How to Successfully Pivot Into Product

This week, Product School hosted Sanjna Verma, Product Leader at Salesforce, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Sanjna answered questions on the shifting into an outcome mindset and gave insights on how to pivot into product.

Meet Sanjna 

Sanjna is a Product Leader with over 5 years of experience in enterprise tooling, B2B, and SaaS technologies, creating products that drive impact for both the user and the business. She is currently working at Salesforce for the COVID-19 Data Platform to give users accurate real-time information through APIs and

Tableau visualizations. Prior to this, she was a Product Manager at MuleSoft and worked on three different products with teams in South America and the U.S, focused on bringing the best experience for developers. Sanjna also had another tech role for Deloitte and was a Tech Opinion Writer for The Huffington Post. 

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We keep hearing about shifting from an output to an outcome-based mindset. How do you tie every activity to a business outcome?

Consider it like this: if you built a home in a forest with no path to get there, did you really build it? That’s what I think about when I look at output versus outcome. The easiest thing you can do is think about WHO is supposed to benefit from your output and HOW they can do it. After that, you can look at things like metrics of success, moments of failure, and how to improve your output for a 2.0 release.

If you launched your product and see very slow adaption from users, what steps would you take to pivot this product into a success?

I might even think that this is an interview question in the future! Slow adoption is generally normal bc viral growth is few and far between. Marketing and SEO are really good indicators about why your growth is slow, and I would recommend looking at those stats to understand the best pivots. For example, if your product doesn’t pop up on Google, maybe no one knows it exists. Maybe you have had competitors start pointing you out as “irrelevant”. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. If they mention you, then you’re a threat. You could double down on a competitive strategy then. There are different ways you can pivot, but always pivot based on the data you are seeing. If you can’t see any data then the FIRST thing you should do is invest in getting visibility.

What makes Salesforce product management stand out among other leaders in the technology world? And what a newbie should take from it?

My TL;DR is that I love Salesforce so I could speak for days on it. The biggest differentiator for me is Salesforce’s ability to prioritize and communicate. I’m surrounded by brilliant communicators at Salesforce and I look at how they craft their narratives, their strategies, and execution styles based on the way they communicate. As a newbie, I think that a great PM strength is your ability to present and communicate. Be really clear. The STAR method has always been useful (Situation, Task, Action, Result) but be CONCISE in it.

What’s your favorite product?

I love the Fujifilm XPro 2 as a favorite day to day product. Recently Telegram has been a consumer favorite tool of mine. If I look at B2B products that are great, then I’m a major fan of Notebooks.

Are there aspects of product management advice you commonly see that you think are over-hyped?

Awesome question Maddy. There are many aspects of PM that are overhyped. First one – “you have to be technical“. This is overhyped to being “you must have a computer science degree”. I don’t agree with that rationale. I think that to be a PM in ANY sector, you need to be able to logically think and analyze that industry. For example, if you want to be a PM in healthcare, you don’t need to have a medical degree to have that job. But you should be able to understand the healthcare industry, understand the dictionary/dialogue/vernacular that they typically use. I’ll probably think about this more thought, I’ve mentioned some more overhyped things in the past.

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What is your or Salesforce’s approach to deciding which feature should be modular and which should be a global feature?

Keen observation made! Salesforce is among many different technology companies that do this.  I think a really good principle is to be “loosely coupled, tightly aligned”. Looking at your infrastructure, make sure that if a feature could have more breadth, the technology can support it. But before you go forward with it, have user feedback (both qualitative and quantitative) that can inform the success of that investment. At the end of the day, shipping features widely may not always mean that you should do this. Be able to measure the effort in terms of revenue, adoption, or growth potential.

What is the way to get your foot in the door as an APM or even an intern with no prior experience in the field?

I remember being in this place before so I definitely sympathize with it. Case studies and studying are the correct foundation but networking is important, your resume should be tight, and you need to cast a wide net. Also in interviews, you need to show that you can think critically and can pivot. I’ve learned that APMs in particular need to be able to be very detail oriented (you tend to be analyzing a lot of data with your leaders, or presenting specs with your engineering teams). Have examples of your eye to detail publicly available, like on your website or GitHub. Also share your work on Twitter! Or LinkedIn. Again, give yourself a voice on the digital world.

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Is product marketing a good place to place to pivot to product management?

I think that product marketing is an amazing place to pivot into product management. PMM (product marketing) are responsible for the rollout of your products generally, which means they are experts in the product AND the market, making sure that the product can achieve the business outcomes. I would highly recommend it. A lot of my role models have all had experience in product marketing (and ps I did too!)

How do you go about prioritizing features?

This question perfectly describes the day-to-day of a product manager, because I tend to have this every day. My model for this is a bit of a matrix. PMs should be able to measure the effort it will take to do something, and how long that effort will be valuable (including how many people get affected, how much pipeline it can generate, etc). I would like to generally always tackle things that are low effort and high value, but it doesn’t happen all the time.

What types of analytics and data knowledge/experience should a PM have? How would it come up in a job interview? 

Especially at startups, I think that you should be able to know how to query for data from multiple different systems (on-prem, cloud). I think knowing Tableau/Google Sheets + SQL are the best skills, and then be able to return things in a speedy manner.

What would you do in the first 30 days building a new product line for a company, you’re unfamiliar with their domain and premature product culture

If the product culture isn’t mature, then I would definitely say that you should spend your first thirty days building your own thesis about the domain. Talk to anyone and everyone who can help you understand why your product plays in a certain space, which directions they think you could go, and at the end of thirty days, have your own thesis. This will help you make connections internally while also ramp you up on the domain. And don’t be afraid to disagree with the status quo.

What processes do you take into account during product development?

The MSCW method is the one I almost always apply, and I’m very critical of it. What MUST we do, what SHOULD we do, what COULD we do (if we had infinite resources if we had no resources), what WON’T we do. If at the end of the day, if we don’t have any priority plan, we can’t have a scope.

How do you train to become a great product leader? What process and templates one should leverage to skill, grow, and upskill as a leader?

At a certain point you’re just going to have to try and see what fits for your style as a person, which I know may not be a quick answer. I think that there are 3 skills that should be mastered: data diligence, strategy communication on product, leadership with multiple product groups. Being able to grow on each of these verticals is super important.

Given that so much of product is about communication, what did you like about being a Huffington Post tech opinions writer?

I enjoyed learning how to write and express my thoughts clearly. I now look back at my old articles and cringe a bit (I always wrote LONG sentences), but I can clearly see how I was able to develop a point of view and learn how to change it over time. The best strength of a writer and then a PM is how they can evolve their opinion and explain why those pivots happened.

Any final words of advice?

Being a PM is not easy, its a really thankless job. But if you enjoy ambiguity, can bring people together, and ship products, I think you’d be happy. Don’t be discouraged in your job hunt btw, it takes about 5-6 months to find the right PM job for you, so trust the process! Best of luck!

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