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Communication skills for Product Managers
I used to wonder how someone could benchmark a soft skill like communication and hire based on it. How can a candidate bank on communication skills after getting hired for the role?
Before joining Fyle, I searched for Product Manager roles at different companies, from startups to large enterprises, both in B2B and B2C. In all the job descriptions, I found one crucial, “Good Communication skills.”
I used to wonder how someone could benchmark a soft skill like communication and hire based on it. How can a candidate bank on communication skills after getting hired for the role? And how does it help the company and the candidate to be successful?
I had these questions in my mind while I accepted the offer at Fyle, and it has been a year now, working here with amazing people. Recently a couple of people reached out to me on LinkedIn asking me to review their resumés for Product roles, both freshers and experienced candidates. While reviewing, this question popped into my head: How do communication skills play an important role in succeeding as a Product Manager?
As a PM, you constantly interact with people, both internal and external stakeholders. While setting up the right expectations with customers (external stakeholders) is indispensable, having the entire team on the same page is quintessential too.
While working at Airtel, I used to work on a B2C product and had interactions only with internal stakeholders. Apart from the Engineers and Designers we used to work with, we used to announce every significant release update to all key stakeholders, including the Marketing team, so that it helps them amplify what we have built to make the customer experience seamless.
At Fyle, I got the opportunity to interact with the customers directly and understand their requirements to provide a hassle-free experience. We also interact with internal stakeholders to keep them informed on all changes with our product.
Since Fyle is a remote company, it’s critical for us, as PMs, to overcome communication gaps. Our people success team always help us to be connected, both with internal teams and with the customers.
Communication - Internal stakeholders
Internally, we use Slack for communication. Most of the time, we try to be async and schedule calls only if the situation demands it. One of the popular Twitter rants about being a PM is being on many calls (meetings) and not getting focus time to work. We ensure that doesn’t happen at Fyle. All the Product Managers here have dedicated focus time on their calendars.
We call a roadmap item an initiative and create slack channels for each initiative. We publicly discuss initiative-related questions on slack channels to be transparent about our approach and decisions.
Every week, we post our updates on the initiatives on a channel called “product_roadmap”, where all employees are present. This ensures the customer-facing stakeholders like Sales and the Customer Success (CS) teams are aware of each initiative’s updates, timelines, and status.
If we are ready with any feature release, we conduct a demo to Sales, Marketing, and the CS teams and take their feedback. We need their input and decide on the customer communication plan.
As soon as we are ready with a feature release, we announce the release on a public channel, “product_bulletin.” Based on the mutual agreement, we either send out emails to the customers or let the customer success team take care of updating the customer.
My manager recently mentioned that a Product Manager is like a conductor in an orchestra who collaborates and ensures that all the team works in sync. Hence, we communicate effectively with all stakeholders to ensure smooth operations.
Communication - External stakeholders
While working on an initiative, at the beginning of writing the PRD, it’s essential for us to understand the problem clearly. Hence, we take help from the CS Team and reach out to the customers who raised a request about the problem.
We usually ask for a call with the customer, but if they’re willing to share the responses via email, we send out a questionnaire by appending a Google Form to the email.
If the customers share information by mail and are willing to get on a call, we ask the questions required to understand the problem clearly.
Since the initiatives start from the PMs, we chart out a communication plan while writing the PRD. For a couple of initiatives which involve user experience changes, we reach out to the customers for feedback on the designs.
Before release, as I mentioned above, we discuss the communication plan with the CS Team. A couple of initiatives require us, as PMs, to announce the product update and give customers a window to let their concerns/queries be answered. For a couple of initiatives, we let the CS Team reach out to the customers to inform the product updates.
We follow the ritual of taking feedback on the email draft and onboarding flow from the internal team to ensure the message is clear and not filled with terms that our customers don’t understand.
The communication plan varies based on the kind of release update.
Sunsetting a feature
Based on the usage, if we decide to deprecate a feature, we need to acknowledge the concerns of users who rely on that feature. Hence, before deprecating any feature, we let the CS Team know and give the customers workarounds to the feature we’re deprecating.
Usually, customers are reluctant to see a feature deprecate, but it’s challenging to convince them by providing workarounds in place of that feature. We always try to give the solution before removing something from the product.
The best practice is to inform the customers well in advance, provide workarounds, and deprecate the feature.
If we release a feature and there’s no usage for it, all the effort goes in vain. So, for any new feature announcement, making the customers aware of the value addition is critical.
Based on the impact, we schedule email campaigns before the release timeline to make the customers excited about the update. Gayathiri from our team has a knack for it, and she aces it every time with a new feature release.
Apart from the email campaigns, having an onboarding flow and providing an update on the product always help the customer discover a new feature.
Recently, we added a new section called Spend Overview that provides the accurate spend visibility of the organization to the Finance team. We added a contextual nudge on the Analytics section to make the discovery of the Spend Overview section easy.
We ensure that both internal teams and our customers are aware of the product updates and are confident in us in providing realistic and reliable information about the problems we are solving and the timelines for releases.
And coming to the primary question with which this blog started: How do communication skills play an important role in succeeding as a Product Manager?
You may probably think while I wrote the areas where communication skills come in handy, you can understand what happens if we can’t communicate well! Communication, like many skills, can’t have an upper limit, and one can’t benchmark a candidate’s communication skills. That doesn’t mean a candidate can ignore communication skills while applying for a Product Manager.
This role demands many soft skills, and communication is one of the essential skills that a Product Manager can bank on while working on the job. In most cases, a good product manager is an effective communicator. Let us know how you rate a candidate’s communication skills during the selection process.