Growth Product Managers: What They Do and Why You Need Them

Lilia Gurova

Many job titles in the SaaS world are accompanied by the word "growth". Growth marketers, growth engineers, growth managers, growth analysts, and growth hackers are among them.

It became common for product-led growth businesses to focus on developing growth teams with growth product managers at the wheel. For such kinds of companies, the product is an essential growth-lever. So, it seems logical to build a product team that will drive growth and increase revenue. Leading tech startups like Facebook, Uber, and Dropbox successfully implement their growth-oriented strategies with dedicated teams headed by growth PM.

Back in 2019, LinkedIn revealed the list of much-in-demand emerging jobs for 2020 where growth manager was in the ranks. Moreover, the business network shows more than 30,000 vacancies across the United States for the growth product manager position, as of now.

Despite the increasing demand for growth PMs, there's still no precise definition of what the growth role is and what this specialist should be responsible for.

So, growth PM. Is this the next big thing in product management? Or is this just another name for the same kind of job? And if you’re a startup founder, who and why you should hire to move your company forward?

What is growth PM?

What does growth product managers do?
Image source: giphy.com

In its broadest sense, a growth product manager is the one who identifies the company's growth opportunities and directs the team's efforts to drive them. The growth PM works on improving a specific business metric to grow revenue and profits in the long term.

In companies that just start implementing their growth strategy, the growth PM oversees the entire funnel from user acquisition to customer retention to expansion. They run short-term experiments to decrease inefficiencies throughout the funnel, thus improving the metrics.

However, it is quite interesting how successful companies explain the growth PM role.

For example, Sinduja Ramanujam, a senior PM at Microsoft, sees it as a unique role at an intersection of product development and marketing. From the marketing perspective, a growth PM thinks about the right product-market fit, how to showcase features, what's the right price for the market, and how to improve user experience to get more users through the funnel. Whereas, from the product development side, they should take into account back-end, front-end, and design capabilities to prove their hypotheses and experimentations.

Willie Tran, a growth PM at Dropbox, has a different opinion. He made his way from marketing to the growth PM position. In his talk at tech business school, he explains that the growth role is mostly centered around product development, not marketing.  Willie says a growth product manager is the one who can rethink a business model.

Still, many companies favor Sinduja's approach. The growth product managers at Facebook and Pinterest, for instance, integrate marketing and product development efforts for driving product growth.

Although each company may attach a different meaning to this term, an overall concept stays the same – a growth product manager solves business problems and increases revenue.

When and why growth PMs are needed?

In general, the need for growth PMs depends on the product and business goals that they should achieve. Here's what growth product managers can do for your business.

To define a company's growth direction

To do so, they should analyze user behavior, A/B test results, etc. In case a company doesn't have its own analytics infrastructure, growth PM undertakes integration of available SaaS analytics tools (like Google Analytics, Optimizely, or Oracle Maxymizer for A/B testing) into the company's analytics framework to build dashboards that show potential growth drivers or vulnerable metrics that require improvements.

To increase the customer base and/or expand into new markets

If a high-quality product hits the market, but it hasn’t been optimized for growth, companies start looking for growth PM. The tasks may be different. As an example, the growth PM should increase customer LTV or enlarge the customer base by a certain percentage. For SaaS businesses with a subscription model, the common goal is to motivate freemium users to upgrade to premium.

To track and improve metrics

As a rule, when a business intends to build a growth team to eliminate inefficiencies in a funnel and improve customer experience, the growth product manager is needed to monitor related metrics and enhance them, in close collaboration with their team.

But, you may wonder why core product managers cannot do that? Perhaps, broadening the area of their responsibilities may be enough? Well, there's a fine line between traditional and growth PMs. Read on to figure it out.

Growth PM vs traditional PM

What is the difference between growth product manager and traditional product manager?
Image source: giphy.com

Growth PM and traditional PM have much in common and both mostly deal with the customer- and product-related tasks. Still, they differ.

To clear up from the start, Growth PM primarily focus on business supervising growth-oriented initiatives, when the core PM's central point is a customer within the product.

