Recession woes? Here's how Product Managers can help their startups.
+ 6 Tips on giving feedback to designers as a PM
Here are 6 ways #SaaS Product Managers can help their startups during fundraising winters & recessions:
1. Lean towards retention 💢
With companies pulling their spends, the demand pool is likely to shrink. Recessions usually expose the leaks in your funnel. It's easier to retain users who have witnessed your value than convince a wave of new users to adopt.
Shuffle the roadmap to focus on expanding the value to existing users. Reach out to customers to sense how they're orgs are doing.
2. Prop up churn blockers 🔳
Back in March 2020 (pandemic onset), we unsubscribed from several applications to shed spend. I remember ProductPlan reached out to offering to give us a 3-6 months no-charge spell. They knew that it meant delaying revenue but in the larger scheme of things, it meant keeping a customer "acquired".
This approach may not be feasible for other SaaS apps. But give users a way to slow their burn. Build flexible plans. Show empathy for every user's situation.
3. Experiment with bundling/unbundling 🎆
Many companies that are under-utilizing their SaaS packages tend to downgrade or churn because they're not capturing the full value of a product. This is especially true in tiered-pricing models.
Sometimes this is because your tiers bundle more features than what they need.
Consider unbundling to offer standalone offerings of modules. Ex: a marketing tool could roll out social media listening tools separately from their email marketing features. Not only does this help in retaining low-usage users, it develops a new acquisition channel too.
The converse is true as well. Some companies find your upper tiers cost-prohibitive & you might want to add more in the mix to justify the cost. Experiment.
4. Track burn & expenses 💰
As a PM, you need to sync up with management to know what the existing burn rate is. Factor that during prioritization. Consider investment of new initiatives & adapt your hiring plans to keep things in check.
ex: You may want to delay a capex-intensive product/feature launch for later if the payback period is going to stretch for long.
Similarly, review your tech subscriptions with a critical eye & reduce to essentials required in the remaining runway period.
5. Maintain shipping momentum 🚢
Don't stop shipping.
The last thing you want to do is to lose mindshare & give customers a sense of "staleness". Keep adding (and advertising) value, solve top problems for customers & resist any urges to dial up pricing.
Small increments during these sensitive times are better than long-haul mega launches.
6. Keep your teams apprised 💬
Know that your teams are worried too even if they don't say it. They all have the same question: "are we going to survive?".
Don't paint a needlessly rosy picture. Convey a realistic narrative of the state of things & what you're doing to navigate it. Clarify what you'll need from them to get through this & what's in store if the team makes it.
Recessions are tough phases and mandate product makes key strategic choices. On one hand you want to maintain your bottom line while on the other, you have to keep burn rates in check to avoid triggering more drastic cost-cutting mechanisms.
Although there may be exceptions to the rule, Product Managers are mostly better off focusing heavily on retaining existing clientele (and potentially upselling or cross-selling them). Think about how the product enables a small account to become a big one and optimizing that path.
In the end, PMs have a responsibility in such tough phases of their startups.
6 Tips on giving feedback to designers as a Product Manager
1- Lead with praise when you get a new iteration.
Design takes effort. Always acknowledge that first.
❌ Bad: "I didn't like the design. The navigation is fine but..."
✔️ Better: "Thank you, Jim. I love how you managed the navigation here. Let's see how..."
2- Pose questions rather than judgments.
Create a 2-way conversation, not a dictation channel.
❌ Bad: "Arvind, the carousel looks off to me. Please remove."
✔️Better: "Arvind, will users miss the carousel since it's so far down the page? Should we move that up or maybe think of another browse component?"
3- Use the right jargon.
Know what terms like margin, contrast, typography, hierarchy, alignment, whitespace etc. mean (provided your designers know what they mean too, of course).
It'll make you relatable & will accelerate conversations.
❌ Bad: "The sub-headings are hard to read. Can you please improve it?"
✔️Better: "Can we increase the line spacing on this headline? I think it'll help in readability, especially on mobile."
4- Be specific, when possible.
Sure, there may be times where you want to just create more versions of a design to open options.
However, if there are specific aspects you need to improve, articulate what's wrong.
❌ Bad: "This form layout isn't working with me. Can we iterate on this?"
✔️Better: "Thanks for the effort, Sara. I'm just thinking about the length of the form. Do we want to explore breaking this into sections or multiple pages?"
5- Share goals & context.
Suggest changes by linking it to the goal you're trying to achieve. That allows designers to use their creativity to come up with ideas you might not be thinking about.
❌ OK: "Harris, please make video more prominent."
✔️Better: "Thanks Harris. Btw, data shows people who watch the video more, convert better. At the moment, people might scroll past it. How can we ensure they won't miss it?"
6- Collaborate using a tool
It's so much easier to iterate on a design when working on a collaborative tool like Invision or Figma where the comments are adjacent to the visual element you're working on.
With email and Slack, you'd have to take screenshots to point out what you're talking about.
That slows down your feedback cycle. It's hard to fish out all the relevant comments in a Slack or email ocean.
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