Academy Xi Blog

The Product Manager Mini-CEO & the Skills Needed to Succeed

By Academy Xi

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Defining product management

To put it simply, product management is about solving real problems for real people. Notice that the ‘real’ is emphasised, because time and time again entrepreneurs go on a journey to solve a problem that is not real, for people who are also not real.

But how are people and problems not real?

What’s an unreal problem?

The problem is usually imagined by the entrepreneur: maybe they directly experience it, but maybe they experience it alone. Or, there could be a lack of context (For example, if the problem they’re trying to solve is part of something bigger that their solution is not yet tackling).

This happens all the time, especially in startup land. It’s a large contributor to that 90 percent failure statistic that is drummed into entrepreneurs right from the start.

What’s an unreal person?

For example, when the CEO of a startup is also the startup’s first customer, their problem is their problem alone. And it’s initially up to them to discover if this problem is faced by others. The CEO can’t solve this problem without help and that’s where the mini-CEO comes in: the product manager.

The mini-CEO

No product manager is the same and no pathway to the role is the same. Product managers come from all walks of life, starting out their career in marketing, engineering and even hospitality…who would have thought?

So, why does product management attract people with different traits and skill sets?

The product manager is also known as the mini-CEO and that’s because, like the CEO, they need to be multidisciplinary and sit within the centre of all activity. They’re like the glue that sticks products to customers and customers to products.

The skills to succeed

One of the best pieces of advice a product manager can learn is: ideas are fragile. Ideas can whither right after they sprout, and it takes a special kind of person with a particular set of skills to nurture and grow them from idea to product.

Allen Jiang, product manager at Qantas Assure, talks about the skills not commonly associated with product managers—but skills that are crucially necessary. These skills are soft skills, and are undeniably the most important skills to have when managing a team and performing as the mini-CEO.

1. Communication

“One of the key drivers of a good product manager is being able to take an idea all the way from conception to being built,” says Allen. “If you think about that as an important part of the process then you think about everything that’s needed to enable that.”

What enables the ideation process? Allen believes it’s good communication.

“It’s being able to convey that idea and “sell that vision” to get people to see what that idea is and how it will work.”

2. Creativity

Allen explains that there are many different ways to solve a problem and a product manager needs to think outside the box and continually questioning what’s working and what’s not.

“Creativity goes so far as to question: ‘What is the right problem to solve?’”

“There are certain problems you’re trying to solve and build for the end user and there are creative ways to do that. It doesn’t mean you have to do it the way you originally thought. You need to find a different, smarter solution for doing things, and all those things can be creative.”

3. Honesty

Allen explains that if you’re not being transparent with your team, you’re not being productive.

“At Qantas Assure, we’re a very cohesive unit because we’re always very open and honest about things. When things go wrong, people own it. It’s never the case of trying to hide something; it’s about making people responsible.”

4. Collaboration

Allen admits that some of his best ideas have come from random conversations he’s had with people around the office, and those people have had nothing to do with the product.

“I’ll go to a member of a different team and we’ll just chit-chat by the kitchen. We’ll just talk about random things and then instantly you get an idea for how you can improve your product.”

5. Risk Taking

An entrepreneurial trait that overlaps into the product manager is risk taking. Even in the day-to-day, Allen says product managers are taking risks.

“The primary factor is, as a product manager, you don’t have a lot of information to work with. For a startup, you have very little customers, and you have very little data. It just so happens that in those times, when you have little data, you need your product to evolve.”

“The risk you take is that every day you’re unsure if you’re making the right decisions. Of course you do things to try to increase your probability of success, such as user testing and research, but at the end of the day, you can never be 100 percent sure of your product.”

Learn more about what it takes to become a Product Manager here.

Academy Xi Blog

The Digital Marketing Funnel

By Academy Xi

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The internet has revolutionised marketing. Therefore, the way brands connect with customers has also changed. A brand’s relationship with a customer no longer ends after they’ve completed a purchase — that’s only half of it.

The classic marketing funnel was straightforward, accounting for the buyer’s journey with a brand through the AIDA model:

  • Awareness: marketing that creates brand awareness for a target audience.
  • Interest: campaigns that generate interest that encourages potential customers to do more research.
  • Desire: establishing a connection with the buyer to make them want the product or service.
  • Action: encouraging the buyer to engage with the brand.

