The Best SaaS Product Manager Guide

saas product manager

The SaaS industry is always changing and evolving since it’s such a dynamic place to work in. There is constantly something new happening and work looking into the products and the growth strategies, so there should be a clear guide for the person that is handling all of these. Whether you’re looking to get into SaaS Product Management or you’re part of the ecosystem already, this SaaS product manager guide will clear the waters for you.

Fundamental Guide for SaaS Product Managers

In the last decades, the SaaS industry exploded. There are many companies out there offering all sorts of services and products and by following a few key steps almost anyone can become successful. It’s all about consistency, strategy, and putting the work in.

With so many new social media platforms, new laws, and new ways to engage with customers, it has become a full-time job to manage a SaaS product and somehow connect all the departments to ensure flawless execution and communication.

What should be improved, where are the areas in which the company should focus more, what investments are worth putting the profits in and many others fall into the job description of a Product Manager.

For each product out there, the level of operations and tasks the product management department has to handle differs. This will ensure that the profits are consistently growing and that the business goals are reached within a specific timeframe.

What is SaaS Product Management?

Because we like to start all guides with a quick explanation, here is a short definition of SaaS product management. This department or person is specially trained to help the company’s product be better and perform better in all aspects and metrics. It requires a lot of planning, research, and experience to know where and how to manage this tedious job since it’s a mix of skills and management. 

In the end, the main goal of SaaS product management is to ensure better solutions and services to the customers, based on their needs. And yes, it doesn’t matter if the product falls into the B2B or B2C category, the skill set required for these tasks is the same.

Everyone is working to improve the product, at all levels, but the product management section is specialized in this matter more than anyone, even more than the CEO.

How is SaaS Product Management Different From Other Product Management Roles

Aside from the growth and continuous development, SaaS product management is also dealing with a lot of uncertainty and unmarked territory. As we said earlier, a lot of things are evolving in the SaaS environment, and someone needs to stay on top of everything while also navigating through it all.

It’s like, you don’t know what it’s coming up with but you should be fully prepared to kill it and profit out of it, and that can be very stressful. 

So what makes SaaS product management so different from other product management roles? Without baffling too much about the industry and how challenging it can be, we’re just going to cut to the chase: it’s because you have to stay relevant with the same product for decades, while also focusing on keeping the existing customers engaged but also acquiring new ones so that the business can grow. 

In SaaS you don’t change the product because the times have changed, you can only improve, listen to your customers, and pivot. 

What SaaS Product Management Isn’t

Just like any department within a company, product management is a separate entity that requires a certain skill set and experience. It’s a highly strategic and planning position that requires in-depth knowledge about almost any aspect of the business and product, including finances, operations, or sales, among others.

Some of the main responsibilities include working with the other departments and managers to ensure that everyone is on the same page and works towards the same business goals and strategy. There are also other tasks involved, especially on a higher management level.

Who is typically a SaaS Product Manager?

If you ever worked in a SaaS company, you already know a few things about this position and who is typically a SaaS product manager. This person can rock end-to-end meetings all day, while also being fully aware of the latest reviews and complaints from users and marketing trends. A superhero in disguise. 

This person can coordinate with all the teams, monitor the development teams, stay in touch with stakeholders, and manage to report on all his duties daily. If it were to outline this position in a few words, this person has mastered these 3 important aspects: business, technology, and user experience. 

Fundamental Skillsets for SaaS Product Managers

SaaS product manager

Now let’s have a look into what makes or breaks a SaaS product manager, we bet you want to know what kind of soft and technical skills are required for such a crucial job within a SaaS company. Are these people unicorns, or can you grow into them?

As much as this person knows a lot of things about everything that is going on in the company, it’s still a very product-orientated job at its core. One of the main skills a product manager needs to have involves identifying opportunities for the product.

It might seem like an easy thing to do, but all decisions must be backed by data, reports, forecasts, and research. Not all opportunities are worth taking, so only an experienced manager will know what to experiment with or not.

