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Erica Jenkins on uplevelling to CPO, shifting to PLG, and competitive intelligence
Product State Q&A
EC: You’ve been a CPO twice. What is key when uplevelling yourself from a VP role to CPO?
EJ: In my career, I’ve found the major difference between a VP level and the Chief Product Officer role is focus. As a VP you’re focused on a specific set of problems for a specific persona. In larger companies, there are often several VP’s who each have their own goals and roadmaps to deliver.
Once you step into the CPO seat, you have to see the entire big picture. Think of politics; it’s my job to sway multiple groups of people to build a broad solution that intersects with multiple buying centers.
A CPO can’t worry about the devil in the details — they have to stay heads up and focus on a longer-term vision while driving alignment across many stakeholder groups.
EC: What’s the story of how you helped shift an organization into a PLG motion?
EJ: During my career, there’s been some transformation about capturing customer feedback. Tools like Productboard and ProductPlan enable the voice of the customer to truly be measured. In enterprise B2B SaaS, my view on PLG is really about leaning into building software that the customer can self-onboard and adopt.
I haven’t had the opportunity to work in a freemimum platform, so onboarding and training have to be super simple or it will stress the organization and block scaling.
Once you have customers with solid metrics and a funnel of additional features or integrations, it becomes much easier to see themes in aggregate. 10 years ago it was notes, spreadsheets, and Jira backlogs that made the art of strategy really tough to manage as a product leader.
The shift has been a game changer.
EC: What role should competitive intelligence play in a B2B SaaS business and how do you structure a team to do this well?
EJ: Great product management organizations are in tune with their direct competitors. There are a few ways this can be accomplished.
Analyze why you’ve lost a deal or churned a customer. Tools like Gong.io are tremendous ways to hear directly from a customer.
Keep track of release notes on your competitor's website/blog. These are often public and I ask my team to review them monthly to capture any major changes. This enables us to frame release notes and positioning with our product marketing counterparts.
Slack or Teams channels dedicated to CI allow anyone in the company to feed articles or call snippets for the product team to capture. This is also helpful for sales enablement.
Be sure to not play ‘chase’ with your competitors but ideally understand how your product is superior or solves a different need.
Poor product organizations get caught up in a panic cycle, not innovation. Stay true to who you’re trying to serve.
“A CPO can’t worry about the devil in the details — they have to stay heads up and focus on a longer-term vision while driving alignment across many stakeholder groups.”
- Erica Jenkins
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