IN THIS CHAPTER
- Setting a foundation of persuasion strategies
- Selling executives on your ideas
- Working more effectively with engineers
- Arming and leveraging your sales team
Persuasion and influencing are the skills where the rubber meets the road as a product
manager . Y ou can do all the excellent work to create a great product strategy and a
credible plan, but if you can’t get others to support your efforts, you won’t succeed.
Because virtually all product managers are individual contributors and the people they
depend on to deliver products don’t report to them, being able to influence without
authority is a critical link to your success.
This chapter gives you solid tips on how to be your best persuasive self as well as how to
specifically influence the executive board, your development team, and the sales force.
Brushing Up on Persuasion Basics
The foundation of persuasion as a skill is knowing what outcome you want to achieve and then putting together your best arguments and communicating them as effectively as possible. In this section, we cover three core basics of effective persuasion: active
listening, convincing, and asking for what you want. Master these tools, and you’re well on your way to getting the end result you want.
We highly recommend that you pick up a book like Persuasion and Influence For
Dummies by Elizabeth Kuhnke (Wiley) to supplement this section and continue to
increase your skills. We also suggest you look into a training course that teaches in-depth people skills for product managers and allows you to learn and practice in an
Before you can find a solution, you first need to have a deep understanding of the situation.
Active listening is a very popular and highly effective technique that helps you get a handle on another person’s point of view . When you’re trying to influence a team member regarding a new product, you need to be able to listen first and speak second. Also, using active listening can diffuse challenging situations where others are insistent or argumentative. Many times conflict arises simply because the other party doesn’t feel
heard and doesn’t believe that you deeply understand its point of view and opinions.
T o practice active listening, do the following:
- Allow the other person to talk and state his complete case.
Don’t cut him off or try to respond. Let him speak his piece so that he has been
able to voice everything he needs to. If he talks a long time, give him verbal
cues like “uh huh” so he knows you’re still listening.
- When he’s finished, say , “It seems that…” or “What I heard you say
is…”, and then repeat back what you think you heard.
If you got it right, he’ll automatically respond with “yes.” If you didn’t get it
right, he’ll correct the part you missed or even say “no.” If you’re the least bit
unsure about whether your understanding is correct, ask him whether he feels
you have an understanding of his point of view . If you don’t feel comfortable
paraphrasing what he just said, simply repeat the last three words.
Deep down, the need for active listening is only partly in making sure
that you understand the facts. Acknowledging the feelings behind the
argument is equally or maybe more important. Here’s the difference: “I hear
that you want to go to the store.” F act, no feeling. “I hear that you’re frustrated
because you want to go to the store and can’t figure out how to get there.”
Practice the second kind of response.
- Repeat Steps 1 and 2 as necessary until both parties are convinced that
you thoroughly understand the other ’s point of view .
If you hit a wall in this process, you may need to ask open-ended questions to
get more insight from the other person about what you’re misunderstanding.
Try starting your open-ended questions with “what” and “how” for more
The interesting thing about active listening is that after going through this process, you
often don’t need to explain your point of view to the other person. When he feels heard and knows that you understand (but don’t necessarily agree), he may drop the subject
altogether . And sometimes when the other person believes he’s been heard, you can let
him know that you now understand and will factor his opinion into the decisions you make about the product.
The usual role of a product manager is as an arbiter and decision maker . Active
listening can be very frustrating because you simply can’t tell someone what to do.
Imagine that in most of your activities, you lean forward to drive the conversation
forward. If you’re in an active listening situation, change the forward stance and
physically lean back onto your heels or into your chair . It gives you a different
physical sensation and reminds you that you’re in listening mode. Practice this skill
often, and you’ll be amazed at the results.
