8 tips for building a strong product-driven team

Later this month, I’ll be presenting at the Product-Led Summit, a virtual conference bringing together movers and shakers from all over to provide their tips, strategies and tactics for making your product-driven business thrive. On January 28, I’ll be talking about overcoming the roadblocks to a high performing product-led team.

But for me, there isn’t one right answer. And the real insights come from the people managers that experience these roadblocks day after day – and find ways to overcome each challenge they face. And, in turn, hit their goals.

So I tracked down six of the awesome speakers from the Product-Led Summit lineup to ask them one simple question: what’s your number one tip for building a strong product-driven team?

Here is the result: eight real, practical tips from experienced managers at top SaaS companies on how to build a high-performing team.

1. Offer work flexibility

Kieran Flanagan, VP Marketing/Growth at HubSpot

Kieran Flanagan on building product-driven teams

When I asked Kieran about building a strong product-driven team, he had one word for me: flexibility.

“What’s been the most impactful thing for me is actually work flexibility,” he says. “I would have not been able to hire or retain certain people on my team if they weren’t able to work remotely. A lot of the high performers on my team decided they wanted to live somewhere else. A couple people wouldn’t move to Boston, or Dublin, or anywhere else we had offices. And HubSpot has done a really incredible job of making remote a core part of the company.”

Sign up for Kieran’s presentation at the Product-Led Summit here!

2. Give each employee a KPI

Kyle Poyar, Senior Director of Market Strategy at OpenView

Kyle Poyar on building product-driven teams

For Kyle, one of the biggest (and easiest) things a company can do is to promote ownership and accountability.

“A short-term thing that any company can do is come up with a KPI for your different employees in the organization – things that they can own, and give them the flexibility to come up with different ideas for how they’re going to move the needle on those KPIs,” he says.

“Give them some time and some responsibility to make a case for how they can move the needle. So that even the junior employees of your organization can feel autonomy and ownership, and they’re really trying to drive the business forward . . . And it just makes sure that your employees, rather than just following directions, are thinking outside of the box and have a platform for contributing real value.”

And it’s not just about helping your people thrive. That, in turn, allows the company to grow.

“Product-led growth businesses, unlike traditional SaaS businesses, have got a huge volume of customers, of traffic, of everything,” Kyle explains. “And so if they can move the needle on website visitors to sign-ups, or sign-ups to activation, or activation to revenue, it actually has compound effects for the organization.”

Sign up for Kyle’s presentation at the Product-Led Summit here!

3. Set the bar high

Ruairi Galavan, Senior Manager, Product Education at Intercom

Ruairi Galavan on building product-driven teams

“My number one piece of advice would be to focus on activation criteria,” says Ruairi. “In other words, find out what it is that your customers do with your product that will make them more likely to retain. And only focus on that. In other words, don’t talk about all the s*** you do to your new customers. Talk about the thing you need them to do on day one to seven. And that’s it.”

And how exactly does that relate to building a high-performance product-driven team? It sets the focus.

“Set your bar a bit higher than your competitors, and try and work to that bar. Focus on quality of all your output, all your assets – everything you do for your customer,” he says.

Set the bar high, prioritizing feedback, input and openness. When you pair that with a laser focus on one core element of the product, your team can run.

Sign up for Ruairi’s presentation at the Product-Led Summit here!

4. Budget time for team building

Tim Soulo, Head of marketing and product strategy at Ahrefs

Tim Soulo on building product-driven teams

For Tim, a crucial step in building a strong product-driven team is continuously, purposefully, investing the time.

“Decide how much time, how many minutes or hours in your day you’re comfortable letting go of, and invest the time into team building activities,” explains Tim.

“So for example, for me, I can invest two hours a week of my time to talk to someone. Or have a lunch with someone from our team. Or read an article about how to keep your team healthy. I would mentally agree with myself that those two hours I will spend running my team is productive time, and is something that I have to do. And I just start doing it. Step by step. Two hours a week. I think two hours a week is a good start. If you invest two hours a week, by the end of the year, you can achieve quite a lot with your team.”

Sign up for Tim’s presentation at the Product-Led Summit here!

5. Be comfortable trying awkward things

Olof Mathé, CEO & Co-founder at Mixmax

Olof Math on building product-driven teams

There’s a really fun chart I saw once that was the spectrum of personality types. On one end you had Buddhist monks, and on the other hand you had traders on the stock exchange. And then they charted out where growth people, and designers, and engineers and so on, fit. And so great growth people are really close to stock traders, and designers and engineers are pretty close to Buddhist monks. And project managers are somewhere in-between,” says Olof.

“There’s something there of being able to have a personality where you’re comfortable trying things that are really awkward. And uncomfortable. It’s almost like a litmus test that other people on your team would say gut reaction ‘no’ to. Like, unless you’re getting those gut reactions from a lot of people on your team, you’re probably not doing it right.”

Sign up for Olof’s presentation at the Product-Led Summit here!

6. Hire to fill your weaknesses

Eric Boduch, Chief Evangelist & Co-founder at Pendo.io

Eric Boduch on building product-driven teams

“A lot of people have talked about how you overcome your weaknesses. And how you can focus on areas of your weaknesses and be better there. I take a very different approach. I look at how do I hire to fill my weaknesses,” says Eric.

“As opposed to thinking, ‘Oh I don’t get any joy out of copyright editing, so I’m going to incentivize myself to do that.’ Like, forget that. I’m going to hire someone that’s really good at that, that enjoys doing that, and is strong in areas I’m not. I worry less about fixing my weaknesses or other people’s weaknesses, then hiring to supplement those, or complementing my strengths.”

Sign up for Eric’s presentation at the Product-Led Summit here!

7. Get to know each person as an individual

Lisa Abbott, VP of Marketing at Wootric

For Lisa, it’s all about communication. Lisa Abbot on building product-driven teams“Get to know your people,” she says. “That takes some time, but taking time to understand who they are outside of work as well as at work is important and rewarding for both of you. And then learning their communication style, and explaining what yours is, is really important.”

And a big part of that process? One-on-ones. “Those one-on-ones need to be sacred. Because it’s really about productivity and growth and people thriving and staying. So, making sure that you prioritize those one-on-ones, and unblocking folks from whatever could be stopping them, and giving them the resources they need to do their job,” she says.

Sign up for Lisa’s presentation at the Product-Led Summit here!

8. Break down silos with cross-departmental meetings

Sujan Patel, Co-founder of Ramp Ventures

Sujan Patel on building product-driven teamsThere are insights that a leader or manager just can’t know without breaking down the silos and facilitating cross-departmental communication through recurring meetings.

“Have recurring meetings with the sales, the marketing team, listening in on demos and really getting that feedback from the customer support team,” he says.

For Sujan, that meeting includes the head of marketing, the head of customer support, the head of sales, and relevant product managers.

“What we’re talking about is not product. We are talking about what’s going on in our world every week. What is marketing working on? What is sales working on? What are the objections people are having? What’s the feedback people are giving when they use the product? Like, support just gets that information, or success just gets that information, but they don’t know what to do with it,” he says.

”All we’re doing is having an open dialogue, and often times it’s not like we’re walking out of the room with a different roadmap. Everyone walks out of the room with more context, and a world view that’s bigger than what they entered with.”

Sign up for Sujan’s presentation at the Product-Led Summit here!

Don’t forget to sign up for my presentation, How to overcome the roadblocks to a high performing product-led team! I’ll e-see you at the summit! 😎

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