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Consumer vs. Enterprise Product Management: The Complete Guide

Although product managers at consumer and enterprise companies have a title in common, the jobs themselves can vary drastically. So, how is product management in enterprise different from consumer tech?  

For one, problems at enterprise companies are largely surfaced from customer feedback, while problems at consumer companies are deduced and uncovered through a wider set of data. Enterprise PMs typically can’t move as fast as consumer PMs can because there usually aren't as many quantitative data points to inform low fidelity experimentation or iterative tweaking. In this article, we’ll cover the different kinds of product management and reasons you may want to do either.

The four key ways enterprise PM differs from consumer PM

Problem Solving

Problem discovery at enterprise companies is largely driven by either the customer or by sales/support. Customers will complain vocally, argue that certain features are “must-haves” or “deal-breakers”, and try to negotiate agreements with sales staff to push their desired features higher on the roadmap. At the same time, sales teams are incentivized to over-promise on product capabilities to land large customers.

Conversely, problem discovery at consumer companies isn’t as clear cut. Customers often aren’t as vocal in communicating their input, and it can be harder to weigh the qualitative feedback of a few customers out of millions of active users. However, problems at consumer companies are just as likely to be sourced from quantitative means as they are qualitative.  Analyzing funnel metrics, isolating key performance indicators, and experimenting often are all techniques that the consumer PM can often apply more rigorously than the enterprise PM.

Solving problems once they’ve been discovered is equally as different between the consumer and enterprise worlds. As a B2B PM, you can more easily ascertain whether or not a particular problem has actually been solved, and more easily prioritize solutions when you’ve got a clear understanding of the problem at hand.  Success as a consumer PM can be more based on luck and intuition, simply because it’s harder to gain a full understanding of the problem in the first place.

Data-informed decision making

The types and volume of data that inform decisions are vastly different in the consumer and enterprise worlds. Enterprise PMs typically weigh qualitative evidence more heavily, and depending on the business model, may weigh specific pieces of qualitative evidence as more valuable based on the customer that provided it. Because adoption and sales motions in enterprise software can take more time than adoption for a typical consumer product, quantitative evidence is often unavailable in the early days of any enterprise product.

Consumer product managers, however, usually have access to much more quantitative data than their enterprise counterparts. Because adoption in consumer software is much quicker, and more users are typically using consumer products than are using enterprise products, it’s easier for consumer PMs to experiment and obtain statistically significant results to answer their questions. Continued experimentation can be a key tool in moving fast, making decisions objectively, and iterating. Of course, this only applies to consumer products that already have sufficient adoption.

In enterprise product management, the lack of meaningful metrics often means more time spent thinking and speaking with customers. Enterprise customers are extremely change-averse, because they don’t want products they’re paying for to change sporadically and without oversight from the enterprise IT team. Aversion to change gives enterprise PMs a harder time shipping experiments, because variation in product behavior can lead to a churned high-value customer.

Stakeholder Management

Product managers, regardless of whether at a consumer company or an enterprise company, always have some aspect of stakeholder management in their day to day routines. Consumer PMs are often wrangling dependencies from other teams, engaging with marketing (if necessary) to ensure that customers know about their feature/product, and managing upwards to ensure their projects keep getting funded and sponsored at a higher level.

Enterprise product managers are usually interfacing with the same groups of people, with the addition of legal, security, compliance, and finance. Because enterprise software often stores and acts on highly confidential data, enterprise PMs must be aware of security & architecture reviews, compliance requirements, and legal mandates. These groups, although tech-informed, are not always as technically-proficient as marketers and product managers who interface with the product constantly. For this reason, enterprise PMs often have to communicate clearly and succinctly with many different and often non-technical groups in the company. Specifically, partnerships leads are a new role unique to the enterprise technology space - their entire job is to ensure customers are happy and retained, and they serve as the bridge between product and customer.

Velocity

Velocity refers to the speed at which product teams are able to ship product. At an enterprise company, technical debt, paired with a change-averse customer base and a slow, seasonal sales/adoption cycle all induce a slower pace. This can be beneficial to the product team, since it gives the team more time to anticipate bugs and improve the product, but it’s also not an ideal personality fit for every PM.
Consumer companies, by contrast, are likely to move faster. Because there are fewer stakeholders involved, more data points available, and fewer barriers to adoption, PMs and product teams at consumer companies can afford to move fast.

When enterprise product teams make errors in their development work, their customers are often much less forgiving and will churn. However, consumer product teams have a healthy buffer of high monthly active users, which can absorb temporary product setbacks that will consequently be fixed quickly. This therefore means that enterprise products with a high customer base are much “stickier” and more defensible than consumer products.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the disparity between enterprise and consumer product management stems from: the way problems are discovered and solved, the data that informs the product development process, and the types of stakeholders that are involved in that process.

Enterprise product management involves more traditional problem solving, in the sense that customers tell the company about their problems, and then PMs prioritize those problems and choose which ones to solve. However, measuring progress towards solving those problems can be challenging due to a lack of access to data.

Conversely, consumer product management is more focused on uncovering customer frustration and leveraging it to satisfy a quantifiable metric or goal. It’s tougher landing on a problem to solve in the first place, but easier to measure a solution’s success and experiment towards the goal.


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Rak Garg

Rak Garg

Atlassian APM, previously PM @ Redfin, VC @ Contrary. Studied CS at UCLA and passionate about SaaS.

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