EFFECTIVELY REDUCING CONFLICTS
Conflict resolution also uses active listening. If someone is energetically expounding on his point of view or frustration, respond with more energy in your voice. We don’t mean start shouting; we just want you to match the other person’s energy . Think about speaking with an excited child who just discovered a bug. You wouldn’t say , “Calm down.” You’d be excited with him at first and then take your energy level down slowly as the conversation proceeds to model how the child should respond. The same principle can apply to adults in conflict; because you matched the other person’s energy to start
with, he’ll follow your lead as you take the conversation down to a calmer state.
Convincing with the three reasons method
After doing some active listening to get the other party’s point of view (see the preceding
section), you may still need to do some convincing to sway him to agree with you. One of
the simplest and most effective methods is the three reasons method .
Here’s how it works for a conversation that you plan in advance:
- State what you believe should happen and that you have three reasons.
Plan out your three reasons.
- Provide your first reason, using any data or real-world examples you
Use as many facts as you can because facts and data are difficult to argue with.
- Repeat Step 2 with your second reason.
Again, use facts and examples wherever possible.
- If the first and second reasons don’t convince your audience, you can
present a third reason.
SPUR-OF- THE-MOMENT CONVERSATIONS
Not all conversations are planned. You run into a colleague or manager in the hall or start talking over lunch. You can still use the three reasons method. When you’re unprepared, you’re likely to run out of reasons after two reasons. Don’t worry . Say that you have three reasons, and then if you can’t think of a third reason, simply state that you lost your train of thought and can’t remember the third reason.
So why does this method work so well? Regardless of whether you have a well-thought-out argument upfront, using this approach gives the other person the impression that you’re confident about what you’re saying. Anyone who claims three good reasons for an opinion most likely has a reasonable stance to argue, so declaring you do puts you in a strong position right out of the gate. Does it work every time? No, but if you aren’t able to come up with three reasons your opinion and argument are right, you may need to rethink your position in the first place.
Asking for what you want — concisely
One of the keys to getting people to listen to you (or read what you have sent) and then do what you ask is to keep things as brief as possible. For example, if you need to influence your team to change the schedule to add a crucial new feature, having a long conversation or writing a three-page email stating every reason you can think of simply won’t work.
Chances are that your audience will tune out after the first minute or no one will read the
entire email. Instead, your information will simply be ignored or dismissed.
In all your communications, be as short and to the point as possible. In emails, use bullet points if possible. Many times, your response to an email can simply be one or a few words,such as “ Agreed” or “ Approved.” In fact, short communications can, in many cases, be more effective than longer ones. Product managers who go on and on endlessly , whether via email or in conversation, tend to be far less effective than those who can get their points across rapidly and efficiently .
Figure 18-1 outlines a good method for concisely presenting your case to get what you
want. You sketch out the situation in a few sentences, give a few pieces of vital information to make your argument, and then clearly tell the other party what you want and why giving it to you is good for both sides. The key to this method is to not try to present a long, drawn-out case. Make any communication short and compelling.
If you think you have a tendency to being long winded — or even if you don’t —
time yourself the next time you give an explanation. See how close you can get to a
sufficient (not exhaustively complete) explanation in 30 seconds. In emails, shoot for
no more than two or three short paragraphs.
Getting Your Executive Team on Board
As a product manager , your ability to influence executives, sell them your ideas, and get
them to back you up is critical. Often, executives don’t know the ins and outs of the market or the intricacies of a product. It’s then your job to build their confidence that you’re a product and market leader , and that your understanding of the right strategy and execution is going to help them succeed.
Drawing up an influence map
One tool to use when influencing executives (and other stakeholders) is an influence map, as shown in Figure 18-2 . An influence map helps you determine who is on your side and how much they can help or hinder your efforts. An influence map can also give you a sense of what kind of politics may be going on behind the scenes so that you can build the relationships and have the conversations you need to ahead of time to get support for your efforts.
To create your influence map, list all the executives who have any influence on your work.
