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Corporations , For Scaleups , User — 10.09.2020

Agency or In-House: Tips for Choosing the Right Product Talent for Your Digital Product

Sara Croft, Principal, Growth Marketing

Today, companies of all industries are operating with a renewed focus on digital strategy. If executives were previously considering a new venture through digital innovation in five years, they likely accelerated that goal to three years, if not as soon as possible. 

A great digital strategy can add new revenue streams to your business. This could be as simple as complementing existing revenue streams by adding an online purchasing option, or as complicated as creating a brand new digital product. If you’re a business with an existing digital product, you might consider an upgrade to modernize the user experience and increase adoption. Or, you might have invested more into your product than you expected and are now in need of support. 

No matter what your digital product is, it’s going to require excellent product talent to build and market it. Where will you find that talent? How should you structure your product teams? When should you consider an agency vs. in-house product talent? 

These are important questions to answer before you start investing your business profits into a new (or refreshed) digital product. We’ll start by explaining the role of product teams and what they are built to accomplish. 

What You Need in a Product Team

All product teams need the following capabilities, whether you’re building something new or renovating your digital product:

  • Research and Synthesis: You need qualitative insights from prospective and current users to understand the problem your product solves. You’ll want researchers on your team who can conduct interviews, synthesize information and generate the right insights that will translate to product requirements. Beyond that, you’ll want market and competitive research to build your brand and resonate with buyers. 
  • Ideation: You’ll need both domain expertise and knowledge of what’s happening in tech to generate forward-thinking, feasible and scalable products.
  • Prioritization and Planning: A digital product needs a manager who can work with multiple stakeholders to generate a prioritized requirements list and plan the product’s development. But don’t make the mistake of treating the product like a traditional project. Software is flexible, iterative and scalable. It requires someone who understands the “minimal viable product” concept and who can plan a product in an agile way.
  • Design: Proper user experience design has gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have in relatively short time. You need designers who understand information architecture, UX best practices and how to create an attractive look-and-feel. 
  • Positioning and Messaging: Whether your product is new, existing, internal or external, your product needs to be explained to the people who are going to use it, buy it and invest in it. You’ll need people who understand your audience and who use the right language to explain benefits, not technical nuts and bolts.

Generally, these skills shake out in the following roles that make up a product team:

  • Product Owner (PO) or Product Manager (PM): The role that leads the product vision and strategy. Product managers and owners own the product roadmap. They’re responsible for socializing the product’s vision and leading the product’s go-to-market strategy.
  • Product Designer: The role responsible for designing the product’s user interface and user experience. 
  • Product Marketer: The role responsible for the product’s go-to-market strategy. While similar to the marketer in charge of your physical product line, the product marketer must translate technical “product speak” to messaging that your buyers will understand through product positioning and buyer personas. 

Product Maturity Matters 

The stage your product is in matters when it comes to evaluating the available product talent options. In the early stages, the heavy lifting tends to be more strategic and design-focused. You need a team that can set the right direction based on your product vision and business goals. You also must enable an engineering team and prepare to introduce the new or renovated product to the world. 

Once the product is in market or in use, your needs become more focused on day-to-day maintenance, product growth and customer experience. 

Your Biggest Consideration: Risk

So where do you find the right product talent to fill these roles? Different talent sources carry different strengths and risks—as a result, where and how you find talent will depend on your needs. 

  • Existing Teams: Your in-house team includes domain experts who know your existing systems inside and out. But that also means their time is already limited—and they may not be up to speed on current trends and best practices for creating digital products.
  • Hiring Experienced Talent: Experienced talent is great if you can find it. You guarantee your team will have tested product experts. But, especially in the early stages, it’s expensive and a long process to recruit experienced, in-demand people to your product team. The talent needed to build may not be the same talent that’s needed to maintain and grow. 
  • Hiring New Talent: Younger talent or people who are newer in their fields will be more cost-effective. They can be molded to the way you work while bringing fresh ideas to your team. However, they’ll require a great deal of training and lack experience in the field, making their performance harder to predict.
  • Outsourcing: Whether it’s an agency, a consultancy or a staffing firm, bringing in outside talent can reduce risk. The right agency that understands digital products, your business, your goals and that serves you as a partner will carry you a long way. In addition, your relationship should be structured so you can ramp up and down with different roles as your needs change.

How to Find the Best Product Talent Solution for You

Having worked with more than 200 companies over the agency’s lifetime, we’ve seen winning patterns for building product teams. 

For strategic work involving research, capturing vision, setting direction and high-level planning, we recommend starting with a team from a trusted outsourced partner, ideally a digital product agency. There are a few reasons this tends to work well:

  • These skills are typically ones you won’t have full-time in-house
  • Agencies offer access to resources that are traditionally very expensive and hard to find
  • The need for strategic product talent matters only at certain stages of the lifecycle of the product, so it makes sense that these resources would be temporary as opposed to long-term. 
  • Agencies can partner with your existing teams so that when they transition off, the transition is smooth. 

By leveraging a strong, experienced team at the outset, you de-risk the effort and give your developing team a solid foundation to grow from.

No matter which solution you select, a digital product agency can evaluate your existing product or product idea and offer suggestions for next steps. There’s less risk in hiring an external agency than changing your own business operations. 

See how a digital product agency can support you, from startup to scaleup stage.  

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