I was speaking recently with a potential client about their expectations of a product manager, and in particular how far they expected the role to reach. After resolving a few terminology issues, we agreed that the product manager should be the Go To person for the product.
As a product manager, you must be the Go To person for your product. If you’re not, why is there someone else who knows more about your product than you? And what do they know about your product which you don’t know? Your product must be your “specialist subject” (to use terminology from the popular TV programme Mastermind).
A separate post discusses the difference between Product Manager and Programme Manager roles, but for the purpose of clarity in this post:
- The Product Manager represents the customer (or user).
- The Programme Manager represents the business.
- The product is a generic term to describe both products and services.
I recognise that organisations define roles in many different ways, and although the term “Go To person” might not be entirely universal, it is probably self-explanatory. Since the product manager is the sole person representing the customer, s/he should know everything there is to know about the product, and therefore is the person to whom others go.
The purpose of this post is to address the question of how to become the Go To person. Let’s take a look at the essential characteristics:
It almost goes without saying, but if you want to be the Go To person, you have to be the person to whom others will want to come with questions, answers, concerns or ideas. If you erect barriers which deter them, they won’t come to you. Instead, they will go to someone else or, worse, they might not share their concerns or ideas with anyone.
- Be approachable always – not just when it’s convenient for you.
- Being approachable relies heavily on relationships – take every opportunity to build solid relationships.
- Be approachable through your openness with others. The moment you stop being open, people will stop trusting you and you won’t be the Go To person anymore.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but the more information you share, the more you’re likely to become the Go To person. You’ve heard the expression “knowledge is power”? It doesn’t work here – at least not if you keep the knowledge to yourself. Product knowledge might make you feel powerful but unless you share it generously, it won’t do anything for your product. Remember that you’re most likely to be judged by the success of your product, rather than how much you know. Share information.
Be a good communicator
The ability to communicate effectively is an essential characteristic of the Go To person. The wide range of people involved in your product will best respond to communication which works well for them in terms of language, style and content. Adapt each of these appropriately for your audience. Using complex terminology inappropriately won’t impress them, and is most likely to alienate the very people you need to engage with.
Remember that communication is a 2-way process – speaking and listening – and that being a good listener is just as important as being a good talker. If you’re seen as the person who listens, you will become the person to whom people will want to talk. It’s not just about absorbing information; it’s also about reading between the lines, making mental connections and verifying inferences.
Yes, you really do have to know everything about your product. The whys, the why nots, the hows, the whens, and the what ifs.
You cannot learn everything simply by absorbing data sheets. You will build a thorough understanding of your product through being inquisitive and asking questions of the experts. They are most likely to share information with you if they see you using it wisely – you add value to it. You might find yourself asking questions which haven’t been asked before and which, through asking, somehow influence the product itself.
Think ahead to the questions you are likely to face and ensure you have answers. It might help to think of questions from different sources, including:
- users (face-to-face or via online discussions)
- journalists/ reviewers/ bloggers
- account managers
- service/ repair agents
- creative marketing people
- financial controllers
- legal & comms people
Internally publishing a list of FAQs for each source (and regularly reviewing it with them) can help ensure you’re meeting their need – and at the same time reinforce your status as the Go To person.
Which people in the above list are likely to regard “hmmm, actually I don’t know” as a good answer to their question? From their perspective, you are the person they want answers from. Be the person who can answer their questions; Be prepared.
Most people you deal with internally probably don’t have the same “reach” as you; the scope of their work is likely to be narrower (but deeper). They are unlikely to sense the influence of the customer in the same way as you, and they need to believe in the guidance, direction and feedback you give them. You must be consistent with that information and must resolve conflicts or changes in a credible way. If you stop being credible, you stop being the Go To person.
Being the Go To person shouldn’t be difficult for the product manager. It should be natural; it should be a joy. When others see that you’re passionate about your product, they are more likely to approach you, share information with you, listen to you and believe in you. You’re more likely to become the Go To person.
If you’re not convinced that you should be the Go To person, ask yourself these questions:
- Who would do a better job than me?
- Why am I happy letting them know more about my product than I do?
As the product manager, you will have an insatiable appetite for information about your product; after all, you wouldn’t be a product manager if it was “just a job”. For you, it’s much more than that.
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