Partho Ghosh is VP of Product and General Manager of Self-Serve at SecurityScorecard, a global leader in cybersecurity ratings. He joined SecurityScorecard in May 2023 to bring his product-led growth expertise to what had been primarily a sales-led organization.
We sat down with Partho to learn more about how the growth PM role has evolved, the challenge of gaining companywide support for your PLG strategy, and the ever-closing gap between growth and core product management.
I started as a business analyst and moved into a product owner role as agile and scrum were becoming quite a big thing in the late 2000s. When I got my start as a PM at SaaS at a company, I worked with a lot of amazing marketers who were focused on conversion and lead generation, and that really matured my product management style.
At SecurityScorecard, I own our self-serve P&L. That includes product managers that are really more focused on growth but also working alongside marketing, which reports to me on acquisition, top-line acquisition, and product-qualified leads.
I focused a lot on growth before growth product management was really a thing. That meant caring a lot about lead gen, monetization, pricing and packaging, adoption of products — outside of just caring about innovation and how we’re driving product behavior and product usage.
When I got into leadership roles, I moved right into product-led growth and dove deeper into this intersection between growth and product management.
At Hootsuite, I had a pretty large team focused on not just product growth, but also our core product. Activation was a really core problem for the company, so making big changes in our core product was required to improve our activation rates.
Our product analytics team showcased that trying to improve trial-to-pay ratios and year-one retention rates had to do with early activation. But our early activation moments were fleeting and difficult to get to because we built so many one-off, kind of custom features that weren’t being adopted very well and were impeding the discovery of our core product areas.
We had to sunset a lot of areas of the product to improve these metrics by even 1, 2, 3 percent. That meant we had to improve our core product offering by reducing the amount of cognitive load on pages and improving the progressive disclosure of our product.
So now we’re removing pieces of the puzzle that are someone’s baby. People had focused on and felt very passionate about these areas, and we were saying, “This is actually impeding and hurting our growth, not helping.”
I was really focused on removing that barrier on the leadership and exec side and then communicating that to the entire company. Then my own team had to do a lot of legwork with other PMs to explain that stuff and show data and the reasons why, especially where you have one group that’s very strong on product data and other groups that are not as strong.
Today, where PLG is coming into so many organizations that were not previously PLG-first, the role of a growth product manager is to bring a change agent model. You have to have a very thick skin in terms of working with sales and other PMs because you’re changing the way that a lot of people have worked for many years.
On the product side, it often means explaining that just because one customer said they want this one thing and they’re going to close a deal of a certain size, is that higher priority than this other thing that hits a whole larger, wider market but maybe doesn’t bring that immediate satisfaction of closing a deal? Maybe a three-year view is much better play.
A lot of product managers aren’t comfortable with that notion. They’d rather go for the guaranteed, one-off money. But do they actually need that feature to close the deal? You bring up these really difficult questions that never had to come up before. That is a part of the growth PM role.
Another huge part of the growth PM role is getting people to mature on product data. I haven’t worked with a single product growth team yet that isn’t always evangelizing adoption metrics, product metrics, usage metrics, etc.
I was definitely brought on to help drive PLG. I would say we are very much a sales-led, sales-first organization. However, the reason that I was so compelled to join the company was because our founders are very passionate about the freemium motion and the product-led growth motion, both freemium and self-serve as a whole.
It’s not new for the company, but it hasn’t really been focused around driving revenue outside of finding really great fits that are using our free product to then go up to an enterprise deal. So now the new PLG play is to also have a really burgeoning, amazing, self-serve experience that also helps customers go up to enterprise deals.
It’s very different from some of my other experiences. At Hootsuite, we were 50-50 in terms of self-serve revenue and sales revenue.
Oh yeah, absolutely. With a 50-50 split, or close to it, prioritization becomes a nightmare. And then we also had nightmares in terms of innovation and reinventing ourselves because the company had been around — it’s a 13-year-old company. They’re very well known; most people in marketing or social of any kind, and even outside of it, when you say the name Hootsuite, they know it right away.
And so, we have this challenge of trying to reinvent ourselves while also having this 50-50 split. Which way do we go? How do we care about both sides, because both are very important to the business? Those are very, very unique challenges.
Looking back, I’m sure I made lots of good decisions and lots of bad decisions. It’s just one of the things I’ll reflect on in a year or two.
When I was a senior director of product growth at Hootsuite, before I moved more into a GM role, I focused heavily in my first year on just the self-serve side, and I didn’t worry about the sales side.
That was a mistake. I think if I had aligned myself across the board, I would have been able to see decisions much more and have much higher reflections of the challenges they were having. And I think I would’ve been able to bring even more value than I did in my first year, because in my second year, we did a little bit more product-led sales stuff and there was a lot of value to be driven through some of that work.
In larger organizations, sometimes it’s easy to split yourself, where you say, “I’m just going to focus on the self-serve side. I’m going to see these as separate customer bases.” And I’ve met many product leaders and execs that are in the same situation. I think that’s a mistake. I think caring about it as a whole is really important.
It seems simple now, but when you’re dealing with pretty large ARR numbers and you have 1,500 employees, it’s not as easy as you’d think.
I think you have to come in and find what I call your PLG army. You need advocates on every side of your business. You have to find some sales leaders who are interested in your motion and show them the value they could be getting from product-led sales.
For example, you might combine product usage data and firmographic data to show sales why they’re missing all these customers in self-serve or free and why that should be their focus. Or you might gather data to show CS why they should focus on more meaty subjects during onboarding calls to improve retention and activation.
You have to figure out who your allies are, because you’re going to have detractors. It’s a tough road if you don’t find allies; you’re going to burn yourself out, you’re going to feel alone, and, in the end, you’re going to quit.
So, really focus on making sure you have some form of a buddy system where you can just talk and shoot the shit. Because you’re trying to change things, and in the spectrum of companies, sometimes you’re trying to change the world.
One thing that’s been a trend with the introduction of growth product management and PLG is the separation of core versus growth. There’s a siloed divide between these groups, and that’s really frustrating because to have a good, solid PLG play and motion — which is a go-to-market motion in the end — you have to have one of the best products in the industry.
PLG-focused companies usually want to improve their products, and they put a lot of resources and investment into their product and development. But for some reason, the first thing that happens is the separation of growth product versus core product.
And we see that with product analytics too. It should be a baseline standard now, in my opinion. I don’t even look at product management resumes that don’t talk about analytics. I think product analytics is a core part of the product role, so it’s frustrating when people try to separate it.
My guess is that, going forward, within a CPO or product department, you’re not going to see these huge divides between growth product management and core product management. It’s just going to be the new way of product management. This means being more data-informed, focusing on adoption, and focusing on growth for the business in a healthy way.
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