The SaaS product manager role is one of the fastest-growing roles in the entire software product development realm. This makes you wonder, what does a SaaS product manager do that makes their role so valuable to SaaS companies.
If you’re looking to start a career in SaaS product management, keep reading. In this article, we’ll go over what SaaS product managers do, the skills required for the job, as well as how to become a successful SaaS product manager in 2021 and beyond.
Let’s jump right in.
Table of Contents
What Does a SaaS Product Manager Do?
A SaaS product manager oversees new products from their conception to launch, along with each new iteration. In other words, they’re the point person throughout the entire product lifecycle, from the product strategy phase to the go-to-market phase.
They develop a product roadmap for the entire product team, ensure seamless product functionality, decide on backlog prioritization, and take the product vision towards completion.
Some full-time senior product managers working at a SaaS business may also be responsible for multiple cross-functional product teams.
On the other hand, some companies may have their managers oversee UX (user experience) designs and even some aspects of product marketing operations.
Responsibilities of a SaaS Product Manager
Product management has evolved into a diverse job and each company has somewhat distinct responsibilities associated with it.
However, some responsibilities are a requisite for the role.
Here are the 10 main responsibilities that every SaaS product manager will have to deliver on at some point in their careers:
1) Create a Product Strategy
The foundation of a great product is a solid strategy and the product manager is often solely responsible for it.
Mostly it’s the manager who creates a strategy outline, circulates it around the primary stakeholders, fleshes it out with their feedback, and makes it the basis of customer success.
Depending on the complexity and scope of the product, as well as the number of different positions involved, the strategy may be divided into segments or developmental stages.
It would be the manager’s job to make sure each stage is completed and each new feature is implemented as planned and within the deadline.
2) Conduct Market Research
The B2B SaaS business model depends on extensive market research to succeed. This is due to the ever-changing product-market fit metrics and customer demands.
A typical manager would either create a list of market research parameters and hand them over to dedicated research and data professionals or take care of it themselves.
Either way, looking at the market to determine the product backlog and features is a critical part of the PM role.
Additionally, some companies may also hire PMs with a data science background. In this case, the majority of that PMs time would be spent analyzing the market.
3) Generate Product Ideas
The majority of the idea generation comes either before or directly within the product strategy creation phase.
However, some companies may have PMs working on new ideas throughout the pre-development stages of the lifecycle.
In the latter case, the manager would assemble a brainstorming team consisting of major stakeholders from each of the departments involved with the product. They would then think of creative ideas based on the results of the market research.
If there already is a set of ideas, the PM would focus on improving existing ones.
4) Oversee Product Design
The product manager role is inherently focused primarily on the development side of things. However, some companies, especially startups operating in the SaaS space, also involve PMs in product design.
Here, a PM would have to brainstorm design elements during the idea generation phase, analyze customer feedback on previous iterations or competitor products, and finalize a design to be implemented.
If the manager got promoted from a design job to their current position, they may be more involved with the design side rather than development, strategy, and/or marketing.
5) Collaborate with Other Departments
Agile SaaS companies have several departments, all of which collaborate and work together to build a better product and achieve early delivery on it.
Product managers are often the center point for collaborations, with each department referring to them for guidance and coordination.
A lead product manager would have this responsibility compounded since they’re responsible for a wider range of teams that are working on a product.
The DevOps philosophy is built on this sort of collaboration. In a company that adheres to DevOps principles, the product manager may be responsible for implementing them on the product side.
6) Coordinate Between Departments
PMs often have to act as liaisons between various departments. For example, a manager could be responsible for taking instructions or strategic initiatives from the board of directors or executives and relaying them to the developers. They could also pass on some feature-related talking points to the marketing department.
Some bigger companies have dedicated product coordinators that work in this capacity. However, since most SaaS companies are on the smaller, less well-staffed side, it’s the product managers who often have to take over the coordination.
7) Cultivate Relationships with Partners
Some SaaS firms have customers that partner with them for extensive, large-scale software usage. These customers usually have hundreds or even thousands of users.
Such a large number of users often requires customized software solutions which SaaS firms often accommodate. Most of the time, this requires a deeper partnership that the manager has to establish directly.
Once the agreement has been made, a manager would then modify the product feature repertoire. Or perhaps increase the existing usage bandwidth of the product to suit the customer’s needs.
Keep in mind, this responsibility only comes into play when the company allows provisions for bigger clients.
8) Keep Major Stakeholders Informed
Every company has C-level executives or a board of directors that the managers need to answer to. The product manager’s responsibilities extend further to include timely reports and reviews.
The manager has to keep the company leadership informed at various points in the product lifecycle, such as:
- When creating the product strategy.
- When finalizing the list of features and pricing.
- Before and after testing the product.
- During the review period after its launch.
Depending on the host company, a manager’s reporting duties may vary. However, there’s always some level of reporting that managers have to adhere to.
9) Implement a Streamlined Product Launch
The initial product launch decides how the wider customer base reacts and interacts with the product. This is one of the reasons why the launch is one of the riskiest stages of the SaaS product lifecycle.
A manager works to streamline a product launch by coming up with a product launch strategy and roadmap, implementing CRM, sales, marketing, and project management tools. They also have to assign the appropriate responsibilities to each of the departments involved.
Additionally, a manager has to maintain a launch timeline that accounts for all of the aforementioned activities.
