I recently did a webinar with Pragmatic Marketing on the topic of thought leadership for product managers. One of the most interesting questions I received from our audience was actually not about thought leadership at all, but about about internal product advocacy.
The question was essentially, “How do you win executive buy-in to work on an innovative idea that risks cannibalizing some of your existing product line?”
Although a portion of my webinar — called How Thought Leadership Can Elevate Your Products and Career — was about becoming a better internal product advocate, the majority of my focus was on why it’s so valuable for product managers to establish themselves as public thought leaders in their industries. That portion of the webinar unveiled a lot of great questions as well, and a lively discussion.
But that attendee’s question got me thinking about what I believe is an important part of product management: Learning how to be an effective internal product advocate.
Yet in all of our discussions about the many important roles of product managers — learning about customers, knowing the competitive landscape, communicating with stakeholders and developers, championing their products publicly — I think we often forget just how vital it is to champion those products internally as well, across the entire company.
As a Product Manager, You Are Your Product’s Internal Champion — Whether You Realize it or Not
Another interesting insight that came out of our Pragmatic Marketing webinar was that more than 60% of attendees, whom we polled in real-time, said that it was the product manager who most often promoted the product internally in their organizations. In fact, the next most common internal product advocates — marketing and sales — were cited by just 16% of attendees, while product executives were cited by only 12% of attendees.
This tracks with my own experience in product management, where I’ve helped to launch several products. It’s also consistent with what I’ve learned as a founder at ProductPlan, where I’ve had the chance to work with product managers across dozens of industries.
“As a product manager, the responsibility falls on you to be your product’s internal champion.”
The bottom line is this: As a product manager, the responsibility will likely fall to you to be your product’s internal champion. Which means if you don’t advocate regularly and persuasively for your products across your organization, your products will likely have no internal champion. Here’s why that can be detrimental for your products and your company.
Why Your Products Need an Internal Advocate
Ultimately, being an internal advocate for your products will help you build better products.
As a product manager, you are often facing competing agendas within your company, budgetary and resource constraints of your own, and general inertia across your company during the long process of bringing a product to market.
By being an ongoing advocate of your product with executives, developers, the marketing and sales departments, the customer success team, your investors, and other relevant groups within your organization, you will create a much better chance that your product will receive the benefit of everyone’s A-game throughout its development.
As we’ve asserted in previous posts here at ProductPlan, like this one, it’s easy for everyone to feel enthusiastic and optimistic during an initial strategy meeting. But that early-stage excitement will inevitably wane, and it will then fall to someone — that means you, the internal product advocate — to maintain the advocacy and cheerleading throughout the development process that keeps everyone pumped for the product’s eventual release.
Another reason an internal product advocate is so vital to the product’s success is to help ensure everyone involved stays focused on the big-picture strategic goals — and teams don’t get lost in the tactical details and minutiae. Because you can’t oversee every aspect of your product’s development, you will need to trust your various teams to make some strategic decisions in real time — and the more you are there to advocate internally for your product’s vision and strategic objectives, the more likely those other teams’ decisions will reflect those bigger-picture goals.
How to be an Effective Internal Product Advocate
So how do you pull it off? How can you become an effective product advocate within your company? Here are some suggestions.
1. Share with your company your product’s high-level strategic vision.
When you speak with colleagues across your organization about your product in terms of features, you’ll have a hard time generating and maintaining enthusiasm — particularly among those groups who don’t understand all of the details of those features, or your market’s need for them.
So instead, try to keep your communications across your organization higher-level — talk about the market problems your products will solve, the value added to your customers, and how the product will earn your company market share, revenue and a leadership role in the industry.
Also, if the teams working on your products push back on your objectives or requests, and you can tie those requests back to the product’s larger-picture strategic vision, you’ll have a better chance of bringing those teams over to your side.
