In an interview for a senior product manager role, I was taken aback when being asked this question: “how do you plan to increase the market share of our product?”
I wasn’t expecting this - though I have around 6 years of PM experience, I am not familiar with the space of the product this role would be in charge of. My expectation was always that it is ok to not have experience in the space, as long as I can learn on the job quickly and I would start forming opinions and then strategize how to increase the market share, just as how I have managed to become able to do it.
My preliminary answer was we need to understand what users in this space are not satisfied with from the current solutions of the product and that of competitors, so as to differentiate. However, the hiring manager doesn’t seem to be happy with the answer, and I feel like he’s asking for something way specific than I offered. (or maybe my answer just isn’t good enough, well, I’ll never know)
TLDR; Is it common to expect a senior product manager role to know the in and outs of a space? I used to think not, but now I am not sure. If you were me, how would you have answered? Would love to hear what you think.
It’s unnecessary to know the ins and outs of the space, but you should be able to speak in broad strokes about the industry. I anticipate that the candidate would be a little more proactive in forming a hypothesis on the industry first.
If I were interviewing you for a senior product manager role and got that type of response, I would question whether you prepped for the interview and cared about the industry.
@DonovanOkang, That makes sense. I’d admit that’s one thing I didn’t prepare well enough and there is no excuse. That’s exactly what keeps me up at night sometimes, wondering if the result would be different if I did my homework as I should. Good to know it might actually make a difference
Having been a HM for all levels of PMs here are generally my expectations in doing a screen for a Senior PM:
- The candidate knows where we fit in an industry- not exactly, but generally. If they come from a competitor or an area within the space I expect them to speak in some detail about the space;
- They know the ins and outs of how to manage the dev cycle and build a 1 year or less roadmap. PS I’m going to ask about this every time and I’m going to be coy about it. For example, “In your org how did product interact with QA? Were you a TDD organization?” I don’t really care about the answer other than you have one and know where you fit in the org and how the pieces work together.
- The candidate understands how a feature affects a product which affects the business and they can articulate why a feature that may not have major data driven outcomes is important to the roadmap. The way I’ll often ask that is, “Tell me about something you built that you KNEW was the right thing to build, but there may not have been exact data to justify it.”
- The candidate has ideas of how to grow or better maintain the business. That’s your share question. Btw there’s a very vanilla answer to this question, “I’d look to our competitors to see what they do exceptionally well that we don’t do and see if we can’t build some of those features in to our product. Chances are that some of those features are “wedge features” that don’t really matter to some of their buyers but the competitor uses as a differentiator. Maybe we can even blend it with our products to make our products stronger to use?” Something like that.
Hope this helps.
@MicchaelYoffe, Almost everything you said was in the right IMO, senior product managers should have business acumen and read widely about business.
The thing that I disagree with is the second point about roadmaps. Building out a roadmap as far as a year is a key problem with traditional roadmaps.
They fail when they present a picture of the future that is at odds with what we know about the future.
If we were setting out to cross an unchartered desert - one that we cannot see from the air, and that was of unknown size - it would be crazy to predict that we could cross it in a few hours.
Instead, you’d probably present your journey as an exploration
Instead of building plans around the outputs, you’ll make, it often makes more sense to plan around themes of work, problems to solve or outcomes to deliver
There are a number of ways, one is to plan a roadmap around a customer journey. We are trying to visualize human behaviors
It’s simple. You make a diagram from left to right that describes what people are doing (their “journey”) when they interact with your product or service.
@Nathan, Roadmaps come with nuance and degrees of confidence, though a senior PM who can’t look out a year and say- based on our strategy we’d expect to be going here, but I’m only 30% sure based on what we know now- isn’t doing the job of a senior PM in my book. Now, let me add one more caveat- this is far more true for b2b SaaS than b2c SaaS. The confidence levels go down even further with b2c.
@Michael, I agree that direction is better than speed, so yes we should clearly outline the business results that the business is seeking. If the expectations of investors or the cash flow needed to keep the business afloat weren’t on the line, then we would need less reassurance and focus more on the problems to solve because ultimately that’s how we get the results anyway.
In my experience, if the core business is generating 70% of stable returns, then we have to create a VC like experience and allocate capital effectively to be able to learn quickly. If there is a true culture of experimentation, we would be more focus on how can we understand what we need to learn to be successful. My point is that we need to be willing to change in the face of evidence
@Nathan, There’s a lot of nuance to this. For example, internal roadmaps are WAY different than external roadmaps. We paint very broad brush strokes for our customers vs what we do internally. Not to mention customers don’t care about a whole lot of what we do (see: every time we’ve ever refactored anything) but product cares a WHOLE LOT.
Having a roadmap doesn’t preclude experimentation nor does it preclude change. And we should change, when we learn new things. And we should communicate it openly and transparently. But we also need to be masters of our domain and create educated guesses as to what we think is coming based on what we know now.
Awesome discussion btw, +1.
@Michael, Yeah, internal roadmaps are different. I should have said this is for external roadmaps mainly, but we could still plot user behaviour of internal users.
Long and short, I think the problems most PMs and myself have with roadmaps are the expectations they set.
