Be Your Most Important Hire This Year

During uncertain times, businesses have a common playbook. First, they implement a hiring freeze, then they go looking for other ways to cut costs and boost efficiency in order to survive. But there’s another potential path forward: product-led growth (PLG), which enables SaaS companies to efficiently chart a course for durable growth instead of simply hunkering down.

It’s easy to see why many SaaS brands are turning to product-led growth to carry them through the current period of economic volatility. PLG delivers big wins in all four areas where companies traditionally seek to cut costs and boost efficiency. With PLG, companies can reduce marketing spend by shifting growth efforts away from acquisition and toward upselling to existing clients. They can optimize their customer success models to focus on high-value accounts. They can refocus research and development (R&D) on their core product to reduce friction and accelerate bug resolution. And they can consolidate their tech stack, eliminating features that don’t support the path to revenues.

By leveraging their product to drive conversion, adoption, and expansion in a more scalable fashion, companies can elevate the performance of everyone from marketers to sales teams to customer success operatives and R&D. But precisely because PLG spans so many cross-functional areas, it demands a coherent, strategically focused product-led program.

That’s why today’s top SaaS brands aren’t just committing to PLG. They are also creating new leadership roles—Growth Product Managers (GPMs)—tasked with unlocking the paradigm’s full potential for their organization. By owning and streamlining the PLG process, the GPM enables teams across the organization to use data-driven insights to unlock the full growth potential of their product—while ensuring different business units don’t overburden customers with a flurry of uncoordinated messages and interactions. 

All this means there’s one area where many smart companies aren’t freezing hiring. With a downturn looming, hiring an amazing Growth Product Manager to help scale your PLG strategy is arguably the single smartest move you can make. Here are four key things to prioritize as you recruit and onboard your GPM:

Articulate Their Role

Before making a hire, it’s vital to clearly articulate the GPM’s strategic function. Where conventional product managers chiefly build customer value by adding new features, the GPM improves core product experiences to boost business metrics such as trial conversion, win-rate, and expansion. Their focus is on eliminating value gaps—the discrepancy between what a customer wants and what they actually experience with your product.

The GPM achieves this by identifying and addressing friction points with relevant enablement content, contextual user-messaging, and core feature UX enhancements. They operate across all stages of the customer journey, leveraging data-driven experimentation and a deep understanding of the user journey to accelerate time to initial value, align your product with users’ objectives, and help customers adopt advanced features to realize your product’s full value.

Over-communicate with Internal Stakeholders

Because the GPM serves as a bridge across many functions, there’s a risk that team-members will feel their turf is being encroached upon. It’s crucial to preemptively avoid tensions by clearly communicating the distinctions between the GPM’s responsibilities and those of your existing leaders. Product managers need to understand, for instance, that the GPM won’t cause friction, and will actually free them to focus on the things they care about—like innovating new features in order to drive value.

If you’ve picked the right GPM, then they’ll understand and embrace this challenge, using their position both to evangelize the power of PLG across your organization and to coordinate across functions to streamline your growth strategy. A good GPM is a lens, not a bottleneck: they’ll focus your cross-functional PLG efforts to make individual teams more effective and drive success for everyone.

Hire for Hard and Soft Skills 

A GPM needs a well-honed array of hard skills, including the ability to understand the inner workings of your product. They also need a flair for experimentation: the best GPMs create a data-driven culture, and rely on facts rather than opinions to drive product changes. That requires the ability to use analytics to track and evaluate product metrics, often while running multiple experiments in parallel, in order to turn insights into action.

Getting results also requires softer skills, though. A GMP needs an entrepreneurial gene, and curiosity and flexibility — including the ability to iterate quickly, rather than just focusing on long-term goals — are paramount. So is the ability to bring everyone else along for the ride: strong cross-functional communication skills are vital if your GPM is to keep everyone pulling in the same direction as your organization adopts PLG.

Build the Right Toolkit

Your GPM will only ever be as good as the technologies they’re working with. Make sure you’ve got back-end PLG infrastructure in place to measure customer experience in meaningful ways, enable experimentation with new features, intervene with timely and organic customer messaging, and feed new insights promptly to all of your cross-functional teams.

With the right toolkit, your GPM will be able to quickly identify and eliminate friction points and come up with new enhancements to elevate the first mile of product. They’ll also be able to leverage usage data to drive in-product messaging, and shape the user journey to maximize conversion and retention. Such investments are critical to capturing both the revenue benefits and efficiency savings of PLG.

Durable and Scalable Growth

The PLG revolution has swept across the SaaS space because it’s the most efficient and scalable way to create durable growth—and many of today’s top companies now recognize the GPM role as critical to their pivot into a product-led strategy. During the downturn, it’s especially important to put a well-qualified and well-resourced GPM at the helm in order to drive the efficiency and resiliency that your company needs.

Implementing PLG effectively, especially during times of uncertainty, requires a shift to a more scalable strategy to increase customer lifetime value. That requires clear leadership. Companies that hire the right GPM and empower them to drive results for all their cross-functional teams will be positioned to succeed in the new era of ubiquitous PLG.

So don’t view hiring a stellar GPM as a luxury or an extravagance. It’s actually the smartest move you can make in order to catalyze growth, drive value, and make your company more agile and adaptable during these turbulent times.

Mickey Alon is CTO of Gainsight