Noa Reikhav is VP of Product at Skai (formerly Kenshoo), an omnichannel marketing platform. She has a cognitive sciences psychology background and started her career in project management before transitioning into product. Noa worked in various product roles at smaller tech companies, such as Matomy Media Group, Preen.Me, and GrowMobile, before starting at Skai seven years ago.
In our conversation, Noa discusses how she views product managers as “dot connectors,” bridging all the elements of the business together while designing solutions for future client needs. She talks about how, when collaborating, there is often a stark trade-off between deep collaboration and efficiency. Noa also shares how her team successfully fused its two disconnected product teams into a unified one.
I think we’re not alone in reorging every once in a while. We try not to, but reorgs happen in product. And I think reorgs should happen as strategy shifts and changes.
We’ve had some significant strategic changes and developments within Skai in the last few years which have led to different reorgs. One of them, for instance, was the acquisition of Signals Analytics. We were pretty unique in that it was an acquisition that we handled like a merger. We fused the value props of the two companies to the point of rebranding and changing our names to represent the marriage of them both.
That really helped propel Skai from being a marketing optimization management platform to something that is more intelligence-driven. We always were data-driven, even before it was a buzzword, but now we’re more intelligence- and insights-driven. That really shaped our strategy, and had to shape the organization and product as well.
First off, a merger or an acquisition is a specific case. Product managers should be handling pretty much everything, which is to dive really deep into the motivation and strategy behind it. Why is this acquisition happening or why is this change happening? Everything should tie back to market dynamics, client dynamics, what your clients need, and the value that you can drive for them.
From there, really internalize what that means for your product strategy, for your product, and your team. When there is that really deep understanding, it’s easier to a) come to a conclusion around why things are happening, b) accept trade-offs that are happening (because there always are), and c) make informed decisions on how the team needs to be built to support the product, support go-to-market, support market teams, and support clients.
I think of the main role of product managers as the ultimate dot connectors. We need to actively strive to do that. And once we connect those dots, we need to help everything fall into place. That goes to everything from product to value prop, go-to-market, structure, who reports to whom, and how we’re breaking out everything from teams to components.
We always were very lucky to have a very engaged, knowledgeable client base. As I said, we work with the biggest brands in the world, meaning that we work with the best marketers in the world. And because we’re such an important tool in their day-to-day life, they are always very willing to engage with us. It’s easy for us to reach out and have a lot of very intense client conversations and discovery.
We understand the job to be done, the workflow, and the mental models around it. Then, we construct the solution and translate that into everything from UX to architecture to go-to-market. Again, connecting the dots. But something that we’ve been doing is extending that process of involving clients and building everything based on user research to our strategy as well. That’s a bit more of a challenge. Because when you talk to clients, you typically hear about what’s missing for them now and what you can improve on. It’s the classic Henry Ford, “If I ask people what they want, they would say a faster horse.”
To me, strategy isn’t about what we build to solve what’s missing or what we can improve on now. Strategy should be about where the market is going. What are the market dynamics? If we could jump ahead a year from now and hear what’s missing for them, what would they say? We start with that as our goal and work back into creating a process to connect those dots looking forward.
We developed a bit of a methodology for doing exactly that. So who to initiate those conversations with — sometimes it’s our hands-on users and sometimes it should be other people in the org to discuss where the market is going.
Then, we work backward and think together about what that means in terms of needs in a year from now. Sometimes, we’re able to have that piece of the conversation with clients. Sometimes it’s more around understanding the market dynamics together. We take our understanding and derive what that means — how will workflows need to be different in a year from now? It’s very qualitatively data-driven, but only when we really understand their jobs to be done today can we extrapolate on what will be their jobs to be done in the future.
A year and a half ago, I did a strategy discovery tour. I visited a lot of our clients and had a lot of these discussions. There’s a lot that goes into designing that discussion. Who do we talk to? In some cases, it was actually hands-on keyboard clients, but in many cases, to have these long-term vision discussions, we went one, two, or even three layers above. We prepared our analysis of market trends and market dynamics and where we think things will be going based on what we’re seeing.
Then, we came to our clients and built a workshop. It was key to call it a workshop because it wasn’t like somebody broadcasting and somebody listening. It was like, “We’re in this together. We’re here to work.” We talked about those market dynamics and what they felt was happening in their company. We were taking these things and saying, “How do you think this can impact you? When you’re trying to plan a year or two years ahead, how are you going around that? Do you have blind spots? What are they?” From that discussion, we could talk about how Skai can solve that. That’s the intersection where we sit, so it’s something that we can solve.
