You’re a product manager who’s made your mark at one company, and now you’re looking for a new challenge. For the more adventurous, it often means leaping off the high dive into a new industry. While product management skills tend to be transferable, they’re only as effective as your knowledge of the new industry.
If you’re good at what you do, finding a gig in a new industry shouldn’t be too heavy of a lift, but there will be expectations that you get up to speed quickly. In my experience, the following suggestions will help accelerate domain expertise over the first 90-120 days and set you up to become a subject matter expert over time. It’s not easy, but if you’re willing to abandon your comfort zone and dive head-first into an unknown industry, you’re probably up for the challenge.
1. Listen to the experts inside your organization
On day one, begin filling your calendar with as many appointments with those that have the domain expertise you’re looking to acquire. Start with staffers who’ve been there for years—they’ll have deep knowledge. And be sure to talk to folks in all corners of the company to get a feel for every nuance: support staff, sales, engineers, product people, portfolio experts, etc. You won’t be an expert after 90 days, but you should completely understand the buzzwords and lingo people in your industry use and the issues they talk about.
2. Inform innovation strategy with customer meetings
Any good PM knows innovation strategy isn’t about creating products but solving customer problems. When you’re new to an industry, some problems may be obvious, but the ones that lead to disruptive innovation are more obscure. Work with the sales department to join them in client meetings when possible. These meetings will give you straight-from-the-source insight into what motivates, frustrates, and makes your customers’ lives easier. With this knowledge, you’ll be in a great position to devise an innovation strategy that resonates with buyers.
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3. Read industry trades and expand your network
Be a veritable sponge. Set aside an hour a day to read anything and everything you can about your new industry. Start with industry trades to understand the latest trends. It’s also a good idea to scour your competitors’ websites to understand their differentiators and to compare them with your organization’s value proposition. If budget allows, attend an industry trade show and ask as many questions as possible. Join LinkedIn and Reddit groups related to your new domain. In time, your network of industry experts will grow, giving you a wealth of information from trusted sources.
4. Demo the product
Once you have a general understanding of the new industry, getting your hands on the products your organization develops is crucial. In doing so, you’ll better understand how your company fits within the industry. And very often, a fresh set of eyes can identify hidden benefits and unexpected challenges related to the products—especially if you’ve had the opportunity to have client interactions first.
5. Audit your product management tools
Efficiency is the name of the game when starting in a new industry. You have to dedicate so much time to getting up to speed that your product manager-specific tasks need to be streamlined. The right product management tools can help PMs accomplish day-to-day tasks while dedicating time to building domain expertise. Some product management tools are industry specific, while others apply to any market. Understanding which tools suit your organization and advocating for new ones will help product managers gain firm footing early on and set goals and KPIs.
If you’re diligent about your industry education, you’ll quickly notice where your previous experience can be put to work and where you need to sharpen specific skills. Putting the time on the front end will help pay huge dividends in the long run.
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