Last week, Product School hosted Dinesh Rajasekharan, Director of Product at Salesforce for an exclusive #AskMeAnything session. Dinesh shared his expertise in technology and discussed his extensive experience working at Salesforce. He also provided insight into the qualities and tools it takes to be a great Product Manager.
Meet Dinesh Rajasekharan
Dinesh leads Product Management of Salesforce Marketing Cloud platform’s identity, security, compliance, provisioning, billing, utilization, developer experience, API and SDK frameworks. He previously led various product, engineering, consulting, support, and sales architect roles at Oracle. He is obsessive about product management, customer experience, and taking data-driven decisions. Outside work Dinesh loves Mountaineering.
What’s your favorite approach for customer validation when developing a completely new B2B product?
If it’s a brand new area (green) then I recommend looking into Total Addressable Market, Competition, and Investor expectation to get started. I generally prefer an incentive-based approach, when we approach a customer with incentives (Free product, unlimited license, etc).
What is the biggest challenge you have to keep Salesforce relevant for the next 5-10 years? Where is your growth?
The biggest challenge is the convergence of B2B and B2C models in the SaaS space, the line is becoming thinner and thinner year over year. Constantly innovating, keeping our large enterprise customers happy, and at the same time scaling to masses is going to be an interesting journey.
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What are the most interesting problems Salesforce is trying to solve this year?
One of the several is 360 customer profiles across the portfolio of use cases and maintaining the security simultaneously.
Advice on becoming a great API Product Manager?
APIs have become one of the core entities of a product (with the evolution of Micro services, etc.) So a dedicated PM role for API is thinning, instead, every product owner (at least in Salesforce) is expected to have some API knowledge to take API first approach. In general, looking into Open API spec is one of the starting points, you must wear a developer hat.
What brought you into product management and how did you break into the field once you decided this is what you wanted to do?
I got into product management because I always had an inclination of thinking “customer-first” when engineering products and I love setting a vision and strategy in addition to execution. Regarding breaking out, there are different paths, I tried a path where for a period of time I tried different roles such as engineering, consulting, sales engineering before getting into the product management to find my sweet spot between the customer, technology, and strategy.
I have also seen some engineers jumping into product management and moving back after figuring out it’s not for them. I feel a great level of happiness when people in consulting and sales engineering roles moving into product management (at least in the B2B space).
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What are the key qualities you look for while trying to recruit the best in class Product Managers?
- The first law of product management: How well or deep the person can think/empathize/personify the target user/customer.
- How well the person can take a structured, methodical, and data-driven approach for making a decision and also saying No with a fool-proof justification.
- Can the person wear multiple hats?
Do you have any courses or books you recommend for anyone who is new to Product Management interested in the Tech and Fintech industries?
Nothing specific to tech comes to my mind since I saw Product Management as a general skill and technology is the nitro boost depending on where you work. For product management, in general, I love the book from Product School, a few other books I loved are, The Lean Startup and Swipe to Unlock (specifically for tech). I am sure there are many more.
Is AI/ML something we should pay special attention to as PMs? Is it an emerging opportunity?
I have started seeing AI/ML emerge, and how Machine Learning is becoming a core fabric of every product these days. So I strongly recommend paying special attention to ML and voice assistants.
What were the top 3 things you need to think about as the Head of Product Management, rather than leading a particular product?
When you are Head of Product, in my opinion, one should: think like a GM, think broad, think business, think industry, zoom-out and zoom-in view, think 1 to 3 to 5 years, think sales, think relationships, think product perception, think of the happiness of his/her people and many others who depend on the product. I understand its more than 3, so you can pick your favorite ones.
Do you have productivity tips for how PMs should make most of their time?
- Penning down your 3 goals for the month, 6 months, and a year. It sounds obvious, but it greatly helped me. Every month I write down the top 3 things on my mind which helps me to separate everything else and stay focused. Sometimes I discuss this with my manager to make sure we are on the same page.
- Practice breathing techniques and mindful meditation (if possible), it’s almost like a superpower to learn how much one can accomplish my taking tiny between breaks and focusing on the breath. There are a ton of Ted talks on this concept.
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Do you have any recommendations for outsourcing an engineering team?
Very challenging indeed. I worked with global teams, though I greatly limit the stretch of my timezone. Since product development is a marathon (though it happens in sprints), ultimately, the product is bound to fail if we continuously stretch without a middle. Some of the things that helped me in the past if it’s unavoidable:
- Relocate to the nearest time zone if possible, say there are times I move between east and west coast to optimize with some of my teams across the globe.
- In places when not possible at least choose a day in two weeks when the product and team meet for 2 hours to synchronize on the progress and agreements.
- The agile methodology (breaking down to epics and stories) and tracking stories through the tools will ease the tension and helped me to have everyone on the same page.
What is your process when coming up with a product vision with your team?
At Salesforce, we follow a similar method to OKR, it’s a hybrid approach of top-down and bottom-up. As a team (from the leadership) we all agree on the next 12 months’ vision and roadmap. Vision is primarily defined by what our customers are saying and industry trends.
To build a career in Product Management, do you think practices are enough or only experience matters?
Practices are great, also I recommend volunteering for a startup or making your startup (even if its one app in the app store), based on your bandwidth.
How do you measure, evaluate, or build success criteria, specifically for on-prem & enterprise products?
Your success criteria mostly depend on your goals, what is the hypothesis of the product. In general, for on-prem, it mostly boils down to the adoption and retention (happiness). For Cloud/SaaS, you also have greater control over tracking the engagement. Since we are in the business of business, the adoption, engagement, retention, and happiness directly or indirectly will lead to revenue.
When you first join, how long should you wait before you announce your product vision? How long is too long?
Thumb rule is 3 months, though the timeline may change based on the situation. Say if it’s a startup 3 months is a good amount of time to make or break. If it’s an established company that already has a defined course of action then 3 months is a decent time to set course correction if needed.
Is it necessary to have an engineering background to contribute effectively to a PM team or is it enough to have a highly detailed and nuanced understanding of the end-user needs?
Not necessary, though it makes the relationship with the engineering team smoother. The key trade is thinking like the customer and having a data-driven approach for decision making. The rest of the skills can be learned on the job.
How do you determine the level of rigor needed for user research before it gets converted into user stories and sent to the developers to build? Ie. is it ok to do 4 weeks of research for 2 weeks of development time?
I wish there is a math to answer this question, in general:
- Spend as much time as possible on user research, in an established company with dedicated user research teams, this should take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months depending on what you are trying to accomplish and a number of customers that need to research.
- Regarding build time, I would say go agile, identify the top 3 pain points from the user research and go after the most significant one, followed by rest (the time really depends on the feature you are trying to develop).
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