Everyone deals with politics within their organization and for those of us early on in our product marketing careers, it can be challenging to establish our place, authority, and credibility from the offset.
In this article, I’ll share six heuristic principles of persuasion you can leverage in order to build a couple of tactics to gain influence quickly within an organization based on my experience doing just that.
How many of you deal with politics in your organization? Me too. As someone who's on the earlier side of her career and has started earlier in her career in product marketing, you're usually dealing with two different tracks;
- Building your career and establishing your place within the organization, and
- Trying to quickly garner influence as a product marketer.
Being on the earlier side of your career, that can be tough, you have to build credibility, and you have to build it fast in order to get shit done.
How to code-switch across multiple functions
The realm of influence is really marketing, the business, and product and engineering, and then ultimately, the customer.
With marketing, we're trying to guide them with product messaging. You leverage different language there, you leverage your marketing speak, understanding their objectives, and trying to align with them so you can get the right messaging out into the market.
Product & engineering
On the product and engineering side, you have to understand domain-specific knowledge. For me, I come from a cybersecurity company so knowing the security audience is extremely important.
And being able to not just consume the information that product and engineering is providing, but also being able to engage with them. If you want to establish a relationship with product, being passionate about the space and being able to have a conversation around those specific security topics can be extremely helpful.
Then the business - aligning with sales, making sure you understand the objectives at the high level and are making your product marketing function work towards those goals.
Lastly, customer voice. I would say this is twofold. It's not just being the influential customer voice within the organization, but actually influencing the customer.
I've sat in on sales calls, I've talked to prospects at events, and customers don't always come up to me and say, "I need XYZ", they come up to you with pain points. You can leverage those pain points in your messaging to then influence the customers to choose your product as their solution.
Empower product marketers to lead by influence
There's also external influence as well as internal influence you have to manage as a product marketer. In true narrative form, I'm going to start with the challenges.
For us, if you cannot garner influence within the organization, you're essentially at a stopping point. If you can't have marketing understand the messaging and pull that through the campaign, then you look disjointed in the marketplace.
If you don't have those byways within products, then you don't have the communication and information you need in order to build accurate messaging.
All of that can lead to low-performing results, you ultimately have execution barriers that impact your ability to create outcomes for the business.
All of this is extremely important and a driver for building influential leadership within an organization. In this article, I'm going to frame the conversation around a couple of principles of persuasion.
Principles of persuasion
Psychologist Robert Cialdini built these as shortcuts for decision making. They're a heuristic you can leverage in order to build a couple of tactics to gain influence quickly within an organization.
The six principles of persuasion are:
- Social proof,
- Authority, and
I'll outline a couple of tactics I've leveraged in past organizations, but there are 100 ways to skin this. It really depends on the culture within your organization, the size of your organization, and what you're trying to do.
Product marketing must always communicate ‘WIIFM’
I'm sure we've all used this acronym before, what's in it for me?
I know starting out my career, this was something I was taught early on, but it's easy to have the concept in mind - a little harder to execute.
I think of a couple of different things when I'm trying to present accurately to an individual that I would like to engage that I would like their buy-in from. Those include:
- Business impacts - How is this going to impact the business? Because ultimately how it impacts the business will reflect their position within the organization. If it impacts it positively, then they could gain status, power, etc, and then continue to highlight those successes.
It's not just about gaining their buy-in at the outset, it's about making sure they understand that them being part of the program, for example, is positive and continues to reap benefits to them.
- Individual impact - It's tailoring the tactics towards their own needs, their own motivational drivers, as well as making sure they feel involved in the program.
That means even at a small level, even early on making sure their perspective is being pulled into the program, and showing you took that feedback and included them. That gives them investment.
- Marketing impact - If there is an impact on our marketing organization making sure that is clearly tied to the impact on the business.
I'm going to talk about this at two different levels; consistency of process and consistency of self.
Consistency of process: either stick to a process or communicate deviations
In terms of consistency of process, it's again easier to get the buy-in at the outset, maybe not so easy to keep the buy-in throughout. So it's important to do that for two different reasons.
One being you would like to execute your program, tactic, etc, to the best of your ability and properly. You need to make sure they're going to every stand-up that's required, that they continue to engage throughout.
Setting the pace and being clear about the process from the outset and getting buy-in not just on being involved, but on being involved in the process as a whole is important.
Then making sure that when you execute, you execute using the framework you have in mind, and that will help you to provide strong results. And it will create a feedback loop. If you have positive results from the program, tactic, etc, then you know there's a higher likelihood they'll get involved in the future.
