- JJ Rorie
Educating Others on Your Products
Episode 008: Andrea Saez
discusses how to effectively educate others on your products.
Customers need to understand the product and the value a product brings them. Internal teammates need to understand the product so they can support, market, or sell it. Conveying information and knowledge is a valuable skills for folks in product management.
JJ: Hello and welcome to the Product Voices Podcast. Today's topic is product education. We're going to take a look at this from a couple of angles, first educating customers on the product itself and then also educating stakeholders on the product and also the product management function. We're going to have an interesting conversation on this.
So a little background on that. Obviously, customers need to understand the product right and the value it brings to them. And a large part of a product success is driven by the customer's understanding of what that product can do for them, what it brings to them, how it solves their problems. An organization must be really adept at speaking the customer's language and imparting that understanding in a way that resonates with them.
But on that second angle that we're going to take in this conversation, I've always seen that, at least in some cases, part of a product manager's role is to not only educate internal stakeholders and teammates on the product and the why behind the product, but also sometimes the product management function itself. Some organizations are very adept at product management. They are best in class. And so this is not quite as important. But a lot of organizations still have somewhat of a misunderstanding of what product management is and what it should be. And so I've found that product managers tend to take on this almost unwritten responsibility of making sure that folks around them, the teammates that are important to the product grasp what product management is, what it isn't, and how we all should work together.
So that's kind of the gist of the conversation today. I'm so excited to have my guest.
Andrea Saez is a senior product marketing manager at Product School, and she's also a very visible and important voice in the product management community. So I'm pumped to have this conversation. Andrea, thank you so much for joining me today.
ANDREA: Thank you so much for having me here.
JJ: Okay. So let's just get the conversation started. Like, just generally, why is product education so important to a product success.
ANDREA: I mean, like you said, there's so many different angles to it. Right. And I kind of want to tackle that in the different faces or in the different angles. So obviously, when you're talking about product education or your customers, it's not just go write some support documents and you're done right. People learn in different ways and take in information in different ways. So for me, product education, when it comes to customers is important for retention. And also just making sure that you're continuously onboarding your customers. You can't just go under this premise that, oh, well, they paid, so it's done right. Education and onboarding doesn't stop once they pay you.
JJ: That's a good point. I like that.
ANDREA: Yeah, absolutely. And support led growth. I don't like buzzy terminology, but support led growth is such an underrepresented part of your organization because if your support team, where your customer success team is able to educate your customers. I mean, that right there is your source to revenue. As they say, it's easier to actually get revenue from your existing customers than it is to try and find new customers. So tap into your existing customers and educate them. And like I said, don't just go under this promise that you write once a support document and you're done absolutely how it works. The more interactive you can make that, the better.
JJ: Sure. It's interesting you mentioned a couple of roles and groups there. So whose role is it typically or maybe best practice? Again, one of those wonderful buzzwords we love. Whose role is it to educate customers on the product?
ANDREA: So responsibility is an interesting question. It's just an interesting word. I think responsibility. The reason I find it really interesting is because the truth is, I don't think it's one team's responsibility. It's a cascading thing. Right. So product has to educate, support and then support or success can then educate your customers. But the responsibility I hate to say this starts with product, because if you're not educating your team, how are they truly going to educate externally?
But education at the same time is not just support, educate through marketing, educate through sales, educate through any touch point, really, that you have that's external towards our customers. And like I said, I'm a true believer that the more different types of content you can have to educate, the better it is.
Because like I said, people don't learn in one very specific way. And somebody actually asked me this question this morning and they're like, oh, are you a visual learner? Do you like listening to things? And I'm like, I absolutely hate listening to things. I find it so distracting, like audiobooks. I cannot focus on audiobooks. I find it very difficult, but. I can read. Right. I love reading. I can read. I can read for hours. Whereas there are people that cannot focus while they're reading, but they focus better with audio books.
So when you take that into consideration, having all these different types of media can really help your customers get on board. But don't just do it through one channel. Do it through every channel.
JJ: Yeah, that's great advice. So piggybacking on that idea. A couple of ideas. One the fact that there are many people involved in educating, and I love that you responded that way because I agree it's not one group's responsibility. I mean, for true successful product groups and product organizations, it's kind of everyone takes accountability for that education. And again, there's some formal structure and roles and that sort of thing. But still, everybody loves to educate behind that. In my experience, the most successful companies do that.
But so let's dig in a little bit there on because there are all these people in various roles and they have their various expertise doing some level of educating. We work with quite often very complex products or very complex issues. Right. And so sometimes it's difficult to explain a complex product through those various medium and to various audiences.
So what advice would you give to someone who's trying to explain and educate on, you know, the complex products and the complex problems that we're trying to solve out there.