The AIDA model above is designed to lead customers through a sales funnel and considers the buyer’s first contact with your brand down to the point of sale.

In the past, the ‘Action’ stage would be represented by a buyer’s purchase of product or service. Now, the AIDA model is used by marketers as more of a communication model.

According to Smart Insights, the AIDA model assists brands in knowing how and when to Engage with buyers, which platforms to use, and the kind of information the brand should provide.

But then stepped in the new wave of marketing: the digital marketing funnel.


The new digital marketing funnel

The push for traditional marketing to evolve has been driven by technological advancements, but also through the rise of social media. It is believed that we are bombarded with over 10,000 messages a day. For brands to cut through the noise, it’s in their best interest to foster a strong relationship with consumers even long after the buyer has made a purchase.

Thus the new digital marketing funnel expands the AIDA model to consider this new brand and buyer relationship:

Top of the Funnel (ToFu)

At the top of the digital marketing funnel, are leads or potential customers that visit or engage with a site. At this stage, the main objective is to attract and capture their interest. Objectives for brands at ToFu include:

  1. Engagementcreate awareness through content on social media platforms. This is also typically how people discover new brands.
  2. Education: release content that educates buyers about the brand, including content that addresses pain points and offers solutions.
  3. Research: brands provide informative content that helps with the buyer’s purchasing decision rather than just pushing a sales message.


Middle of the Funnel (MoFu)

When potential customers further develop a relationship with a product or brand, they are considered at the middle of the funnel. Here, they may engage with a brand on social media, attend company events, or seek further information about their products and services.

  1. Evaluation: a straightforward way of presenting the brand as a provider of a specific solution. Typically, comparisons with competing brands are provided.
  2. Justification: addressing a buyer’s objections, obstacles, and inertia that keeps them from making a purchase. 

Bottom of the Funnel (BoFu)

The final segment of the funnel is known as the bottom of the funnel where potential customers are likely to convert into paying customers. At this stage, they become advocates after having established a strong connection with a product and brand.

  1. Purchase: provide support to the customer by answering questions to boost confidence with the product or service.
  2. Adoption: communication should continue to flow seamlessly between the brand and the buyer, with brands providing advantages and directions on how to use a product or service.
  3. Retention: through consistent high-value communication, brands continue to leave customers with high satisfaction.
  4. Expansionat this stage, brands will be able to upsell higher-end products and premium services, as well as sell products and services that complement what customers have previously purchased.
  5. Advocacy: encouraging loyal customers to become brand advocates helps nurture the brand with future customers.

The digital marketing funnel puts the buyer first, considers their needs, and directs the brand to create campaigns that meet those needs.

By understanding the different stages of a robust digital marketing strategy, it is also crucial that brands are able to iterate and improve their efforts through the ability to measure success.


The Pirate Metrics 

According to 500Startups co-founder Dave McClure, there are 5 key metrics of which marketers should focus on to measure their marketing efforts. Marketers can use these metrics as key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess the effectiveness of their campaigns at any specific stage of the digital marketing funnel.

Acquisition: In the acquisition stage, brands measure a person’s first contact with a product or website. Initially, this can be measured by unique views. For websites, this can also be measured by bounce rates.

Activation: Activation refers to the product or service use. How many of the people you’ve acquired and engaged with actually use your product? Measuring what constitutes an activated user or buyer depends on the product or service offered, or the brand itself.

Retention: You want people to come back for more, not just use your product or service once. How often they return varies, and you can choose according to what is appropriate for your brand.

Referrals: How many users ended up advocating for your product, and how many people did they bring in? You can measure according to how many views or people inquiring about your brand, or how many a customer referred and ended up being customers themselves.

Revenue: Measuring revenue isn’t just about the total profit, but also considering the LTV (lifetime value) of a customer. The LTV metric is why there are 4 other stages or metrics that are crucial to measure before revenue.


