A product manager’s day-to-day is that of a master influencer. They have clear ideas of what success will look like, but achieving that success requires the trust of those they’re trying to influence. And the people you’re trying to build trust with come from different backgrounds, with a wide variety of needs and motivators.
The best product managers are more than chasers —they are experts of influence. The most effective new product development requires understanding your audience and making the right case for the right person.
Product managers are pulled in a million different directions by sales, engineers, C-Suite, etc, Here’s who you should focus on and why.
Who you have to connect with to move new product development forward
Sales. Their top concern is how you will help them make a successful sale. The good news for product managers is that salespeople have more facetime with customers than any other group and have the clearest line of visibility into the problems your customers face. As every product manager knows, the heart of any product is finding a new problem to solve or create a better way to solve an existing problem.
In order for you to help them, they must help you. Build rapport with the sales department, continuously picking their brains for emerging challenges customers face. Find out what their customers are saying, thinking, and feeling about your product.
As your new product development strategies hit goals and KPIs—and yield more significant revenues— trust from the sales department will grow organically. That trust will prove helpful over any possible disagreements over a product launch or release. The sales department, much like any department, may not always see eye-to-eye with the potential of a new product, but if you have a track record of successful products, they’ll be more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt and buy-in, despite their reservations.
Engineers/Developers. If an engineer or developer is asked to build something, they want to know that it will see the light of day, but there’s never a guarantee that it will. Sometimes a product is built, and for any number of reasons, it’s shelved, and the team has to move on to the next thing. In order to get their buy-in and build their trust, you have to present data that supports a best-case scenario for your product argument. Engineers want to know what the customer pain points are (good thing you spoke to the sales team already), what features will be used and why all of that increases the likelihood that their time and effort will be rewarded with a product launch.
Perhaps the best way to earn trust from the engineering team is to speak their language. You don’t have to be an engineer, but if they believe you know what you’re talking about—without overselling your domain expertise—you’re more likely to get their buy-in.
C-Suite. Executive trust is very straightforward: Is what you’re proposing going meet financial and strategic goals? This group wants a complete view of historical and real-time data, how this compares with other products in the portfolio and an ETA for ROI. When you have a successful track record of innovative products, getting their approval becomes easier. But early on, it’s important that your plan is air-tight and that you not only have answers to all of their questions, but you come to them with research to back up all of your answers.
How product managers earn stakeholders’ trust
Bring data to the table. Yes, a product manager has to have intuition, but data is what gets buy-in. And the data you need will vary, based on who you’re trying to influence. Advanced product management tools will help get the data you need quickly and allow you to compare data sets from a wide range of departments to see where interdependencies are. The less time you spend looking for data, the more time you have to determine what that data means and make the most informed decisions that will help build your story.
Stay true to the vision. Idea development is more than just a light bulb moment. Every product decision must ladder up to why the company does what it does. And that’s not always an easy thing to do. I’ve seen these types of scenarios go sideways because a great deal of time and resources are wasted trying to push an innovative, but off-brand, product through the pipeline. Even worse is when you make a compelling argument, the product is approved and doesn’t meet market expectations. In the end, that failure inevitably falls on the product manager’s shoulders. With the right tools, you can determine early on if a product aligns with the vision, allowing you the opportunity to adjust or kill the product altogether.
Be open to pushback. There’s a difference between knowing what you’re talking about and thinking you know what you’re talking about as a product manager, you have to tiptoe that line very carefully. You need to believe in what you’re selling to earn trust, but you also have to be open to the possibility that you could be wrong—whether it’s a detail here and there or the entire idea. The people you’re trying to influence are experts in their particular domain, and it’s important to respect their points of view. That means being an active listener and considering opinions that may be contrary to what you believe to be written in stone. People are more likely to believe in you when you give real thought to differing opinions and respond thoughtfully—even if you still disagree.
A product manager must play a number of roles outside of the product department to earn buy-in. It’s not easy, but when you understand the importance of making your best case depending on who you’re talking to, moving your product vision forward becomes a lot easier.
With Sopheon’s groundbreaking product management tool, Acclaim Products, you can make the most compelling argument and easily persuade and influence the right people by giving you the up-to-date data you need when you need it.