ANDREA: So there's two angles I might take on that one. The first is don't introduce everything at the same time. So if you have a complex product, maybe start by showing off the parts of, of your products that are the power features, so to speak. So why are people there and then start layering on the learning as they go? Because it's like handing someone a user manual that's 600 pages. Nobody's going to read through that.
So you have to approach learning in the same way as doing it in stages based on the particular customer journey. Because, as we know, everyone has a different journey. And if you have a product that's that complex, some people may be coming for a different part of your product.
For example, in product management tools, some people might come for the route maps, and then eventually they discover the feedback, whereas some people might come for the feedback, and then eventually they discover the roadmaps. But if you can layer on that learning, that might take away some of that pressure.
The second part, I would argue, is if it's that complicated, do you have feature Bloat? And should those things be there in the first place? Because if it's complicated to explain to your team. Why would your customers be able to understand it?
JJ: Great point. Yeah. Both of those pieces of advice are important. So take it slow, piece it out. But also, if it's really that complex, that may be indicative of the fact that you need to simplify some things. That's a really good point.
Let's turn a little bit to educating those internal stakeholders and teammates, and we'll start with the product itself. So again, product manager or product marketing manager are attempting to educate all of the stakeholders. And that means sales, that means customer success. That means whomever needs to be kind of front line with those customers.
How do you go about that? What's kind of the best process or the best method for making sure that internal teammates grasp the important points of a product as well?
ANDREA: So I'm a fan of transparency. And one thing that I've always done is when you start a new sprint, have a sprint kick off and talk about the things that you are going to try to accomplish. And then when that sprint is over, have a review and then talk about the things that you did actually manage to do. And during that talk, allow the developers that built that one thing or that one feature or that one solution to show it off themselves and answer as many questions as they can possibly answer. And then a week later I will then also do another review. A little bit more in depth than just a five minute chat. Right.
Because sometimes they get so much in a presentation that might be five or ten minutes and answer all the questions I possibly can and go through the customer journey and explain what the outcomes are out or what we're hoping the outcomes are, what things are there from perhaps the original idea with what we're releasing. I don't know if I want to call it minimum viable feature. Be there to support the team as they have questions.
And one thing that I always say it's really important to keep in mind is there's no such thing as a dumb question. So make sure that you're also there to support that psychological safety for your team, because it's important to keep in mind that not all of them may be as technical or as technically inclined as you might be. And as product people, we're always a little bit closer to the development team when you compared to perhaps sales or marketing. So make sure it's a safe space, answer as many questions, we review everything.
And with that in mind, I do actually have a really funny story which connects to what I was previously saying about complex products. We were about to launch this feature at a previous company and we showed it off at the Sprint review. And then I said, don't worry, I'll show it off next week in a crash course.
And during our crash course, I realized that I was even struggling to figure what this thing was. And I stopped it and I said, “There's something wrong.” And people just kept asking the same questions over and over again. Like, but can you explain it again?
And I was recording the whole time, and then I said, “You know what? Something is very wrong here. So I apologize. Let me take this feedback back to the product team, because something is just not connecting here. And it's not you. It's definitely not you. It's what we've built.”
So I went back to the team, I explained everything. I showed the recording, and we realized that our heads were so into trying to fix this problem that we didn't really do it right. And we over complicated things. So we had a little session, and we kind of stripped it back, and we asked the magic question, what problem are we trying to solve? What was it really?
And what it turned out to be is the only thing we did was just change terminology a little bit because we were trying to over complicate the naming and content is such a big part of a feature. Words matter, words are really important. And all we did was just tweak a few things, move around a few boxes, and all of a sudden it all clicked, and people just lit up, and we're like, okay, clearly we needed to do this now and stop things and make sure that we understood where the problems were before releasing it.
Because like I said before, if your team is having trouble understanding things, it's not going to be any easier for your customers.
JJ: Yeah, I love that story. And we talk a lot about observation and making sure that product folks and product teams, not just product managers, but product teams, get out there as much as possible and observe customers and observe them using the product and really see with our own eyes in the customers environment what's going on and what they're struggling with and what clicks for them.
You can use this, the education of teammates. You can use that same idea to see how they're struggling. And that story really illuminates that and says is, look, I mean, you really took real time feedback and said, it's not just a complex issue, it's that we've made it too complex.
And I love that. That's a really great example of how we can constantly learn, as product managers, as product marketing manager, et cetera, about how we built our product, because we always think we're building it perfectly and then put it in some stakeholders hands. And we realized there were some issues there.
ANDREA: Yeah. And I always like to take test team first customer later, because just make sure is it too complicated? And if it is, then don't even present to the customer, take it back because your team are very close customers. They think like them, they talk to them, they know their expectations, they know what they're trying to do. So if you're not sure about what you're doing and you kind of just want to run like a dry test test with your team, that's what they're there for.