We took that information internally and saw some really interesting opportunities for a) these additional executive users that weren’t, at the time, hands-on keyboard users of our product, and b) how it trickles down and connects to future needs of actual users. And from that strategy discovery, we saw that we could update our strategy to expand our offering. We spent most of 2023 building a new offering in the market for those executives. This made a required connection between those marketing leaders and their hands-on, keyboard marketing managers.
We built another team that ended up building that new offering called Decision Pro. Because I think we hit a product need, by the time we built it, it was super apparent what people needed it for. So, we built the right thing a little bit before the right time, and it was ready at the right time. It’s been taking off like crazy. For me, the takeaway is that the goal for strategy is to not skate where the puck is going, but based on the dynamics of the situation, where the puck will eventually go. So, it’s about being proactive in building the right thing just before the right time, or just in time for the right time.
For anything around that, it goes back to explicit choices and trade-offs. You mentioned the word collaboration, and that’s definitely really big for us — it has to be because we’re so globally distributed. And our platform is so robust that we have different product teams. I have three, but there are additional product teams in Skai also working on the same platform from different perspectives. Collaboration is key.
When you look at collaboration, it’s really important to explicitly say what you’re optimizing for because typically the trade-off can be between deep collaboration (meetings, 1:1s, and people spending time together and talking) and efficiency. That’s something that we always talk about in our product org, collaboration over efficiency. It doesn’t mean that we just talk for hours and hours — we do strive to make things efficient where we can. For example, working off of some centralized dashboards and having work processes in place so we can hand off work from Tel Aviv to Europe to the US. We finish off and they start out their day.
We do have a pretty big contingency in Tel Aviv. They work together in the office. Here and in New York and Seattle, we’re hybrid and in the office 2–3 days a week. But still, every time that we’ve managed to all be together, we see the magic. Every once in a while, we’ll do things like have working time together. When we’re working on big projects, like when we work on product strategy, we set working time together, both within teams and for the whole group.
It’s literally an hour that nobody’s presenting or preparing a presentation. It’s working time. Of course, it starts with some small talk, and then we transition into someone saying, “I’m working on this theme. I wanted to show you where I’m at.” It flows from there. In the beginning, in the inception of the current group after the reorg, we had a week together in Tel Aviv. Afterward, for a while, we blocked off 30 minutes a week where it’s just working time together. This is where we essentially tried to recreate being in an office together.
We’ve always had product managers in Tel Aviv and product managers in the US. But until two plus years ago, the work division was that the product managers in the US were called in-market product managers because our market is in the US. They were tasked with client relationships, understanding use cases and the market, making recommendations for what to build, priorities, recommendations, and outlining the product strategy. The PMs in Tel Aviv were in a bit more of an execution type of place. It was more around solving these problems or challenges tasked by the in-market team to solve.
This presented a lot of challenges between those teams because, to some extent, the PMs in the US were a bit powerless. They weren’t working with R&D or crafting those solutions and executing them. It also impacted what they knew and what they were able to say. They were essentially cut off from the solutioning piece. And the PMs in Israel tasked with execution were cut off from that decision-making process.
Thankfully, two years ago, we said, “We have to have product managers in the US market working closely with clients. But we also have to have product managers working closely with R&D and we have to build this as a continuum.” One of the first things that we did was cancel in-market and Tel Aviv PMs. Now, you’re just a product manager — regardless of where you sit and where you work in the world.
Naturally, the US product managers are a little bit more client-market-facing because they have more hours for that in the day. But we’ve been doing a lot of work over the last years to really bring that together. The Tel Aviv team leans on the product managers in the US to bring in some of that rigor and information. When you own an initiative, you do it end-to-end and you’re part of that prioritization. And the teams use each other in different ways according to where they are, but they each have end-to-end ownership. The different perspectives all roll into the same directors of product, who roll into me, so there’s not that disconnect anymore.
We work with some of the biggest brands in the world, and as you can imagine, their marketing budgets are hundreds of millions of dollars. We help them understand how to run marketing activities across everything from Google to Meta, TikTok, and Snap. The hot thing right now in advertising is retail media — across everything from Amazon, Walmart, Instacart, etc. The world is currently also expanding to display, streaming, and connected TV. At this point, almost every advertisement that you’re seeing is now digitally run.
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