Dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing man­agers, and prod­uct man­agers alike, have lots of constituents—stakeholders whose “votes” mat­ter. The polit­i­cal clout held by a net­work of depart­ments, cus­tomers, and crit­ics can have an unex­pected effect on any new release, prod­uct design, or ad campaign.

As a project goes from con­cept to real­ity, both the prod­uct man­ager and the dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing man­ager receive many sug­ges­tions, ideas, and requests. It’s their job to sort through pri­or­i­ties to deter­mine which make a real dif­fer­ence and which don’t make the cut. Some requests seek improved fea­tures and inter­nal archi­tec­ture. Engi­neers want to reduce tech­ni­cal debt. Price con­sid­er­a­tions for the biggest accounts may come from sales. Finance, mar­ket­ing, IT, and even cus­tomers weigh in. It’s unlikely that every request can be addressed.

Savvy man­agers pull together, not apart, when address­ing MRDs (mar­ket require­ments doc­u­ments). Here’s where good prod­uct man­agers and val­ued dig­i­tal mar­keters earn their keep. Work­ing as a team with key depart­ment per­son­nel to under­stand and pri­or­i­tize requests, ask­ing ques­tions, and seek­ing input and ideas will keep things civil and smooth should someone’s pet request get deep-sixed. Dis­ap­point­ment may be evi­dent, but through good com­mu­ni­ca­tion, every­one will under­stand how the project evolved and the deci­sion was made.

As I nav­i­gate new ter­ri­tory at Adobe, apply­ing my dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing knowl­edge to new chal­lenges in prod­uct man­age­ment, I’ve been soak­ing up advice and wis­dom from a dozen recently rec­om­mended books. I’ve found the primer 42 Rules of Prod­uct Man­age­ment, edited by Brian Law­ley and Greg Cohen, to be a huge help. Here are a few gems that are turn­ing out to have sub­stan­tial value.

  • Learn to say “no.” Good dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing man­agers and prod­uct man­agers lis­ten. Con­cerns could prove valu­able to all. Or, maybe not. Say­ing “yes” too fre­quently can dilute the power of the prod­uct. Say­ing “no” keeps all but the most impor­tant issues at bay. Either way, lis­ten­ing does two things: broad­ens your per­spec­tive and lets them know you are pay­ing atten­tion, even if you say “no.”
  • Sur­prise! Unless you’ve just posted a blis­ter­ing quar­ter that blew past your fore­cast, this is not a phrase you want asso­ci­ated with you. In an effort to avoid divi­sive or dam­ag­ing dis­cus­sion, do what any good polit­i­cal can­di­date would do: talk with your “con­stituents” to avoid unpleas­ant sur­prises from those who might feel rejected by a deci­sion. Pre-MRD, sit down with engi­neer­ing. With sales. With mar­ket­ing. With IT. Have infor­mal con­ver­sa­tions to clar­ify intent and need. Antic­i­pate reac­tions that pas­sion­ate play­ers may have to the poten­tial rejec­tion of an idea. Give them a heads up, per­haps ask­ing what they think, to engage and assure them that their input has been considered.
  • Define your role. Let peo­ple know, within your posi­tion, what you can, and can­not, do. If every­one has a real­is­tic pic­ture of what the pos­si­bil­i­ties are with regard to cor­po­rate struc­ture and resources, requests will find logic.

With regard to pri­or­i­tiz­ing, and sub­se­quently learn­ing to say “no,” Tony Jaros of Sir­ius Deci­sions shared a lit­tle wis­dom with me: Mar­keters, and prob­a­bly more than a few prod­uct man­agers, tend to think in terms of the pos­si­ble, not the prob­a­ble. That broad sweep can weaken the mes­sage, caus­ing it to fall flat instead of cap­tur­ing the atten­tion of a wider market.

Whether in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, prod­uct man­age­ment, or life in gen­eral, “no” is a pow­er­ful word that is some­times overused. One man­ager I worked under said “no” a lot. A friend whose pro­pos­als were con­tin­u­ously rejected by this man­ager became increas­ingly frus­trated. I wanted to avoid that dead end, so I just plowed ahead with an idea I thought had merit. When she saw how it was work­ing, she sim­ply loved it. I know, how­ever, had I pre­sented it to her through pre­ferred chan­nels, she would have rejected it just as she had so many good ideas before. Bot­tom line? Going back to the pre­vi­ous blog on this book, some­times you have to bend, or even break, the rules, to make progress.

Resource scarcity indi­cates that some­one will always be dis­ap­pointed. Com­mu­ni­cat­ing up front can get peo­ple on board with your deci­sions, paving the way from MRD to PRD (prod­uct require­ments doc­u­ment), and upping your approval rat­ing in the process. In short, give folks rea­sons to “vote” for you. Every day. Even if you don’t say “yes.”

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