Map them into how supportive they are for your product efforts and then how influential
they are in the organization. You are looking for those who have a lot of influence and are very supportive. Target your key influencers with more information and ask them to
support your cause with other executives. For executives with lots of influence who don’t
support your product efforts, list issues they consider to be more important and then how you can link your product to their key interests and goals. Enlist executives who are on
your side to take up your cause with the others who don’t support your cause. Use the
relationship building techniques in the next section to explore resistance to your product
ideas and build as much positive perception of your product at the executive level as
In rare cases, every (or almost every) executive is mapped as not supporting your product efforts. If you don’t have the support you need and you don’t believe you’ll be able to change the situation, your best bet may be to move on to a situation where you’ll have a better chance of success. For example, if the CEO or several senior-level executives don’t believe in your product or strategy and aren’t willing to fund it, you’ll have an uphill battle as the product manager . The alternative is to remain on the job and become frustrated and negative, and that is truly career limiting.
Building relationships with the key players
One helpful technique for influencing executives within the organization is to determine
the top five key players that you’ll need support from. Fostering relationships with these
people early on, without any agenda, is important. By getting to know them on a personal level while showing them that you’re the market and product expert, you’ll be setting yourself up so that when you do need support in a critical situation, they have confidence in you.
Building these personal relationships is also a great way to help move your career along.
Find out what the executives are interested in and what motivates them. T ake them to
lunch or stop them in the halls to ask their advice. If you can, get them to agree to be your mentor . These steps all seem like common sense, but the product managers who succeed actually follow through with doing this stuff .
Here are a few ways to build rapport:
- Mirror executives’ language — both verbal and body as you communicate with them.
Note how they dress and dress in a similar style. Don’t go out and buy the same sweater
that the CEO wore last week, but do keep to the same general corporate look. Women
should emulate the same or slightly higher level of dress formality , and not, for example, adopt collared shirts and slacks (if that is the male corporate uniform).
- Find opportunities to share experiences by either working on a tough assignment at work or , if you travel for work, doing something together during non-work hours.
- Share information and assistance with them freely . Be helpful, cheerful, and always positive. Share your successes with them.
- Remember that they also need down time. Don’t pester them. Let them guide the level of interaction that is comfortable for them.
Talking the talk: Executive-speak
In order to influence executives, you have to learn how they think and speak their
language. For example, product managers are often very interested in the minute details of how their products work. They have to be in order to make sure they deliver a polished product that delights customers.
Executives, however , don’t generally know or care about the in-depth details of product
features. They’re much more concerned with the big picture and things like how to
accelerate the growth of the business and whether they’re allocating resources the right
way to maximize the company’s return on investment. Thus, presentations for executives that have 20 (or more!) slides about the details of the product will lose their interest (and hurt your credibility). Keep things short, sweet, and focused on what they care about.
Keep these guidelines in mind when communicating with executives:
- Keep it short and to the point. Don’t waste their time.
- Focus on what’s in it for the company and for them. Be specific on the benefits that the company and the executive are interested in. Learn what successful talking points have worked with executives and then use similar ones. For example, one company may focus only on profitability . In another one, it’s all about engaging customers.
- Provide a summary , but have the details and data on hand in case they want to dive deeper on a topic. Put non-essential slides into an appendix.
- Be succinct and to the business point in all your conversations.
Winning Over Your Development Team
Being able to influence and work effectively with the development team and individual
engineers is a huge part of whether you’ll be successful as a product manager and satisfied with your job. Y our success depends on your ability to get your engineers to build the product that you believe meets customer needs and moves forward on your vision.
Building your credibility
Credibility in product management is everything. Your challenge is going to be to build
credibility despite what development considers your role to be or not be. You need to show engineers what you’re doing and why you’re doing it and make sure they view you as an expert in a range of areas. Areas to show your credibility in include the following:
Establishing yourself as a technical expert with your development team
members is absolutely critical. Otherwise, they simply may not respect or work with you.
Your ability to influence them will be negligible. Follow the trends in your area of
technology and know the acronyms and terminology . You don’t necessarily have to be a
complete expert and understand all of the underpinnings of the technology , but you do
have to prove to your team that you have the ability to understand. Check out Chapter 2
for more details.