If a product manager owns a product, the growth PM owns the growth metrics and commercial goals of a product.

Now, let's dive deeper to uncover the differences between these roles.

People use a product to get the opportunity to solve their problems. The word "opportunity" is important here. When a traditional product manager unlocks new opportunities, a growth PM finds the best possible ways to deliver these opportunities.

For example, product managers are responsible for the performance of a product. Their interest lies in essential product activities, like fixing up the code or small design tweaks.

In its turn, the growth PMs direct their efforts towards new user activation and satisfaction, investigating what is working and what is not that effective. Their task is to optimize a relevant metric by running experiments to identify best-possible solutions and measuring outcomes. Besides, the growth PMs domain is not limited to one product. A marketing team or other products a business has may also be included in their purview.

In addition to the said explanation, the table below showcases the core distinction between traditional PM and growth PM:

comparison of growth product manager and traditional PM
Comparative table of traditional and growth PM. Image credit: appcues.com

As you see, they both work in the product-related field but have quite different duties and focus.

Important note

Although growth product managers are responsible for business growth, it doesn't mean they don't bring a customer into their focus. Product-led companies grow by creating a great user experience, so customer satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty is a top priority for both growth and traditional PM.

Overall, growth PMs are all about experiments. They are not constrained by product boundaries. They feel free to map out solutions for business problems. Through quick testing and optimization, they can immediately impact revenue. The growth PMs are ready to win or lose. That's a part of their work. They may splash out one day, but yield big sums the next day.

Traditional PMs, in contrast, tend to be more cautious. They are focused on big releases or some distinct features. As deliverables are fairly large, constant shifts and iterations for the sake of the experiment create friction in the whole development process. They would better stay out of unpredictable situations because they are constantly focused on delivering value taking a pre-planned approach.

Growth and traditional PMs collaboration

The relations between growth and core PMs may sometimes be complicated. Oftentimes, growth PM can interfere in core PM's product development with a short optimization project. It's followed by creating a business case, which core PM should approve, so they both can schedule the work.

A short-term focus of a growth PM usually frustrates the core PM's plans. Yet, effective communication and trust-based relations can lead to great outcomes.

Even though these two types of product managers are playing different roles on the same stage, they still have worthy things to teach each other.

What Core PMs can teach Growth PMs

  • The qualitative approach works too. Data and metrics that growth PM is deeply focused on won't always show the customers' needs. There are qualitative aspects that core PM understands intuitively when building a good product.
  • Data communication methods. The core PMs indeed are interested in metrics to understand if they managed to convey core value to the user. But the vast amount of data a growth PM usually delivers to them is overwhelming. To make further decisions, core PMs need to know what essential data they should focus on and how to analyze it.

What Growth PMs can teach Core PMs

  • Experiments are for learning. Traditional PMs use to see tryouts solely as a risk. But it's a great way to obtain helpful insights and verify hypotheses.
  • Failure is okay. It's widely thought that failure is not an option for traditional PMs. A lot of possibilities can open if they could treat failure as a reasonable cost of steps taken forward.

So, now as you know the fundamental difference between traditional and growth product managers, let's see what growth PM is accountable for.

Role and responsibilities of a Growth PM

A growth PM role is to enable company growth by driving more value from the product.

  • It starts with defining the company's growth goals. Based on the data from the dashboard, PM of growth will see the gaps in a funnel or what layer should growth initiative be applied to. For instance, should the customer acquisition rate be improved or a churn declined?

Keeping track of all parts of the user journey helps growth PMs and their teams to get prominent results in improving user experience. Growing software companies have examples to prove that.

By improving the onboarding process for new users, the Pinterest growth team managed to increase the user activation rate by more than 20%. To be more specific, they changed text explanation and generic content feed users saw to visual onboarding flow and personalized content suggestions. As a result, the team delivered more value to their product achieving higher conversion rates.

