There’s always a ton of hype that we create surrounding our products. Sales positions the product as the best option for prospects and existing customers; marketing spins our features and benefits so that we sound like the best thing since sliced bread; and our CEOs and internal cheerleaders are constantly optimistic about the future, the market, and the direction of the company. We submit for rewards to organizations that we also provide financial support to; we pull customer quotes for our website testimonials and advertising materials; and we solicit interviews and other media attention that serves to reinforce all of these perspectives.
And all of that is well and good – we need to position our product in the market and in the media in the best possible way. But there’s also a risk when the executives, management, or even the product managers start to believe this hype. It can lead to dysfunction on an epic scale, and rarely ends well.
Separate the Hype from the Facts
Thankfully, the Product Manager is usually in the best position to have a critical eye on what the marketeers, sales team, and others in the company are doing to position the product. Assuming that you’re working with them effectively, they’re coming to you for details about what the plan is, what the product does, and why things are prioritized the way that they are. If you’re doing an exceptional job, then they’re working directly with you on the marketing spin, the materials that are being written, and the positioning that’s being used by the Sales team. Because Product Managers are the hub around which most of these activities rotate, we tend to have the best perspective on the disconnects between marketing, sales, and the actual product itself.
It’s essential that Product Managers remain as neutral as possible when we’re assessing the market, making prioritization decisions, and working with out stakeholders to validate our assumptions about what’s going on outside the four walls of our office. It’s also essential that we understand the hows, whys, and whats of the positioning of the product outside of the company. There’s definitely a bit of cognitive dissonance to manage here — especially when you’re out and about, either at a conference or convention, or doing a ride-along with the sales team and visiting key accounts. You simply must be as well-versed in positioning the product and selling your own hype as you are in managing that hype internally for prioritization and scoping. You will always wear two hats — sometimes both at the same time — so get used to it.
Challenge the Status Quo
Because we’re often in the best position to see when the line is being crossed between fantasy and reality when we’re engaged in internal discussions, it’s our duty as Product Managers to speak up when others in the company are starting to buy their own spin. Left unchecked, companies can easily (and surprisingly quickly) become echo chambers of “rah rah” cheerleading focused solely on reinforcing the tales we tell the market — to the exclusion of the reality that’s right outside our doors.
It’s your job as the Product Manager to use all of the information that you have available to put checks on those runaway beliefs and enthusiastic adoption of your own marketing spin…
Position Decisions on Facts, Not Emotions
In order to play that role, though, without rocking the boat too much, you need to ensure that you are doing your proper job as a Product Manager — that you are getting outside the four walls of your organization and collecting objective data from the market, from your customers, from your prospects, from your teams, and from the competition. You need to make sure that you have a thorough understanding of the world outside, and that you have the evidence needed to set yourself up as the check and a balance to the enthusiasm of others in your organization.
This doesn’t mean that you should become a wet blanket, or that you should stop people from embracing your marketing message all the time — you need to figure out when that enthusiasm and adoption of the message begins to cross the line from healthy optimism into “drinking the Kool Aid” to the exclusion of other information around you. It’s not an easy balance to achieve, and it takes time, effort, and some misplaced steps to do it right. But when you do it, it needs to come from a place where you can provide objective data to the management team — so that they can see that you’re not being a blockade, but rather trying to provide some perspective.