By: Kasey Hobson, Director of Product – Platform, Solifi
We build products for people. We build them with people. Product managers are not just the visionary leaders guiding a product’s evolution; they are also the connectors, the communicators, and the collaborators that bring together diverse teams, ideas, and stakeholders. So, it’s natural that building relationships with people strengthens our ability to be successful in creating great products.
Building strong relationships with your customers, leadership, your team, and cross-functional teams can unlock doors that set you and your products up for growth. These types of relationships are at the center of all of what we do in product management, from identifying problems to clarifying requirements and creating material to sell these products. Approaching each relationship as a partnership will ensure an understanding of what success looks like together.
Listening to and understanding your customers’ needs, pain points, and aspirations is fundamental to creating a successful product. It’s their voice that shapes what problems to solve and how to do it to fit the greater need. Collecting feedback constantly through surveys, interviews, and other feedback loops ensures you are focused on the most current thing that truly matters. Engagement can look different with your customers depending on a lot of different factors, including location, industry, and technical aptitude, but trying new techniques to drive a diverse view of the landscape can ensure you are set on the right course.
And it’s not just our existing customers that we should continue to build relationships with but potential customers and past customers to foster your success. You don’t need to actively engage with them all, but having those relationships well-established provides different perspectives to help get to the best solution.
Building strong relationships with leadership is a strategic imperative for product managers. These relationships provide alignment with organizational goals, access to critical resources, decision-making influence, advocacy, and risk mitigation. With their support, the job of a product manager becomes a lot easier. But navigating this type of relationship can be tricky. While leaders are hard to get time with, using that time to build trust and alignment can set the foundation of your relationship with them. Their backing can be instrumental in gaining buy-in from other stakeholders, including investors, partners, and customers. So, it’s crucial that you establish clear and concise communication to ensure they understand the support you need.
In order to grow as a product manager, you need leaders to trust your judgment and expertise. They have a 20,000-foot view and look to you to bring them along with your recommendations and insights. This influence can be invaluable when it comes to critical product decisions and lead to great success or huge missed opportunities.
As product managers, we work closely with various teams, including engineering, marketing, sales, support, and customer success. There is a level of interdependency in successfully launching new products and functionality across teams within your organization. So, establishing strong relationships with these teams is essential for collaboration and ensuring that everyone is working towards the same goals.
When building a business case, you may need sales to bring missed revenue opportunities or potential customers to talk to. Ultimately, this business case brings revenue opportunities back to sales. While building your roadmap, you’ll need to ensure you are aligned with your engineering stakeholders on what can be delivered and when to deliver great products to customers. To launch a new product, you engage with marketing to discuss ways to communicate to customers and the rest of the organization the value it will bring to drive adoption. Without having built a partnership with these key players, it’s hard to expect that they’ll have skin in the game.
Product Team Relationships
The relationship with your team creates an environment of trust, effective communication, collaboration, and resilience that empowers the team to work cohesively. Team members who have strong relationships are more likely to work together harmoniously towards common objectives. They understand their roles and responsibilities within the team, reducing the likelihood of duplicated efforts or gaps in execution. When everyone is aligned and accountable, it becomes easier to track progress, meet deadlines, and ultimately deliver a successful product. Fostering a relationship with team members so they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and insights also leads to a more innovative product development process. These diverse perspectives, if brought to the table, can result in creative solutions and even the identification of new opportunities. This can only happen when team members trust each other and are more likely to work together to overcome obstacles.
Building strong relationships with team members to make them feel valued, respected, and connected can also drive their morale and motivation higher. This positive atmosphere fosters a sense of ownership and commitment to the project’s success. It’s then that team members are more willing to go the extra mile and invest their time and energy into achieving the product’s goals. Ultimately, the strength of these internal relationships has a profound impact on the product’s quality, timeliness, and overall success in the market.
Focusing on building relationships with these key players is half the battle though. Knowing how to strengthen these relationships will help you fast-track success. Through effective communication, building trust, offering transparency, and driving execution, you can strengthen relationships with the key players around you. The ability to build and nurture relationships is not just a skill; it’s an essential mindset for product managers.
Effective communication is the bedrock of any relationship. It involves active listening, articulating your ideas concisely, and ensuring that everyone is on the same page. Being aware of who your audience is can help you adapt your communication style, tone, and positioning so that your message can be better understood and bring alignment. Depending on who your audience is, the level of detail and messaging can vary, and being able to adapt from one to the next ensures the right message is delivered and received.
Furthermore, communication goes beyond words—it includes non-verbal cues, body language, and the ability to empathize with others’ perspectives. Whether it’s gathering feedback from your team or addressing concerns from customers, being an adept communicator can make or break your product management journey. Clear and open communication is essential for conveying vision, objectives, and progress to various stakeholders and ultimately building trust.
Trust is a fragile yet crucial element in building relationships. It takes time to earn and seconds to shatter. Product managers must establish trust with their team, stakeholders, and customers through effective communication, consistency, and accountability. As a product manager, fostering trust is not just a soft skill but a strategic asset. By building trust, you create an environment conducive to collaboration, innovation, and successful product development. Think of it as a compass that enables you to navigate the complex landscape of your product relationships and drive toward your goals.
When people trust you, they are more likely to support your decisions, collaborate effectively, and weather the inevitable challenges that arise during the product journey. Customers need to believe in your product’s reliability, security, and ability to address their needs. When your team trusts your leadership and decision-making, they’re more likely to be motivated, engaged, and willing to go the extra mile. With trust, stakeholders become aligned with your product strategy and goals and are more likely to invest in your ideas as you consistently deliver on your promises.
Transparency is the cornerstone of trust. Being transparent means sharing information, progress, and challenges openly and honestly. It’s important to be upfront about both successes and failures. Without transparency, your team, your customers, or even leadership could be left in the dark, making assumptions. Assumptions lead to misalignment and can affect the credibility of you, your team, and your product.
Transparency also fosters a culture of openness within your organization. When your team and stakeholders have a clear view of the product’s status and challenges, they can provide valuable input and support the decision-making process. It also brings a level of understanding to what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how you are going to get there. This results in a willingness to support your decisions, investments, and, ultimately, your path to delivery.
Execution is where the rubber meets the road. Building relationships without delivering results is unattainable. Successful product managers not only talk the talk, but they walk the walk. They take ownership of their projects, meet deadlines, and deliver value alongside their teams.
Executing well inspires confidence in your ability to lead and drives the commitment of your team and stakeholders. It reinforces the trust and credibility you’ve built and sets the stage for future successes. It’s also a two-way street. Building strong relationships with people can help when it’s time to engage stakeholders to deliver for you, whether it’s to build a new feature, provide feedback on designs, or invest in a product idea.
In the world of product management, relationships are the currency of success. Effective communication, trust, transparency, and execution are four foundational elements that reinforce strong relationships. By cultivating these qualities, product managers can create a collaborative environment that fosters innovation and drives product excellence throughout their product careers.
It is through strong relationships with customers, leadership, product and cross-functional teams that product managers can navigate the complex landscape of product development, ultimately delivering products that meet customer needs, drive business growth, and elevate their careers. Further investment in the relationships that surround you and your product can continually pay dividends on both your product and career growth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Beyond creating awesome products for the last 11 years for B2B SaaS companies in Fintech and Facilities Management, Kasey loves spending time with others in her field, sharing best practices, and empowering each other to tap into their product superpowers. Within the last 5 years, Kasey expanded into managing Platform and Analytics product teams.
Fun Fact: She used to teach dance, including ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop, and musical theater!