Within the last couple of weeks, I have had three senior product marketing managers (PMMs) share how difficult and frustrating it is to get decisions on key items like messaging, ad creative, customer collateral, and campaign success metrics. One said “I’m empowered to decide on core messaging for my product line, but I just can’t get it to stick across all the sales and marketing internal partners. They just go rogue.” Another said that “I’ve worked hard to engage a terrific creative agency that came up with nice concepts, but it’s a nightmare getting people to buy-in on one final design that actual gets used in the field.” Why is it so hard for otherwise successful product marketing managers to drive a decision and get it to stick? These are a few reasons:

  • There isn’t executive level sponsorship to drive the necessary change and adoption
  • The deliverable hasn’t been fully thought through; in other words, the quality isn’t there yet
  • Stakeholders may not have had an opportunity to weigh in on the proposal, buy into it, and to commit to action
  • There’s no accountability for “going rogue.” Internal teams can opt out on decisions
  • There isn’t a fast, closed loop process to tune your plan based on actual performance in the field.

So the question is: what can you do to increase the odds of getting a solid decision that sticks throughout your organization? Here are five essential steps that we’ve seen work with our clients who have a good track record for decision making.

  1. Develop a proposal in collaboration with influencers
    A good example of this is a VP of Product Marketing at a world class cyber security software firm. He held brainstorm sessions with 2-3 field SEs/security architects who were former Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) to generate fresh sales plays. He engaged product managers, a senior PMM, and a couple sales reps who could lend additional pragmatic perspectives and hard data on what would work. In a similar way, you’ll want to build your “A-team” of thought leaders as you collaborate to develop a specific plan or deliverable for exec approval.
  2. Socialize your recommendation
    After you have a draft proposal, you’ll need to share it with stakeholders so that their objections, viewpoints, and their success metrics are built into your final plan. Make the recommendation tangible with visuals, copy blocks, or concrete examples so that stakeholders can see how the plan will be implemented. Hold these meetings one-on-one so that they can be open and honest about their reaction to your proposal. Take their input to heart as you refine your deck.
  3. Formally present your proposal
    If you’ve done steps 1 and 2, you’ve gone a long way towards getting buy-in. A formal presentation is still required to get the approval on record, and to establish the project team that will be responsible for getting the deliverable done. One of our SaaS clients beautifully applied the best practices of the “DACI” model which specifies the Driver, Approver, Contributors, and Informed staff members. You’ll want to explicitly name the DACIs in your presentation so that stakeholders are clear on their role in the rollout of this initiative. DACI folks are kept current on progress throughout the project lifecycle with executive check points built in about every two weeks.
  4. Welcome feedback but enforce compliance
    Once your project is completed, you’ll want to proactively solicit inputs from stakeholders and the intended audience of the output such as sales, pre-sales, customers, analysts, etc. By establishing a feedback process, you’ll not only head off “rogue” behavior by your internal teams to go off and invent their own deliverable but you’ll also show a commitment to performance improvement. And if you see a particular team creating a competing alternative you’ll want to find out why they chose not to use the deliverable that’s been approved, and then escalate to the sponsoring executive to support your alignment process.
  5. Refine/refresh based on actual field performance
    Measure and refine the messaging, campaign, assets, etc. based on your feedback process. No messaging, for example, is ever perfect and immutable over time. We have an analytics software client that has PMMs maintain a formal record of all inputs from sales, pre-sales, industry analysts, customers, etc. so that a quarterly content refresh is based on rich inputs.

We recognize these five steps can take 2-3 weeks to do right, but we’ve also seen that the best results flow directly from the internal alignment and effective decision-making that these five essential steps enable.

We welcome your stories of successful (and maybe failed) decision-making in your own organization.