What is a Growth Product Manager?

You have probably encountered an increasing number of people with the title “Growth Product Manager”.

In fact, Google reports a 425 percent increase in the use of the term over the last five years.

But is this just a buzzword that casts the work of the project manager in a new light, or is this really a new and emerging discipline within the field of product management?

While the skills required by a traditional product manager and a growth product manager may be largely the same, they are working towards different goals, which gives their work a very different focus. For this reason, we think that it is fair to say that “growth” is more than just a passing craze.

But let’s take a closer look.

In today’s post, we are going to answer the questions: what is a growth product manager, how are they different from traditional product managers, when are they indeed, and what skills are required.

What Is A Growth Product Manager (And How Are They Different From Traditional Product Managers)

In 2016, the Harvest Business Review wrote an article on why: Every Company Needs A Growth Manager.

The digital and technology field has certainly taken their advice to heart, with hundreds of new growth product manager roles being created in Silicon Valley alone.

But what is a growth product manager?

The job title growth product manager is still relatively new, so there is no standard definition of what they do. But, in general, they will be hired by a product-led company to realize a specific business metric.

So, unlike a traditional product manager, whose area of responsibility is the product itself, growth product managers are responsible for meeting a certain product-related goal.

For example, a product manager might own an email marketing product and be generally responsible for the performance of the product. A growth product manager will own a specific business metric, such as improving the ratio of freemium to premium users of the email product, perhaps from 50:1 to 10:1.

While their task is intimately related to the product, it is not the same task as the product manager.

They will be less interested in key product activities, such as cleaning up code to make the product more sustainable. Their remit may also extend beyond the remit of the individual product, to marketing teams, and maybe even complimentary products owned by the business that can feed into the business goal.

But as we have already said, this is a new role, so there will be product managers out there who have been tasked with specific growth tasks.

There will also be smaller new businesses with new growth product managers who have also been given general product management.

There will also be some companies where a product manager and a growth product manager (or multiple) work side-by-side.

These distinctions will only become clearer as the role develops.

When Are Growth Product Managers Needed

A growth product manager will generally be recruited when there is already a good quality product on the market, and the business wants to expand its client base, increase its revenues, or push into new areas.

The growth product manager will generally be given a specific challenge – such as increasing the customer base by a certain percentage, encouraging freemium users to upgrade to premium, increasing the lifetime value of customers, and so forth. 

In order to achieve this goal, they will conduct research and run experiments to see what activities will have the greatest impact. Their view will be of the entire customer journey, from marketing and acquisition to loyalty and expansion, and will not be limited to when the customer is engaged with the product.

The default working methodology of a growth product manager will be agile, as they experiment with different approaches to see which might be the most effective and implement them iteratively as they monitor the results.

They will generally experiment with a lot of different things, and then prioritize high impact initiatives.

While exactly what a growth product manager will do depends on the product and their business goals, the kind of activities that you would expect to see a growth product manager engage in include:

  • Developing new customer acquisition strategies that will encourage more potential users to engage with the product.
  • Develop customer retention initiatives and upselling strategies to deepen relationships with customers and increase customer revenue.
  • Question customer segmentation approaches to see if there is a more effective way to characterize why they are using the product, and therefore more effectively coordinate communications to drive growth.
  • Applying behavioral psychology to elements of the customer funnel and test different approaches using A/B testing to push customers more effectively along the funnel.
  • Tweaking onboarding experiences to help customers gain greater value from the product faster.
  • Identifying alternative “aha moments” which may be better at encouraging customers to engage more deeply with the product.
  • Investigating add-ons that add value for the customer and drive profit for the business.

How Do You Become A Growth Product Manager

Growth product managers tend to share very similar skill sets to traditional product managers, they simply apply those skills with a different focus.

But some of the key skills that you need to demonstrate in order to move into growth product management include:

Data Analytics and Data Visualization

Since growth product managers are pushing towards a defined business metric, they need to understand the data that makes that metric meaningful. It is also this data that will enable them to create and test the effectiveness of experiments, and judge progress and success over time.

Data is also often how they will tell the story of why what they are doing is important and how it will impact the business.

As a result, growth product managers benefit from having an in-depth knowledge of analytics, and a good understanding of how and when to use data visualizations.

Iterative Development and Testing

Growth product managers aren’t looking to completely overhaul a product or any of its elements (though this may end up being the result of their activity).

Rather, they are looking for how to make the most of the product to meet growth goals.

Thus they need the ability to identify the small things that can make a big difference to their business metric. This often means experimenting, A/B testing, and tweaking and optimizing features for better or different performance.

Growth product managers need a good understanding of how to experiment, how to prototype, and how to roll out iterative updates and track their impact.

Customer-Centric Focus

While it is often said that traditional product managers are customer focussed and growth product managers are business focussed, this is a reflection of the stated goal of the role, rather than the processes that they will need to undertake.

The business metric driving a growth product manager will almost certainly be linked with growing the customer base, or enriching engagement with customers.

For example, they may be charged with growing the customer base, or pushing customers towards more expensive subscription plans.

This requires a fundamental understanding of who is using the product, why they are using the product, and what might encourage them to form a deeper relationship with the product. It also requires an understanding of potential users, why they aren’t already engaged, and what might motivate them to become engaged.

Achieving growth means giving customers what they want, which means that the growth product manager needs to be squarely customer focussed.

Product Education

Driving growth depends largely on product education, whether that be raising awareness about the product through marketing, getting users to their “aha moment” through good customer onboarding, or encouraging users to deepen their relationship with the product by making them aware of additional benefits.

Key to this is product education. They must ensure that the user understands the product, knows how to use the product, and receives tangible benefits from the product.

So, growth product managers will want to be experts in this area.

Product Management

When it comes to meeting a challenging growth metric, there is rarely one answer.

It may combine more nuanced marketing, with a new customer onboarding strategy, and the implementation of a personalized pricing plan for loyal customers.

There are generally a lot of balls in the air, and a lot of people from different teams working towards a shared goal. This requires effective coordination, especially when collaborating with teams rather than working with direct reports. As such, growth product managers require good fundamental product management skills.

Communication

As already suggested, growth product managers often work across different segments of the organization.

They may be drawing resources from teams that already feel like they are overstretched, or asking someone to make changes to a feature that they have already invested a lot in.

This will often require clearly communicating and justifying actions, providing purpose, and conciliating where compromises need to be made.

The Verdict

While growth product manager may be an emerging job title, the idea of growth-motivated activities within product management, including growing customer bases and increasing lifetime value, is not.

The new focus on the job title reflects the maturing nature of the field. New digital and tech firms are no longer preoccupied with constantly innovating.

There is a new focus on enabling business growth by driving existing products.

This is an opportunity for product managers to take on new responsibilities within the businesses.

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Can Ozuysal

John is the ex-Growth Manager of UserGuiding, a code-free product walkthrough software that 7000+ teams trust in their user onboarding.

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