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Product-Growth Synergy The Relationship Between Product & Growth: More Important Now, Than Ever

Written by
Kevin Lindemann Kevin Lindemann
Product Director @ Klarna
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By no means is this a new topic or an epiphany, however the bridge between product and growth is something I see neglected more often than it should be. Every department, group or team within a product-led organisation is critical. This post focusses on one of the most important – growth – specifically, commercial and customer success.

To get some definitions out of the way that are implied but worth calling out – product is typically composed of product management, user research, design, engineering, data and analytics. Growth then being, sales, commercial and customer success including retention, upsell and to repeat – growth.

My path, introvert to extrovert

I wasn’t always an extrovert. Early in my career, I was 100% guilty of operating as an independent contributor or product leader somewhere on the scale of siloed. I wanted to protect the process, reduce the noise, also protect myself and ultimately my teams to ensure we delivered against company objectives. Over time, I found this didn’t work. There’s obviously a balance between a free-for-all and chaos, and delivery-based focus only, however I was missing a trick. I knew what the issue was, I just didn’t know how I’d solve it.


"Product are just as responsible for the P&L as growth teams are. And as the CEO is. When you build features, product are spending company money"

Kevin Lindemann, Product Director @ Klarna

I landed a new role at a seed-stage company which was genuinely a dream job for me. 22 people, I was the only person in product [at the start] working with a brilliant founder – and I knew I wanted to change how I operated cross-departmentally. It was hugely helpful that we were in a WeWork in Central London that was configured as a single open-plan room. Already quite commercial, I sat with the growth teams – some of the most clever, and vocal, people I’d ever experienced in my career. It was a turning point for me. The lightbulb moment happened fairly quickly – was it that because I was a mid-weight extrovert, that I’d struggled to maximise how I worked with sales and growth functions up to then? To truly understand the perspective, the struggles, the pains, and take from that the “nuggets” that would not only enable me to do my job better, but also help grow the company through a no-brainer channel – those leading growth.

At this stage things shifted for me. I found it quite natural – maybe it was right place and right time. Maybe I was finally at the stage in my career where the value of growth teams clicked for me. Maybe it was something else. I’m not hugely fussed with understanding the exact why, I just know it happened – and it was a significant milestone for me professionally. What ever the cause, it turned me in to a mega extrovert which has served me since.

What doesn’t work and why this topic is important

I’m not saying it’s solely about where a product manager or product leader falls on the introvert/extrovert scale, just that this is what changed for me and enabled me to shift my thinking, how I operated and directly impacted my effectiveness and results. Avoiding growth teams – commercial, customer success – didn’t work. Being overly protective of the product process and teams – didn’t work, either. A seemingly simple concept finally resonated with me, and I was able to do something about it.

Why I think this is more important now than ever is, product are just as responsible for the P&L as growth teams are. And as the CEO is. When you build features, product are spending company money. If the right process is followed – often the right product or feature will be built and will resonate in the market [a topic for another post!], but being super tight with, leveraging and being in lock-step with growth teams is firstly – free – but also bolsters/adds to a huge aspect of insight when it comes to what’s happening with customers and balances all of the other bits; user and market research, company strategy, and everything in between.


“In a true product company, leadership through to product managers are all responsible for the value in what’s built. You can’t do this on your own, and being absolutely dialled-in and at the frontline with all teams is crucial. This implies engineering, design and go-to-market/activation teams which are the standard, but my point here is more how product interacts with sales, with customer success and with other growth functions. Strong personal and professional relationships must exist for this to truly work, and the obligation that product has to say – ”yes,” “no,” or “maybe later” – is also in the spotlight. This sounds simple, but I see the mark missed more than I see it being nailed. One example: does product live the commercial pain in the business for which they build products? And is product doing something about – getting involved and using that information to inform product decisions?”

What does growth actually mean?

One big point I want to touch on is – this isn’t about appeasing growth teams. This is about what those growth teams represent. Yes, they represent sales, retention, upsell and company revenue. But they also represent the customer. And in a way that day-to-day product may not. Product managers aren’t pitching. Product managers aren’t hearing every single issue first-hand. Product managers also aren’t finding a way to keep a customer happy when the answer they’ve given a growth team is “nope, we can’t implement that right now.” Saying no is perfectly acceptable, which I’ll come back to – but knowing what we’re saying no to, as product, is one of my overarching points. If we base it on a single data point, such as “someone added it to a spreadsheet, we looked at it, said no” – that is not enough to make an informed decision based on. If there is context, if a product manager has had conversations with various growth functions including customers – even better. If a product manager also feels what that pain point may be, first-hand as a customer themselves, a well-rounded view is formed.

Now, I’m realistic. A product manager can’t be everywhere at every minute, and certainly can’t address this need for every single point raised by growth teams – so how does product management cope?

Operational must-haves
  • Single points of contact: Establishing single points of sales and customer success contact – responsible for organising and prioritising all frontline feedback such that product can easily determine where the highest impact can be had. This isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card though, product management needs to still be involved on the frontline, and still needs to hear and feel pain points directly from customers through those channels – it’s simply a proxy to facilitate focus.

  • Get involved in pitching: Product participate regularly in pitches and demos to prospective customers. This can be active or passive, but the point is less to understand how the product is sold [I’m going to make the assumption any product manager can sell their product(s) just like a growth person can which is a prerequisite in my book], but more to live and breathe customer needs, what a product or feature can or cannot do that aligns with those needs – so product can then understand where trends exist and where roadmap focus may need to shift, to deliver higher market value.

