Compassion in Product Leadership

Recently, while in a discussion with a senior executive, I asked; “What are the attributes or traits of  product leaders that work for you?” He responded with a list that included; communicator, team player, business savvy and then shared that humility and other important characteristics made for exceptional product leaders.

In a recent post Climbing to the Top? Bring Compassion by Bruce Kasanoff, he shared that while courage, discipline and tenacity are often cited attributes, that we need to bring compassion to leadership. Why?

Compassion brings Action

Just a few days ago, I was traveling and went through the typical security screening process. While re-loading by bag, storing my personal stuff and getting dressed, a gentleman beside me said; “Excuse me. This may sound awkward, but would you please tie me shoes?” Now, I’ve tied lot’s of shoes in my life. My own, my children, my wife’s kindergarten class, but I don’t recall tying another adults shoes.

He then showed me his burned fingertips, explained how he had no feeling in them and they were sensitive. He apologized for wearing lace up shoes to the airport. My response was simple. “Sure, I’d be glad to ties your shoes.” As people walked by looking at me tying this guys shoes, I didn’t stop to think, but acted. Compassion incites action.


As product leaders are we compassionate with those we lead and work with? Or do we bring too much of the “A-game” “hardball” image and persona to our roles and forget to be perceptive, compassionate and then act.

My recent experience and the post by Bruce gave me time to reflect and recall my actions as a leader.

What attributes do you possess and where does compassion factor as a product leader?

Looking for a good review? Start with Five Ways to Lead With More Compassion a HBR post by  Susan Cramm.

Hopefully, this post will cause you to reflect as well. I know it’s given me time to reflect my simple act and I know that the simple, small acts will give a boost to others in product management and those you interact with.

I’d like to hear if you agree, disagree or believe compassion is an attribute of product leadership. If you like the post, please share it on your favorite social media sites or through your feeds.

Here’s a quick link to use. Compassion in Product Leadership. A new post by @jim_holland #prodmgmt #leadership #leadchange


The Challenger Sale: What Product Leaders Need to Know

I recently read The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of the Corporate Executive Board and then picked it up again, with a highlighter and red pen and started again.

If you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a no-brainer if you’re in sales or live in or around the sales or buying process as product marketing, product management and others do. The research, findings and focus on sales success will connect with you.

The focus of the Challenger Sale for sales is not to build relationships, but to challenge them. To rethink, reshape and change how you engage and lead.

Whether you lead, develop, build, prepare, market, sell or support products that engages in a business-to-business (B2B) model, you know things have changed. In the mind of the buyer it’s not all about the economic wash from the past several years, but what you will do to transform the business and ultimately deliver a solution. While the book focuses on the journey of evolving solution selling, it have a definite message for product leadership. You have to “tailor for resonance.”


As Dixon and Adamson confide; “It’s the ability to tailor the teaching message to different types of customers – as well as different individuals within the customer organization is what makes the teaching pitch resonate and stick with customers.”

I recently listened to a CxO share his frustration and story of why his organization didn’t buy from my client. In the discussion, he stated, “They didn’t get it. they didn’t listen. They didn’t understand my problems, nor did they try to understand my objectives. Forget about an innovative approach. I suffered through vendor pain.”

How can product leaders teach the message to different types of customers and build the level of resonance with sales?

“Tailoring relies on the rep’s knowledge of the specific business priorities of whomever he or she is talking to – the specific outcomes that particular person values most, the results on the hook to deliver for their company, and the various economic drivers most likely to affect those outcome” shares The Challenger Sale.

I believe product leaders must possess, know and build three key areas of knowledge and expertise to support the challenger model:

Understanding of the buying process“Buyers have exponentially more choices and virtually instant access to information about them. Long before they talk to a sales rep, buyers are conducting research and making up their own minds about what’s important to them, eliminating companies on the basis of whatever information they can easily discover” shared Adele Revella of The Buyer Persona Institute.

Buyer personas“Basing your work on buyer personas prevents you from sitting on your butt in your comfortable office just making stuff up, which is the cause of most ineffective marketing. By truly understanding the market problems that your products and services solve for your buyer personas, you transform your marketing from mere product-specific, ego-centric gobbledygook that only you understand and care about into valuable information people are eager to consume” confides David Meerman Scott.

