Hiring for product? Look for listeners

Hiring for Product

What’s the last conversation you recall having? How much of it can you remember? How much of it did you spend talking? At a guess, you probably spent more time talking than listening.  

From our very first day at school, we’re taught to solve problems. To focus on finding a solution. We’re merited on our ability to contribute, and in the workplace, the loudest talkers score the biggest promotions.  

If you’re on the hunt for an effective product manager, it’s time to shut out the noise and hire a listener. They’re the ones who are going to understand the market, client, and stakeholder requirements, and the pains and anxieties of end users. Afterall, the secret to every good solution is understanding the problem first.  

We all like to think we’re good listeners. But in collaborative environments, as soon as we hear something we disagree with we capitalise on that one instance and tune out of the rest of the conversation.  

We enter critical meetings with bias and predetermined outcomes that act as blockades to true problem solving. And then we jeopardise our own projects. Listen first, then make your contribution. 

In a recent episode of Dublin Tech Talks, Glen Holmes, now Principal Product Manager at Amazon Web Services (AWS), pointed out how very few of us know what active listening is. Fewer still, are able to implement it.  

But for product managers, it’s a critical skill. Because when you break down what product management is, a large component of it is research. And if you’re doing proper product management, you won’t just be reading numbers off a screen. You’ll be pulling on multiple data sources, both quantitive and qualititive, reviewing performance metrics and engaging directly with customers.  

 Which brings us to one of the biggest buzzwords in product management today: data-led design.  

It was inevitable we’d end up here. In light of rapid digital transformation for a data-first economy, it’s no surprise that data is driving product management decision making. The concept isn’t new, it’s just gaining traction as more industries have access to large swathes of information, and analysts to tackle it.  

But data is more than just what the machines spit out. Which is why you need top tier listeners leading your product teams. Product managers should be having qualitative conversations with customers, and the market more generally. Those insights come directly from the source – they won’t be shrouded in noughts and ones.  

Redbull is a great example of a brand that speaks to the customers’ needs. People don’t drink it for the flavour; they buy it to give them a boost of energy. So while the taste tests may have pointed towards abandoning the formula, the product speaks to the pains and problems of its customers. And people continue to purchase it.  

You can only discover customers pain points by conversing with them. An effective product manager balances quantitive data with the qualitative stuff; whether that’s through surveys, workshops, traditional market research or study groups. 

Data is brilliant for telling you about outcomes – it’s why success metrics are really useful in guiding new product iterations. But focus too much on the quantitive, and you’ll miss the qualitative insights. Product managers shouldn’t be leaning entirely on data, they need to go out into the field, investigate, analyse, and listen.  

Superior product environments aren’t the ones that solely rely on the information coming from their analytics platforms. Conversations, surveys, and workshops produce data, but for some reason, we’re less likely to view those with the same prestige as a data analytics platform.  

As Glen said, real innovators disrupt their own market. They continuously try to put themselves out of business. Because if you’re not trying to disrupt your product, someone else is. You need product managers’ who always have a finger on the pulse. And sometimes that means, sitting down, shutting up, and listening to the market.