For today’s businesses, product-led growth (PLG) is increasingly gaining recognition as the most capital-efficient strategy for driving profitability in a durable and scalable way without being bound to high-touch resources. But putting a PLG strategy into practice requires a leader that can manage coordination across multiple business functions: your sales, marketing, product design, engineering, customer success, and customer support operatives all need to learn to use product data creatively, engage customers effectively, and cohere around a unified strategy for success.
That’s where the Growth Product Manager (GPM) comes in. Unlike traditional product managers, who are tasked with building new features and growing your product’s offering, the GPM must optimize the product experience and own key business metrics from conversion to expansion. They use product data to make your existing product the best it can possibly be—and thereby ensure customer outcomes that drive loyalty, reduce churn, and develop vital new upsell opportunities.
If your product is the engine of growth, your GPM is the chief engineer—standing in the boiler room, listening to the rattle and hum of equipment, and figuring out how to coax out additional gains by reducing friction and accelerating time-to-value. That means your GPM is probably the most important hire you’ll make over the next 12 months. It’s vital to find the right candidate for the position—and that starts with asking yourself a few key questions.
Who Cares Most About Your Product’s Success?
When you’re looking for a GPM, the first priority is to find someone whose pulse starts racing when they see your product gaining reach. Founders will immediately grasp what I’m talking about: there’s nothing quite like seeing your product in a customer’s hands, and you need someone who’s truly passionate about seeing your product succeed.
That doesn’t mean adding new bells and whistles. It’s easy to find product managers who get excited about adding new features, but your GPM needs to feel that way about optimizing your existing product. That requires a growth mindset, a commitment to interrogating how the product is used, and fine-tuning the customer experience to drive more value.
For these reasons, customer success leaders, product marketing professionals, and entrepreneurs tend to make great GPMs. Traditional product leaders, paradoxically, aren’t always the best pick: they typically get more excited dreaming up new innovations than they do digging into the minutiae of how customers use existing features.
Are You Hiring at a Senior Enough Level?
During these tough times, it’s tempting to hire a relatively junior person for the GPM role. If they’ve got the right skill set and they come cheap, then what’s the harm in handing the role to a bright young candidate who’s just a few years into their career?
The problem is that your GPM needs more than just talent and enthusiasm—they also need to bring a certain gravitas and authority, or they’ll simply get pushed around. They need to be confident enough to execute plans that span multiple business functions, and also to walk into meetings with the CEO or the board, explain their point of view, and push back against mistaken strategies.
A GPM needs to be a leader, not a follower, and they need to be brave enough to challenge the prevailing consensus—and savvy enough to use hard data to prove that existing assumptions or concepts are ill-founded. I’ve seen talented employees who got promoted too fast into GPM roles and wound up getting sidelined—and that’s unfair to the employee and terrible for your business.
Can the Candidate Wear Multiple Hats?
Your GPM needs to have a rare blend of hard and soft skills, plus the experimental, data-driven mindset required to use them both together to achieve success. Validating that skillset isn’t easy, which is why many of the most successful GPMs are internal hires.
Hard skills—such as the ability to understand the technical workings of your product or to use data to drive change—are hard to come by, but they can be taught and learned. Soft skills, which range from deft internal communication to the ability to empathize with the user, can be harder for technical workers to pick up part-way through their career, which is why so many companies hire product marketing, customer marketing, or customer success leaders into GPM roles.
More important than specific skills, though, is whether the candidate has a true growth mindset. The best GPMs have a deep curiosity and a kind of restless energy, and they’re committed not only to owning growth metrics—conversion, attention, and so on—but to using all the skills at their disposal to build bridges between those KPIs and the product experience. You need a GPM who refuses to settle for second-best and who will use their full array of hard and soft skills to gather data, test theories, experiment, and advocate for change.
Can the Candidate Drive Cross-Functional Communication?
Your GPM needs to understand your business inside and out. That means intimately understanding your product and your customer. But it also means understanding the workings of your particular organization. Growth is a team sport, and your GPM needs to be great at driving cross-functional communication, defusing conflict, advocating for change, and bringing everyone along for the ride.
Again, that’s why the best GPMs tend to be internal hires. Fresh perspectives are always important, but your GPM needs to understand the history and the politics of different business units. They also need the ability to quickly build relationships across your company’s different functions, so they can build trust and identify and resolve areas where friction might arise. Even the best external hires will typically struggle to achieve that.
Even when you hire internally, though, it’s important to pay attention to the skills and experiences each candidate brings based on their background and experience. A customer success or marketing specialist might be great at spearheading expansion, while your growth marketers are stronger at driving customer acquisition. Figure out your top priorities for the GPM role, and hire (or promote) accordingly.
Does the Candidate have C-suite Potential?
Reading this list of questions, it should be obvious that when you’re hiring a GPM, you’re hiring a multi-skilled leader with real strategic acumen and the potential—and the hunger—to shape your company’s future trajectory. That will play out over the whole of their career, not just their time as GPM, so it’s important to hire for future potential as well as your immediate needs.
In practice, that means your GPM should be someone you can envision moving into a senior role in your organization in the mid-to long-term. Most GPMs will report either to the CTO or CPO, or directly to the CEO, and in coming years, we’ll see the current crop of GPMs moving further up the ladder and into C-suite positions.
Remember, the person you hire as GPM today could one day become GM of a business unit or product, and eventually even rise into C-suite positions. Don’t cut corners: you’re hiring a future leader of your company. Pay close attention, and invest appropriate time and energy in finding the right person for the role.
Invest in the Future
For today’s businesses, product-led growth is the key to unlocking durable growth to reach profitability in a smart, cost-effective way. But unleashing the power of PLG requires an effective GPM to improve the product experience and maximize customer outcomes—and finding the right person for that role can be a challenge.
The key to making a stellar hire lies in fully understanding the nature and significance of the GPM role, and ensuring that you treat the search with the seriousness it deserves. It’s no exaggeration to say that your GPM’s success or failure will determine your entire company’s trajectory in the coming months and years. So dig deep, think carefully about what you’re trying to achieve—and make sure you find the right person for the job.
Mickey Alon is Founder and CTO of Gainsight PX.