Product manager roles come in all shapes and sizes. The responsibilities and day-to-day can vary drastically from company to company depending on factors such as seniority, industry, company size, and how the organization views the role of product.
Perhaps the biggest contributor to these differences is the type of product manager role you have. For example, you might be a core PMs working on customer-facing features in the main product experience, or a technical PM working on platform projects or AI-driven products.
Over the past several years, another type of PM role has been rising in popularity and appearing in more and more job listings: growth product manager.
Table of contents
- What is a growth product manager (GPM)?
- Why is the GPM role gaining popularity?
- How do growth product managers work with other business units?
- What skills do growth product managers need to succeed?
- What are the characteristics of a good GPM?
- What do growth product manager job descriptions entail?
- How to become a growth product manager
- The future of the growth product manager role
What is a growth product manager (GPM)?
Growth product managers (GPM) share many of the same qualities and responsibilities of other product managers, with some key differences.
Whereas core product managers typically own the entire lifecycle of a specific product or suite of products, growth product managers own a specific business metric. The exact metric(s) vary, but they usually relate to revenue and comprise some intersection of acquisition, activation, conversion, retention, and monetization.
Growth product managers face unique challenges with this constitution because they frequently find themselves working on projects that overlap with other product managers’ ownership areas. The challenges are worth it, however, for the opportunity to thrive in a high-visibility and high-impact role.
Why is the GPM role gaining popularity?
Companies used to rely primarily on sales- and marketing-led growth to scale their products and grow revenue, but shifts in customer behavior have made those less effective as standalone strategies. Both B2C and B2B customers have a higher bar of software products than they used to, and many business decision makers are gravitating toward a preference for self-serve sales.
As a result, we’re seeing organizations of all sizes rethink growth. While marketing and sales still play a critical role, the core of growth strategies are being built upon product-led growth (PLG) methodologies, where the product itself is the primary driver of acquisition, activation, conversion, and retention.
These shifts in customer behaviors and business methodologies explain the rise in popularity of the growth product manager role and make it a key to success for product-led organizations. A a designated GPM will possess the skills and characteristics needed to define and execute a PLG strategy.
How do growth PMs work with other business units?
Growth product managers work with many of the same individuals as those in traditional product management roles, though the relationship may look different in some cases.
Business functions that growth product managers typically collaborate with include:
Analytics teams partner with GPMs to build growth models, form and test hypotheses, and launch and measure A/B tests. They also collaborate to understand how the business works and imagine how it could work differently.
Engineering and design
Engineers and designers are some of the growth product manager’s closest collaborators, as with other PMs. A product growth strategy is nothing without the expertise of those who help shape and deliver solutions to customer and business problems. These individuals are also important contributors to product discovery and prioritization.
User researchers provide complementary insights to quantitative data that are critical to understanding customers’ struggles. To meaningfully grow a customer base, GPMs need to understand what causes some customers to buy and others to not.
Customer success and sales
Customer success and sales supplement user research by providing additional insight into customer pain points, including common objections to purchasing your products.
Marketing is an important partner for all product managers, particularly product marketing managers, who help PMs understand how to achieve product-market fit and build and execute on go-to-market plans.
This partnership goes deeper for GPMs, however, because they will often collaborate with marketing to explore opportunities related to channel optimization, customer onboarding, product positioning, growth loops, and monetization.
As previously mentioned, a unique challenge for growth product managers is that they often don’t own the core experience for the product(s) they’re trying to grow. This necessitates a close relationship with other product managers to understand the vision, strategy, and roadmaps they have for their products.
GPMs should also ensure other PMs are aligned on growth goals and strategies, that any growth work does not counteract the core product vision, and that any development work doesn’t conflict with work the core experience team is doing.
What skills do growth product managers need to succeed?
Growth product managers, first and foremost, need to master standard PM skills. These include working with engineers and designers, stakeholder management, communication, customer research, strategy, roadmapping, prioritization, and, of course, actually shipping products.
Growth product managers also need a specialized set of growth-related skills, including:
While the GPM may not be an expert in all of these, they should be highly adept at several and have enough knowledge of the rest to be able to lead other individuals in pushing those areas forward.
Understanding acquisition strategies helps GPMs assess where they may be missing out on new customers. This calls for close collaboration with marketing (who are the experts in channels like paid media, SEO, social, email, and affiliate) and sales (who can provide objections from prospect customers).
