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How Different Is Enterprise Product Management

Product

19 October, 2020

Deepak Paramanand, Product Lead at Hitachi, highlights the key differences between enterprise product management and the one that builds products for consumers and thus helps aspiring product managers choose the right career for them.

Problem

I have been working 14 years in enterprise product management and only two years in consumer product management. However, during that time, I had an opportunity to learn about the best of both worlds. Highlighting key differences between the two I would like to help aspiring product managers choose the right career for them.
 

Actions taken

I identified several key differences:
 

  • Enterprise users are slow to respond to any change and products that you build for them should mature slowly and shouldn’t be overly sophisticated. You will have an opportunity to directly talk with your customers, understand their needs and learn how to solve their problems. Consumers, on the other hand, are more eager to welcome a change and you should build fast-paced, trailblazing products for them. You won’t be able to meet all of your consumer customers and will have to build proxies to talk to them. Also, the value of experimentation, funnel, engagement, and retention is far more pronounced in the consumer space and you have to be ready to respond fast to any changes in the market. A person who is comfortable in the consumer space is someone who is able to adjust to a like, subscribe, share mentality.
  • In the enterprise arena, there are no friends and no enemies. Companies maintain very fluid relationships, and you will have to be open, collaborative, and never burn bridges. Similarly, building enterprise software on your own and organically growing customer base is not always possible. You need to focus on partnerships, integrations, and white-labeling because that is the most feasible way to grow customers. That requires a person who enjoys interacting with other people, building relationships, talking to customers and being open to new ideas and potential collaborations.
  • To learn about your customers’ pain points, in the enterprise space you won’t need sophisticated digital tools because you will meet your customers in person. Most likely you will revert to paper and pen while re-shuffling note pads would be the most prevalent methodology. Enterprise users don’t move as fast forward as do consumers and you will have to ensure that whatever you are building is not 180 degrees opposite from the product they are using at that moment. Rather than building a new piece of software look at what your customers are already using and integrate, imitate, and then build.
  • In the consumer space, you are measured by three metrics: adoption, engagement and retention. In the case of enterprise software, adoption itself is rarely a problem, because adoption cycles are slower but you will struggle to engage and retain customers. Consequently, you should build software that is focused on retention and engagement. The investment in the consumer space is higher, the risk is higher, but the rewards are also much higher. On the other hand, the enterprise space is slower, more secure, but the rewards are lower.
     

Lessons learned

  • For me, working in the consumer space was full of surprises. I went from a three-month release cycle to a two-week release cycle. In addition, enterprise product management could work well with the waterfall methodology, though agile is becoming increasingly popular as enterprise customers are demanding shorter release cycles.
  • Another thing that I grappled to understand was the relationship between hardware and software. In the enterprise world, the hardware is not in pace with software. Once a piece of hardware is being built, it could last four to five years and you have to come up with either the software and economic model that would encourage customers to replace them every two years so that you can build new features for them.

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