Another skill a SaaS product manager needs to have is the ability to strategize and envision the future. There needs to be a clear plan and a product roadmap for any stage of the product or launch, and the product manager is responsible for it.

Managing teams is also an important skill that any manager should have, not only a product manager if we’re completely honest. Whether it’s managing other teams or staying in touch with upper management, the person who knows and stays in touch with almost anyone is the product manager.

He or she should also have good technical skills so that any problems or delays coming from the development team can be properly understood and possibly amended if needed. And because any product needs to be promoted, the product manager should also be aware of what marketing does and what marketing efforts the product needs to succeed. As we mentioned before, this role is a mix of everything.

Characteristics of Successful SaaS Product Managers

Aside from a full skill set, other characteristics make or break a product manager. We will mention just a few such as leadership, communication, time management, decision-making, and problem-solving. 

Being a strong leader that people will follow and admire is something all managers should try to master. Not everyone is born a leader, but a lot of them can be trained and schooled into being one. Since a product manager has his hands in so many aspects of the product and the business, he or she needs to be fully aware of how to manage teams and other colleagues to get the information and the reports he needs to do the job. Being a good leader is also intertwined with being a good communicator.

Properly managing time is another characteristic that makes you a good product manager, which is honestly something a lot of people should strive to perfect. With good time management comes better decision-making managers and therefore better problem-solving.

As you can see they’re all linked one to another. Being a product manager involves being responsible for much higher tasks and results than other employees. All his decisions have a direct impact on the company’s reputation and success.

Common Tools SaaS Product Managers Should Be Aware Of

Now that we know how a Product Manager looks professionally, let’s have a look at what tools are needed to successfully do this demanding job. Luckily for all those working in the SaaS industry, there are plenty of tools to choose from that make your job easier.

Some of them are Hotjar, Google Analytics, Jira, Typeform, Roadmonk, Zoom/Google Teams, Slack, WordPress, Klavyio, and many others.

Some of these tools help with project management, and some with strategy, road mapping, customer surveys, communication, or insights. Of course, depending on your preferences, budget, or what the teams are already using, you might be choosing other similar tools that we did not mention.

How Much is a SaaS Product Manager’s Salary (Beginner, Some Experience, Veteran)

With so much responsibility and skills required for this type of job, it’s quite normal to be wondering how much money a product manager takes home. Of course, salary depends on the level of experience, skills, and how big the company is.

Salaries can be researched online but in the United States, it goes anywhere between a minimum of $70.000 and $200.000 as a reference. The average salary of a product manager is around $111.000 so based on all the numbers we provided here you can paint a clear picture of the environment.

Of course, the salary can be negotiated based on a lot of factors, including how urgent the company needs to fill the position or how many companies are after you. Although it pays well, this kind of job is quite rewarding and allows you to better understand the SaaS environment and what makes a product successful.

If you’re a talented and successful product manager, you’ll get the chance to work for some of the biggest tech or SaaS companies out there and those opportunities don’t come often.

5 Things to Look for When Hiring A SaaS Product Manager

If you’re a recruiter or a SaaS company owner looking for a product manager, our guide offers you a few insights precious things to look for when hiring a SaaS product manager. We’re going to list here the 5 most important aspects.

Empathy

Why? Because this person will be responsible for understanding what the customers want and what features would be helpful for them yet profitable for the company. Being an empath is something all managers should have, not only a product manager. Unfortunately, it’s not a trait that can be trained or instilled, it’s something the right person develops over time.

Charisma

A lot of executives have mentioned that charisma is something quite important that they look for when looking for the right product manager. As this job requires coordination between teams, being a charismatic person can be of great use, especially when it comes naturally. 

Curiosity

Again, due to the nature of the job, being curious is quite important and a lot of hiring managers and executives will look for it when shortlisting candidates. A person who takes initiative and is proactive is also curious and creative, as they go hand in hand. 

