Close filter

In Conversation with CPOs: Manasi Bhalerao

  • October 2023

What is a good product?

A good product is one that makes the customer’s life easy – be it a physical product, a digital experience, or a software solution. But it needs to enhance the customer’s life, solve a problem or help them in their daily or work life.

What was your path to product?

My path to product, was squiggly and longwinded, and spanned many industries and many years. I started as a Product Manger for Internet Banking at HSBC in India, even though I actually did not know what product management meant - but it sounded really sexy, and I was afraid to ask my boss what it meant because I thought he’d take the job away from me!

Later on, it turned out even he didn’t know what it meant.

However, it was an exciting mix of technology, business strategy, marketing, and User Experience. I liked it so much that I then went to INSEAD with the hope of understanding this kind of new field much better. 

This led me to American Express in London, taking over a variety of roles in technology, digital marketing, and customer. Eventually, my last role there was leading digital product management for a couple of products. 

I then moved to become CPO of Just Eat, a very fast paced high growth team with a focus on UX, product management and data analysis. Now at Tesco, I am the Online and Digital Product Director. 

My path to product management has spanned over many years, taken many turns, but has always been exciting.

Why is the product function important for your organization?

When I first thought of product management, I imagined that it started in a sexy tech company. But I’ve read that it actually started at Procter & Gamble in the 1960s. For me, they are the masters of brand management and they found that they did not have one person who was responsible for the customer needs. You had sales. You had advertising. You had brand. But for them, something was missing – and this was one person bringing it all together. 

That’s where the product journey started. Eventually, other companies started to adapt the concept, at first mainly tech and now many other companies. Internally, you need someone who really is the voice of the customer. What are the customer needs? What are the pain points?

It’s very easy for a company to focus on itself to solve its business problems, like increasing sales or profitability. This is not the wrong thing, but when you tackle complex business problems with a customer lens on, you make it very powerful. That’s how you win customers.

What is your single most important KPI?

I don’t have just that “one”. I wish I had only one. My teams keep saying, “Just one.” But I tell them having a single KPI is like doing only one thing as a parent, which is loving your kids. But…You have to love them. You have to discipline them too! 

I’m not even sure whether sticking to a single KPI is the correct thing.

The popular KPIs (we call them OKRSs) tend to be profitable growth (so a business metric) , NPS or CSAT (for customer satisfaction) and product metrics around acquisition, activation and retention. In addition, in the tech world, one of the KPIs we work to is stability. Are our platforms up and able to service our customers? These measures are known as nonfunctional requirements and are the basics of doing business.

Putting that in a pyramid, hygiene requirements for KPIs also play an important role: Is your Web running, app running, platforms up? In the middle, you have the daily business of running digital platforms, measures like the amount of Web visits, app visits, growth, or conversion. And at the very top, you have business-related strategic metrics which can be growth, profitability, or customer NPS. And all of these have to work supportively. 

What is the future of the product function?

The future of the product function is very bright because IT, which started as a support function, has completely transformed over time: Businesses are now realizing that technology engineering is intertwined in all aspects of the business and, in many cases, is also becoming a revenue driver.

People in the technology teams have become part of executive committees. CEOs see them as their partners. The business teams are now increasingly partnering with their technology function to think about various questions: How can we use UX to design better customer experiences? How can we use technology to design better internal experiences? How can we use it for better security, stability, reliability? In addition, new revenue streams are evolving, like selling internal products that we’ve developed to noncompetitors like Ocado. (Ocado has sold its retail technology to noncompetitors.)

This is a new way of thinking. And product starts to really strive when it’s understood as a mix of business, technology, and customer orientation.

“Product management is…”

…the best career in the world, exciting, chaotic, stressful, and very fulfilling.

Changing language
Close icon

You are switching to an alternate language version of the Egon Zehnder website. The page you are currently on does not have a translated version. If you continue, you will be taken to the alternate language home page.

Continue to the website

Back to top