The secret to influencing stakeholder buy-in? Confidence.

This article was published by Built In Chicago and written by Taylor Karg.

Image: Devbridge

At Devbridge, PMs use these strategies to establish common ground and build solid working relationships.

Product managers play a unique role within an organization. They own the product but have no direct control over how it’s built, marketed or supported. With that in mind, how can they successfully influence developers, designers, marketing, and customer service teams?

For Devbridge Senior Product Manager Katie Paone, exerting influence begins with a clear product vision generated from in-depth discussions with stakeholders. “One-on-one conversations with stakeholders are a highly effective way to understand underlying motivations, contribution, and involvement,” she said.

Then, PMs are able to establish common ground and build good working relationships with stakeholders.

Built In Chicago checked in with Paone to get a better pulse on the steps she’s taken in order to gain stakeholder buy-in and influence without authority. One secret to her success? Communicating with confidence.

Image: Katie Paone, Senior Product Manager

Exerting influence starts with a clear product vision. What are your key considerations when defining the product vision?

The long-term vision for a product should be both aspirational and achievable. It should be based on current and future customer needs as well as how it will differentiate itself from the competition. When prioritizing features in your roadmap, ensure you can tie them back to the vision you’ve created to ensure they’re going to help you get there.

Take time to talk with stakeholders and users. Ask lots of questions. What are the pain points? What are the biggest problems? Building alignment and clarity around what the product needs to do and why is key (i.e., what are problems and how will the product resolve them).

For example, if a business was looking to build a relevant e-commerce presence, I’d work with them to carve out a custom solution based on their unique service offerings. Our cross-functional team (designers, product managers and engineers) would have in-depth discussions with stakeholders to identify their business objectives, needs and key differentiators to inform the product. The output of these discussions would generate a clear vision.

I’ve learned to bring logic, data and experience to a conversation that supports my position.

What steps do you take to identify and understand —the stakeholders you need to influence, and how do you build good working relationships with those individuals?

One-on-one conversations with stakeholders are a highly effective way to understand underlying motivations, contribution, and involvement. Conducting these introduction discussions helps to build trust and establish a common ground between the product manager and stakeholder. It is important to be an active listener and seek to understand not just the desired outcome but the underlying motivations driving them. I’ll often recap the information we’ve discussed to both validate understanding and build alignment.

These initial talks lay the foundation early on for continuous feedback and ongoing open dialogue. As an outcome, I find it very valuable to create a stakeholder map that allows me to quickly point to how I can communicate and influence a stakeholder based on the data collected in our discussions. As you learn more about your stakeholders over time, this map can and should evolve. For example, stakeholder roles may change, which impacts their influence and motivation.

When it comes to influencing without authority, what’s been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned, and how have you applied that lesson in your work?

The most important lesson I learned when it comes to influencing without authority is to exude confidence when communicating. A piece of advice I received early in my career was to present yourself in a confident manner, even if you are not feeling it. Showcasing a lack of confidence is a quick way to damage trust and the relationship. I’ve learned to bring logic, data and experience to a conversation that supports my position as a means to demonstrate confidence outwardly and inwardly. Inherently, looking to tactical experience helps ease possible nerves.

Being armed with data and facts also helps drive productive discussions. For example, should a client question a motive or combat a suggestion, calling upon data as a reference can help redirect the conversation. Noting past experiences and sharing stories of how I’ve solved similar issues helps build authority, exhibit expertise, and strengthen the overall relationship between myself and stakeholders.

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