2. Tailor your product advocacy specifically to the people and teams you’re talking with.
At ProductPlan, in our conversations about roadmapping with product managers, we often find that executive stakeholders don’t want to hear about a product’s details. That’s just one of many examples of why it’s so important to tailor your conversations about your products to the groups you’re speaking with. You’ll be a much more effective advocate for your products if you advocate for them in a language that resonates with your audience.
When you’re talking with sales or marketing, for example, you’ll want to emphasize how your product will help solve problems for the personas they’ll be selling and marketing to. For your executives, on the other hand, your product advocacy should emphasize the product’s eventual revenue to the company, or its ability to bring your company into new markets.
This is also why we at ProductPlan are big advocates of visual, web-based product roadmaps. When you’re speaking with several different audiences — developers, executives, etc. — you don’t want to have only one view of your roadmap. You want to be able to quickly change the focus and the level of detail based on who you’re talking to.
3. Make a habit of weaving product advocacy into everything you do.
Becoming an effective internal product advocate means you’re always an internal product advocate — not only when you’re called on to speak. You have to make it a part of your job to be on the lookout for opportunities to champion your product across your company.
And you can find these opportunities everywhere.
“Make a habit of weaving product advocacy into everything you do as a product manager.”
Let’s say you find a blog post or industry research report about the fact that your customer persona is on the rise, or that a problem that your product will ultimately solve is growing. Copy people across your company — your development team, your sales team, your leadership team. Let them know, “Hey, looks like we’re onto something here!”
Don’t expect your teams to stay internally motivated from day to day. Life gets in the way of that. So use these pieces of market data wherever you can to help keep your teams’ enthusiasm levels high, and give them the day-to-day incentive they’ll need to keep doing their best work, during the long period between that exciting kickoff meeting… and release day.
4. Spread good product news across your company every chance you get.
Another great way to keep your internal teams motivated and enthused about your products is to share good news about those products as often as you can. If your sales team closes a big deal, send that news out to the company. If your product gets an honorable mention in the trade or business media, share that across the company.
And if you find a positive comment or quote about your product from an actual user? For goodness sake, jump up on your desk and shout it to everyone within earshot. (Or just email or Slack it to everyone.)
Hearing that your product is succeeding out in the marketplace, solving real problems for your market and winning fans among your customer personas, puts a human touch on what otherwise might often feel like abstract work for your teams. Let them know that the work they’re doing is making a positive difference in people’s lives.
5. Hold regular product meetings to keep everyone informed.
Often the simple act of bringing everyone together to discuss your product’s progress and to remind them about the big-picture strategic goals can provide a tremendous boost in company enthusiasm for the product.
One of the things I encourage product managers to do is to hold regular meetings with the various stakeholder groups, such as marketing, sales, customer support, engineering, etc. These get-togethers are also a great chance to give both progress updates and much-needed context to the work everyone is doing. It’s in these meetings, for example, that you can discuss what you’ve learned from your trips out to talk with customers — what your users like about your product, for example, and what they’d really like to see added to it.
Again, what you’re doing here is taking what might otherwise feel like a series of abstract disconnected tasks — adding this feature, changing this screen, fixing these bugs — and turning them into important projects that will be improving the way real customers, real people, will be able to work (or play or do whatever your product lets them).
I also recommend that product managers record their sessions with customers. This gives them something to show their internal teams back home, and those videos can really help teams put a human face to the problem they’re being asked to solve with their product development work. The more real-world information you can share with your internal teams, the more they’ll have a chance to see the big picture — and the more enthusiasm they’ll be able to bring to their work.
Advocate, Advocate, Advocate for Your Products!
Bringing a product to market successfully is an incredibly challenging balancing act — weighing priorities, limited resources and pressures against other priorities, limited resources and pressures. The more support you can elicit from across your company, the more your disparate teams are aligned in their mission to bring your strategic goals to reality, and the better your chances of a successful product.
But that takes internal product advocacy — ongoing championing of your products every chance you get. So if I had to sum up my advice here in one sentence, it would be this: Always be advocating.
Have you found other methods of internal product advocacy that work for you? Please share them below.