SaaS Product Management 101 - Everything You Need to Know

Product Management
November 18, 2022
5 mins read
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SaaS product management is an end-to-end process for launching a new SaaS product or modifying an existing one to ensure optimal usability and customer satisfaction.

In this guide, you’ll learn the objectives of this process, the stages that constitute it, the product manager goals, and how to deal with the associated challenges.

Before we dive in, let’s take a closer look at what makes SaaS product management unique.

Difference between SaaS and non-SaaS product management

A SaaS product is fundamentally different from traditional software in terms of usage, delivery, and pricing. This difference also manifests in the way they are managed in the following ways.

1. Constant upgrades to remain competitive

The subscription-based pricing model puts SaaS products in a different category altogether. When users purchase licensed software or any product where they have to pay once and upfront, they are less likely to abandon it and switch to something new anytime soon.

In the case of SaaS, it is quite the opposite. 

Your SaaS products are constantly evaluated by your customers and industry leaders against your competitors and the current requirements of the team. Furthermore, switching to other solutions has become easier than ever.

To remain competitive your product management strategies must include a set of steps that ensure your SaaS product retains its position in your niche.

2. Personalization of the software solution

This can be easily observed in the pricing plans of various SaaS companies. For instance, some companies charge on the basis of the number of features used, others prefer to structure their pricing plans on the number of users.

For example, Zendesk structures its pricing on the basis of the features used.

The advantage of SaaS over traditional software solutions is that they are highly customizable. This changes the fundamental practices of the product management process. One of the important product manager goals is to think about how to create features and functionalities that can be accessed on-demand, rather than building a one-size-fits-all solution.

3. Feedback and analysis

Teams use various SaaS product management tools to get feedback from their users much faster. Not only can they gather live usage statistics from their software products, but they can also get feedback through forms and surveys.

On the contrary, non-SaaS product teams have to adhere to a traditional approach where getting live usage statistics is quite difficult.

In other words, one of the SaaS product manager basics is to constantly work on refining the products, which is highlighted in the next point.

4. Development and implementation

Developing, updating, or installing traditional software, things take much longer. This is because the operations related to these processes follow the waterfall methodology.

The software is also delivered manually to the end-users.

Things move much faster with SaaS product management as it follows an agile approach. Products and feature updates are delivered in small bite-sized chunks in small development cycles called sprints as shown in the illustration below.

Objectives of SaaS product management

Now that we have understood how SaaS product management differs from non-SaaS product management, let’s take a look at the objectives of the same.

1. Aligning various departments with the mission and vision

Although every team in your SaaS business aims to deliver value to the customer, it can be difficult at times to maintain alignment with respect to the organizational mission and product vision.

Consider this instance. The customer success team (which is client-facing) is focused on how the customer has a seamless end-to-end experience. As the members of this team are constantly in touch with the customers, they are accurately aware of the users’ pain points.

Here, efficiently executed strategic product management strategies can help you achieve product-market fit faster by putting the needs of the customer above everything.

2. Data-backed decisions over “educated guesses”

You can guess things correctly when you have a lot of experience with something and you are dealing with a few variables. However, while dealing with the vast array of variables, guessing the next move is not one of the ideal product management strategies.

The key performance indicators (KPIs) reported by product management tools are central in the decision-making process of cross-functional teams through various product management stages. 

Every decision, from incorporating a new feature to changing the size of the logo on the top-left corner, is backed by data.

This allows product teams to make the most out of their resources in terms of money, labor, and time by minimizing mistakes while improving their product to provide more value to their customers.

3. Delivering value to customers by understanding them

The fundamental function of product management is to deliver more value to the customers.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not creating a product that solves all of their problems or a product that they enjoy, although they are positive side-effects and are observed after the fundamental principle is obeyed.

Delivering value to the end-user is dependent on how well the product teams understand them. As the entire process proceeds based on feedback from customers and analysis of tangible market data, the expectations and pain points of the end-users become clearer with time.

The different SaaS product management phases aim to understand and relate to the pain points of customers and help deliver a solution that addresses them.

There are seven SaaS product management stages that teams follow to achieve the three objectives described above. Let’s go through each of them.

7 stages of SaaS product management

The ideal SaaS product management process for you depends on a variety of factors such as organizational goals, requirements of the target audience, etc. You can use this outline as a starting point and build upon it as you go along.

1. Recognizing customer needs and ideation

This is the phase where ‘desirability’ is established.

Desirability answers the question: How likely is the solution to be adopted by the target audience?

It is answered by following the four steps:

  1. Ensure the validity of the problem: Surveying the market and asking in-depth questions to the target audience will help you understand what causes the problem and how it affects your potential or present customers.