Speak the language of the buyer – in her recent post, Get Over Yourself, Jennifer Doctor shared, “In aligning with their buying process (not what you think they do or what they should do, but how they actually buy the product,) you have to develop a story. The more memorable the story, the better it will be for you. The story has to be about how you have helped others solve similar problems, remembering it’s not about your product. Once you have a story, you can engage.”

With these three areas of knowledge, you’ll be know more about the buying process, understand the dynamics of whose buying, and speak in the language buyers. Don’t leave it to salespeople to translate what you’re trying to convey.

Additionally, you’ll be better prepared for internal conversations, offer credible insights and align with stakeholders while assisting sales and marketing in creating value, not just messaging or positioning. Let’s tailor our resonance to transform the sales channel.

I welcome your thoughts and comments and challenge you to get a copy of The Challenger Sale, read it and apply it to your product leadership.

If you like the post, please share it on LinkedIn, Twitter or Google+. Here’s a quick link to use. The Challenger Sale – What Product Leaders Need to Know. A new post by @jim_holland

Product Leadership – the Civil Way

Not too long ago, I was standing in a lobby of a hotel waiting to enter an elevator. Several other people were standing nearby. When the door opened, I offered for the others to get on before me. One of the women thanked me and then commented on my good manners and civility.

As someone who grew up with a strong southern heritage and raised by good parents, my mother taught me respect, civility and cordiality and to always treat people as I’d want to be treated.

As I thought about this event, I thought about another time when a board room was filled with senior leaders, many of them in product marketing and management. Gathered to discuss a critical topic with the CEO, the discussion became heated.

When a senior executive didn’t answer a question the way the CEO thought it should be answered, the CEO picked up a bagel that he was planning to eat and with a stream of obscenities, threw the bagel at the senior leaders head. It just missed him, but it set a nasty tone in the room and immediately changed the level of civility.

These two experiences are an interesting contrast of  how we act, react, respond and maintain a level of civility, in our daily lives, and in the workplace.

Let’s face it, we all get frustrated with others, our organization, and when things fail to go as planned. But is it worth damaging morale, productivity and working relationships in your organization?

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In the recent HBR article, The Price of Incivility by Christine Porath and Christine Pearson, the authors shared; “Rudeness in the workplace is rampant, and it’s on the rise.”

How does incivility impact your organization and you as a leader?

Using more than 14,000 data points and a poll of over 800 managers, “We’ve learned just how people’s reactions play out. Among workers who’ve been on the receiving end of incivility:

  • 48% intentionally decreased their work effort.
  • 47% intentionally decreased their time spent at work.
  • 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work.
  • 80% lost work time worrying about the incident.
  • 63% lost time avoiding the offender.
  • 66% said hat their performance declined.
  • 78% said that their committment to the organization declined.
  • 12% said that they left their job because of the uncivil treatment.
  • 24% admitted to taking their frustrations out on customers.

As leaders what can we do to maintain a civil workplace? Below are three suggestions and areas that I try to work on regularly and recommend to others.

Look at yourself – “Leaders set the tone, so you need to be aware of your actions and of how you come across to others” shares Porath and Person.

For those of us in product leadership positions, do you ask your team and others for their feedback? If not, give it a try. Setup some one-on-one time and let the person know that you are looking for honest insights into how you act and react at work. You might be surprised what you hear. “You may need a reality check from the people who work for you” confides Porath and Pearson.

Additionally, you may want to “keep a journal in which you track instances of civility and incivility and notes changes that you’d like to make.”

Teach and practice civility – “We’re always amazed by how many managers and employees tell us that they don’t understand what it means to be civil. One quarter of the offenders we surveyed said that they didn’t recognize their behavior as uncivil” shares the authors.

I once worked with a senior executive who often berated managers and employees openly. While I didn’t work directly for this person, I sat down with him one-on-one and after we had discussed some business, I shared what I had observed. He was quite shocked, a little upset, but was willing to listen. He attributed his behavior to another mentors style and he had adopted some of the bad habits. He asked if I along with some others would watch his actions and help him refine the interaction he had. Over a period of a year, he learned and applied some basic principles, changed his style and way of interaction, and over time became an effective and recognized leader that everyone enjoyed working with.

