One of the key positions in an organization is the product manager. They are the ones who decide which products and features to build, based on customer feedback and industry trends, as well as determine the price to sell it at. Their goal, of course, is to build a product that solves a big issue, is a hit in the market place, all the while making a nice profit for their own company. Definitely a crucial role!
So when it comes time to build out the product organization, should you hire a person who has tons of experience in the industry with little product management experience or vice versa?
As long as there isn’t a tremendous effort to attain the domain experience, then hands down my answer would be to pick the one with product management experience. Why, do you ask? It is really darn hard to find a great product manager with the right balance of skills, and one who is awesome at all of them.
A good listener – A great product manager is curious and will listen to the customer needs. They might even come up with an idea that others, buried in the domain for a while, have not even thought of before. Being able to ask intelligent questions helps here too to ensure that the needs are clearly understood.
Technical depth – A great product manager understands the fine technical details and can easily engage in a deep dive technical discussion with the customer or the internal engineering team.
Financial ingenuity – A great product manager will be able to deduce the best way to price the product based on understanding the problem it solves for the customers, as well as understanding the competition. Pricing is not simply about how many dollars should be charged. It is about determining the pricing model and what to base it on (eg. number of users, number of transactions, etc.)
Engaging personality – A great product manager is somebody who others respect, admire and can relate to. This is required when talking to customers and explaining things in a succinct way, and is also important when working with internal teams so that they rally behind them.
It is rare to find somebody with all of these skills and further exacerbating the issue, these are not skills that are easily taught. Domain experience, on the other hand, can be learned. Chances are, your organization already has multiple industry experts that can share their knowledge and wisdom and supplement that gap. So hire the experienced product manager and get your product on the path to success.