You can use tools such as Jotform and Typeform to gather that information.

  1. Observing user actions: You can integrate tools such as Mixpanel and Pendo into your product which lets you know things like average duration of usage, frequently accessed features, etc.
  1. Competitor analysis: There are four kinds of competitors you have to consider:
  1. Direct competitors.
  2. SaaS that was created for something different but can be used to solve the problem you solve.
  3. Set of products (a system) that can be used as a SaaS solution.
  4. Personalized solutions that were created by potential users on their own.

After you have a list of your competitors’ solutions, learn what their customers (i.e. your target audience) think about them. This will give you a deeper insight into their expectations.

  1. Putting your ear to the market: Tools such as BrandMentions and Keyhole are quite handy in tracking what your target audience talks about in niche communities and social media.

You will end up with the following data which will help you come up with product or feature ideas:

  1. Origin of the problem and its impact.
  2. How your users use and perceive your SaaS product.
  3. Solutions of competitors and what your audience thinks about them.
  4. Relevant discussions on social media and online communities.

Keep in mind that ideas are generated on an ongoing basis. The desired product manager's strategy is to aggregate and get the team’s feedback on them.

How Zeda.io helps: You can collate survey responses from every source such as Typeform and Google Forms in one place to examine them with your team.

Furthermore, you can set conditions that will auto-classify these responses, saving you and your team valuable time.

2. Determining specifications

In this SaaS product management phase, you determine the features and functionalities of your product that are to be developed.

Teams with product management experience often build a narrative in which they take a user persona, define the impacts of their pain points, and describe their feeling when that problem is solved through the said product. 

This process helps you test and verify two things:

  1. Feasibility: Is it possible to build software with the technology available?
  2. Viability: Will it work successfully?

While building the story where your target audience gets their problem solved through your product, you will discover lots of roadblocks. This is a great opportunity for you to not only test your existing ideas but also to tweak them or come up with new ones.

This stage helps with the SaaS product manager’s planning by answering the three following questions:

  1. What will this product or feature(s) do exactly?
  2. Why are we solving this problem?
  3. How will we measure its success?

You need to answer these questions collaboratively with team members who have product management experience and take appropriate inputs from all stakeholders — including end-users — to consider all angles. 

As you remove more and more variables, the challenges and risks will become more and more clear.

This stage is crucial for exactly that reason. 

You can determine or estimate how many things need to go right for the solution to have the desired effect in terms of user satisfaction. If the idea in consideration has too many red flags, you can immediately cut your losses and start again from the drawing board.

The level of specificity to which the above three questions need to be answered depends on the person asking. For instance, senior executives are usually okay with short answers while developers might need more details.

How Zeda.io helps: You can test the feasibility and viability of your ideas in two ways with Zeda.io. First, you can create wireframes to help your team and external stakeholders understand your proposed solution.

Second, you can do this by building user flows where you can quickly tell your story.

These user flows are also quite handy in comparing your proposed solution to the already existing solutions of your competitors.

3. Roadmapping

The product roadmap is a crucial part of SaaS product management planning. It contains the mission, vision, priorities, and progress in a sequential manner. It helps the team members to stay on track by making the big picture easily accessible.

A theme-based product roadmap helps build more desirable products faster by shifting the conversation from comparison to vision to discussion on the product goals.

Themes are a collection of features and functionalities which are described in the product vision. 

Its subsets are epics and stories, which contain more details about the features that will help the product achieve the vision described in the theme.

For example, “improve shopping cart completion” is a theme that describes the product vision consisting of features like “mobile support” and “support credit card payments”.

With theme-based roadmaps, communicating within the team and with external stakeholders become simpler. For example, in meetings, you can simply use the phrase “improve shopping cart completion” to refer to everything it includes.

To make your roadmap more effective, you can integrate North Star metrics and become a product-led company.

A North Star metric reflects a company’s long-term success by relaying revenue growth and customer satisfaction at the same time. 

It depends on what your product is and the value it produces. For example, a North Star metric for Netflix could be “hours of content watched by a subscriber” and for Amazon, it could be “order frequency”.

You can add 2-3 relevant North Star metrics to your themes to simplify your best product management plan. For instance, for the example of a theme earlier in this section, “checkout time” and “number of return purchases” can be North Star metrics.

All the work you have done in the first two steps will be put on paper in this step of software product management and will have the following outcomes:

  1. It will help you estimate the time and cost of the entire process while visualizing it.
  2. Everyone, including external stakeholders, will be on the same page.
  3. A theme-based roadmap will help your team members think qualitatively and quantitatively.

