How to Run Your Professional Services Business Like a Product Management Pro
Whether you’re a solo, part of a team or managing an entire services enterprise, you’re not only a professional service provider (who we call a profi); you’re a product manager too.
Productizing your service offerings is a great way to set your professional service practice up for success. And because you’re a product manager by default, you’re also a communicator, planner, visionary, shaper, conflict manager, and oh-so-much more.
But how do you put those product management skills to good use for your professional services operation? To find out, we asked our favorite product expertess, Summer Rogers, chief product officer at Profi.
Summer’s Indirect Path to Product Leadership
How Summer first became a product manager and eventually Profi’s chief product officer is a bit of a roundabout story. Her’s was not a traditional path to product management, which might look like: a computer science major who gets their MBA (hoping to work on strategy) and moves into a product organization.
As Summer, a first-generation college graduate tells it, “I went to university for business administration. Then I ran a tutoring facility in K-12 education for my first job out of college. From there, I learned a lot about education and learning in general.”
Eventually, her heart would guide her to Los Angeles, where the man she would marry and her future career as a product manager were waiting for her.
“I interviewed at a company that was focused on education for adult professionals,” added Summer. “I went in there for a sales or marketing position. But after my first interview with the CEO, he gave me a shot at product management.”
Summer quickly learned that listening to the challenges business people faced, combined with her ability to translate those needs into the product with engineers, and then back again, was invaluable as a product manager.
“Once I figured that out, it really clicked, and it was a fantastic ride,” she added. “I also happen to be a systematic thinker, so I ended up volunteering to find every way we might improve the process of product management. And that’s how I moved up the leadership track to be the first VP of product management at that company.”
But after 13 years at her previous company, Profi’s mission convinced her to accept the role of the company’s first chief product officer.
“Profi’s mission is to help the helpers (profis) maximize their impact,” Summer said. “And as I've gotten to know Profi, and the different types of professionals that we help, I realized that the opportunity to have an impact is endless. There are so many business categories our professional service providers work within, and that's absolutely fascinating for a product manager to solve for.”
How to Think Like a Product Manager in Any Business
Although there are differences between the types of products that a product manager might manage, what’s common about every product manager is that they are the hub of the wheel, and they’re at the center of the business. And when it comes to customers for those products, they have external customers and internal customers — like marketing, sales or customer support.
“Internal customers need to understand the product so they can market it, sell it and support it,” says Summer. “So a product manager needs to be able to explain how the product works, and they need to be educated on what the product does.”
According to Summer, product managers are also like mini CEOs because they're always looking ahead to determine what future products are needed to benefit the company’s longer-term strategy, in addition to enhancing existing products for current customers. They’re always asking themselves, “what needs to be done next and is it going to benefit the customer and help them achieve their goal? Is it aligned with the strategic goals of my company?”
Although there are differences between the types of products that a product manager might manage, what’s common about every product manager is that they are the hub of the wheel, and they’re at the center of the business.
As a professional service provider, this means you need to recognize your different client stakeholders and have a lot of empathy and understanding of what it's like to be them — to help inform how you're enhancing your product or that customer set.
“A lot of people have potential to be a product manager,” says Summer. “So regardless of their background, when I talk to someone about product management, I talk to them about five categories of skills.”
5 Skills You Need to Develop to Become a Great Product Manager in the Service Industry
- Problem-solving: You must have problem-solving skills. A good product manager will ask a lot of questions and work backward to understand what the root problem is. Summer suggests starting with product development frameworks that focus on problem-solving.
- Project management: Project management skills are essential in product management. That means effectively documenting and managing status reports so your leaders, executives or stakeholders understand when a feature enhancement or new product is coming down the pike.
- Product analytics and intelligence: Product analytics tools help you optimize your customer journey and make better product decisions. While product managers today have a lot of options, Amplitude is a common product intelligence (PI) tool allowing you to watch, observe and understand how users are behaving in your system. Product analytics help you establish a baseline, experiment, iterate and help you confirm if product changes are resulting in positively trending key metrics.
A product manager needs to identify the signals, or metrics, that communicate the effectiveness of their product. Ask yourself the following questions to begin building your product intelligence:
- What’s your north star metric?
(As an example, our north star metric at Profi is to enable financially successful profis. Anything that can take tool and admin management off of your hands to help you help more people and make more money is a priority for us.)
- What core workflows exist and are your customers (users) converting to the next step as you intend?
Product vision is thinking about what’s needed for your product, whether it’s a year out, three years or five. In the visioning process, you’ll define your product roadmap.
- Product vision: The product vision is your concept of the future state of your product or service, what problems it will resolve or what ambitions you have for it. Product vision is thinking about what’s needed for your product, whether it’s a year out, three years or five. In the visioning process, you’ll define your product roadmap. Summer recommends starting with a product visioning board to begin bringing your own product vision to life.
- Persuasive presentation: Being able to present persuasively will help you convey the value of your product or service to anyone — whether it’s your seven-year-old, your customers, partners, team members or client stakeholders.
If you’re already a persuasive speaker and presenter, you have 75% of what it takes to be an advanced product lead. Why? Because you’re fully skilled at how you need to plan for your product, build it and then sell it. Give yourself a pat on the back! (Especially if you’re able to explain your product value proposition so simply even your child gets it!)
