The Rise of the Chief Product Officer, and What Your Business Needs to Do about It

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A new position has been joining the C-Suite across the country in record numbers recently: the Chief Product Officer. Your business’s choice of whether to follow suit could have a dramatic impact on your future revenue figures and growth potential.

The Chief Product Officer is not an entirely new role; leaders with this title have existed for years. But interest in and influence of the position have grown steadily over time, and today more companies than ever are adding a dedicated C-suite product lead.

Many powerful and recognizable brands have appointed a Chief Product officer; including Google, CNN, Uber, Forbes just to name a few. A search for professionals with the title on LinkedIn turns up thousands of results.

But what exactly is the purpose of this emerging position? And how can you tell who should fill that position within your organization? These are complicated questions, but if you can find the answers you stand to gain a lot.

The Changing Role of Product

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Businesses have employed product managers, product marketers, product innovators, and more for decades even at executive levels with related, but distinct roles. They would typically report up to a CEO or other senior executive, and the Chief Product Officer need to be closely aligned to key peers in marketing and IT.

Over time, the role of these product-focused professionals has grown and become more sophisticated. Your products are no longer just what you sell–they’re the face of your brand, a key part of the vitally important customer experience, and a channel for organizational innovation.

In today’s global economy, competition has never been greater. It’s never been easier for an ambitious startup or disruptive competitor to bring a new product to market and chip away at your share.

These factors have enhanced the necessity of a coherent, sophisticated product strategy. That, ultimately, is why Chief Product Officers are needed now more than ever.

Why a C-Suite Role?

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VPs and Directors of Product Management and Marketing have existed for some time. So what would prompt a business to then conduct a Chief Product Officer executive search?

Much like marketing, product is no longer something influenced by one narrow part of the business. It’s an organization-wide process that requires cross-silo integration and collaboration.

Strong Product strategy and innovation is vital to earn and maintain a competitive edge, but success in the product field can only be achieved by someone who has C-level authority, resources and clout. True Product innovation is what is separating top companies from everyone else in today’s competitive landscape.

A Chief Product Officer executive search brings a business someone who can represent the interests of the product team at the highest level of the org chart, forge vital relationships with other leaders, and earn buy-in from key players in Marketing, Sales, R&D, and elsewhere.

How to Find a Chief Product Officer for Your Business

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Say you’re considering getting a Chief Product Officer for your organization. It’s probably not a bad idea. But how do you hire for a position that is relatively underdeveloped?

There aren’t a lot of strong examples to follow with this position, and the pool of experienced talent is relatively small. Where do you start?

There’s always the option of promoting someone from within. If you already have an extremely talented VP of Product Marketing or Head of Product Management, they’d likely make logical candidates for the job. After all; they’re well acquainted with your products, audience, and business culture. However, you should promote with caution. A job in the C-Suite is a completely different position from anything else. Even very strong leaders with lots of product-related expertise won’t necessarily be ready to make the move.

More often you’ll want to recruit new talent from elsewhere, though the challenges of a shallow talent pool and the ambiguous nature of the position remain. Most businesses are not well equipped internally to handle a Chief Product Officer recruitment process. After all, if the people responsible for finding and recruiting candidates don’t really understand the modern role of the Product team and the importance of Product innovation, then how can they be expected to be successful?

Instead, an experienced product marketing executive recruiter or product management executive search firm will make the best choice as a partner. In particular, you’ll want to find someone who has years (preferably decades) of experience finding and hiring Marketing and Product executives at the highest level of business–think CMOs, EVPs, etc.

They’ll be best equipped to find candidates who have the right mix of Product expertise and the capacity to lead as a senior executive.

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