How Zeda.io helps: Creating a roadmap is quite simple in Zeda.io. Go to the ‘Features’ dashboard and click on ‘Create a Roadmap’ at the top right.

You can add features to your roadmap as you discover new things in the subsequent steps of this process by clicking on an empty space on the roadmap.

4. Prioritization and operation planning

This stage involves determining the iota of work to be done by each team member of the product development team based on their responsibilities and present requirements. There are many prioritization methods that can help you make this easier.

Here are the three most commonly used prioritization techniques:

  1. Product Tree: The image and metaphor of a tree are leveraged for developing the product in the right direction. The following parts of the tree represent the corresponding parts of the product:
  • Root: Technical framework and infrastructure
  • Trunk: Core and current features
  • Branches: Functionalities of those features
  • Leaves: New ideas

Here is an example of a product tree that illustrates how it works. 

  1. RICE Prioritization: This method helps product managers and teams estimate the importance of and prioritize features to be worked upon on the basis of four parameters:
  • Reach: How many customers will be affected by this feature within a specified time?
  • Impact: What is the degree to which they will be affected?
  • Confidence: How accurately are the above two numbers estimated?
  • Effort: How much investment is required in terms of time, money, and labor?
  1. MoSCoW Model: This is a qualitative prioritization method in which different members of the cross-functional product team put features into the following categories together:
  • Must have: Mandatory features which have no substitute.
  • Should have: Essential but not mandatory.
  • Could have: Still significant, but won’t affect the reception of the product by much.
  • Would not have: Irrelevant features, not just for now, but forever.

During this phase, the product management KPIs are closely evaluated. One of the desired qualities of product managers here is to tactfully disagree with and say ‘no’ to their team members and external stakeholders to ensure the viability of the roadmap.

How Zeda.io helps: You can prioritize features right when they are created with RICE prioritization.

You can also edit various details related to the features such as the type of feature and the team member it is assigned to simplify your workflow even further.

5. Delivery and testing

Here, the function of product management is to let the engineers and developers do their work while keeping everything on track and doing a little course correction if necessary.

After the features are developed and tested by the developers, they are deployed on the product for the users. Here, the product people keep a close eye on KPIs that help them understand whether their assessment of customers’ needs was correct.

The frequency of feature delivery depends on the methodology of software development which is unique to each organization. For instance, teams following the waterfall model deliver huge feature upgrades but take longer to do so.

On the other hand, the SaaS product teams following the agile methodology deliver the same in bite-sized chunks in shorter timelines. Many teams are now also following the ‘continuous delivery’ model where multiple upgrades are delivered to the customers within one sprint itself.

Generally, more SaaS product managers are preferring the shorter delivery timeline over the longer ones even though the number of updates delivered is small. This is primarily because:

  1. It is easier for the customers to get accustomed to the new updates of the product.
  2. The cost of failure diminishes greatly.
  3. The requirements of the customers are changing frequently and constantly.

How Zeda.io helps: A product or features thereof can be delivered on time when there are no dependencies. Zeda.io ensures this by enabling teams to add that detail directly to a task.

6. Analytics and measurements

Remember the North Star metrics we talked about above? This is where you measure them (and other metrics as well) to test the success rate of your efforts and take the necessary steps if the numbers are not where you want them to be.

For example, if you introduced a new feature but your existing users are not adopting it, then you have to take steps to let them know about the new functionality. Here you can educate the current users through in-app messages, notifications, email, or text messages.

Another challenge you might encounter is bugs. Often, testing a feature on the developer side even with new testers is not enough. Until the new features are tested by the end-user, product managers can remain skeptical about the usability of these new features.

In such cases, SaaS companies can request their customers to opt for beta testing where they can test the new features before they permanently become a part of the product. Apart from learning about its usability, SaaS product management teams can also identify and fix bugs.

Again, tools such as Mixpanel and Pendo are useful in tracking, measuring, and visualizing your SaaS product usage statistics. These tools will also assist you to segment your customers on the basis of various parameters such as location and age.

A good rule of thumb for SaaS product managers is to focus on measuring and improving the North Star metrics first as they are the ones associated with the company’s mission and product vision.

How Zeda.io helps: Zeda.io brings usage data from external sources such as Mixpanel and Tableau to your product workspace. This enables your team to analyze the impact without opening another application.

7. Feedback implementation

There are two kinds of feedback:

  1. Direct feedback: This is the feedback that you explicitly get from your customers and prospects. You get them through emails, texts, surveys, etc. You can use tools such as Mopinion, AskNicely, and SurveyMonkey to get direct feedback from your customers.
  2. Indirect feedback: This is something the SaaS product team infers from the usage data. For instance, if more people use the app for longer after an update, then chances are your customers like it.