If you don’t have technical expertise in your new area of responsibility , ask a lead
engineer to brief you on the product. It is common to have an engineer brief a product
manager on technology topics, so don’t be shy . At each stage, remember to look for the
customer significance of each of the technologies or features that developers are telling
you about. T ake good notes because you need to get up to speed quickly .
- Product management:
Everyone in your company — not just your engineering team —
needs to view you as someone who understands product management inside and out. You wouldn’t want to hire a chief financial officer or an accountant if you didn’t know the
candidate knew finance inside and out, and product management is no different.
Certainly , any training you can go through and any certifications you can get
increase your credibility . If you become a certified product manager through the AIPMM
(Association of International Product Marketing and Management), for instance, and you
hang your certification in your office cube, your team will see it and understand that you
truly have studied this discipline and are excellent at what you do.
- Best practices:
You need to be able to confidently say , “This is the wrong approach.
Most companies do it the following way .” You also need corresponding skills for tasks like creating business cases, prioritizing product backlogs, writing user stories, and creating personas.
You have to know more about your market than anyone in your entire company .
You need to understand growth rates and competition, and you need to be able to have
facts and data ready that you can bring up in discussions.
You want to be viewed as the person who is the true voice of the customer .
You’ll know you’ve established yourself as the real expert who has a finger on the pulse
of the customer when your development team proactively comes to you to ask, “We can
solve this issue this way or that way; which way do you think the customers will want it?”
To attune yourself to the customer’s needs, make lots of customer visits. Write up a
summary of what you found at each visit. Include stories about what happened and
information about the customer environment. Then share your report or email with your
development team. Do this for each and every visit summarizing information into bullet
points where possible. Continually bring up the customer in your conversations to
remind engineers that you’ve spent significant time with them.
Another good tactic is to occasionally bring your engineers along on customer visits.
Taking them out in the field and having them observe what kinds of questions you ask
and what environment your customers work in is always extremely valuable. For
example, one engineer saw a customer actually cry when faced with a difficult-to-use test interface and adapted it overnight for the next round of customer feedback. When
engineers meet real customers, they share their experiences with their development
team back at the ranch, and it becomes a lot easier to get the team to adopt your ideas
Assessing your team and adjusting
You need to analyze the development team you’re dealing with and then adjust accordingly .
You may have a great team or a difficult team that may or may not respect you (or anyone else who is a product manager).
In some cases, you’ll have a great team where you can easily establish yourself as a leader .
When you’re in the upper-right quadrant of Figure 18-3 is when your job in product
management is really , really fun.
If you’re in either of the check-marked quadrants, you can definitely make it work and can move toward the upper-right quadrant. In most situations, that’s where you’ll be as a product manager . Brainstorm with the team or your manager about how to move toward the upper-right quadrant by building teamwork and increasing your respect within the team.
In the worst case, there’s nothing you can do with some teams and situations. Y ou may be in that bottom-left quadrant, and you may seriously need to think about whether you want to move on to a different product or move to work with a different team. Before you utterly give up hope, talk to the team’s manager (or HR, if the manager is part of the problem).
See whether a coach can be brought in or whether HR can facilitate an intervention with
the team to its improve relationships and internal workings. In some situations, there is
simply no way to win. Don’t let yourself get stuck for a long time in one of these — it’s a
Sizing up different types of developers and how to
Understanding the personalities of the individual developers and how to deal with each
personality type is just as important as working with the development team as a collective unit. The following sections break down common developer personality types and give you tips on working with each.
Types of personalities
There are three major types of developer personalities (see Figure 18-4 ):
- Prima donna:
These developers are absolutely brilliant and insist on having an
argument about everything to make sure that they get to the truth (though usually
they’ve already made up their mind about what the truth is). They may be excellent at
what they do, but they don’t necessarily know or care about the role of product
Coders are people who don’t have strong opinions but rather say , “T ell me
exactly what to build. Give me a specification; I just write code. I’ll add any feature you
want. Just be very clear and very specific.”
