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What is a growth product manager, and what do they do?

Last updated

2 March 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Mikhail

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As a formal position, a growth product manager (GPM) is a relatively new role. However, its aim—improving business performance by continually improving customer success—has been the holy grail for product developers for quite some time.

Growth product managers (also known as product growth managers) optimize products and business growth in several ways, including the following:

  • Deriving greater value from customer and product data

  • Meeting customer expectations

  • Continually testing new, value-adding features

Above all, growth product managers optimize revenue growth by discovering new ways to add value to products and services based on their customers’ most pressing needs.

What is a growth product manager?

The exact scope of the GPM role varies as organizations add their own unique spin on the position. The most common purpose is to spearhead product-led growth (PLG) initiatives that solve customer problems effectively.

Growth product manager job description

Some of the most successful first-wave GPMs have several shared key traits:

  • A probing, analytical mind

  • Fast-paced approach to product management

  • Ability to adapt to new situations and data

Alongside these core competencies, many other important qualities can help growth product managers excel:

  • Fluency in the most important key performance indicators (KPIs) for product growth

  • A natural inclination toward experimentation and analysis

  • Deep knowledge of their customer base

  • Willingness to question conventional beliefs

  • Empirical approach to adopting new strategies

  • The ability to detect and remove friction along the customer journey

  • Diplomacy and the ability to garner respect among multidisciplinary teams

  • Advanced communication and networking skills

  • A passion for their company’s products and resolving customer problems

When are growth product managers needed?

Growth product managers play a central role in driving product-led growth strategies. PLG is a product design philosophy where a product’s innate value drives sales. In other words, a product’s qualities are what create most of the sales momentum.

A skilled GPM can therefore

  • Save companies enormous resources

  • Free company bandwidth for adding further value to products and services

  • Reduce obstacles for new and existing customers

The products best suited for PLG strategies are those that generate “experienced” value, where customers can achieve full satisfaction without stepping outside of a product or brand ecosystem. For example, a SaaS platform with intuitive, built-in learning resources can onboard new customers automatically and more thoroughly.

Compare this to the traditional sales strategy of manually training new customers, often through multiple sessions, costing a company enormous time and effort both initially and on an ongoing basis.

Growth product manager vs. traditional product manager

While both GPMs and traditional product managers are involved in product management, the latter follow an old-school sales-led growth strategy. Sales-led growth requires much more manual input to keep sales momentum going, often involving the following:

  • Cold calling

  • Perpetual advertising

  • Numerous customer touchpoints

  • Manual, hands-on training

  • Specialized technical resources devoted to troubleshooting and support services

All these functions require a huge amount of time and upfront capital. It also creates numerous moving parts, creating immense business complexity, often with minimal (or even negative) returns.

Product-led growth, on the other hand, seeks to drive sales and replace the above functions through a product’s own innate qualities. It places the product itself at the core of the business strategy.

A GPM’s goal is to drive sales through the following:

  • Peer-to-peer referrals

  • Superior product performance

  • Easy scalability, with useful features and product upgrades

  • A highly effective and memorable user experience (UX)

UX is technically an aspect of user-led growth (ULG), which harnesses user activity to drive sales. However, it’s closely related to PLG, and both are strong alternatives to traditional sales models.

A growth product manager takes a more insular approach, adopting business and product strategies aimed at improving product value to increase sales momentum. Doing so can dramatically reduce organizational complexity and possibly even render traditional business functions obsolete (or at least less necessary).

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What does a growth product manager do?

So, what exactly does a growth product manager do? We discussed how their duties revolve around deriving maximum product value—but value for whom?

Growth product managers judge value in terms of meeting customer needs with a product as directly as possible. A GPM primarily boosts product value by fueling three main performance indicators:

  1. New user acquisition

  2. Product activation rates

  3. Customer retention

These three indicators can create enormous sales momentum based entirely on product attributes. Product-led growth is, therefore, an example of the “flywheel” model for creating self-perpetuating sales momentum, as opposed to traditional sales funnels that require constant labor and input.

Above all, growth product managers focus on removing barriers to value between customers and the product. Here are some of the most common challenges they face:

  • Reducing friction to signing up and placing orders

  • Analyzing and improving customer engagement using automated tools

  • Personalizing and improving relevance across customer touchpoints

  • Applying customer research to new products, features, and upgrades

  • Incentivizing purchases during trial services and upgrades during paid services

  • Scaling products for companies of different sizes

Market and customer research

Product-driven growth requires deep customer insights. Despite its name, the “product” in product growth is just the means of resolving the primary concern: customer problems.

A GPM might compile or conduct their own market and customer research, or they might delegate the task to a more suitable product team member. The responsibility for PLG doesn’t necessarily lie solely within the product team.

Many growth product managers still collaborate with their company’s sales and marketing teams as they continue to hold valuable insights into what customers are seeking from given products. Marketing isn’t always obsolete in PLG; it just takes a different form.

Demonstrating faster time to value, for instance, is often important to drum up interest among busy B2B audiences. In any case, a GPM must have robust market and customer research at their disposal, whether it was compiled previously or via their own experiments and live market data.

Engage customers across the user journey

Creating a product that speaks to customers’ most urgent needs might require input from sales and support teams. Of course, automation is preferable wherever possible, but stiff, impersonal engagement could be a turnoff for certain customers. A savvy GPM should weave both automated and personal communication into the product itself.