Stand up and be recognized – While product leaders are often recognized for their capabilities to guide and manage technology, teams and growth of solutions, how often are we willing to step up and speak to someone about their civility at work. I believe we forget this key aspect due to our busy schedules and life and brush it off as someone having “a bad day.” Successful leaders are the ones that monitors the habitat and their teams interaction with and are willing to coach and guide civility.

As we move into a new year, I will be looking at mysellf first, my team second and monitoring how we behave.  I will continue to be honest and open with my team and if I can help others improve their civility, I’ll do it. As product leaders, I hope we can lead by example and actions and support and improve how we interact with others.

If you like the post, please share it on LinkedIn, Twitter or Google+. Here’s a quick link to use. Product Leadership – the Civil Way. A new post by @jim_holland

Losing Product Leadership

Recently, I had the pleasure of discussing how product management and product marketing loses and regains leadership with Scott Sehlhorst and Joshua Duncan.

From a previous post, That Sucking Sound, I described a recurring problem I see.

Namely, that product leaders are being pulled in all directions and subsequently the pressure builds to where they describe themselves as product administrators or product janitors.


As you savor some needed downtime, link to The Product Marketing Podcast – Losing Product Leadership and listen to what we have to share.

Once you’ve listened to the podcast a few times, find some time to look at how you will change your direction in the near year and focus and execute on the things that are most important to product management and marketing.

The Evolution of Sales Enablement

“The hardest thing about B2B selling today is that customers don’t need you the way they used to. In recent decades, sales reps have become more adept at discovering customers’ needs and selling them solutions  – generally complex combinations of products and services” confides Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon and Nicholas Toman in The End of Solution Sales.

Let’s face it, buyer’s have become better prepared and use every available resource before calling you as a vendor. “In fact, a recent Corporate Executive Board study of more than 1,400 B2B customers found that those customers completed, on average, nearly 60% of a typical purchasing decision – researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, benchmarking pricing, and so on – before even having a conversation with a supplier” shares Adamson, Dixon and Toman.

I can validate this as I speak with dozens of buyer’s each week and when I ask, “How did you find the vendors to short list or talk to?” I hear a wide range of response from, “We Googled some phrases associated with our problems...” to “We had a set of requirements and an approach that covered technology, companies, price and other key areas and we researched from there…” or “We know other companies and we called a few to see what they’d done and what vendors they reviewed.


Let’s face it, the buying process will never be the same. Sales enablement is evolving and product marketing, has to evolve with it.

“The best salespeople are replacing solution selling with insight selling – a strategy that demands a radically different approach across several area of the purchasing process” shared Adamson, Dixon and Toman.

Product Marketing has a great opportunity to evolve as sales evolves and continue to refine its planning, delivery, style and process to impact traditional sales teams. If insight selling emerges, will your traditional tools and efforts be viable?

Adamson, Dixon and Toman further suggest that high performing sales reps will:

– Look for agile organizations in a state of flux, rather than ones with a clear understanding of their needs.

– Seek out a very different set of stakeholders, preferring skeptical change agents over friendly informants

– Coach those change agents on how to buy, rather than quizzing them on about their company’s purchasing process

As solution selling evolves into insight selling, product marketing has to establish itself as the body of knowledge and this knowledge has to be based on an outside-in view.

How will you be able to tell stories and share market insights in support of sales if you don’t understand buyer roles, the buying process, personas and what change agents are influencing the buying process.

“Unlike traditional solution sellers, these star performers lead with insights meant to upend a customer’s approach to its business, and they aren’t afraid to push customers out of their comfort zone” confides Adamson, Dixon and Toman.

It doesn’t matter if it’s solution selling or insight selling, product marketing has to coach sales and potential buyers on how to buy. Remember, if you aren’t enabling sales, sales will enable themselves.

I acknowledge Harvard Business Review and the authors for their contribution to this post. The opinions are mine and do not reflect those of HBR. To read more on insight selling, please follow this link. Looking for new ways to enable sales? Check out the New Rules of Sales Enablement, by Jeff Ernst.

I welcome any comments, opinions and feedback on how sales is evolving and what product marketing is doing to keep pace.