Lead generation tactics for the digital marketing funnel

Marketing is no longer simply launching a campaign and obtaining once-off purchases from buyers. It’s a long game, that if done correctly can generate rewarding results for businesses. Avinash Kaushik’s See-Think-Do-Care Model gives strategy suggestions depending on where the buyer is at on the digital marketing funnel.

At the top of the funnel during the Engagement or Acquisition stages brands can employ:

  • Social media: it’s an effective, low-cost strategy for this stage because people use social media to engage with their friends and family, and find social proof for products and brands.
  • PPC display ads: you want your brand to be seen, even through subliminal messaging for your target market.

When customers are in the middle of the funnel, during the Research, Evaluation or Justification stages brands can use:

  • SEO: aimed at helping boost the organic search results for a brand, which will support prospects who are seeking to make more informed choices about their purchases.
  • Video marketing: YouTube is the second largest search engine, and video is the preferred form of content.

At the bottom of the funnel, during the Purchasing stage, marketers can use:

  • Email marketing: you want to nudge your customers to make a purchase, and then nurture them for repeat business. Email allows you to personalise your marketing efforts too.


Marketing automation

Now that you know what to do, why do it, and how to measure your success, the last step is execution.

There’s a lot that needs to be done and done well. How do you balance your time or your marketing team’s resources when there are 10 stages to the buyer’s journey, each requiring different strategies to be implemented?

This is where marketing automation comes in.

Marketing automation, according to Hubspot, “refers to the software that exists with the goal of automating marketing actions.” It is often done for repetitive tasks like email marketing and social media posting.

Here’s how you get started on automating some of your marketing tasks:

  • Identify the repetitive tasks. These lend well to marketing automation because you can find software as a service (SaaS) options that will help you publish or post at optimum times without manually doing it yourself every time.
  • Prepare content beforehand. When you have automated systems in place, you can set aside a time block to create content for the upcoming week or even month. This ensures you have something well-crafted to put out when necessary.
  • Segment your audience. Not everyone will be on the same stage of the buyer’s journey, and you need to be able to quickly assess and respond to them appropriately. Segmenting keeps you on track on who’s where on the sales marketing funnel.
  • Personalise your content and campaigns. Establishing a connection with the buyer encourages loyalty to your brand. Remember that you are communicating with people who like communicating with other people.

Some common tools used to automate tasks in your digital marketing funnel include:

  • Mailchimp or Drip for emails
  • Zapier
  • Buzzsumo
  • Buffer or MeetEdgar
  • Marketo
  • Pardot (Salesforce) 

The shift to an expanded marketing funnel compared with the classic AIDA model has accommodated our current area of digital disruption, but this is by no means the end of this marketing shift.

Experts predict that the future of marketing includes Account-Based Marketing (ABM), where brands instead identify their target companies or groups, expand to decision makers, engage with them through personalised marketing plans, and convert them to advocates.

This trend essentially ‘flips the funnel’, where brands will start off with a narrow list of target entities. This targeted approach hopes to help address the problem of marketers having a hard time getting their prospect’s attention.

As brands and companies (especially B2B) start adopting the ABM approach, one thing is clear: marketers and brands need to stay on top of industry practices and adjust rapidly to changes.

Agility is key to growing your brand, and agility in marketing strategies is now more important than ever.


Learn how to maximise your funnel’s effectiveness and drive results by developing a solid digital marketing strategy. And check out our range of digital marketing courses here.

Academy Xi Blog

The Roles and Responsibilities of a Product Manager

By Academy Xi

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Product Management is the art of successfully driving each step of a product’s lifecycle — from development to positioning, pricing and launch. To build the best product possible, Product Managers must become proponents of solving user’s needs through quality designed, high-performing products.

Product management lies at the intersection between the business and technology functions of a company and its target audience.

What is the role of a Product Manager?

To make quality designed, high-performing products a reality, a Product Manager’s role is to drive the vision, strategy, experience, and execution of a digital product. With a primary goal to deliver business value, Product Managers are required to create products that are valuable, feasible, and usable.

According to Adam Nash from LinkedIn, a Product Manager should always ask two questions, “What game are we playing?” and “How do we keep score?”

Product Managers investigate what users really need and then work within a team to figure out how best to meet that need within cost and time constraints.