It’s also important to make a distinction between customer and user journeys.

  • The customer journey encompasses everything—from the moment a qualified lead hears about your brand through to their final decision.

  • The user journey describes the process active users take, such as transitioning from free trials to paid subscriptions, product upgrades, and service expansions.

Analyze product usage and user behavior

Good product development depends on fine-tuning new features based on how customers use pre-existing products. User behavior can also provide insights into which aspects of product development the GPM should direct company resources to.

Using a customer feedback platform with integrated analytics can reveal the most common patterns shaping user experience and how to develop new or existing products accordingly.

Experiment and optimize customer experience

Customer experience (CX)—the overall perception and satisfaction a customer gains from interactions with your company’s products, services, and support—provides deeper insights into how users feel about your product.

If you scale down your marketing and traditional sales efforts and opt for a product-driven growth strategy instead, optimizing CX is critical for future sales.

Good CX should, therefore, meet a wide range of criteria in the context of PLG:

  • Attractive, informative, and immediately useful digital properties

  • Value-adding interactions based more on the customers’ needs than your own

  • Cohesion throughout the customer and user journey

  • Seamless multichannel interactions

Increase the customer lifetime value with upsells and cross-sells

To drive sales with the product over any other business function, you’ll need to increase customer lifetime value (CLV).

This is best accomplished by increasing product value so that existing customers continually deepen their relationship with your brand. As your customer’s needs grow, make sure your product offerings continually grow with them.

Collect customer feedback and act on it to solve user pain points

The most direct path to product improvement is learning what your customers’ most common pain points are. The “product” in PLG is much more about solving problems than a flashy interface.

Even more robust functionality doesn’t necessarily make the product great from your customer’s perspective. They depend on a product or service to fulfill their exact needs when needed, and they’ll view everything else as supplemental at best (and distracting at worst).

Reach out to your strongest customer base with a well-crafted survey and compile the results using streamlined survey analysis software. This will mean you will spend less time sifting through data and more time extracting actionable value.

Collaborate with cross-functional teams and stakeholders

A growth product manager’s sole stakeholder is the company, but the company’s prime stakeholders are its customers. Therefore, every organizational level depends on GPMs as the main connection between them and their customer base.

This places the GPM in a position of trust with virtually anyone who depends on product performance—which, in PLG, is everyone! A GPM needs exceptionally fluid communication skills and the ability to quickly change tasks without losing sight of the value hidden in every challenge.

What does a product growth team look like?

While some GPMs work alone, those with sufficient budgets usually assemble a team of dedicated specialists. At a minimum, most product growth teams include the following roles:

  • A traditional product team

  • Specialized engineers and developers

  • UX designers

  • Analysts

Their team is likely to carry multidisciplinary experience, regardless of their specific title— much like the GPM themselves.

Key business metrics to track as a growth product manager

A growth product manager must track numerous product metrics to evaluate product or service performance. Performance relates to the value customers place on the product or service, as well as revenue gains.

Because customer experience is the primary focus of virtually all the product metrics described below, long-term customer relationships become the momentum behind sales growth:

  • Product qualified leads (PQLs): the total number of customers engaged with your products (even with free or trial services)

  • Activation rate: the percentage of regular users who take a value-adding action (like a subscription) or cross a usage threshold (such as daily or weekly use)

  • Time to value: the average time users take to realize your product’s value

  • Customer adoption rate: the proportion of new users in relation to the total number of users

  • Customer retention rate: the percentage of users who continue using your product at a certain volume

  • Expansion revenue: sales beyond the initial purchase (such as product add-ons and upsells)

  • Net promoter score (NPS): the percentage of users who promote your product minus the percentage of detractors (also reveals the number of passive customers)

  • Viral coefficient (referral rate): the number of active users who help enlist new users

What about gauging revenue? The best way to track revenue depends on your specific PLG strategy but commonly includes the following:

  • Average revenue per user (ARPU)

  • Monthly recurring revenue (MRR)

  • Average contract value (ACV)

  • Customer lifetime value

Don’t forget to account for customer acquisition cost (CAC), net revenue churn (NRC) and retention (NRR), and any other negative KPIs that impact your balance sheet.

Growth product manager tools

Growth product managers depend on numerous product development and analysis tools to continually improve products and services. Here are some of them:

  • Product analytics and heat mapping tools to determine exactly how customers engage with your products

  • Roadmapping tools for fast and efficient product development sessions

  • Messaging and collaboration platforms that enable peer-to-peer and group communication

  • Presentation software, both for product teams and other company stakeholders

  • Recording and transcription tools for conducting customer interviews

  • Industry data repositories from third-party research analysts

FAQs

What skills and qualities do growth product managers need most to succeed?

The most successful growth product managers prioritize two essential skills and associated habits:

  1. Identifying which initiatives will result in the highest measurable success

  2. Active outreach to convince stakeholders which product plan will have the best outcome

GPMs who drive record profits know how to zero in on the most value-adding functions and generate stakeholder buy-in.

What’s the average salary for a growth product manager role?

The average growth product manager salary in the US is around $160,000. Of course, the exact amount depends on experience, with salaries ranging from under $100,000 to well over $200,000 per year. Salary also depends on region, cost of living, and the company’s size and budget.

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