The GPM should leverage acquisition gaps should be leveraged to introduce product improvements across landing pages, registration flows, and other top-of-funnel experiences.
Guiding users to key behaviors that reveal their aha! moment is a big part of the GPM’s job. This requires a strong knowledge of how to identify those behaviors and how to drive users toward them through more efficient onboarding.
Fluency in conversion tactics, especially when tied to acquisition and activation, is important for driving growth. Understanding the benefits of free vs. paid experiences is a valuable skill to have when assessing the best ways to convert visitors into paying customers.
Growth is not just about getting new customers in the door; it’s also about retaining existing customers so your customer base compounds over time.
Measuring the retention of paying customers and related metrics, such as lifetime value (LTV) and DAU/MAU, and identifying opportunities to improve those metrics are important skills for GPMs.
Monetization strategies, such as pricing and packaging, can benefit conversion and retention metrics and increase the profitability of paying customers. Assessing existing monetization practices and recommending alternatives is a skill that greatly benefits GPMs.
Growth product managers live in a world of heavy experimentation, requiring them to have a deep knowledge of A/B testing. This includes forming hypotheses, setting up tests, measuring results, iterating on learnings, and recognizing how to avoid too many variables or conflicting tests that muddy the data.
While GPMs don’t need to be expert statisticians, they should have at least a basic understanding of statistical probability (e.g., p-values) and its importance in testing.
Growth models and loops
Growth models show businesses what touch points across the customer journey drive the most growth, enabling a predictable and sustainable growth framework. These models also help surface opportunities for self-sustaining growth loops, such as viral growth loops through customer referrals and retention growth loops through habit-forming features.
Growth product managers need a deep understanding of what these are, how they work, and how they can be introduced or evolved at their business.
What are the characteristics of a good GPM?
The best GPMs are curious, adaptable, collaborative, influential, and resilient. Leveraging these characteristics will facilitate your success as a growth product manager.
GPMs are always questioning, tinkering, and challenging the status quo. They ask what customers value most in the product, and how to help them find that value more quickly and frequently.
Put simply, growth product managers are curious about why things work the way they do, and what would happen if they worked differently.
Continuous learnings from A/B tests and customer research mean that new information will always flow in. Being adaptable is critical to iterating quickly and dependent on never getting too attached to a single idea or solution.
Collaborative and influential
Growth product managers must be highly collaborative to identify the best opportunities with their partners. They should couple this collaboration with strong influence because delivering results will often depend on work from other departments (e.g., channel optimizations).
Influence will also benefit the GPM when interacting with senior leadership, who have a strong investment in this work.
A statistically high number of experiments fail to deliver the hypothesized outcomes, making resilience an essential characteristic for growth product managers.
A good GPM can handle the stress associated with balancing high expectations and failed experiments. When you hit roadblocks or experiments fail, keep pushing forward with bigger and better ideas for achieving their goals.
What do growth product manager job descriptions entail?
The growth product manager job description is fairly standard. This person’s main responsibility is to drive specific metrics across acquisition, activation, conversion, retention, and monetization.
Some growth product manager job listings also mention KPIs that roll up to the primary growth metrics, such as onboarding completion rates, free-to-paid conversions, and DAU.
Common expectations and activities mentioned in GPM job descriptions include:
- Growth strategies, including channel distribution, growth models and loops, and monetization strategies
- Data-informed and analytical processes, including rapid A/B testing and productizing learnings to drive iterations
- Deep understanding of customer struggles and pain points to complement data-informed insights and hypotheses
- Typical product manager expectations, including strategy, execution, roadmapping, stakeholder collaboration, and leadership qualities
How to become a growth product manager
Individuals interested in becoming a growth product manager should focus on developing the skills and characteristics already discussed. Product management experience is typically expected because standard PM skills will be critical for success:
|Standard PM skills||Growth skills||GPM characteristics|
Resources for aspiring growth product managers
When it comes to GPM training, the Reforge Growth Series is widely considered the best, but access requires a membership application and annual fees. Udacity also offers a GPM course that may be more accessible for some.
For those preferring to learn at their own pace, there are several growth operators and thought leaders with fantastic online content, including:
The future of the growth product manager role
The GPM role will likely continue growing in popularity as more businesses shift to product-led growth. As more individuals find themselves in the role, we’ll see more thought leaders providing new insights and strategies for success.
While the orientation of the role and career trajectories of those within it could evolve, there will always be the constant that businesses need these professionals to achieve their next stage of growth.
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