Working on enterprise products isn’t always glamorous. When most people think about ‘enterprise,’ they immediately imagine a stuffy atmosphere, cubicles, terrible user interfaces, lack of innovation, and TPS reports. Some (okay, most) of these are true, but there’s a lot more to it. I think that designing and building solutions for business is, in many ways, more exciting than building consumer products, not to mention the challenges and learning opportunities that come with the territory. By the end of this article, I think you’ll see the tremendous upside of enterprise product management.
The majority of the products we use at work suck. Think about the last time you had to request new software from IT or report a problem with your VPN. You probably had to navigate an arcane internal tool and submit a ticket. Most of us don’t go through a day at work without having to interact with a user experience that is unintuitive and frustrating. But that’s what makes enterprise product management so exciting right now.
If you’re up for a real challenge, looking to make an impact and reimagine how people interact with solutions at work, there are opportunities waiting for you. It is certainly not going to be easy, but the journey is worth taking.
Because most enterprise products are miserable, there is significant room for improvement and innovation.
By borrowing concepts from the consumer world, following technology trends, and understanding changes that are happening in our workplaces, you can influence your product organization, and design and build for the future of work. Some enterprise products haven’t been updated in a decade so any modest improvement is impactful and appreciated. And that’s before you even get to exponential improvements leveraging machine learning, artificial intelligence, or IoT.
Trends are heading in the right direction: consumerization of the enterprise.
As more and more millennials are entering the workplace, they are demanding the same intuitive design and immediate gratification from the products they use at work that they already get from consumer products. They are not putting up with existing solutions. By now, most solution providers understand this and are rushing to meet expectations of users that are used to ordering meals and cabs by tapping a few times on a screen. As a product manager at a B2B company, you’d have a tremendous opportunity to develop empathy for this new generation of users for the first time.
Introduce design thinking to sales and engineering-driven organizations.
Historically, successful B2B companies have been founded by smart and driven engineers. Product management, design, and user experience were not in the picture until quite recently. By encouraging creative problem solving, and illustrating the value and return of design thinking and user experience, you have the opportunity to transform development and sales-driven organizations into customer-driven ones. It’s not going to happen overnight, but by always emphasizing the end-user, including engineers in conversations with customers early in the development process, and inviting users to your design sessions, you’ll make significant progress quicker than you might think.
Beyond the B2B product management career opportunities, you’ll also learn quite a bit on the job that you likely wouldn’t learn while building consumer products.
Embracing and operating within constraints.
There is no shortage of obstacles when it comes to building B2B solutions: suboptimal release schedules, a constant lack of resources, time-consuming approval processes, endless paperwork, inaccessible customer segments, pushback from the team, and unrealistic pressure from the C-suite. Learning how to navigate through these everyday constraints and obstacles will earn you a formidable reputation and put you on the path to success no matter where you work afterward. It’s like learning how to cook a healthy, delicious meal for the entire family in 15 minutes. It is possible, but not easy. And that which doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger!
Learning how to say no.
The bigger the organization, the more stakeholders it has. Everyone’s got a feature request or a meeting to set up. Knowing when to say no, is going to help you stay focused and keep your team away from unnecessary distractions. In fact, the worst thing you can do is always to say yes as this will create expectations you most likely won’t be able to meet as something always pops up.
Not taking no for an answer.
On the other hand, prepare to hit walls and have your ideas and initiatives be rejected. By adjusting your approach and persevering, though, you can turn that no into a yes. Employ out of the box thinking and look for creative solutions, use soft skills to influence and persuade others, and align stakeholders in order to reach a common goal. Remember, as noted by Napoleon Hill, “every failure brings with it the seed of an equivalent advantage.”
Next time, rather than only considering a role at some hot startup or unicorn, contemplate for a moment, the opportunity cost, and the impact you could make by joining a B2B company instead. Not only because there is a real transformation taking place, but also because that side of the yard is full of learning opportunities. You can redefine how products in an industry are designed and built, and users will be delighted.