JJ: Yeah, that's great advice. So you mentioned earlier about having different methods of presenting content, which I love. That because people learn differently and resonate with different mediums, et cetera. Do you do the same thing with internal teammates and stakeholders? You mentioned obviously having kind of the drive runs and the demos and the kind of in person or virtual, whatever that is. But do you do other things? Do you do videos? Do you do other types of content for teaching and educating internal stakeholders?
ANDREA: Yeah, absolutely. Everything from little videos to also just recording these meetings so that people can watch them back. Q and A written formats. So I like to write something called a product feature FAQ, and it basically just has a collection of videos and Gifs and images and also writing. And it breaks sometimes even presentations like PowerPoint slides that explain everything the internal team needs to know as to what problem the feature solves or the product solves, why we chose to approach this particular problem, how it works, what it does, most importantly, what it does not to curb expectations and make sure that they're not talking about something that's not entirely true and then improvements that we're considering in the short term so that if somebody asks, hey, are you going to develop an integration with Platform X? They're prepared to say, not in this first launch, but it may be coming in the next few months or in the next quarter and whatever. I don't like promising dates, but at least having some sort of expectation for the customer and that they're prepared to answer those questions.
JJ: Yeah, that's good. What's within the product ecosystem, which includes all of the people, not just kind of the core product team, if you will, but all the people that are involved in the product's ultimate success, which stakeholders and which of those internal teammates tend to be? I won't say. Most important, maybe the question is who do you work with the most? Like who are the ones who you want to make sure you educate? And if you prioritize that ecosystem, like, here's the first tranche of folks that need to know what's going on, and then we'll get to the second and third. How do you do that? As kind of making sure that everyone knows what they need to know from their perspective.
ANDREA: Interesting question. I would argue that everyone is important. And when I held this product crash courses, I would encourage HR to even be there. I like it because if they are going to hire people, so they need to know what the product is. Yeah, right. And what the expectation also is for future team members when they come along. I'm sure you will resonate with what I'm about to say, but how many ugly job postings have you seen for product managers that have nothing to do with product management? Yeah, that's so true. Right.
So if the HR team is able to join these product presentations, whether we're talking about processes or whether we're talking about new features, whatever it might be, they get to know what the team does and how the team works a lot better. So I find everyone to be equally important.
With that said, it's key to obviously have the business facing people. So marketing, sales, customer success, I would say those are mandatory attendances for sure, but also development.
And the reason I say development is because I remember having a conversation with this engineer I worked with ages ago, and I asked him a question about something and he goes, I don't know. And I'm like, how can you not know? And he goes, Well, I built it, but I don't use it. I don't know what the path is to get to the final outcome.
And I'm like, oh my God, that's very true. You just write the code, but you don't actually know what the experience looks like. So if you can get your developers in there. I'm a fan of making sure that everybody has access to understand what the customer journey looks like, what those outcomes are, because nobody likes to feel like they're just in a corner and they're just coding things. Right. Or they have no understanding of that human aspect to what they're building.
So if you can expose the team to feedback and get all those different teams together, I think you're just going to have a more successful organization. And the term product syncing is thrown around a lot. But product syncing and customer focus is not just for products, it's for everybody. Definitely. And that brings me to the second thread of the second angle of this conversation. So internal stakeholders.
JJ: So still kind of sticking with that, but not just educating on the product itself, but educating on product management. And you've talked about that in that last bit of the conversation. Now, you've had an interesting background because you've worked for some really interesting companies that build products and services for product management teams, which I think is awesome. And so those organizations theoretically understand product management quite well.
But lots of other organizations don't really grasp what product management is or should be or could be, even especially as you get further away from that product team or that core product team, human resources, finance, et cetera.
Tell me a little bit about your experience in trying to help people understand not just the product and features and functionality and the why behind the product, but the why behind product management and product marketing. How do you help others understand the importance of that function within an organization?
ANDREA: So fun fact. Did you know that product management has the highest turn rate of any job role in a company?
JJ: Wow. I did not know that.
ANDREA: It’s actually highest because it's such a misunderstood role and there's very little support internally to want to or be able to understand it. And there's all these different specializations. That's a very tricky word I've just learned as someone whose English is not their first language that have cropped up.
So you have like, growth, PMs and data PMs and whatever PMs. And I love that we're moving towards a place where we're a little bit perhaps less generalist, but at the core of it all, we're still generalist. And that's what makes things so tough is we know a little bit of everything, but we don't really specialize in anything even within those specializations. Right. Because that's the nature of products.
And that's where all these conflicts tend to arise, in organizations where people are like, when this is going to be done, I need a timeline for this or people working in Silos. And, you know, we all know, I think the pains of having of those organizations and just not being aligned whatsoever.
And you can prevent some of that by just being transparent and teaching or educating the rest of your team as to how things work and not putting product on the side. And this sounds like very dull. Of course, that's true.