The growth team at Facebook analyzed the user behavior patterns of those retained and churned. They decided to show the user a minimum of 10 friends to follow during the first two weeks after signup. Thus, people could quickly find and connect with those mates who were already using Facebook. Such a decision of the FB growth team became a key driver for customer retention.

  • The growth PM helps the company to measure and interpret progression towards the purposes set. It is realized by selecting KPIs and making reports on certain metrics so that everyone in the company can see the achievement.

Typically, growth PMs are focused on some of the pirate metrics (AARRR) to spot the problematic stages or any growth opportunities.

Pirate metrics is a popular model for business growth
Pirate metrics is a popular model for business growth. Credit: Jason Meresman presentation

Growth product managers analyze customer behavior through data from targeted interviews, feedback, and usability tests to get insights on why don’t customers return after downloading the app, why they drop out after the signup stage, and why don't they respond to special offers?

  • The answers will help to set new product priorities and therefore reshape the product growth roadmap with ideas for testing.
  • With all that done, the growth product managers take on the task of building and executing the tests. To make this happen, they need to involve marketing, development, design, and analytics teams.

Growth PM needs a team

Ideally, PMs of growth can build a dedicated growth team for quick experiments to test hypotheses and discover new growth opportunities. A survey of 350 SaaS companies shows that the percentage of businesses that already have a growth team is increasing.

what is the importance of growth product manager?

But it's often the case when in less mature businesses growth PMs don't have committed resources at all. In this situation, the growth PM should look for non-dedicated resources to help them conduct experiments in user experience design that will drive product growth.

Eleken design team has worked with many startups and SaaS companies to assist in product design experiments. Learn more about the growth-driven design we create.

What makes a good GPM?

Although roles and responsibilities can vary from company to company, the skillsets that make a growth PM a good one are uniform.

What attributes mark a successful growth specialist?

  • Scientific mindset

It's all about analyticity, skepticism, and curiosity. The person should dig deeper into the surface to find answers, to strive to test all possible what-ifs, and get measurable results. Good growth PMs must be laser-focused on numbers to prove that their initiatives lead to growth. They should treat failure as valuable insight and a part of progress.

  • Diplomacy

Effective collaboration with engineers, designers, analysts, and marketers requires good negotiation skills. A growth PM needs to be able to bridge different opinions and get buy-ins for growth experiments. They should persuasively translate their ideas so that everyone agrees to move forward together.

  • Flexibility

Lots of uncertainties throughout experiments and tests must be comfortable for growth PMs. In such a challenging environment, they should be highly innovative in their approaches to problem-solving. Growth PM would rather do something fast and good enough than slower and perfectly. For this reason, they need some kind of freedom for growth experiments instead of being tied by structure and processes.

Growth product manager career path

Because the position of a growth product manager is cross-functional, the career path can start from anywhere. Still, the person should have expertise in both product development and marketing.

For example, Pratik Shah, Airbnb product manager, made his way to a growth specialist through engineering. He says that it's quite common at Airbnb to move from analyst position to marketing and then to growth PM. Many employees there who started as consultants further became product specialists and raised to growth product managers.

There are cases when Growth PMs can come from development and marketing, as we've seen before with Sinduja Ramanujam from Microsoft and Willie Tran from Dropbox.

No matter the starting point, yet the question remains - what key competencies the potential growth product manager should have?

What to look for when hiring a growth PM?

There is no checklist for the growth PM position as the role is still evolving. So, finding the candidate with the right experience and skillset may be challenging enough. Yet, you can follow recommendations from those in the know.

Ivan Kirigin, a former growth manager at Dropbox, suggests starting with an understanding of the role the prospective growth product manager will play within your company. It will lead to the right expectations and results you can get from the specialist as one person can't do everything.

He advises looking for someone with a background in statistics, split testing, funnel building, UX, or branding. Also, the candidates' experience in working with data and dashboards demonstrates their strategic thinking skills.

Jason Meresman, a VP Product of GrowthHackers, sees the growth PM's skillset as an intersection of imagination, math, and technology. At his talk at ProductCamp LA, he explains that great PMs of growth must be highly analytical, detail-oriented, curious, creative, and not least they must be natural leaders.

