You can't have a strong SaaS org without a strong team. And to build a strong team, you've gotta set those expectations high. At Future of SaaS, we know that it starts at the interview stage, that's why we're bringing you a series of blogs catered specifically to the interview process.

This week we’re taking a look at product managers, the visionaries behind your SaaS GTM strategy. Click here, for our first entry in the series: Top 7 interview questions for customer success managers. In the coming weeks, we'll have: product marketers, sales enablement leaders, marketing executives, and more!

A product manager is truly the visionary behind your SaaS GTM strategy. Not only are they responsible for delivering a product that aligns with your org’s mission statement, it’s also essential for them to keep an ear to the ground and stay attuned to the pain points of your ideal customer profile (ICP).

A solid product manager can have the initiative and innovation to pivot your strategy in the right direction when it looks like you're headed for a roadblock. ⛔

With its infinite potential for customization, the SaaS model grants us an incredible opportunity to tailor our products around the needs of the customer. A good product manager is not just a master of long-term strategy, but also allows your org to remain agile and continuously adaptive.

Pretty special people, right? But how do we identify them?

Our top 7 interview questions for product managers will help you do just that.

Check it out. 👇

1.What does a product manager do?

It might seem obvious, but this is a sure-fire way to determine whether candidates have a solid grasp of the role’s demands. A product manager is going to be working under the weight of considerable demands across many different departments.

If the candidate is not able to effectively articulate the breadth and scope of the role’s demands, it’s a red flag that they’re unprepared for the demands of the role. Good product managers are a rare breed in that they have to demonstrate good long-term preparation and adaptability. This question assesses the former.

Ben Horowitz, co-founder at Andreessen Horowitz, has this to say about good product managers:

“A good product manager knows the context going in (the company, our revenue funding, competition, etc.), and they take responsibility for devising and executing a winning plan (no excuses).”

2. Sell me a…

The famous Wolf of Wall Street question might seem gimmicky, but it has many real benefits.  

Talented product managers will frequently be able to find value in products that, frankly, might seem a little mundane. Or products that are so commonplace that it’s difficult to highlight the USP.

But there are other qualities to consider here. You’re placing the candidate in a stressful, uncomfortable situation and expecting them to demonstrate adaptability and spontaneity. Sure, a candidate might say they can be spontaneous, but a good hiring manager wants to see this demonstrated in the hiring process.

This question forces them to think on their feet and provide evidence of ideal qualities.

measuring the impact of customer success and related efforts on customer retention
We wanted to seek wisdom from five CS leaders on how they view their role and how to measure its success in boosting customer retention.

3. How do you figure out what customers want?

A good product manager will need to have a clear vision for your SaaS product, and an essential part of this vision should establish the following:

  • Is their demand for this product?
  • What are your customer personas?
  • What pain points are we addressing?
  • What kind of research needs to be done to accomplish the above?

The candidate should have evidence of how they’ve gone about reaching these criteria in the past, as well as a research strategy that covers a broad range of media channels.

According to Julie Hymen, Senior Product Manager at Dell, understanding customer needs is critical to the role:

“You always need to keep customer experience as a top priority. It sounds obvious, because in the end, of course, that’s what makes for a successful product… Always be your customers’ strongest advocate. Always keep their interests and their experience in mind.”

Most importantly, the candidate should have a firm grasp on who your ICP is, and should be able to express at least some idea of how they might optimize your product to hit that goal.

4. How do you build alignment between teams?

Your product manager might have all the great ideas in the world, but if they can’t effectively communicate those ideas to others within the team, they might as well not exist at all.

After all, it’s your sales reps and customer success managers who are on the front line in the customer-facing roles.

The product manager needs to be able to make believers out of your team, because if they don’t believe in your product– and can effectively convey its benefits– it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to make believers out of your customers.

All of this stems from good communication skills, an absolute necessity for a product manager.

Julia Astin, Harvard professor and Founder of the Startup, a critical skill in a product manager is good relationship building:

“By forming authentic and trustworthy connections with both internal and external stakeholders, the best PMs inspire people and help them reach their full potential.”

Cross-functional collaboration and engaging key stakeholders
What do you get when departments are toiling away in their silos, never reaching out to each other? Your key metrics for success are gonna nose-dive!

5. Tell us about a time when you failed

Okay, so this might seem like a cliche question, but the fact is, product management is a role that requires constant adapting and pivoting.

But for candidates to be able to do this, they have to first be able to recognize when an initiative isn’t working out, and more importantly, be able to describe how they’ve managed to switch out of going down the wrong track.

In terms of soft skills, the question also demonstrates a degree of humility. Are you hiring someone who is able to accept criticism and accept responsibility for a role, or are you hiring someone who’s going to stick stubbornly to a plan that’s really not working?

6. What will you do with your first 30/60/90 days?

A critical skill for any product manager is prioritization. Your new product manager will have a pretty overwhelming workload when they first come in, and what they reveal about how they organize their time might just reveal whether they're likely to sink or swim.

For example, will they spend their first few weeks proactively correcting what they see as wrong in your strategy?

Proactivity is a great quality to have, sure, but it might be better to hire someone who’s going to spend those preliminary months getting acquainted with your company’s mission statement and researching your ICP.

Or maybe the first step would be to connect with different personnel on your team, learning about their roles and how to align with them. Then, how are the steps during the next thirty days going to build on from this? The question reveals foresight and strategic planning as well as good prioritization.

Andy Jones has experience working as a product manager for Facebook, Twitter and Quora. Here’s what he has to say about the trajectory of a good product manager:

“Exceptional PMs can also internalize founder-level vision for the company and turn that vision into an actionable strategy. They have the most keen line of sight into the series of products/features that need to be built to achieve the founder’s vision. And once they have the vision and strategy clearly understood and explained to their team, they can enforce great execution against the vision and strategy.”

7. What do you dislike about our product?

Yes, you want a candidate who is going to appreciate the value of your product, but you also want someone who’s going to come into the interview already having an awareness of how they’re going to change it for the better.

The critical value of hiring new talent comes in the fresh eyes that they can cast on your product.

What are they seeing that past product managers have missed? It’s not really about being overly critical, but rather it’s about demonstrating the true potential in your product that you might have missed.

You want to hire individuals with the potential to innovate and find fresh solutions. But innovations stem from identifying existing problems.

Finally, you don’t want to hire a ‘yes-man,’ someone who just does what they’re told. A strong product manager will be able to constructively challenge even the most senior authorities in your org.

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