Getting your boss to listen

We get asked about influence a lot. Seems like all product managers feel like they’re constantly trying to persuade one person or another. After all, we have all the product responsibility and no direct reports. Trying to persuade your team, your peers and your boss can seem daunting. The one thing that always works? Don’t make it your opinion – use your customer’s voice. Whenever you’re trying to change someone’s mind about priorities, or direction, or market fit (or anything)…it’s way easier when you tell a customer story, show a customer picture, play a customer video. No longer is it about what you want – you represent your customer. What is your customer¬†asking you for? How do you know? Of course, you have to get out there and be talking to your customers all the time. All the time. Don’t rush out just before a key meeting. Make it a regular habit – and start collecting all those great stories. You’ll have exactly the right story at your fingertips just when you need it.

Make it matter to your audience because you’re serving a critical customer need. Your powers of influence will magnify magically. Give it a try.

No, it’s not PROJECT manager!

One of the most common complaints we hear from product managers is that they’re being constantly mistaken for project managers. Are you? What do you do about it? Smile and mutter, “it’s actually product, not project”…or sigh, and go about your day…silently seething?

Time to do something.

Here’s what we want you to say: The most important work I do is to focus on understanding our customers.

Then, act like you mean it. The next time you’re in a scrum meeting, don’t take the random action items. C’mon, we know you do. We’ve all been guilty of it at some point. Product managers want their products to succeed, and that means we’ll do anything to get the job done. Pretty admirable really – but it gets us into trouble. We stop prioritizing time to learn about the customer, to take care of the dozen little details for the team. Time to make a stand. There are other people on your team – everyone should help, everyone should share in the task workload. Don’t be the catch-all. Don’t act like the project manager, and people will stop thinking you’re one.

No-one else will do the customer work you’re responsible for. Make that your first priority. Make a stand today.

When all else fails – go talk to a customer.

Having a bad day? Got another twenty powerpoint revisions to make for that big meeting tomorrow? The one that seems to come around every 5 minutes… Well, here’s your first rebel challenge. Block two hours tomorrow (and if that’s really not possible, find a time next week). Put it in your calendar now (that’s right, open up your calendar and book it. We’ll wait). Now search through your customer logs and find a customer who’s given you feedback recently. It doesn’t matter if it’s praise, a complaint, or just a question. Send them an email to request a 15 minute discussion about your product. Now do that again two more times with two more customers. You just booked yourself time to talk to three real people about your product. Excited?

Now all you need to do is put this script into your calendar, and you’re all set:

Hi, I’m <name>, a product manager with <name of product>. I know that you recently used our product, and I’d really appreciate hearing a little about your experience. This won’t take more than 10-12 minutes of your time. I just have three questions:

  1. Can you tell me a little about why you chose the product, and is it meeting your expectations? (why, why not)
  2. What would you recommend about the product? (Why)
  3. If you could change one thing, what would it be? (Why)

Thanks so much for your time. Talking to customers is one of my favorite parts of the day, and I so appreciate your willingness to share your experience with me.

That’s it…go ahead and modify it whatever way you prefer. But if you don’t have time, you still have this waiting in your calendar, ready to go. No excuses! Go on product rebel, make a difference to a single customer, and maybe learn something that will make a big difference for you.