There are many skills that are important for success in a product management career, but there’s one that stands head and shoulders above all the rest. Apply a little deductive reasoning to get there. The Playbook:

Let’s start with the ultimate goal of a product manager. When it’s all said and done, product managers get paid to deliver solutions that make their users quantifiably better at something that’s critical to the customers’ business success. When that happens, solution providers are rewarded with consistent growth and profitability.

In order to consistently deliver solutions that are valuable enough to make customers measurably better at their business, product managers absolutely, positively have to know WHAT their target customers are trying to accomplish, WHY those business goals are important, WHAT’s stopping them, and lastly, how success is measured.

In other words, the most fundamental skill of a product manager is comprehensive knowledge of the customers’ business beyond just the users of their products.

In addition to understanding the jobs of users, product managers also have to understand business goals of the departments where their users reside, and WHY those departmental goals are important to the customer organization as a whole.

Without this level of knowledge, the risk of delivering solutions that offer no strategic value to the customer organization goes way up.

Step back for a minute and consider the expectations heaped on most product management organizations. Marketing, sales, engineering, client services and others expect product management to be more knowledgeable on the markets and customers than all other functions collectively. Why? They’re expected to lead, and that leadership is the only way your organization can consistently deliver solutions that are both valuable to customers and drive your own growth and profitability.

It all starts by knowing your target customers as well or better than they know themselves. At the very minimum, product managers have to know their target customers as well or better than they know their products. Everything else is secondary.

If customer knowledge is king, that leads us to the question, what prior experience makes for the most successful transition into product management? The answer is simple. Any customer-facing role where you’re exposed to the innerworkings the customers’ business operations. Ideally, you have exposure to business operations such as HR, IT, finance, operations, etc., across many customer organizations so that you have a broad perspective on WHAT customers do and WHY in order to succeed in their business.

Knowledge of the customer and strong leadership go hand in hand. When product managers can clearly articulate WHAT their target customers are trying to accomplish, WHY those business goals are important, and WHAT’s stopping them, they’re in the strongest possible position to lead because all things product start and end with making customers better at their business. The business side of product management means figuring out how to make customers successful in ways that drive your own growth and profitability.

Start Your Product Management Career Today

If you’re looking to make a career move into product management or product marketing, enroll in Product Management University On-Demand, an online training and certification program for B2B product management, product marketing and sales enablement that’s centered on customer success. Learn the industry’s simplest best practices for delivering, marketing and selling solutions that make customers measurably better at their business so you can accelerate your own growth. Successful products are the results.