Depending on the team structure and size of the workforce the manager may delegate certain timekeeping tasks to junior managers.
10) Train New Staff
Since the manager is the de-facto field leader of the product team(s), it’s their responsibility to provide on-site training to new recruits.
Senior managers may put together training material and resources for each new hire, or even take them through the onboarding process, in the case of smaller startups.
Some of the technical staff, such as members of the engineering teams, may undergo training under the care of their superiors in their relevant team. However, the manager will still have training oversight duties.
Required Qualifications for a SaaS Product Manager
The complete range of qualifications required by a manager depends on where they’re applying for a job.
However, overall, these are the qualifications that are required for a typical SaaS product management job:
- Graduate degree in product management, software engineering, or product leadership.
- Undergraduate (or graduate) degree in product management, technology strategy, or computer science.
- Advanced diploma or vocational certification in tech product management or similar field.
- A few years of experience working in a technology company, within a relevant department.
- Internship in a product department of an established SaaS company.
The educational requirements are relatively easy to fulfill since MBA programs are quite diverse today.
Required Skills for a SaaS Product Manager
Once again, the full range of skills required for SaaS product management depends on the company that’s opening such a position up.
However, the following are some of the product management skills that every manager in the SaaS space should have:
- Full knowledge of industry trends and new advancements in tech. Since the entire purpose of a SaaS offering is to provide a service to people, it has to compete in the market with other service offerings. It is the manager’s job to make sure that the product can indeed compete, for which they’ll need to have an eye on the current industry trends.
- Excellent communication and interpersonal skills. Managers are responsible for ‘managing’ people – making sure everyone is doing their job as they’re supposed to. In some cases, they may be directly responsible for employee onboarding and retention as well. This requires a high level of interpersonal likeability.
- Experience as a junior operations or development manager at a software firm. This will help them understand the environment better, while also enabling them to lead people similar to those they’ve already worked with.
- Research and analytical skills are the basis for a successful career in SaaS product management. This is due to the requirement for thorough research into the industry before a product strategy can be formed.
Additional SaaS Product Manager Skills
While the skills listed above are crucial to becoming a SaaS product manager, it's best to have some additional passive skills to seal the deal.
- Strategic thinking skills are necessary for managers to position their products in the market in an optimal way. A good product strategy can even overcome fewer product features than the competition since most SaaS products are about what appeals to the customer first, and how good a product is positioned.
- Delegation and task management skills help product managers put the right people on the right tasks. This is something they should be able to manage without needing any outside help or intervention from senior staff. Software product development is a complex process and managers need to be able to delegate certain tasks to dedicate themselves to ones that require a higher priority.
Additionally, managers should have extensive knowledge of similar software, their features, their build frameworks, and their place within the market.
How to Be an Ideal SaaS Product Manager in 2021
Your product management career roadmap will ultimately depend on the company you apply to and their required qualification and skills.
However, there are a few steps you can take to ensure success as a SaaS product manager in 2021.
To that end, here are 4 things you can do:
- Get Certified in Product Management: Certifications such as One Week PM are the ideal first step towards succeeding as a PM. The vocational nature of certifications will help you develop all the skills that you’ll actually use on the job.
- Work Under a SaaS PM: You can either apply for an internship in a SaaS development team or work as a junior manager in a company that has vertical promotions. This is a great way to gain firsthand experience of what the position is like.
- Network on Social Media: The current LinkedIn trend of established industry leaders reaching out and spreading their practical wisdom can be great for budding PMs. Look around and connect with like-minded professionals on LinkedIn for a high-level insight.
- Work as a Junior Product Owner: A product owner is more involved with how the customers demand to see the product. Working as a product owner will help new PMs learn how the product is perceived by the market, which will, in turn, help them make it better as a whole.
Additional Things to Keep in Mind
If you haven't done so already, you also need to look into the following two points.
- Get Relevant Qualifications: A product management qualification such as an MBA will help you traverse the challenging landscape a lot easier, as compared to a degree in either software development or general management.
- Learn Project Management: Expertise in project management will probably be the biggest help in terms of cultivating a successful PM career. This is due to the directly applicable skills that you can gain by managing one iteration of the product.
In addition to these, you should learn how to implement and utilize product and project management software systems. Not only do these systems streamline task management and work order fulfillment, but they also allow for much greater collaboration across teams.
What is a product in SaaS?
A ‘Software as a Service’ is an online software-based product that a company hosts on their central server and offers to clients as either a subscription or one-time pricing. Instead of having to download or install a copy of the software, users can simply access it on their desktop or mobile device when needed.
How much do product managers get paid?
According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a SaaS product manager is $111,568 a year. That’s on the high end in terms of managerial jobs. The actual salary depends on where the individual is employed, their qualification, applicable skills, and overall experience in the field.
Is product management a technical role?
There is some technical input involved in the role of a product manager. It’s not exactly a technical role, but more of a managerial one. A product manager is responsible for overseeing the design and development, instead of actually building the product themselves. However, a technical product manager can participate in some of the developmental and design activities, as well as create the software framework on which the product will be built upon.
What degree is best for SaaS product management?
A potential SaaS product manager can effectively start working after an MBA in product management, or even an advanced certification in the same. A graduate degree in the relevant discipline is often necessary, but you should support your degree with a certification such as One Week PM. Such certifications are designed to cater to real-world job requirements and focus a lot more on the practical aspects of the job, instead of just theory.