Oh and on being masters of our domain, nobody knows for sure
Agreed on a great discussion.
I was also constantly self evaluating if I am qualified as a senior PM. Officially I am not one yet, but I feel I am ready because I have been doing things outside of my responsibilities - things I consider a senior PM would do. This serves as a great checklist and I feel reassured that I can do it. Thanks for sharing from a HM’s perspective.
@Samantha, One thing you’re going to find, and it’s really your job as a candidate to suss this out, is a mix of what senior pm means in most places. If you want to advance your career look to places that ask the kinds of questions above. It means as you move from APM > PM > SPM that you’re increasing your amount of exposure to strategic execution. The jump to Director is a much bigger and different jump.
In some places SPM is just a promotion for a PM who everyone likes or whose product has gotten lucky. Avoid those places because as the winds of the market or leadership change you’ll inevitably find your growth stunted.
@MichaelYoffe, Yeah. I definitely understand senior PM means different things in different places. Where I am currently at senior PMs mean they stay with the company long enough and if they are old enough. That’s also why I am still waiting to be promoted because I simply haven’t been with the company long enough and am too young, despite meeting official criteria of responsibilities for the next level. That’s also why I am looking elsewhere…
So the first thing I would be wondering is “is this a gotcha question? Or are they serious, in which case that is indicative of an internal problem space that I’m perfect for helping to solve.”
So I would firstly point out that the question is extremely open ended and presumes a lot of internal knowledge that I don’t have yet.
Then I would start walking them through how I would get to the bottom of figuring out if there is a problem, and where it is (if it exists).
Firstly I would identify what the organization felt were the key market problems that they are addressing. (Chances are good that they don’t think this way at all, and instead view their market as a list of industries or a customer demographic or some other non-problem-centric model).
Then I would try to gather a short list of other competitors in that space and try to understand why the better competitors are successful, and why the poorer ones are not.
Then I would deeply evaluate the product(s), to understand how effectively they are aligned to and serving those market problems, and if there are other nearby market problems they could address but aren’t, and what resources would be required to hit those.
Then I would try to understand how effectively we are presenting these solutions to the market, both from a delivery channel, and a promotional standpoint.
If I haven’t found the answer by then, it’s time to take a REAL hard look at the total addressable market and your competitive analysis and try to understand if these market problems are as pervasive and underserved as you had HOPED. Is there actually appetite for further solution in this space?
If I still don’t have an answer, that’s when we start looking to restructure the team or pivot to new problem spaces.
@NaomiNwosu, Thanks for the write-up.
I wasn’t sure if the interviewer was asking from a “let me see your thought process” angle, and I should just push through answering as if it is a simulation (in fact I love simulations… I always have fun doing these. What a shame.)
It sounds like you’re approaching this question from a “I should have needed to know the right business context and answer” perspective. Is it possible that this question was either intended to be an open-ended analysis question?
In other words, another way to answer this question is to cop to not having all the details about the industry and domain, but to start asking thoughtful questions and working through the mental analysis out loud during this process. For example, “Okay great—let me first start by asking questions to better understand the market and your position in the market…”
@FelipeRibeiro, Exactly this. As a senior candidate, I would expect that you’d have some frameworks in mind for how to approach this question. Even better if you’ve done your homework on the company and the industry to be more detailed in your response.
There’s not really a right answer to that question. They’re most likely looking for you to ask good questions about where our product is in its lifecycle, what the biggest challenges are, etc.
They’re probably looking for you to present multiple options for where you can grow and compete, then weigh the pros and cons of each approach and make a reasonable selection that you can support.
Again - it’s not about being right, it’s about your capability to think through these problems in a structured way.
This. Thanks for saying that. I think I was waiting for the signals of “it’s ok that you don’t know the space much, but let me hear your thought process here.” I should have just pushed through no matter what. Next time I’ll psych up myself and do just that
I don’t want to say that this is a valid answer in any way but: I would honestly be a bit hesitant if you knew nothing about the industry. Even when looking at a job offer that I will not apply to, I end up looking at the product and a few of alternatives. That would at the very least generate questions about the industry and its challenges. Over time, you accumulate knowledge of how different industries approach similar problems.
I don’t think it is a deal breaker, but it can be a symptom of lack of curiosity and love for product itself, which for me makes the interview a bit less interesting.
Not saying it is your case at all or even that this is a good approach, but we tend to do these kind of generalizations when we don’t know a person.
Good luck with the process!
@AngelaBlue, I definitely agree with what you said here. I think I know the industry fairly well as a user (e.g. I know the key players and what they are trying to solve) but maybe I should push through though I sense that he seems to want something game changing.
Looking back I forgot I can tell the interviewer “though that I am not familiar with the problem space enough yet but here are the things I would do in order to get there.” I think I panicked, haha. Well, at least I can get better next time
It’s a bad question because it’s completely unfair for the following reasons:
- You don’t know what the business goals really are. Ok, you could increase the market share but at what cost?
- You don’t know what the most painful customer problems are. You also don’t know the # and % of customers that experience these problems.
- You don’t know the current state of technology. What if the tech is the bottle neck? Then forget about the market share in the first place