Software As A Promise: Balancing Trust and Strategy Builds a Foundation for Success

by Davide Cis –

In the world of Enterprise Software, our panelists presented strong arguments for what we will call “Software as a Promise (SaaP)”: a framework that product managers should adopt to engage clients and build products that customers will love.

SaaP captures concepts that Product Managers have been adopting directly or indirectly over the years, and bases its approach on two main pillars: Trust and Strategy.

Building Trust both inside and outside your organization

Trust begins within the organization where Product Management is responsible to build strong and lasting relationships with Engineering, Sales, Support, and Marketing.

For example, getting Sales involved in understanding your product as soon as possible will make the delivery of the product more aligned with the client needs. To build trust, Product Managers have to be tremendous listener and have a process that everyone agrees to. The positive effects of internal trust manifest in client commitments made only when there is mutual agreement between your customer success teams and the product team.

While the maturity of the company affects the number of key relationships within the organization, the most relevant one for Product Managers will always be the one with your Engineering team. In a small company, products are mainly sales driven. However, later on, the Product Management organization owns the responsibility to drive change and scale in the organization. To do this effectively, you must nurture a very constructive relationship with the Engineering team. When interacting with Engineering, set the rules since the beginning and get the BS out first: agree to disagree that Product Management requirements suck and Development is too slow.

In the end, the only way for Product Management, Engineering and Sales to work effectively together, is to create a strong internal trust and promote clarity via constant and frequent communication.

The necessity for establishing trust extends to your external clients. Having structured opportunities to speak with your customers are recommended and these forums will be your sounding board for your MVP. The DNA of these forums should reflect your client base and extend beyond your usual network to bring new and different perspectives.

Product Strategy is a series of technical decisions you make everyday

You make decisions every day, most small and tactical, but you cannot run from the larger ones. Pick a choice fast and efficiently if the decision is easily reversible or has low impact. Make sure to rely on your external and internet trust network to deliberate on choices that will have larger impact or cannot be easily reversible. Remember: the accumulation of the choices you make form your product strategy.

Balancing trust and strategy can be difficult at times but it is Product Management responsibility to turn negative situations into productive ones. For example, we often face adversity when addressing unexpected feature requests from clients. As a Product Manager, you need to leverage the trust you have built internally to evaluate and validate such demands, before reaching out to your clients with a robust plan of action, which always takes into consideration the three options of buy, build, and partner. The scalability of that feature is also an important factor to consider at this stage.

When building your strategy, you should consider chunking your portfolio of products and define (dramatically) different strategies for each chunk. For example, treat your mature and traditional product differently than the younger and growth products. You must also combine innovation and table stake features. Finally, you should always aim to measure the effectiveness of your innovation ideas. Sales feedback is a natural choice as Key Performance Indicator. You should also consider the customer upgrade rate and the new revenue generated, the value provided to your customers via the outcomes based roadmap you developed, and the client willingness to pay for the new features. One effective measure when measuring the impact on the client of the new feature is to consider the value added in the form of relative impact (e.g. savings in terms of week salary, month salary …)

Keep in mind that you cannot spreadsheet your way to good judgement and sometimes you just have to trust your gut. When based on educated common sense, we are right on average 65% of the time: trusting your gut allows you to respond in a timely and effectively way to the many and frequent curve balls thrown at you. In the end, what matters is how we recover from the bad stuff.

Trust and strategy form the foundations of Software as a Promise and can help you untangle difficult situations you face as product manager. Relationships are key to build confidence in your team in order to scale previously insurmountable challenges presented by your clients. People buy software from people, even more in a SaaS enterprise world where the promise and realization of effective and scalable services are a central value proposition.

Davide Cis

Davide Cis is BPMA Blog Manager.   Davide is constantly searching and applying best practices of product management to enterprise software. When Davide is not reading or listening about products and strategy, he is probably watching Italian Soccer or tasting Italian wine.

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