But I worked at a company. I was there for seven weeks Disclaimer. And the seven weeks I was there, I did not see a roadmap once. And I was part of the product team. And I was like, this is not going to work out. I'm product. How have I not seen this?
JJ: Hence the seven weeks tenure.
ANDREA: Exactly. Absolutely.
And I'm like, it's the only two people that knew what the rope might look like or the CEO. And the head of products. Nobody else had any idea whatsoever what was happening in this organization. And I'm like, how is marketing working on stuff, right? What product is working on? It like this is just not happening.
So it's really, really important to have that transparency and show what's coming up. And it's not just share your roadmap and leave it at that. I've also worked in organizations where I saw the roadmap twice a year. That's also not good.
But prevent some of that friction by having those two weeks sprint kick off and reviews, by having that quarterly roadmap review, by answering questions for your team and saying, okay, who has a question about whatever? I will answer, like ask me anything type thing. And also I think what's really important is the one team that perhaps product should be the closest to is support, because a lot of feedback comes in through support.
And what tends to happen is support will be given these macro templates, somebody asks for a piece of feedback or they have a feature request or whatever it might be, and the default is great. Thank you very much. We will not be planning this goodbye or whatever, right? Or sorry, our company does not do that. We do not have that feature. That is such a dangerous thing. Because what you're telling the customer is you do not matter. Goodbye, you've shut them down.
If you can educate your support team to instead ask a little bit more product-oriented questions like, could you tell me more about that? Or what frustrates you about that? Or Why would you like this? Then it starts a conversation and it's less feature requesting and more feedback. So feature request has the implication that it's yes or no and that's it, right? How many times have you been through that yes or no goodbye? You're done. A piece of feedback opens up the product team.
This is supporting really the entire organization to have this conversation with the customer. And the benefit of that is you're not just understanding what their actual pain point is, but you're building a relationship with them. And I heard a really interesting quote yesterday, and it said something like loyalty has an expiry date, which is very true.
And all these people trying to measure loyalty, but they're not focusing on building relationships. Relationships. Sometimes you cannot actually prevent a customer from leaving. But if you've built a relationship with the person that's there, the second they move to another company, they will go back to your product because they remember that experience. It's not due to loyalty. It's because of the experience you were able to provide to them. Whether that was through the product itself, through support, through marketing, through sales, whatever it might be, if you're able to provide that experience, then they're going to come back.
So all of that to say, make sure that you're educating everybody else about what it means to be customer focused and customer centric. Like I said, it's not just for the product team, it's for everybody. Because any touch point that they have is going to be one point towards that experience that they have.
JJ: Great advice. Absolutely agree. I love this conversation. This is so this is so fun.
So final question for you. As you've built your career, obviously, again, you're a very important invisible voice in product management. So I know you've got your Medium blog on Twitter. By the way, listeners, we're going to link to those things on Product Voices.com so you'll be able to access Andrea's work.
But what other resources have you found valuable as you've been growing in your product career.
ANDREA: You know what? I like reading a lot. And a lot of the books that have helped me have nothing to do with business, which is kind of funny. So I recently finished just Katherine Ryan's book. I don't know if you know who she is, but she's a Canadian comedian. And it's called The Audacity. And it actually really helped me with some of the imposter syndrome that I've been having lately because it happens to everybody.
And I'm still under the premise that nobody reads what I write.
JJ: I do.
ANDREA: I'm like nobody reads. It doesn't matter. But one of the things that she said, which really stuck with me, is it doesn't matter. You're not doing it for other people. You're doing it for yourself and for your internal growth. And I really like that book, and it really helped me in ways that I wasn't expecting it to help me.
So I'm a fan of continuous education and just always absorbing as much information from all angles, whether that is through books by comedians or just random romance novels or novels about serial killers. There's just such a wealth of information from all angles. Don't limit yourself to just one type of learning. I think that is the big takeaway from today.
There's information everywhere, and you don't know how some random book by one of the most funniest people I've ever had the pleasure of reading from is really going to affect you. So, yeah, I would say don't limit yourself in your learning. Be open to everything. That certainly really helped me. So I hope that advice is able to help someone.
JJ: Yeah, that's great. You're right there's learning all around us in various mediums in various ways. So I'm going to have to check out that book, The Audacity. I'll put that on the web page as well, so everybody can go read and have a good laugh and learn something.
ANDREA: It's so funny and it's so touching.
JJ: I'm excited, I'm going to go get it. That's fabulous.
Andrea says, thank you so much. This has been such a wonderful conversation. Thanks for imparting your wisdom on us and sharing your stories and your experience. I've greatly enjoyed the conversation. Thank you again for joining me.
ANDREA: Thank you so much.
JJ: And thank you all for joining us on Product Voices. Hope to see you on the next episode.
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