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Product Management, the new Executive of Influence?

I’ve practiced the discipline, art and science of product management for over twenty years and have personal experience with the good, the bad and the ugly. One of the good things emerging from the profession over the past five or so years has been its executive influence.

What is the Executive of Influence? My personal definition is the person(s) in your company owning or driving strategic influence and possessing certain ownership over its direction. It may be one or more persons and they may be highly visible or someone flying below the radar. No matter who they are or their role, product management and product marketing needs to know and understand these influences, their styles, how to adapt and how to build trust.

Where’s the Influence? – In a poll I conducted earlier this year, I asked a range of product management professionals, executive management (CxO’s) and others, “Who’s the Executive of Influence at Your Company?” The participants could choose from answers that included; CEO, CTO, VP of Engineering/Development, VP Product Management, or Other. The other group is general, but supports important influencers such as a co-founders, architects, board members, etc. While I didn’t ask how many executives of influence were in their organizations, hopefully, you recognize there’s always more than one.

71% of respondents said the CEO was most often identified as the executive of influence. The other 29% were key influences you work with each day including the VP of Product Management. I believe several contributing factors and drivers place product management and product marketing at the forefront of influence.

A Desire to Produce – In Patrick Lencioni’s Five Temptations of a CEO, the most important principle conveyed was “executives must embrace a desire to produce.” By default, CEO’s have the influence, often possess the desire (even a passion), diverse supporting leadership and the supporting cast to produce. How CEO’s manage or delegate this influence depends on their style, background, market-orientation and the trust built with members of the team. Throughout the past decade, the discipline of product management has grown from a contributing position into one of influence within many organizations. As a product professional, have you elevated your contribution and established yourself or your team as an influencer with the CEO?

In the Secrets to Market-Driven Leaders, co-authored by David Meerman Scott, we often see the influence shift. “Evidence shows that entrepreneurs who started the company and who understood buyer problems soon become occupied with the details of running their organization. They no longer focus on buyer problems and building products the market wants to buy, but rather they obsess about the details of managing an ongoing business.”

As product management and product marketing are you the influencing factor who understands buyer problems, can translate, articulate and own this on behalf of the CEO or executive of influence?

The Shift of Influence – Over the past 10 years, it’s become clear that product management has gained more visibility and influence within executive management. In its most recent Annual SurveyPragmatic Marketing reviewed a ten-year trend of where product management reported.

The trend analysis indicates that product management has established influence and visibility and is five (5) times more likely to report directly to the CEO than ten years ago. Another point is product management is an established organization and does not report to sales, marketing or development as it has in the past. Additionally, product management continues to flourish within the organization, where in many situations, it has a seat at the executive table. In his article, “Where does Product Management belong in an organizationSteve Johnson shares, “Many CEOs realize that product management brings process and business savvy to the creation and delivery of products. Perhaps that’s why we’ve seen a shift over the years of where product managers report in the organization.” Has product management and product marketing finally established a level of executive influence? If so, how do we sustain and grow this influence?

Building Influence – During a conversation with a CEO and COO recently, the COO said, “To me product management is all about trust and validation.” He then said, “If product management will bring a strategy forward that’s founded on validated information, it creates trust. From that trust, credibility is established.” While we might know this, it’s great the hear it directly from two CxO’s.

How do product professionals capitalize on the opportunity to better influence the organization? You have to refine the way you think, act, adapt and build influence through credibility. If product management and product marketing has established credibility by using repeatable methods, communications and evidence found outside the building, the influence will come.

It’s product management and product marketing’s time to prove itself and stand as a new executive of influence. I welcome your comments, insights and experiences and how you’ve seen product professionals become a key influence.

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