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Five Tips for Product Managers to Get Executive Support


If you are in Product Management, executive support for your plans can mean the difference between your product’s success and failure.

Getting executives and management to support what you are proposing can be very challenging and difficult. What can a Product Manager do to increase the chances of getting what they ask for?

Five ways to get executive support:

  1. Be brief and hard-hitting. Nothing will kill your chances of getting a yes for what you ask for more than wasting the time of upper management. They have incredibly busy schedules and don’t have the time or desire to hear long, drawn out requests. Make your presentations, emails and conversations very brief. State a few facts, tell them what is in it for them and then ask for support. If you are presenting to a group of executives a good rule of thumb is to have no more than 5 to 7 slides (with backup slides that have data you can draw on if necessary). Even with such a small number of slides it is not common to only get to the first few, so choose your content wisely. Don’t go into deep detail about your product’s features or give lengthy descriptions of the problem or proposed solution. Instead make it brief and to the point.
  2. Tell them WIIFM. WIIFM stands for “What’s In It For Me.” Every executive thinks in terms of this, so tailor your requests so that it becomes apparent to them very rapidly why they should listen and consider supporting what you are asking. Talking to a VP of Sales? Start by telling him how this will help him exceed his sales targets quickly. Talking to a VP of Engineering? Make sure she understands how your proposal will make her team look good by delivering on customer needs.
  3. Speak in terms of ROI and incremental gains. Executives are commonly compensated based on how the company performs financially (particularly in public companies). If you are asking for money or resources do your best to show that it will provide a good ROI (return on investment) and to show what kind of incremental gains will occur if additional funds are spent.
  4. Preload your allies and your enemies. Never go into a meeting with a room full of executives (if you can help it) without pre-briefing them and making your case individually. If you surprise one of them they may (often will) kill your idea on the spot. By the time you are presenting to the large group you should have both your allies and enemies briefed and softened up to your idea (and WIIFM!)
  5. Speak “Executive-Ease.” Executives sometimes speak an almost different language that individual contributors. Each company has its own culture that includes critical metrics (with their own acronyms) that are tracked, and executives often focus on these exclusively. Make sure you know the terminology they use and what they are most concerned about and alter your pitch accordingly.

These are just a few suggestions. If you want to learn more check out our People Skills for Product Managers and Product Marketers™ class or the chapter about getting executives on board in Product Management for Dummies.

June 20, 2017