I remember the first time I had a “head of product” in SaaS. I’d known him for many years, and knew he was great … but didn’t really know what help he could give us. I just knew we needed help around $2m-$3m so I asked him to help. I told him just to help us however he thought best.
He went away and first did something I didn’t totally get. The first thing he did was meet in person or on a web conference with our Top 20 customers. I thought it was sort of training for him. I thought I knew what they all thought (our top 20 customers) anyway. I didn’t think this would really help us all this much. But I was wrong.
Later I realized it’s what all the great product leaders, and customer success leaders, do as Job #1 when they join. They go talk to the customers. Because you can’t really learn what they think, what they need, and where they want the product to go by just talking to your teammates. The best VPs of Product and Success always go talk to your customers as Job #1.
Now I’ve seen SaaS CEOs hire 20+ product and CS “leaders”. The hires are often a stretch hire, which is OK. A stretch hire is the way to go 90% of the time. And I watch for one thing. In their first 2 weeks, how many customer Zooms and meetings do they do? And within 30 days, do they come up with a strategy based on those customer conversations on how to do better? The best ones always do. And the weak VPs of Product and CS come up with a strategy based on … internal conversations.
When I see this, meeting with 20+ customers in their first few weeks, I know that stretch VP of Product or Success has a shot. They got it right at the start.
And when I see a stretch VP of Product or CS instead start with Gantt charts. Or debating features or pixels with the engineers. Or implementing new tools. Well, that’s all great. But that’s not the job. The job of a VP of Product is to make sure as the product gets more complicated, the customer needs more varied, that you keep up and then keep ahead. More or less with VP of CS, too.
And you can’t do that if you don’t know the customers cold.
If you’ve hired a product or CS lead recently and they haven’t done this in their first 2 weeks, you may still have a job for them. But they aren’t your VP. And you need that VP after just a few million in ARR, a true leader. Not a placeholder.
Go find her.