Tailoring Your Communication: What You Say vs. What You Show

Product leaders use their product roadmaps as a communication tool for aligning stakeholders. Roadmaps inspire teams working to build, market, sell, and support the product. While “traditional” roadmaps were laden down with tons of details and specifics, modern product management professionals know the advantages of more visual, theme-based product roadmaps. By tailoring your communication with the help of a product roadmap, you can better align behind a clear product vision.

However, as great as those visual roadmaps are, they do leave a lot open to interpretation. This is why the narrative surrounding those roadmaps and how they get presented matters so much.

The context and perspectives of the accompanying presentation and discussion present a massive difference in how the roadmap gets interpreted. Moreover, they show how enthusiastic the audience feels about the plan. By tailoring your communication for peers, senior leadership, or customers, you’ll improve your odds of connecting with them.

Make Sure They’re Actually Listening

In today’s world of endless distraction and multitasking, getting anyone’s full attention can be a challenge. People tend to have millions of things on their minds at once.

And of course, their phones and computer screens offer endless opportunities to divert their focus onto an urgent email. All these potentials for distraction are even more pronounced when some or all of the meeting attendees are remote. Now your roadmap is competing with all the other apps and notifications on their device.

Making things more interactive is one way to spark engagement. For example, the possibility of being asked a question keeps everyone on their toes.

Beyond that, you can seek out confirmations of understanding and acknowledgment of agreement every step of the way. This not only improves engagement but also reduces the chance of disagreements later on in the process.

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Tell Them What They Want to Hear

Most audiences for your product roadmap have their own agendas and hot button items. They’re specifically on the lookout for what this particular roadmap means for their own priorities.

Many of these topics will seem obvious to the astute product professional that’s been paying attention and doing a little stakeholder analysis. These stakeholders will repeatedly raise concerns and ask questions about the things that matter most to them.

So whether you’re checking off all the items on their personal wish lists, only hitting a couple, or completely skipping them, you must address these stakeholder concerns head-on. They’re not going to be supportive of anything if they don’t hear about the items.

Incorporating these elements into your story ensures stakeholders feel listened to. Ideally, you want them to judge the roadmap as objectively as possible.

Connect Everything to the Customer

When your audience stops worrying, they’re better able to appreciate the incremental value-added for the product’s actual users. But since everyone comes to the table with different knowledge, it’s helpful to begin by reviewing the customer problem you’re trying to solve.

Anecdotes and individual customer stories help make the case. Instead of hearing about “our customers asked for this,” it’s far more relatable to say, “General Motors needs export functionality for their accounting systems” or “The University of Alabama needs this to work on an iPad.” Specificity is the cornerstone of a narrative, and real-world examples better illustrate the rationale for prioritization.

It’s actually easier for the audience to make the mental leap that “if Alabama needs that, a whole bunch of other colleges probably do as well” than hearing about a generic “bunch of universities.” Plus it gives you additional supporters for the decision, as anyone connected with the account(s) in question wants to keep the customer satisfied and renewing.

From what defines success to how to position future enhancements to prospects, customer-centric communication keeps everyone aligned with the ultimate goal of customer delight.

What’s the Bottom Line Impact

Context is king. There’s no better way to establish it than pointing out exactly what impact each item on the roadmap should have. For example, your team can focus on the metrics, KPIs, or revenue/growth figures the organization has prioritized. If you can’t connect the dots between something on your roadmap and its ultimate impact on a metric that matters, then it might warrant some reconsideration.

Your presentation must illustrate the linkage between a given feature or theme and its organizational impact. Since the roadmap item itself may not make that obvious, you’ll want to hammer it home when discussing it.

If You’re Frustrated, They are as Well

While we all want a room full of smiling, nodding faces in the audience ready to greenlight everything you’re proposing. Unfortunately, that’s not always what happens.

If the questions coming from the crowd shift from curious to confrontational, it’s an indicator that they’re not hearing what they want/need to hear and probably are close to completely tuning you out. Likewise, if your compelling narrative isn’t winning over hearts and minds, then you’re probably missing something they care more about or spent too much time on things they don’t.

Keep a keen lookout for frustration in either direction, because once it mounts it’s hard to come back from. There’s also a chance they simply don’t understand what you’re telling them. This may be a sign you need to quit using so much jargon and more explicitly explain what you’re pitching, or you might have made some false assumptions about the audience’s level of familiarity and knowledge regarding the situation.

Don’t get angry, just slow things down, ask questions, and look for a chance to reset.

Unleash Your Inner Storyteller by Tailoring Your Communication

Your product roadmap may seem self-explanatory to you, but that’s because you’ve been immersed in the world of your product. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to whom you’re presenting to have that same familiarity and comfort.

So paint a picture they can’t resist. Think of your product roadmap as the visual aid to the tale you’re telling and not just a document to “explain.” You want to bring the audience along with you on a journey of customer delight, growth, and prosperity.

Crank up the charisma and be confident that your roadmap achieves the key goals and objectives the company already prioritized. Take pride in the nuanced, thoughtful way you’re making the most of the opportunity and available resources to deliver solutions to real problems and challenges your customers face every day.

Between the meaty content of the product roadmap and your showmanship as a presenter, who could walk away feeling anything other than enthusiastic about what this portends for the future! Tailoring your communication can help you establish a clear product vision and align with organizational goals.

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