Summer’s 8 Keys to Service Product Excellence
A lot of professional service providers are both their own product and product manager. And whether it’s your approach, service or your unique solution that’s the product, according to Summer, these are the eight keys to great service product management:
A lot of professional service providers are both their own product and product manager — whether it’s your approach, service or your unique solution that’s the product.
- Visualize the full client journey (or user journey). A client journey starts even before your client lands in the Profi platform for your individual or group session. There’s something that happens before they engage with your business. This is the beginning of their client journey with your product (or you as your product). So you want to be able to answer the questions:
- Where do my clients originate from?
- What are their needs?
- How can I best serve those needs?
- Map out your service delivery. Whether it’s a session, packaged experience or program, think about your client’s first touchpoint in the service delivery experience. How do you open it? If you’re building a team that’s delivering your services, it’s the script. How you open the session should be repeatable and consistently represent your brand — it’s an essential part of your client experience. And that’s just the starting point.
- Think about the post-purchase. In the post-purchase phase of marketing, your best return on investment is to engage with your existing clients. Some of our profis use the forms feature and its automation settings in our platform to promote specials or offerings to existing customers. This is a great way to add continuous value to your client base in a way you can set and forget.
“A great analogy here is the restaurant business,” shares Summer. “You might have a favorite restaurant. They give you specials and those specials change over time. They might even have seasonal dishes. You need to think about your services in a similar way.”
Also, think about your cadence over the year, and when you might introduce a new service so your brand and offering stay fresh for your clients.
- Empathize with the customers you already have. Think about what will work best for their operation, and then deliver on those needs as a product.
- Be systematic and thoughtful in structuring your services. When you zoom out, think about your business and how you use the Profi platform. Plan for what it is today versus what you envision it to be in the next few years. Put in place a framework that helps you scale your business over time.
- Use accessible visuals. Humans are visual creatures, so it’s critical to convey what your service or product is and the problems it solves through pictures. And in a tech-forward, virtual business world those visuals become something different for product users with disabilities. How are you considering the needs of that audience? For people with disabilities your visual content, at minimum, needs to be optimized for accessibility standards online and in-product (especially if you’re building services or products for government agencies).
- Become a good people manager. As a solo, team leader, product leader or project manager, you’re building a sense of community and you’re building trust — which helps you overcome challenges that your customers, team or your product might be facing. Improving your interpersonal communication skills will help you better understand, manage and collaborate with people with different opinions and viewpoints.
- Set goals. Goal setting is extremely important, so is choosing a goal-setting and tracking framework for your business. At Profi, we love using the OKR framework to prioritize and focus on what can really drive business growth.
Diverse Teams Are Essential to Build Successful, Inclusive Products
And the final (but most important!) piece of wisdom Summer wants to impart is that your team needs to be balanced. Women, people of color and persons with disabilities are overwhelmingly underrepresented in leadership positions and on product teams. Although change is happening, it’s still at a crawl of a pace in the states.
Your team needs to be balanced. Women, people of color and persons with disabilities are overwhelmingly underrepresented in leadership positions and on product teams.
Black people account for about 12% of the U.S. population, but occupy only 3.2% of the senior leadership roles at large companies. And although they hold almost 52% of all management and professional-level jobs, American women are underrepresented in leadership positions.
According to LeanIn.org’s 2021 Women in the Workplace report, a continued and “concerning disconnect between companies’ growing commitment to racial equity and the lack of improvement we see in the day-to-day experiences of women of color” remains.
Despite an ongoing lack of support for the soft skills women naturally bring to their roles and teams, “women are rising to the moment as better leaders. Compared to men at the same levels, women leaders are stronger people managers and more active champions of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” reports Lean In.
And from a product perspective, this diversity of experience and thought is crucial for developing products and services that actually serve more people. “I heard a perfectly applicable analogy during a car safety presentation that’s really stuck with me,” explains Summer. “When seat belts became law, it was a bunch of men in a lab doing experiments with dummies to create a seatbelt for cars. And their design solution missed the mark because there wasn’t a woman that was part of the organization. Having women on your team is essential because they are also the consumer, and they will bring or address the unique requirements from only the perspective a female consumer can provide.”
One of Lean In’s key team diversity findings that align most closely with Summer’s leadership principles and impact is that, "eighty-six percent of companies say it’s ‘very or extremely’ critical that managers support their team members’ well-being, but only 25 percent formally recognize those who do this — and a similar trend holds for DEI work."
Summer emphasizes that “the role of Product Managers is lucrative. It’s very desirable to enter and, once in, it's easy to find other opportunities. The average time at a company in the US is about two years. My average retention was over four years.”
She’s since reflected on why her team retention was double the product industry baseline and shares, “I think the reason why I was successful in effectively retaining a team of mostly millennials was, I always was concerned with their well being, their personal and professional goals. I was a manager and leader to the whole person who was an employee.”
The term "maternal” leadership on Scott Galloway’s Prof G podcast, Lead with Resilience, resonates with how Summer might describe her leadership style. “It described the level of care, thoughtfulness, empathy and candor-is-kindness approach that I am proud to live as a team leader. I think it's how I managed to give reasons for an employee to stay with the company because I delivered on the other criteria outside of compensation.”
Professional service providers of all ages, abilities, colors, sexes and sizes are product managers too, because as a twenty-first-century profi you’re oftentimes your own product. While productizing yourself or your service business may feel tricky, Summer’s tips can set you on the pro-track for more sustainable product growth and scale. All you have to do is get on board.
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