To do my part in helping promote the company with external stakeholders, I decided to tune up my product presentation to deliver a compelling blueprint for the future.
An early stage company often needs to do more than simply sell and support its products. For instance, there are occasions where larger and longer term plans must be discussed to advance the business through the help of customers, partners, and investors.
As the Head of Products, I often participate in these discussions, usually to tell our unique story from a product perspective. My contribution is relating all the progress made over the past weeks and months to the broader and still unfolding product narrative that will continue to propel us forward in the years ahead.
What drove this decision
With all the hyperbole about taking it to the next level, I rarely see anyone writing about what you do when you get there. There is, of course, the want to celebrate the achievement but that is short-lived and you usually don't rest there for very long. The same energy and passion and drive that got you and the team to this point is what will ultimately compel you to keep moving forward.
My company had reached another stage in its growth and it was time to turn our sights to the next plateau. New players were now starting to take an interest in the company and it would take additional time and energy investments on our part to engage with them.
It should be no surprise then, that in this situation, I would turn to the same tools and tactics I had used to help get our company this far. It was clear to me that, going forward, I would be telling and selling an even larger product vision.
The decision: Prepare and pitch a more strategic product roadmap that could accommodate a broader range of business conversations.
The product roadmap continues to be my go-to asset for constructing full and lively reports, especially with those unfamiliar with our business. I continuously tweak our roadmap, not just to reflect the evolving initiatives and priorities but also to help me tell better stories.
Every so often, I am able to produce a rendition of the roadmap that has just the right amount of fidelity. When that happens, I can communicate equally well with everyone from Engineers to Board members. This was one of those occasions where details about individual features or shorter-term enhancements would be folded into larger themes that stretch out for many months and clearly connect parallel product initiatives.
Plan of attack
Over the past year, I had been more tactical with my product plans, mostly with the intent of rebuilding credibility with the other departments in the organization. Now, I was focused on communicating our product direction to audiences outside the company.
Highlight product advancements to strategic partner
My first opportunity came in an early stage discussion with a new partner. This group was more familiar with the general domain, our specific problem space as well as our closest competitors. So there was no need for me to start all the way back at square one. They would understand how the pieces of our platform fit together, where our ongoing innovation was helping us take a leading position in the market, and how we were preparing to address weak spots in the product.
In covering the roadmap, I stepped through a number of the major past and future milestones to highlight where this partner could "plug in" and expand the value for our joint customers. This tailored view of our company's go-forward product plans ultimately helped them construct a companion roadmap for a strong joint offering.
I found this conversation to be very productive as little time was wasted covering small details. Instead, we were able to focus on a series of touchpoints around which a mutual partnership could be developed.
Communicate rate of progress to potential investors
anytime I find myself in front of investors, I try to emphasize the current product returns realized from past investments.
My next challenge was to use the same roadmap material to build a story that communicated how recent product advancements had directly contributed to the best year in the company's financial history.
The first part of that story was tying important customer victories to key product milestones in an attempt to prove some level of correlation. Indeed, we had prioritized some of our work over the past year to help advance large deals in the sales pipeline.
More than that perhaps, I wanted to communicate that we felt we had nailed the product-market fit and that customers were more regularly landing directly in our sweet spot.
And anytime I find myself in front of investors, I try to emphasize the current product returns realized from past investments. This audience, more than any other, responds well to proof around ROI.
Demonstrate domain expertise and solid product planning to an unacquainted party
The last test was to engage a new group that had no prior contact with our company and no exposure to our particular problem space. For this discussion, I chose to deliver an expedited product overview that highlighted achievements from the past year. My goal was to try to condense the past 12 months and past 5-10 years into a 45-minute presentation - without losing my audience.
Because I didn't know how long I would be able to hold their attention, I decided to focus on how good we had been (and would continue to be) at product planning. I wanted to show how well we understood our customers' problems and why we were confident that we hold our place as a leader in the market.
I was able to underscore this by calling attention to a few parallel development threads in the roadmap that had recently converged to deliver big payoffs for our customers.
I received positive feedback from participants in all three meetings over this week. Ultimately, I believe the outcomes were largely driven by the preparation time spent on the roadmap material itself. I have been able to get a great deal of mileage from my product roadmap by making sure that it clearly communicates product intentions, that it justifies product investments, and that it ties these investments back to actual customer needs.