Product Marty Cagan

Product Evangelism

In my last article I wrote about the importance of product passion, and I said that one of the reasons this passion is necessary is for product evangelism.

Product evangelism is, as Guy Kawasaki put it years ago, “selling the dream.”  It’s helping people to imagine the future, and inspiring them to help create that future.

If you’re a startup founder or CEO, this is a very big part of your job, and you’ll have a hard time assembling a strong team if you don’t get good at this.

If you’re a product manager at a large company, unless you’re good at evangelism there’s a very strong chance that your product will get killed before it sees the light of day, and even if it manages to ship, it will likely go the way of thousands of other large company efforts and wither on the vine.

I’ve always believed that the product owner needs to be the product evangelist for the team.  If the product owner is responsible for the backlog, and the backlog is what the team is working on, the product owner needs to ensure the team understands the reasons behind the backlog items.

This not only helps the developers do their work, but more importantly, it motivates the team to actually want to do this work.

There are several techniques to help communicate the value of what you’re proposing to your team, colleagues, stakeholders, executives and investors.  Here are my top 10 pieces of advice for product leaders in terms of selling the dream:

  1. Build a high-fidelity prototype.  For many people, it is too hard to see the forest through the trees.  When all you have is a bunch of user stories and backlog items, it can be very hard  to see the big picture and how things hang together (or even if they hang together).  A prototype let’s them clearly see the forest and the trees.
  2. Share the pain.  Show the team the customer pain you are addressing.  This is why I love to bring developers and stakeholders along to user testing.  For many people, they have to see the pain themselves to get it.
  3. Share the vision.  Create a product vision showing where you hope to be in 2-3 years.  Not a list of features and not a spec, but rather, what types of services do you intend to provide, to what types of users?  A set of product principles complements this well to share more of the nature of the product you’re working to create.
  4. Share learnings generously.  After every user test or customer visit, share your learnings – not just the things that went well but share the problems too.  Give your team the information they need to help come up with the solution.
  5. Share credit generously.  Make sure the team views it as their product, not just your product.  On the other hand, when things don’t go well, step forward and take responsibility for the miss, and show the team you’re learning from the mistakes as well.  They’ll respect you for it.
  6. Learn how to give a great demo.  Especially for stakeholders, we’re not trying to teach them how to operate the product, and we’re not trying to do a user test on them, we’re trying to show them the value.  A demo is not training, and it’s not a test.  Yes, it’s a form of sales.  Get good at it.
  7. Do your homework.  Your team and your stakeholders will all be much more likely to follow you if they believe you know what you’re talking about.  Be the undisputed expert on your users and customers.  Be the undisputed expert on your market – your competitors and the relevant trends.
  8. Be genuinely excited.  If you’re not excited about your product, you should probably fix that either by changing what you work on, or changing your role.
  9. Learn to show some enthusiasm.  Assuming you’re genuinely excited, it’s amazing to me how many product leaders are so bad and/or so uncomfortable at showing enthusiasm.  This matters.   Absolutely be sincere, but go ahead and let people see you’re genuinely excited.  Enthusiasm really is contagious.
  10. Spend time with the team.  If you’re not spending face time with every designer, developer and QA person on your team, then they can’t see the enthusiasm in your eyes.  If your team is not co-located, you’ll need to make a special effort to travel there and do this at least every couple months.  Spending a few minutes with every last person on the team pays off big in their level of motivation and as a result, the velocity of the team.  It’s worth your time.

Note that if your company is mid to large in size, then it’s normal to have product marketing that plays the role of evangelist with your customers and your sales force.  You still may be called on to help out on the big deals and big partnerships, but you’ll need to focus your evangelism on your team because the best thing you can do for your customers is to provide them a great product.