Consistency of self: maintain a strong, consistent reputation - whatever it may be
In today's age and social media platforms, Instagram is big on this, it's all about branding.
Again, establishing a heuristic. Within the organization, people will think of you quickly as "she's a great project manager, she's a great strategist". You can leverage that in your favor, but it's something you need to be cognizant about.
Because it's going to happen, you'll have a brand within the organization or a reputation. Playing to it can be very helpful and also being consistent around it.
There will be a brand at the business level meaning there will be different organizations that all think of you in a specific way. And then at a peer-to-peer level, your peers will think of you in a certain way because of your interactions.
Creating a consistent brand can help you then leverage it in the future.
That is perfectly tied into social proof.
Gain public buy-in by proving your ability to influence success and apply feedback
Much like going to a restaurant that has more people because that's an indicator that there's good food even though there might be a longer wait time.
Social following is similar, you think a cybersecurity influencer who has 100,000 followers is producing quality content because they have that many followers and that's an indicator of social proof that they are producing the right content.
Social proof is definitely important in being able to gain influence quickly and you can leverage a couple of smaller tactics in order to do this. It's around soft skills.
So being collaborative, but it's not just about being collaborative, it's about having a reputation for being collaborative and being visible about your collaboration.
When you take in feedback, you want to make sure you are communicating that you included the feedback, you value the feedback not that you just take it, produce something new based on that feedback and push it out.
There needs to be communication byways there.
Quick small wins can be a great way to gain buy-in at higher levels and leverage that moving forward.
All of this is tied to liking.
Listen to your peers as much as you listen to your audience
Liking, for me, comes at two different levels. There are the strategic relationships you want to build, which again, help with the buy-in, and then there are the interpersonal relationships you want to foster.
Starting with the strategic relationships, you have alliances you want to build with those who garner influence already in the company. For product marketers that work cross-functionally then we also want cross-functional leaders to have our backs.
That's where we want to build the alliances but also everything shifts, politics change, and it's being cognizant of that ahead of time in order to shift alliances when necessary.
Being clear on the level of investment that someone is putting into a relationship with you is also important. There are those relationship shifts that will be bi-directional and then there are others that will be unidirectional.
Sometimes for strategic purposes, it'll make sense for you to put more investment into that relationship. But other times you have to consider whether or not it's worth it for you within the organization.
At the interpersonal level, there are a few different things I've found successful.
One is again, proving your ability to listen to your peers. Listening is very important, but there need to be indicators that you've listened to and valued their opinion, and that you provide that feedback.
Then there's effort, so putting in the effort to build the interpersonal relationship and doing above and beyond commiserating around work. I know that can be easy to do but as an influential leader, we also can help shape some of the culture between these different cross-functional departments.
If you create an atmosphere of negativity by establishing a relationship based on it, it can impact you in the future, especially because that lowers morale, and you need to be part of the forcing function to help these parts of the organization work together.
Develop authority that goes beyond years of experience or title
I'm not discounting years of experience or title, I definitely think those are important but I do think there are a number of other factors that need to work in concert with your years of experience.
Drive consistent results
For me, that comes down to delivering outcomes. Most people will think of what you've done for them recently, so delivering consistent outcomes for different parts of the business will help you gain credibility within the organization.
Prove your domain expertise
I also think product marketing is going to shift more and more towards specializations so having credibility within your domain. That can be anything from taking certifications to just being passionate about it, reading the blogs, listening to the podcasts, that can help you establish authority within that domain as a product marketer.
Gain executive sponsorship
Also, gaining buy-in from leaders within the organization can again help boost your authority.
Establish yourself as an engaged thought leader
Finally, being a thought leader in the space. We do have a unique position where like product, we can be speakers, organizations, we can byline articles, we can really know our stuff.
You can leverage that to develop authority within the organization.
Create motivation for engaging in a program or tactic
Closing on scarcity, which I think needs to be handled with care, because scarcity has a little bit of a negative touch to it. Usually, I do this in combination with other tactics.
Limited thought leaders
We have only so much bandwidth and I've used that before to focus on a limited pool of thought leaders, a limited pool of SMEs in order to drive scarcity and create motivation.
But that is always couched with a number of different aspects of influence. That would include motivational drivers that are specific to that individual.
- Where are they in their career?
- What are they interested in even talking about?
Bringing them in early and making sure they are clearly part of the strategy and then driving urgency with purposeful timelines.
Internal deadlines can be tough because there aren't always external drivers and they can keep shifting but making sure you outline a purpose at the outset and then hold to it can really help to create motivation and couch the scarcity.