AiThority Interview with Shawna Wolverton, SVP of Product at Zendesk
You were part of the first Localization Product Management team at Salesforce. Today, you lead Product Management at Zendesk. How has your role evolved in the last few years?
My career has never been a straight line, I’ve moved in and out of Localization, Marketing and Product Management roles for the last 25 years. I took a big step back in my career to join Salesforce as their Localization manager but in my 14 years there, I slowly but surely moved back into Product Management, expanded my scope and left as one of the leaders of the Platform.
I took a little detour into the New Space industry, but quickly realized not even actual rocket launches could compete with my love of building products for customers to engage with their customers. I’m an enterprise software dork – I can’t help it.
As a woman in tech, what challenges did you face in the industry and how did you overcome these?
I think I’ve faced all the usual things, but the one that I wish we’d have made more progress on by now is that I am still often the only woman in the room. I’m proud and heartened that the Executive staff at Zendesk is so diverse- but when I’m at conferences or even some engineering heavy meetings, it is still really noticeable.
Tools and Tech
What does a typical Product Development team look like in terms of roles and functional responsibilities?
It really depends on your software development methodology but at its core, you have a Product Manager who defines the outcomes for what the team is building and the engineers who focus on how something is built.
Ideally, you have a Product Designer who will help focus the team on the experience of the user and a writer who can help document and instruct the user on how to use what’s being built.
What skills do you value in your colleagues, while developing a new product from scratch?
I am always looking for Product Managers who have deep empathy. When you can really feel and understand the lives of your potential users, it’s incredibly hard to do wrong by them.
Of course, a deep understanding of the space you want to enter with your new product is critical – competition, industry trends, etc. – but that is much easier to teach and learn than empathy.
According to you, what is the best approach to build a Product Development roadmap, for a B2B technology company?
I’m not sure if there is ever a “best” approach. I think that’s why Product Managers don’t worry too much about robot overlords taking our jobs. It is so much more art than science.
Listen and collaborate with your internal stakeholders, listen to the feedback you get from your customers, think about the market and how your offering can be differentiated and deeply understand your company’s goals. Put all the things that are possible on the table, then prioritize. Always prioritize.
How do AI, ML and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) platforms help to make B2B Product Management teams more agile and efficient?
Tools like Robotic Process Automation, AI and ML-assisted Data Scientists can help product management teams understand how the products we’re building are being used and predict the kinds of features that would be the most valuable places to invest time and resources.
At RELATE 2020, which keynotes and sessions are you particularly excited about, and why?
I’m going to put in a selfish plug for my own voice of the customer session. For the first time at Relate, we’re going to report out to our customers what we’ve been working on that came directly from their feedback. In addition, we’re going to leave a lot of time for customers to ask me and my team about the things they need and want most.
We can look at all the data in the world, but the opportunity to hear directly from customers is invaluable.
Thank you, Shawna! That was fun and hope to see you back on AiThority soon.
Shawna has over 20 years experience in enterprise software product management. She recently joined Zendesk as the SVP of Product after a fantastic adventure in “new space” as the Chief Product Officer at Planet. Previously, Shawna spent 14 years at Salesforce, joining the organization as the first localization manager and leaving as an SVP of Platform product. There she was responsible for the leading the declarative platform team and worked closely with the user experience design and research team on the ground up renovation of the Salesforce user interface Lightning project.
Zendesk is a CRM company that builds support, sales, and customer engagement software designed to foster better customer relationships. From large enterprises to startups, we believe that powerful, innovative customer experience should be within reach for every company, no matter the size, industry or ambition. Zendesk serves more than 150,000 customers across hundreds of industries in over 30 languages.