- Team player:
In between the coder and the prima donna is the third type, which is the
team player . Team players understand the value a product manager brings, and they
really want to work with you interactively to build a product that customers love.
Coping with different personalities
Each developer personality outlined in the preceding section requires a different approach to achieve your desired result. Follow these tips to get the most out of each relationship:
- Be less specific with prima donnas.
For instance, when you deliver a market requirements or product requirements document or specify some features, suggest possible solutions instead of handing down the solution. Put a recommendation in that says “Customers need to be able to do the following. Here’s one way you can do it, but this is just an idea.” Let the prima donna solve it; in fact, challenge him to come up with a great solution. Ask prima donnas for their opinions and justifications. “Is this really the best way to solve the problem?” Play to their egos.
Your job in working with prima donnas is to make them hungry for real-world data only
you can provide about customers and the market. And if you can present arguments such that they draw logical conclusions that they believe they’ve come to on their own, so much the better .
- Be open to creativity from team players.
Give team players information about customer needs and pain points and an idea of the requirements and allow them to creatively come up with a solution. They’ll often amaze you with the elegance and creativity they display .
- Be more precise with coders.
Tell coders exactly what you need: “The following feature needs to be implemented this way . Come back with a design, and I’ll approve it.”
Keep in close communication as they’re creating the solution and reassure them that
they’re on track in delivering what you want.
The challenge here is that if you aren’t specific, you may end up with something very
different from what you originally envisioned. You often find coders among remote
development teams. Because distance increases their uncertainty , they’re afraid to make mistakes, and then work progresses very slowly . A great approach with coders is to write more specific requirements and then work very closely with coders to execute them so the coders don’t get too far down the wrong path. In an ideal world, coders grow up to be more experienced developers. In reality , they often move onto another job before they can build confidence in bringing their ideas to the team.
Fostering rapport with the team
Building good rapport with your team is a critical component of winning over your
development team. Otherwise, you can’t count on team members’ support when you need a favor in a difficult situation.
The key to creating real rapport is sincerity . You can sincerely develop connections in a
variety of ways, both subtly and overtly:
- Feed them.
Obviously , grabbing lunch or coffee together is a good thing. When was the
last time you had lunch brought in for your whole engineering team or took some
engineers out after work to get to know them? If you can bring doughnuts to your weekly
team meetings, attendance will likely go up dramatically , and you’ll develop a better
working relationship. (Who doesn’t love doughnut day?) This approach sounds too simple to be true, but small things add up.
- Remember them when you’re picking up event freebies.
If you go to trade shows, pick up giveaway items such as thumb drives for your team. Engineers don’t get the
chance to go out on the road and attend trade shows, so bringing them back some of the
swag can go a long way .
- Always have the coolest new gadget.
Ask your team for their opinions on which one
you should get, what the best features are, and so on. If you talk about games, gadgets,
and cool new technology , many of your engineers will suddenly view you as more than
just that business-oriented product manager .
- Don’t be Chicken Little.
As a product manager , you constantly get frantic requests
from sales or a large customer about “urgent” changes the product “needs” because of
changing market environments or some other impetus. If you rush to your team like the
sky is falling every single time one of these requests comes through, team members may eventually come to feel like you don’t have their backs. Instead, be very careful about how you filter any change requests for the development team. That’s not to say you can’t go back and ask for changes, but focus on the major changes that need to be made.
When you really build rapport and get to know your team, you then have the ability to
occasionally play a chip and ask for a change that may otherwise seem unreasonable. Done correctly and sparingly , using this leverage can be very effective.
Getting Sales on Your Side
A product manager’s sales team can be his best ally or worst nightmare. When armed
properly , rewarded correctly , and enthused about your products, sales can make the
difference between failure and massive success. In the following sections, we discuss many tactics for getting your salespeople on your side and enlisting their help.
