Product Managers often wind up serving as product evangelists, due to their interest in maintaining product dominance in their market, as well as their constant touch points with the market as a whole. It’s really almost inevitable in a healthy company for the Product Manager to reach out and present at conferences, meet regularly with advisory boards, and to present the product’s best side to the media whenever the opportunity arrives.
However, there’s another side to this that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle — that the Product Manager needs to be as much an internal evangelist for the product, the strategy, and the vision as they do an external evangelist. Every internal team that the Product Manager touches should leave their interaction with a better understanding of why the company is doing what it’s doing, and with more buy-in for the projected future of the product and the company.
Evangelism — More Than Just Cheerleading
First off, we should make it very clear that we’re not talking about the kind of “rah-rah” yes-man attitude that many relate to as “cheerleading.” Evangelism is only effective when it’s honest; cheerleading can often simply appear fake and disingenuous — and people can tell the difference, though they’d be loathe to tell you that to your face. Evangelism comes from the heart and from the mind — it’s a true and honest belief that the envisioned future that you’re describing will come to pass. It’s an optimistic viewpoint that remains grounded in reality while predicting greatness. Evangelism bends in the face of adversity, but it never breaks — it looks through the hard times to see the opportunities to continue pushing in the envisioned direction. Evangelism is all about internalizing the vision, strategy, and execution of the product, and describing to others just how awesome that future will be when you get there.
Evangelism is a Skill, Not Just a Talent
Evangelism is something that comes naturally to some people — I’ve known several natural evangelists over the course of my career. But it’s also something that can be learned and trained and exercised into a skill, as valuable as it is as a talent. The purpose of an evangelist and a cheerleader are similar — both exist to rouse excitement about a perceived future, the future of the product for the evangelist and the future of the sports team for the cheerleader. But, the work of the cheerleader is more akin to an axe, whereas the work of an evangelist is more akin to a scalpel — the work of the evangelist is precise, focused, and directed toward a specific individual, team, or company that they’re working with at the moment. The evangelist needs to understand how the perceived future benefits affect their audience specifically. They can’t use generic messaging (that’s marketing), and they can’t use high-pressure (that might be sales); rather they need to engage authentically and with a genuine interest in helping their audience solve a valuable problem — both now and in the future.
Everyone Should Understand the Business
One of the most fundamental mistakes that many companies make is compartmentalize their departments so fully that the people doing the day-to-day work forget exactly what it is that the business does, why it does those things, and to what ultimate end their work is contributing. This can be particularly prominent in IT and Development teams, whose technical expertise is sometimes taken for granted as a generic cog in the wheel that moves the product and the company forward. However, it’s often the case that those IT and Development teams have as much potential for leveraging relationships, market contacts, and strategic knowledge as any other team in the company. If your developers engage with partners on integration efforts, for example, they have a completely different door into the world at that partner than anyone else working on the Product or strategic side might have. Isolating these teams from the business goals, objectives, and vision is entirely counter-productive, and results in teams that not only cannot contribute to the strategic planning itself, but also causes the company as a whole to miss out on an entirely valid and sometimes decisive set of information that can be leveraged at all levels of the company.
This is where the internal evangelist needs to step in, to engage with their internal stakeholders and execution teams just as they would with a customer. They need to work with these teams to explain the vision and sell the future to these internal teams, to show them how that future is better not only for the customer and the product and the company, but for them as well. How that future affords opportunities for expansion, for learning, for growing into new roles. How that future creates a culture where everyone’s opinions are valid and open for discussion and investigation. How that future recognizes the various groups in the company as members of the same team, not isolated silos of “resources”. The evangelist needs to motivate everyone in the company that they touch, to be the reliable source of insight and information, and to ultimately be the hub around which the culture of the company revolves.
Go forth, my fellow Product Managers, and evangelize. Sell the future, and the people will follow.