Gaining Credibility with Executives

In the circle of influence, what is your proximity to key executives or managers?  Do you have daily contact and/or rapport?  Or is your proximity infrequent, rare or non-existent?  If you struggle from a credibility gap, consider paying attention to the language that executives use.  Think of the executives who have influence over your product.  How do they describe their goals and the larger company objectives?  If you can use those terms when you’re communicating with an executive, and you stay away from a lot of tactical detail, you will have the best chance of success.

In a recent post on Motivating the Cross-Functional Team, we offered a sure-fire technique for gaining credibility with your cross-functional team.  It’s called the “What’s In It For Me”  rule.  Product managers can use WIIFM to look at each individual’s point of view and truly understand their issues, helping to identify the chief WIIFM motivators.

WIIFM for Executives

The next step is building credibility with key executives.  WIIFM at the top is simple.  Always remember:  execs are “coin-operated.”  Find out how they earn their bonus, and show how you’ll help them get it.  If you need support from a senior manager or executive, find out what that individual must deliver to earn their bonus.  Then figure out how you can demonstrate your support of that goal.

The Bulls’ Eye of Executive Connection

Next, look at your connection with key executives – we call it the Bull’s Eye of Executive Connection.  The product manager is in the center of the diagram, titled “You.”

Bull’s Eye of Executive Connection

The innermost ring– the dark brown ring–represents a close working relationship, whether that means frequent contact or just a strong working rapport.  The middle ring represents a more casual working relationship – for example where there is only occasional contact, or not as strong a rapport.  It’s friendly, but not as connected.  The outermost ring represents relationships with only infrequent contact, or there might be some kind of conflict happening.  And outside the Bull’s Eye, there is no connection at all.

In this hypothetical scenario, it looks as though the Product Manager’s relationship with Mr. K is good (innermost ring).  Then, moving out, he has a good relationship with Ms. A, and that might be enough.  It depends on how much he needs her support, or her team’s help.  Moving to the outer ring, it looks as though our product manager has some work to do with Ms. Z, especially if he needs the help of anyone on her team.  And he’s not even on Mr. X’s radar.

What do you need this diagram to look like, in order to be more successful?  As a general rule of thumb, you want all executives who have any connection to your product to be in the inner two rings. For help with assessing your own situation, request a copy of our complimentary “Leading from the Middle” worksheet.  Email

Building Your Credibility – Next Steps

The action we recommend you take is to actually fill out this Bull’s Eye and use it to identify your gaps.  Next, think of a small step you can take to strengthen your relationships in the outer rings.  For example, ask for a meeting to get the executive’s feedback on an important product issue.  Use the opportunity to find out how you can better align with that executive’s goals.  Learn to think about your product from the executive’s point of view and relate it to their business objectives.  Finally, it helps to understand higher-level company goals from a Finance perspective.  So if you don’t have a good grasp of financial concepts, find an analyst in the finance group to help you get up to speed.

Leading from the Middle

Pivotal Product Management provides product management training, consulting, coaching and skills assessment.  For help with building your credibility with executives, request a copy of our complimentary “Leading from the Middle” worksheet. Email

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