  • Make the best of what’s right in front of you: Balance this feedback channel with the rest. This is not the only way in which product gain feedback, but it’s one of the easiest and most cost-effective methods – costing time, nothing more. With the right relationships in place, the right involvement from product, it’s then down to product management to ensure they are involved but also to know how to set boundaries regarding how much time they spend on this specific channel.

  • Bite off small, incremental, pieces: You’ll never be able to say yes to everything, and I’d never suggest that. The growth feedback channel can serve many things, but two are: give insight or challenge big picture plans, and identify low-hanging fruit. Set aside ~5-10% of each sprint for easy quick-wins. These will drive customer delight, improve product(s) and feature(s), but also build on growth relationships – the latter being full circle, what serves the customer supports users, growth teams, as well as ensuring product-market-fit and revenue.


Optimising how we work – and our relationships – with growth teams

We have to be willing to step outside of our comfort zone. I’m only an expert in my own experience and how I’ve used that to develop growth-led product teams – but it’s not always easy to make new friends. That’s all well and fine outside of work, but the product and growth relationship is a non-negotiable that must be in place, therefore time must be put in to it. This isn’t prescriptive in any form, but some of the basics

  • Find the growth team members you have things in common with [I’ll come back to this].

  • Build a personal relationship with them – find out where you have common ground, use that to build a dialogue and ultimately trust.

  • Understand what matters to them, when it comes to product, and their role. A problem halved is a problem solved.

  • Use the aforementioned to develop relationships with others in growth teams, that may not be as straightforward as “the people you get on with immediately.”

  • Get involved in their day-to-day. Not in the sense of a complete distraction – product need to set this boundary based on what can actually work. But attend a pitch or two per week. Sit in on a few business reviews per quarter. Segue that to your own “product management black book” of customer contacts that you can then use to form a community or informal advisory board.

  • Set crystal clear expectations – which I’ll come on to shortly.

  • Stay engaged. It’s not a one off, like with any relationship – you get out of it what you put in to it.


Setting expectations

This drills in to a meta point, and is a simple but highly important one. “Yes, no, maybe in the future.” The number of times that I’ve joined organisations where this is a black hole is more than I care to remember, however is critical in giving growth teams what they need, building credibility with them as well as customers. A “yes” is the happy path. A “no” needs to be timely and explained – even if you get pushback, that’s fine – you’ve said no. A “maybe later” is the group of ongoing ideas or feature requests to be considered, and should be centralised in a system of some sort – maybe that’s roadmapping software, maybe it’s a spreadsheet, but it needs to exist and needs to factor request recurrence and priority.

Ignoring expectation setting with growth teams is the number one cause for relationship breakdown in my experience.

To distil this post in to four actionable steps
  1. Think of growth teams as top stakeholder, but also as direct access to a dimension of customer needs that may not be covered by conventional research.

  2. Figure out how to operate considering workload, and do it. This needs to be driven from leadership, but everyone is invited to play. This isn’t a distraction, must be a priority, and holds immense value if executed well.

  3. Make friends, but do this two-fold. Find things you have in common so it’s genuine – but also understand what will improve the work life of growth team members. That won’t be about them, it’ll be about the customer. Which is also about revenue and retention.

  4. Become expert in setting expectations. Stay engaged, give regular feedback on requests or ideas that come your way, and above all else - ensure the “no’s” and “maybe’s” are well communicated and maintained. The “yes’s” obviously will be clear from the start. And, don’t be afraid to say no. Saying no doesn’t create friction – not saying anything does.

I’ve never seen this not work once addressed in the way I’ve described – but without putting the work in to it, it can work against us. The results to be expected span - better cross-departmental working dynamics, an insane amount of customer insight at your fingertips, and deeper validation that the problems your products or features solve resonate in the market. Don’t feel like you have to be invited to be part of the “growth club” either – pull your own chair up to the table [because it’s also the responsibility of everyone in product].

Wrapping up

I mentioned at the start – ’those leading growth’ which implied it’s only the growth teams that this applies to. The bottom line is, yes there are teams with direct accountability when it comes to growth and revenue. And even though growth functions may not exist in the job specification for a product manager [they do in my job specifications], product – without a doubt – is just as responsible for growth as those that are accountable for it.

Kevin is always up for a conversation – feel free to reach out directly if you’d like to discuss this topic, or anything adjacent, further!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Lindemann

Kevin Lindemann
Product Director @ Klarna

Kevin accidentally fell in to product 20 years ago whilst studying at university, and hasn’t looked back. He’s spent half of that time in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, with the rest in London – where he’s served product leadership roles at seed through late series-C startups (three of which have had successful exits), spanning HealthTech, HRTech, RetailTech and FinTech. The most recent startup he was part of – VP, Product @ HERO® – was acquired by Klarna in 2021. Since then, he’s integrated and grown both HERO® and a second acquisition in to the business, and is currently part of AI, Consumer and Commercial Growth leadership spanning the entire Klarna product portfolio.

Obsessed with scale and growth, he’s equally tuned-in to the impact and value relationships can yield when it comes to results. Seriously rapid delivery solving legitimate market needs is Kevin’s main driver, however he also very much enjoys coaching – developing and growing product talent – as well as advising and mentoring early-stage tech startups in the UK and Europe.

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