Passion

Something you won’t see quite often in the job description because it’s a different kind of trait. When hiring someone for this position you’d want them to be passionate about what they do so that they’ll enjoy every moment of it. Working in the SaaS industry as a product manager can be a lengthy process, so it’s the passion that will keep people going. 

Vision

No matter what your daily tasks are, having a big vision is what motivates you to succeed and work hard. A product manager with a vision is what everyone in the SaaS industry is looking for. When we say vision we don’t mean to say “success” because that is obvious, it’s about understanding what the product does and what it will do for users to stay relevant.

5 Common Challenges SaaS Product Managers Face

As a product manager, there will be a lot of challenges you’ll face along the way. We’ve gathered all the information and we’ve put together the 5 most common for anyone who wants to know what to expect.

Time Constraints

In almost any SaaS company, managing time between teams and departments is a true skill only a few masters. The product manager will be facing different time differences all teams seem to let up. 

Market Research

Conducting proper market research can be tough when you want to validate whether the market needs or not your product or the new features your team is building. 

Opinions

Like in any industry and job, there will be a lot of people, upper management or not, who will try to impose their opinions about what direction the product should take. A lot of the opinions come from a good place, but since most of them lack the background information a product manager has, they might be useless.

Failing

Again, in any job and industry, there will be stages at which you or the product will fail, and that is ok. Depending on the company’s culture and the ability of the product manager to rise again, failing is nothing but a learning experience.

Being Reactive

In the industry, there is a continuous trend of reactiveness to what is happening on a global scale. As a product manager, you need to remind yourself and your team that your vision and roadmap are there to keep everyone on track and not follow your competition blindly. What’s right for your competitor might not be right for you.

5 Top SaaS Product Managers in the Industry

If you’re a product manager we bet you have a few mentors or at least a few top SaaS product managers you look up to. Here are the top 5 SaaS product managers to keep your eyes on. All of them have lots of experience behind them and have worked for some of the most famous SaaS companies in the world. Here they are. Feel free to follow them on LinkedIn and learn from their experience. 

  1. Jules Walter who is the Product Manager at Slack
  2. Lulu Cheng who is the Product Manager of the Discovery Team at Pinterest
  3. Josh Elman who is a Product Manager at Apple
  4. Scott Belsky who is now Chief Product Officer at Adobe
  5. April Underwood who was a product manager at Quip and SoundCloud

5 Top SaaS Product Management Courses

As some new product managers out there want to improve their skills and become better, know that there are multiple courses out there that can help you land a high-paying job at a well-known company. We did some research and found that there are some top courses anyone can enroll in. Here are our top 3 SaaS product management courses:

  1. One Week PM by Product Manager HQ. This course costs almost $500 and is one of the most sought-after courses for PM in the USA. It’s a 7-day certification that dives deep into the essentials of product management, making it one of the best courses for beginners. 
  2. Digital Product Management by EdX and Boston University. This course is offered by Boston University and it’s also a graduate program that can be used as a master’s degree. It’s a more advanced program suited for those who want a more formal certification.
  3. Product Management Course by Product School. This course is offered on campus in more than 20 cities and it’s taught by PMs from some of the biggest companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, Spotify, Netflix, and LinkedIn. The price is $4000 and it spreads over 4 weeks. You can participate online or offline. 
  4. Product Marketing Courses by Pragmatic Institute. This is one of the most popular courses for product managers. It costs $1195 and they have over 200.000 certifications issued worldwide. Each course goes into various themes and frameworks. After finishing the course you’ll still have access to the information.
  5. Google’s APM Program. This course is free, unlike the others, and it’s more like an internship. It’s perfect for a beginner, but unfortunately only available in North America. Of course, it’s a great opportunity to get noticed by someone working there and it will help you land jobs in the future.

Conclusion

Given all the information that we presented here in this guide, you now have a proper overview of what a SaaS product manager is and what tasks fall under the job description. Of course, depending on the company it might differ or the tasks might be divided among multiple people, but the general outlines still stand.

If you’re a SaaS junkie like us, then you must check out our other detailed blogs about the SaaS world here.

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