Making it easy for sales to sell your product
Following are a few tactics that help make a salesperson’s job much easier . And if sales is happier , your job becomes that much easier . Keep these factors in mind as you work
through how to structure your product for sales success.
Discovering what motivates salespeople
The first tactic is to make sure you understand the motivation of a salesperson. Money and being successful in their position are key motivators for salespeople. Here are a couple of others:
- Finding a great solution to fit the customer’s needs:
As a product manager , your job here is to make sure the salesperson understands how your product solves the customer need. If you can easily link the product to the customer and let sales know how best to succeed at completing the sale, sales can get on with their job without asking you to participate in every sale call.
- Competing and winning:
Many salespeople thrive on doing sales for a living because it
gives them the chance to compete against other companies to win the business from
customers. Show your sales folks how your products help them win this fight, and they’ll
help you hit your revenue goals.
Highlighting what’s in it for them
Another tactic for leveraging your sales team is to be incredibly crisp and clear about
“What’s in it for me?” or WIIFM. Make sure you can tell team members in less than one
minute why focusing on your product is worth their while and why you’re making it easy to sell. Include info on how they can easily cross-sell and upsell customers with other
products. Create opportunities to add on consulting, support, and other ongoing revenue
streams. Convince salespeople that the solution is ideal for their customers. Then, when
it’s sold, they don’t have to spend time fixing problems and instead can focus on closing
Identifying the target for them
Make sure your salespeople understand who the target is and that they’re selling to the
right customer . You want to paint them a picture about the size of the market and its
potential for them so that they’re excited. T each them about the buyers and the buying
process so that they can be as effective as possible.
Give them the persona for the user , decision maker , and purchaser and tell them what the motivation is for each and why your product is a perfect fit. This information lets them understand the customer pain points and the motivation for purchasing. (Flip to Chapter 5 for more on personas.)
Creating great messaging
All your messages should be right on target. You have to have a compelling elevator pitch (that is, be able to explain the product in an elevator in ten floors or fewer). Y ou need to nail your product positioning. You should be able to get it all across in literally 30 seconds — and teach sales how to do it in less than 2 minutes. Salespeople won’t be as concise as you are, and they also add in sales related language on top of your key selling points. Check out Chapters 10 and 15 for the best way to create these impactful statements.
Having compelling messaging that your sales reps can easily repeat goes a long
way to making them more successful. Ideally , every rep should be able to sit down
with any customer and very quickly convey why that customer should be interested in
purchasing the product. If you can get your messaging to that point, the salesperson
will have a much higher chance of success.
Giving them excellent sales tools
Your sales tools (or the ones that product marketing creates for you) have to be simple and effective, and they have to make it incredibly easy for the rep to make the sale. If sales constantly asks you to be involved with customer visits or to provide additional
information, you probably don’t have good sales tools in place. If you did, the sales reps
would be able to tell the whole story without having to get you involved. For particularly
complex sales scenarios, sales engineers get involved to bring in technical expertise. Your sales tools may never be technical enough for these folks, so plan specific technical
training sessions for them.
Check out Chapter 15 for a complete list of sales tools.
Capturing their feedback
One of the big challenges that product managers face is that sales reps generally have far too many feature requests that they consider urgent. They may have fallen into the habit of coming back from a customer site convinced that they could close the sale if the product just had features A, B, and C. You could simply ignore the request, but then sales may not work hard to sell your product.
Proactively share your process for capturing feature requests so that salespeople feel like their feedback is being taken into account and being put into the product planning
process. Ideally , you’d set up a web form to get the details and the justification for the
request, as well as the associated revenue and customer name.
Don’t stop at showing sales the process for gathering requests from all over the
company: sales, tech support, the team, customers, and other stakeholders. Let them
know how you prioritize feature requests, explaining that you’ll use their provided
justification during the process. When your extended team believes it’s being heard,
it’s more likely to be influenced when the time comes.