Going through feedback is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. The accuracy and efficiency of the work done in all the previous stages will be reflected through feedback where you will get both helpful suggestions and insights as well as complaints and outlandish expectations.

In product management plan, it is important to have a well-defined process that helps the team members to collate, analyze, and draw actionable insights from all kinds of feedback.

This closes the feedback loop in this guide to product management where the final step helps you generate new ideas to improve the product — the very first stage in this process as shown by the illustration below. 

The ideas generated from customer feedback can guide the product’s development process better than the ones that came from market analysis.

Furthermore, you must also consider the feedback of former customers and users. It is equally important to learn why someone has abandoned your product entirely.

How Zeda.io helps: In the feedback dashboard team members and stakeholders can ‘vote’ which feedback can be converted into action items. This not only saves time by getting feedback from all sources in one place but also by simplifying the decision-making process.

You can either align that feedback with a feature that is already on your product roadmap or create an entirely new feature for it.

Throughout the seven stages explained above, we touched upon the responsibilities of a SaaS product manager several times. Let’s take a closer look at them.

What does a SaaS product manager do

SaaS product managers oversee the product development process right from the ideation phase until it hits the market. They also see the product through each iteration in every sprint.

In other words, they are the most important person throughout the product lifecycle.

The responsibilities of a SaaS product manager include:

  1. Creating a product strategy and validating it by running it through team members and external stakeholders.
  2. Conducting/overseeing market research or determining the parameters for the same.
  3. Being the point of contact and go-to person for developers, marketers, and stakeholders by sharing relevant information timely.
  4. Ensuring the alignment of various departments and their activities with the company’s mission and product vision through various stages of product management planning and action.
  5. Training new team members to bring them up to speed.

Although the above points provide a general idea of the responsibilities of a SaaS product manager, it is important to keep in mind that they also depend on the structure of the organization and the requirements of the moment.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of weight on the shoulders of a product manager for which the following skills are not only desirable but also crucial:

  1. Organization: Everything works efficiently when properly organized. A SaaS product manager should ensure the team members, workflows, tools, systems, etc., are organized to suit the needs of the moment.
  2. Prioritization: Three things are always limited — time, money, and labor. The urgent and important things must be addressed first to ensure the judicious use of the available resources.
  3. Communication: A product manager has to communicate and collaborate with multiple teams in and outside of the organization in a day. This is arguably the most important skill as it leads to the completion of tasks.
  4. Empathy: A higher emotional quotient equips product managers to understand their most important stakeholder — customers. Apart from that, it helps them become a good leader making this one of the most important qualities of a product manager.

The days of product managers are filled with various tasks which could range from reading text messages from team members to prioritizing the tasks for the next sprint. Such teams follow their own product management best practices that help them through the above steps.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a list of helpful tips. We collated a list just for you.

SaaS product manager best practices

The SaaS product manager goals, as outlined above, can be too much to handle. We have collated five handy tips for you that will help you go through them efficiently.

  1. Get comfortable with constant changes: There will be countless iterations, ideas, and tools that you will be testing, trying, and abandoning. This happens right from the beginning of the ideation phase.
  2. Apply the Pareto Principle while talking: Listen 80% of the time and speak only 20% of the time — the 80-20 rule. This will help you understand the problems of your customers, the challenges faced by your internal team, and the expectations of your stakeholders.
  3. Guide everything, including conversations: When left to themselves, things tend to go haywire. It is true for everything from customer interviews to backlog prioritization.
  4. Make data-backed decisions: The consequences of getting something wrong because you “went with your gut” can be catastrophic. Keep your dashboard handy and ensure you are guided by data above everything else.
  5. Make data available to everyone: Apart from keeping everyone on the same page, it will simplify your work as you don’t have to update everything. Moreover, during bug fixing or ideation, each team member can bring their data-backed insights and suggestions.

The daily schedule of a SaaS product manager is filled with challenges. Let’s take a look at what they are and how you can deal with them.

Challenges encountered by SaaS product managers

Depending on factors like the nature of the product and workflow, SaaS product managers face the following three challenges in the general sense.

1. Managing high-performing team members

On a whole, having ambitious, disciplined, and punctual team members is a positive as they get more things done in the same amount of time, accurately. However, it can get a bit challenging when they get a bit too competitive.

Too much competition for career growth within a team can lead to unhealthy work environments where everyone pushes their limits unsustainably.

Managing such a team can be tiring and frustrating. Product managers can deal with it through team-building activities to instill collaborative values such as patience and empathy as compared to competitive ones.

