Advocating for Your Product
14 April, 2021
I was working at a large company that was launching its next-generation applications. The product that I managed was not scheduled to be included in the first release, which presented a few challenges:
- Our product would lose resources and investment, as some of the team would be allocated to other projects or products;
- The team would be demotivated and potentially start leaving the company;
- We would lose traction in the marketplace which would undermine all the hard work we had put in to gain a leadership position.
I was afraid that all of this would happen if we continued along the trajectory that had come down from the top.
At that time, I was Senior Director of Product Management for the product line. I could simply accept the executive decision and continue to maintain the product by doing small enhancement for customers. Or I could fight for my product and team by presenting a case of why it was important to include this product in the first release.
Before scheduling a meeting with the Executive VP, I went up my management chain to ensure they would be supportive of my advocacy efforts. They greenlighted my plan and I headed to a meeting with the Executive VP. The approach I took when talking to him was threefold:
a. Because this was a multi-billion dollar company, this executive may not have been familiar with all aspects of all the products. So I provided him with a high-level background, including the number of customers, the revenue growth and key recent wins against competitors in the market. I also provided two case studies of strategic customers who had used our product to make a significant impact towards their KPIs including cost reduction and employee satisfaction. I left him with powerful quotes from executives at these companies that described the tangible benefits that they achieved by leveraging our solution.
b. I also put myself in his shoes. From his perspective, he may not be as interested in the success of a single product, as he would be in the success of the entire suite of applications. We were competing with another key industry player that was doing extremely well in the market. We were trying to go head to head with them, but we were struggling. I presented a vision of an adjacent market that was growing, one in which my product played an integral part. I explained how our product was a competitive differentiator in this space, and that our sales team was excited about it because it was unique and something our competitor did not have.
c. I also needed to convince him that by adding our product to the first release that we would not negatively impact the release schedule or slow anyone else down. In fact, I explained to him that because our product was independent and smaller in scope than many of the others, we could operate autonomously and serve as a control example for the other teams. Even more importantly our product could be deployed standalone. So customers who were risk-averse or hesitant to move their entire suite of applications to a new technology platform could test the waters with a single product. If that worked well for them, they could then roll out the entire suite. This last argument is what I think closed the executive VP -- there really wasn’t much of a downside for allowing us in to the 1st release but could be a potential hook to persuade customers to explore the next generation technology once it was released.
When he responded with those magic words “Ok, go ahead, I will let the SVP of Applications know to add you to the 1st release,” I was elated. The entire team was excited, relieved and inspired to show the rest of the organization what we were capable of.
- Ask for what you want. Don’t just blindly accept the directives that come down from upper management as sometimes you may have an important viewpoint that they are not aware of. If you strongly believe in something and are passionate about it, ask for it! Do your research, build your case, and advocate for what you believe is the best solution for the company and your team.
- When you make a case to executives, make it simple, clear and powerful. Provide a quick background, but emphasize things that executives care about including customer counts, revenue, recent wins, competitive differentiators, market leadership and customer impact. Showcase strategic customer stories supported by quotes that are easy to grab on to and remember.
- Understanding where executives are coming from in terms of internal strategy and goals is critical. Position what you are saying with respect to that. Don’t just talk about how great your product is but how it could help the larger company strategy. Be brave and go for it!
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