The job of a Product Manager is to wear many hats, and some of their daily roles and responsibilities include:

  • Prioritisation
  • Stakeholder management
  • Interviewing customers
  • Writing product documents
  • Project management
  • Storytelling
  • Design prototyping
  • Removing roadblocks for your team
  • Celebrating with your team
  • Ability to discern data-rich insights
  • Do whatever it takes to ship the product

Career pathways of a Product Manager

Getting started as a Product Manager requires both the technical skills and customer insights to understand how to create exceptional products that not only delight but also connect and best serve the end user’s needs.

The possibilities in the world of product management are endless, with many Product Managers coming with previous backgrounds in User Experience (UX) Design, marketing, business analysis, project management, Information Technology, customer support, and entrepreneurship.

While there is no linear progression in becoming a Product Manager, according to McKinsey, there are three types of Product Manager personas; technologists, generalists, and business-oriented.

As the three archetypes of Product Managers emerge, there is one focus common across types of Product Managers: the customer.  

The three different personas of a Product Manager can transition into a number of roles including Product Managers, Product Owners, Chief Product Owners and beyond.

Product Managers: From less experienced all the way to seasoned Product Managers, empathy, storytelling, and user experience skills are required for a successful Product Manager. Some degree of hands-on product experience is ideal, as a Product Manager will be required to communicate basic product concepts and walk in with a hit-the-ground-running attitude.

Managing a team is also a highly critical part of the role, with a Product Manager expected to lead, provide guidance and coordinate the processes, relationships, and strategy of a product’s roadmap. At the heart of their work, a Product Manager needs to keep the user’s needs at the core of the problem their solving in order to create products that not only delight but address their pain points.

Product Owners: While Product Managers are advocates for the customer, Product Owners articulate detailed user stories, participate in detailed product developments, and address questions as the customer representative.

Product Owners work within the product development process which includes prioritising the backlog and estimating development effort. Put simply, a Product Owner is a role you play on a Scrum team whereas a Product Manager is the job itself.

VP of Product / Chief Product Owners (CPOs): At this stage of the Product Manager career path, VP or CPOs are less hands-on but work to determine the strategy and how a product line fits into an organisation. Roles and responsibilities of VPs or CPOs include budgeting, ensuring the product strategy aligns with company objectives, engaging with external communications, and solving internal team conflicts.

Product Manager vs Product Marketing Manager

In a number of markets, the role of Product Manager has also been split into two: a Product Manager and a Product Marketing Manager.

According to tech giant Atlassian, Product Marketing Managers improve a product team’s ability to reach customers and learn from product-tailored marketing campaigns and insights. Product Marketing Managers are responsible for developing the positioning, messaging, and unique value a product has with its target audience.

Where a Product Manager articulates the details around the ‘why’, the ‘what’, and the ‘when’ of a product’s features, whereas it is the Product Marketing Manager’s job to communicate these benefits into the marketplace.

Remuneration, job vacancies, and the future of product management

Product Managers are highly sought after position with research company Gooroo determining that the average Australian salary for a Product Manager was AUD $115,000 in 2018, with over 2,000 Product Manager roles available at any given time on  

As there is no clear-cut route into Product Management, many eager applicants focus instead on the core competencies of the job.

The field of Product Management requires a multidisciplinary skillset that involves empathy for the customer and the ability to communicate to both internal teams and external stakeholders. A Product Manager must get buy-in from all functions of marketing, design, and development before testing and scaling a high performing, quality product.

Over the next few years, the role of a Product Manager will continue to evolve and focus more heavily on data-driven insights. As technology advances, the functions within Product Management will begin to automate, as niche products emerge from decreased production costs.

Furthermore, product management will continually increase the collaboration between teams, up to the point where it no longer serves a standalone role. Product Management will eventually infiltrate every part of an organisation’s operations.

As markets expand, the role of Product Managers will not only pertain to digital products but also to the testing of physical products. Focusing on the customer will no longer serve as a competitive advantage, with companies required to look at other ways to innovate or risk the chance of being disrupted.


Learn how to develop your Product Management toolkit and be equipped with the mindset and skills to drive successful products with our part-time Product Management course.

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