If you’re in a leadership role, here’s the biggest reason you need a product manager farm team.

It comes down to whether you want your product management function to lead or be forever relegated to taking orders from customer-facing disciplines like sales and customer success.

Here’s why a farm team is critically important in today’s product management landscape.

The vast majority of people stepping into product management roles today are coming from backgrounds that are highly technical, like engineering. As a rule, they have very little if any, quality customer interactions. In other words, most have little to no domain expertise on the business of their target customers.

Just to be straight, product managers are coming into a role where their products are expected to make customers quantifiably better at their business, and yet many don’t know what their customers do, why they do it, or how they do it. It’s not a recipe for early successes in a new role.

Product managers do, however, know their products cold! But deep technical product expertise is not required to be a top-performing product manager. Intimate knowledge of the customer’s business is a must.

The Product Manager Farm Team

If your product management function is going to lead the organization’s product charter, it has to know the markets and customers better than all other disciplines, period. That’s why you have a product management function in the first place, right?

There’s living proof of that every day, right before your very eyes. Those with the strongest market and customer knowledge, or those who convince others they possess that knowledge, are calling the shots on product direction and priorities. It’s that simple.

The flow of technical people into product manager roles isn’t stopping anytime soon. If anything, it will continue to grow. Here’s the easiest way to make sure they’re stepping into the job with strong domain expertise on the customer.

Building Customer Domain Expertise Before Stepping Into the Job

Anyone and everyone that steps into a product manager role should have 1-2 years experience in one of the following roles.

1. Client Services/Customer Success

Imagine the expertise you’d gain if you spent two years onboarding customers across multiple industries and making them successful with your products. You’d have intimate knowledge of WHAT they do, WHY they do it, HOW they do it and the outcomes they expect. Is there any better foundational training for a product manager role than that?

2. Pre-Sales /Sales Engineer

The pre-sales role is most similar to a product manager. You spend every day gathering business requirements from prospective customers – WHAT they’re trying to accomplish, WHY it’s critical to their success, and WHAT’s stopping them.

The biggest difference in a pre-sales role is that you have to satisfy those business requirements with existing products and features and convince buyers it’ll deliver significantly better outcomes than the competition.

ROIs and business cases are a routine part of the pre-sales job, albeit from a different angle. Nevertheless, most everything you do in a pre-sales role is highly relevant to the product manager role.

The additional skills needed to become a top performing product manager are incremental when coming from a pre-sales role.

This is not to say that everyone in pre-sales or customer success roles would make a good product manager. It’s just a great way to acquire frontline customer experience for aspiring product managers that don’t have it.

Product management leaders, perhaps it’s time to meet with your HR representative and come up with a plan for hiring or rotating a certain percentage of people into customer-facing roles with the intent of moving them into product management.

Here’s the thing. Superior knowledge of the markets and customers still rules, and it all starts with product management. The more knowledgeable product management is on the markets and customers, the more successful engineering, marketing, sales and customer success teams will be.

As product management goes, so goes the rest of the organization.

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For those already in product manager roles but still need stronger customer domain knowledge, there’s a shortcut that will help you understand exactly what you need to know to be the expert. Contact us about a personalized workshop for your team or enroll in Product Management University On-Demand and learn at your own pace.