What's interesting, Jason mentions the coding, marketing, copywriting, and SQL experience as nice-to-have ones. It makes sense because chances are you can find a potential growth PM in your product team.

Let's consider other ways to broaden your searching methods.

So, who else can be a good fit for hiring?

  • Early employees of fast-growing startups. Startups need fast learners and self-starters. Being an early employee, the person is likely good at multitasking. Why not consider them?
  • Entrepreneurs. Building and growing a business requires leadership skills, persistency, flexibility, and in-depth business knowledge. Moreover, the person knows that failure is not an obstacle to growth. Indeed, it's an invaluable experience. These individual traits and expertise are great indicators of a potentially successful growth specialist.

The search for a product manager of growth is not limited by business networks and vacancies on job board websites. Try visiting growth marketing events, join growth Facebook groups. By the way, incubators are also great places to find the person you need.

Important note

If you are already building a growth team and looking for someone to manage it, you should pay attention to the candidates' managing background. Ideally, they should have several years of managing experience of different teams from development to design.

But, if you are hiring a growth PM for an executive role, then consider their vast experience in business development and digital marketing.

Now, let's see what other companies are looking for to fill the growth PM position. It will definitely help you to develop your own hiring criteria.

Job descriptions and interview questions

A growth product manager job description depends on the product itself, position rank, and whether there is a formal growth team to continuously run growth experiments. Still, critical responsibilities will stay the same:

  • Define the company's growth plan. A candidate must identify the business's current state and strategies for its prospective development.
  • Lead and execute the growth plan created. Working with different teams across the company to make this happen.
  • Optimize revenue funnel. Applying tactics for customer acquisition, retention, and upsell.

Let's look at growth PM job description examples from other software companies.

growth product manager job description
GitLab growth product manager job description.

GitLab is looking for the first team member of a new growth team to encourage more people to use their product. They give an extensive description of the new role. As they say, the prior PM experience is not obligatory, but preferable. However, it would be a big plus if a candidate has founded a startup.

responsibilities of a growth product manager
TikTok Senior growth product manager job description

TikTok briefly conveys desired touchpoints and requirements. It can be that they mostly rely on interviews to see the candidates' compatibility by asking them various questions. But, what are those questions about? Here's what people share at Glassdoor.

Apart from predictable questions about background and desire to work at a certain company, those who had applied for a growth PM position at SaaS companies like Dropbox, Quip, Twilio, and Loom said that some questions were quite challenging. For instance, they were asked to:

  • Create a testing hypothesis based on a screenshot from Google Analytics.
  • Interpret the results of an experiment.
  • Present a status call meeting to a client team.
  • Explain the workflow with engineering and design teams.
  • Define the metric that is crucial for feature improvement.

Those tasks are good enough to understand the candidate's experience, mindset, and data analysis skills.

Now as you know what to look at, and what to ask a potential growth PM for your company, you may wonder what to pay.

 

What is the salary of the growth product manager?
Growth product manager salary in the US

According to Glassdoor, the average growth PM salary is as high as $109,000 per year, running up to $146,000 for senior roles. It's a common practice to offer additional perks in the form of stock options in addition to salary. It definitely motivates a specialist to work towards increasing the company's revenue as together with company growth stock options become more valuable.

Because the growth product manager role is relatively new, it may well be that annual pay will raise over time.

In the following years, it's expected that the growth product manager function will mature from its current infancy.

Though it's widely thought that the word "growth" will be peeled off from the growth PM's title, and traditional PMs will inherit their responsibilities.

The growth product management is reasonably destined to become just good product management, as it was not so long ago with growth marketing. Given the rise of product-led companies, where core PMs already change revenue by improving user experience, it makes good sense. However, the evolution of this title is still on, and the value this role brings to the company is unique. So, don't miss the opportunity to grow.

The strategy from your growth PM to scale up your business will largely depend on your goals and the product itself. Still, the product-led growth strategy has proven its effectiveness over the years. Read next: What is a product-led growth strategy? 

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