Board members, investors and other key stakeholders are not “out to get you” as product professionals. Yet sometimes, interactions with them lead to that perception.
Members of a company’s board or investors really want the company to succeed. Your best chance of success is to communicate with them in their language and in a way that fosters that good will. So how do you do that?
Power of Personas
Product managers and marketers often create personas to represent the types of people who buy and use their products. A persona provides insight, enabling clearer and more targeted communications.
So why not use the same technique for board members, investors and other key stakeholders? As a product professional communicating to board members and investors, the intent is to inform and sell—so a buyer persona makes sense. To build the persona, ask the following questions:
- What are the key initiatives for this board or these investors?
- How do these individuals define success?
- What obstacles do they see?
- How does my proposal address perceived barriers for the business?
Developing personas can be the foundation for better communications with investors and other stakeholders, and it ensures they are universally understood within your company.
Consider what’s happening to them of late. Think of what environment they are living in. What are the factors that they would be concerned about? Obviously, they care about the health and well-being of the company. But they’re also concerned about the broader business landscape, because that affects the viability of an investment.
Board members don’t usually focus on just one company. So they’re looking for trends that could be applied across the portfolio of companies they interact with.
Keep It Simple
As for the medium for the communications, the universal tool that glues all of us together is PowerPoint. It has become the de facto way that we communicate ideas.
I believe in adhering to venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule. Stick to no more than 10 slides, present for no more than 20 minutes and make sure you use a font no smaller than 30 point.
How many drawn-out presentations have you sat in, and wondered why the presenter was getting down to this level of detail for this audience?
Investors and board members are very accomplished and usually attuned to what’s going on around them. They hear a lot, see a lot and are asked to make decisions about a lot of different things—so they can be short on time and seem impatient.
Product professionals like to tell everybody everything about what’s going on with their products. It’s difficult for those who don’t live day-to-day with your products to keep up. So, know how to communicate just enough information. Practice speaking in terms of market problems and their impact, viable solutions to those problems and their potential results. You should also include the risks of either addressing those problems or not addressing them. Your stakeholders will be better informed about how to provide support and make decisions.
You Are on the Same Team
Again, it’s important to remember that the board member/product-professional relationship is not adversarial, and these people truly want to help. Many of them have operating experience, so they understand what it means to run a business. Because they don’t have an operating role, it can be frustrating for them to see how something can be done, but not be in a position to do it.
It’s important to define specific things that you want from them—not just their money, but also what you want their role to be. “Yes, I want you to approve my proposal or write me a check, but I’d really like you to help me identify other resources or network into other places that might help accelerate our activities.” They usually know people who know people.
Engaging board members at this level is an important part of communicating more effectively with them. Help them to help you and your relationship will be about so much more than a “go/no go” or writing a check.