Trailblazing Women in Product Management: Samantha Bufton, VP of Product at SurveyMonkey

In honor of International Women’s Day, 280 Group hosted a virtual panel discussion on how trailblazing women paved their way into Product Management. We heard from PM veterans, like Samantha Bufton, their success stories, lessons from past failures, candid feedback on how to tackle gender parity in PM, and actionable insights to move forward with.

A little about you…

Outside of work, I focus my time on my family. I have three athletic children, so I spend a great deal of time cheering them on at their sports events. I’m happiest outdoors, hiking, horseback riding, and skiing whenever I get a chance. My extended family is in Europe, so we enjoy exploring the continent whenever we travel there.

How did you get into product management?

I started my career as a software engineer, joining Yahoo! when it was a small company. At the time, I was building solutions for Yahoo’s advertising customers without having a dedicated product manager. This meant I needed to listen to customers directly, understand the business impact and build my own roadmap. All while building the solution. I realized that I enjoyed creating value for customers while delivering business impact, so I decided to become a product manager. But I knew I needed a deeper understanding of business and strategy, so I went back to school to get my MBA and rejoined Yahoo! as a product manager.

Any missteps along the way?

A couple of years into my PM career, I was offered a great opportunity to lead a new product line at a rapidly growing, profitable startup. It was an opportunity to learn from an outstanding team, and take on more responsibility. But with only a couple years of experience as a PM, I convinced myself I wouldn’t be successful in the role, and I declined the offer. Later, as I started building a PM team and hiring PMs, I realized I’d made a mistake and had ignored two important aspects of the situation: firstly, the hiring team had decided I was the best fit for the role within a wide pool of candidates, and secondly, there would be a team of people highly vested in making me successful in the role. Ever since, if I’m offered a new challenge, I remind myself that there are people I can reach out to for support and that I would not have been offered the opportunity if I had little chance of success.

What do you find most interesting about product management?

Listening to customers! At SurveyMonkey, our product is used within every function, across every industry and geo, for many different use cases. Our customer feedback powers innovation, by highlighting new opportunities for creating value, guiding prioritization, and validating the solution. It’s imperative you’re always listening, and use that feedback to guide product & business strategy.

When you’re hiring people for your team, what are you looking for?

Great PMs look at the world as an opportunity to learn, create, collaborate, and challenge the status quo. I look for curiosity, customer-centricity, strategic thinking, and a growth mindset. If a candidate demonstrates those attributes, you can teach them the technical skills needed for a particular role. At SurveyMonkey, we seek out candidates that share our existing values, which means listening to customers, and bring an aspect of diversity that contributes to the team culture.

What advice do you have for women that are entering product management?

First, learn to leverage your team and cross-functional partners. You’ll deliver better outcomes more efficiently if you can harness potential from experts across your organization. You’ll also be building a team of advocates for your career growth.

Second, use data and frameworks to form hypotheses and help resolve opinion-driven debates. Get comfortable working with data, and learn how to turn analysis into a compelling strategy and narrative.

Finally, always step up for a big challenge and seek out mentors within your networks; you likely have more support than you think you do.

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