Product-led growth: how to keep the customer satisfied


After one of the most challenging periods on record, retailers need to be ready for the growing shift towards product-led growth in 2022, but how should they go about it and why has it become so important? Here, Malte Scholz at airfocus, discusses the company’s latest findings on the issue

Scholz: shift towards product-led growth

Retailers have traditionally relied on a sales-led model where revenue growth is driven by a company’s sales processes and teams. But the advent of firms with more defined product propositions mapped closely to the evolving priorities of customers, has created a shift towards product-led growth. 

Due to the intrinsic link with digital channels, this trend has accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic as the emphasis has shifted to remote service delivery. Market research firm Gartner®, in its Market Guide for Product Management and Roadmapping Tools, suggests that “by 2022, organisations focusing on product-centric delivery will experience twice the average rate of success in recovery and renewal from the economic downturn.”

Nevertheless, many product teams remain poorly served by tools to organise and prioritise the work they do. Often, ad-hoc manual processes are still the norm. 

This was confirmed recently in new independent research conducted for airfocus in the UK and in the US. The survey, held in September 2021, polled 300 product managers, owners and directors about their changing roles and requirements. These ranged across various sectors, including retailers in fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), consumer electronics, technology, food and beverages, pharma and apparel.

Reflecting the shift towards product-based business growth, four out of 10 product managers said they believed the role of product management was becoming more prominent strategically, and that its value is now better understood by business leaders. Yet this hasn’t yet translated into the adoption of appropriate tools to equip product teams to better balance their time and priorities.

Inadequate solutions

At present, a surprising number of product owners, managers and directors still rely on a system of Post-It notes stuck to the wall, while others use email, PowerPoint or Google Suite to keep track of product management within their organisations. Even where product teams have access to dedicated product management technology, these solutions have often been found to be inadequate – particularly during the continuing pandemic. More than half of respondents cited a lack of relevant features and functionality, poor usability, or not being able to adapt the platform to their specific needs. 

Other common issues are poor provision for the way that product teams work, a lack of support for collating feedback centrally, failure to enable easy collaboration with the different business stakeholders, and a lack of integration with other enterprise applications.

Dedicated tools

For more than four in 10 product managers, dedicated product management tools are necessary, in particular for addressing key challenges that are expected to intensify over the next 12 months – most notably the pressure for companies to adopt product-led growth strategies, and the growing requirement for product teams to become more focused on business outcomes in an ever-changing market where fast reactions are needed.

The role of product management technology

To understand more about product managers’ pain points, the survey looked at the tasks currently occupying the most time. In the retail sector, these are:

  • Preparing documents and presentations for other departments
  • Prioritising what to build next
  • Day-to-day liaison with internal stakeholders
  • Formulating product strategy
  • Collating and centralising internal feedback

In contrast, tasks such as locating product information within the organisation, and collecting and consolidating/centralising customer feedback took up less time – albeit that these are crucial to business outcomes.

Filling the gaps

So what, specifically, are the gaps in product managers’ roadmapping and process planning/ management capabilities? 

In the survey, respondents pinpointed:

  • An improved ability to innovate
  • Greater visibility for the team 
  • Easier communication and alignment with stakeholders
  • A holistic view of product strategy.

Part of the requirement around innovation is linked to the ability to prioritise product development requests. Now more than ever, product teams must be able to reliably and impartially assess which requests for new features should be channelled into next releases, in order to deliver maximum value. 

Addressing the capability gap

The survey showed that the main qualities retail product managers look for when choosing a product management platform are features and functionality; ease of use; the ability to tailor the system to unique team needs; the ability to centralise feedback and the ability to allow easy collaboration. 

Overall, simplicity emerged as a particularly strong priority, along with the need to address the current capability gap. When asked which factors would most shape the future of product management, almost four in 10 product managers cited the rising awareness that ineffective product management will lead to poor products.

As product teams command a more central, strategic and visible role within the business, product management needs to take on more of the professional trappings of other business functions. If retail organisations are to adapt and prosper into the future, this is not just desirable, it’s imperative.

About the author

Malte Scholz is the founder and CEO of airfocus, the creator of the world’s first flexible and modular product management platform, supporting product strategy and management in firms of any size or sector.