Dear Leah #1: Getting buy-in for product changes
How do I introduce anything against resistance - why does noone listen to me?
“Dear Leah” is my advice column where I tackle questions from the community. It’s a perk intended for my paid subscribers to get more focused, operational advice. Questions might be edited lightly for clarity. Today’s Question is from Larry about how to overcome resistance as someone who changed jobs.
First of all, thanks for the article where you called out everyone to go out and start mentoring, I took it to heart and I have a great time helping others.
[…]A new VP/CPO comes to a company. The company is doing okay, nothing extraordinary. Growth is above CAGR, sales hits their numbers, customers are happyish based on anecdotes.
The company talks to customers fairly regularly and measures high level metrics like retention, but usage and other lower level metrics are completely absent.
The company doesn't know how/if features are used. The new VP/CPO wants to introduce product analytics to better understand customers and quantitatively measure the success of features/initiatives.
The CEO and other execs are a bit sceptical, since the company is doing okay they don't want to take away focus from how the company is working right now.
Question: how can the new VP/CPO convince the CEO/other execs?”
Your question is full of assumptions, and I don’t mean necessarily from you:
The company assumes they need someone to bring “product” in, otherwise, they would not hire an executive for this position
They assume their customers are happyish
You assume they don’t want to take away the focus on how they work right now but again why bring in a new silo if that was the case?
You assume that all of the above is correct, but do you know?
“Noone ever got fired for buying IBM”, protecting the status quo with safe bets is a common behavior. Place yourself in your CEO’s shoes, what does he “want” from a VP Product?
What made him go and say “yes, let’s budget for this position and do something about it" What is the “it”? Before you understand how to change the company understand the company’s problems.
The very first thing I always do in an advisory call is to take my time to do an inventory. A proper one.
Don’t be satisfied with answers like “Everything works”
Let them describe their processes. I cannot tell you how many times I uncovered problems in organizations where someone initially told me “everything works”. Your questions should not be aimed at “How do we leverage product analytics better”.
You don’t understand. Yet.
You probably know that you shouldn’t define outputs in product delivery but outcomes. Apply the same with other stakeholders, and understand exactly what makes your CEO successful. How is their connection with the board? How is the company positioned? What do the financials look like? What is the reasoning behind the budget and influence that you have?
Ask. Ask. Ask. Don’t suggest.
As a VP Product you should absolutely have access to that information. Earlier in my advising career, I made the mistake that I focussed too fast on the customer. While customer centricity is absolutely paramount you cannot forget that anything you do can potentially put your colleagues in a bad spot.
Sales are worried about their pipeline.
The CEO is worried about their annual growth rate.
The CFO wants to avoid overspend.
The COO doesn’t want trouble so they can go home to their family in the evening without having sleepless nights.
No matter how good you are with your skills you need to build your trust and rapport with people first. Show them that you understand, and show them that you consult with them before you suggest sweeping changes. The process for that is always the same.
Do we agree on the problems that I claim exist? How big are they? What are your suggestions on how to solve this problem?
If you cannot establish that any suggestion after it will be dead in the water. It doesn’t matter how much uplift you claim from a change. If they don’t trust you to do that they won’t give their blessing.
After you’ve done that the argument becomes less about product analytics but about whether they give you the benefit of the doubt that you know what you do.
It’s about trust and how to get it, not your skills
As an executive, this is your lifeblood. Don’t convince people that they need product analytics, convince them that you know how to tackle the problems in a way that doesn’t burn down the entire business.
After that, you can start to bring product analytics in as a layered approach. Make assumptions on which one metric can give you valuable insight that you didn’t have before. Good considerations are anything that doesn’t require much effort to implement and that potentially helps you get buy-in from other silos.
If these metrics make their jobs better they will want more. Show sales something they did not know about their leads.
Uncover a problem in your existing data that leads to an insight the CEO did not realize. Common areas are ICP segmentations, Lifetime value issues, and in general quantified insights. (Don’t show up with individual customer feedback)
Create visibility with what you have first. Show that you know how to handle data. And if they ask “are you sure about that?” don’t be afraid to say
“No, I’m not but with more data, we could go there and be confident in our assumptions.”
Really enjoyed this article, thank you