2. Dealing with intra-team dependencies

There are many instances where Objective A has to be completed before you can move to Objective B. For example, you have to recognize customers’ needs before ideation. Such incidents can be easily spotted during the best product management planning meetings.

It becomes more challenging when developers are insisting on Objective A while the marketers are pushing for Objective B. Managing such conflicting situations to ensure each team member is heard and respected is a daunting task.

3. Ensuring smooth operation throughout

As we have mentioned earlier, a product manager has to collaborate and communicate with every department or team at some point in a SaaS company. A lot of things have to go right for things to remain on track.

For instance, everyone should have access to updated information including customer feedback, market analysis data, and product usage statistics. This will make communications simpler and more efficient.

Another thing you need to ensure smooth operation is to have workflows and tools updated as your needs change. 

With the growing demands of your customers and more competition in the market, managing daily operations is a continuous battle.

All the challenges above affect the ability of a product development team to perform at an optimal level. What makes things more complex is that the above roadblocks are unavoidable.

SaaS product managers and their teams need a tool that helps them deal effectively with these roadblocks while enabling them to build products that their customers find valuable.

All the challenges above affect the ability of a product development team to perform at an optimal level. What makes things more complex is that the above roadblocks are unavoidable.

SaaS product managers and their teams need a tool that helps them deal effectively with these roadblocks while enabling them to build products that their customers find valuable.

Zeda.io — a super app for product managers and product teams — provides just that.

How Zeda.io helps SaaS product management

Zeda.io helps both SaaS product managers and product management teams perform their responsibilities efficiently and remove the roadblocks in the following ways.

1. Streamline communication throughout the organization

The biggest challenge that product managers face is communication. Not only there are different teams and numerous members but also there are multiple tools. Zeda.io solves that by bringing all of that to one place.

Whether it is listening to your customers through customer service apps like Intercom and Zendesk, getting updates from external members through email, or collaborating with your team members through apps like Slack and MS Teams, you can manage all of it from Zeda.io.

Moreover, you can also convert requests to tickets and push them to tools like Jira and Azure DevOps while managing tasks on tools like Asana and Trello.

In other words, you don’t have to go through all the communication tools in your tech stack to get updated.

2. Get actionable insights from data

Data-backed actionable insights to help product teams build a product that their customers love.

You can visualize your data with Zeda.io from various angles to uncover insights and trends through automated analytics. This will help you find usage patterns for your product which will help you understand the ‘why’ behind your customer’s requests.

For instance, when you get feedback that is unclear, you can start research from within Zeda.io where you can send emails to your customers for more details.

Zeda.io also enables product teams to add tasks to their live roadmap and prioritize it as soon as they get valuable insights from their data. This will update all the concerned persons in real time about the new developments increasing your overall efficiency.

3. Make product documentation accessible to everyone

During the course of development, various members of the product development team create useful documentation which helps the team as a whole and any new members to get up to speed.

However, due to various reasons such as time constraints, it could get challenging for you to collate all of that in one accessible place.

Zeda.io creates a dedicated product space where all kinds of documents can be created and shared including requirements, feedback, specifications, etc. You can get started within minutes by leveraging different ready-to-go templates.

Wrapping up

The SaaS product management process outlined in this post provides a basic framework for you and your team to build upon. An ideal strategic product management process is one that helps you build products your customers love with the least amount of resources.

The importance of a product manager in this process cannot be overstated. From hearing everyone’s opinions and advice to ensuring everything stays on track, SaaS product managers shoulder a lot of responsibility.

Product managers need a tool that helps them do it all.

Zeda.io is a super app that allows product managers to streamline collaboration, collect feedback, analyze data, prioritize tasks, and keep various departments aligned.

Try Zeda.io today and build products that your customers love.

FAQs

  1. What is SaaS product management?

SaaS product management is the set of sequential steps that help businesses improve or create SaaS products with the aim of delivering value to their customers while spending minimum resources.

  1. What are the basic product management skills For SaaS?

The following are the four most desirable product manager qualities:

  1. Organization of the team and the workflow.
  2. Prioritization of features and tasks.
  3. Communication to ensure the right information is with the right people.
  4. Empathy towards the customers and their team members
  1. How is SaaS product management different?

The difference between SaaS and non-SaaS product management arises from the unique traits of SaaS products. For instance, SaaS products are updated more frequently for which getting constant customer feedback is a must for SaaS product managers.

Jacob Koshy
Product Marketer at Zeda.io
A marketer in love with SaaS products. When away from work, I'm either spending time with my cats or adding miles on my motorcycle.
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