In my career, I have attended a mind-boggling number of meetings where my stakeholders are absolutely clueless about the role of a product manager (especially someone working in India). And these stakeholders have been from engineering, sales, field marketing, program management and many other teams. So a lot of time is then spent on explaining what a PM does and why that is useful to their team/their own goals.
[Hint: most of these guys are superbly competent in their own field, but have a very narrow view of the business, product portfolio]
Here’s my approach towards enlightening the clueless stakeholder verbally. Note: I am not in favor of sending email blasts, unless most of your stakeholders are not in the same location.
1) Identify the type of stakeholder
Without stereotyping too much, an engineering manager would have a very different personality and skill set from an account manager. So we need to identify what facet of a PM’s role he would be interested in. For e.g., if an engineering manager wants the product roadmap, he is probably looking for details on proposed features, that his team needs to prepare for. He wants information on what are the technologies of focus, what are the skills his team needs and so on. However, if an account manager wants to know about the roadmap from the PM, it is likely that he is looking for a competitive edge while positioning the product to his account. He is looking for something to sell to the account. So you should focus on only the business value of your roadmap.
2) Prepare for the geographical/market context
If you are part of a new setup in India, then you may only need to mention this fact, and that you will be carrying on all existing activities and initiatives. For most stakeholders, this is enough. If you are working with remote stakeholders then be ready to do a lot of follow-up over emails and IM and meetings. I have found that those stakeholders are the hardest to influence. Typically, such stakeholders include C-level leadership, who really need convincing on why someone 10,000 miles away is useful to them.
3) Sell the role
If you meet a skeptic, then the best option is to offer examples and success stories about the benefit of having a product manager in their midst. For example, if the company is facing pricing pressures, then show, with examples, how product managers can create pricing strategies and the impact on margins.
The challenge here is that you might need to make space to accommodate your role, which means reducing the role of someone else. That someone else is unlikely to ever become your champion, so you need to keep a close eye on such stakeholders.
4) Sell the personality/capability
End of the day, a PM is expected to lead the virtual, cross-functional team towards successful software and hardware releases. He is also expected to be the key expert on customer needs. If you have something unique that you can share, then you must do so.
I remember a time when I was asked by engineering, why I’m the right fit for the role in the first meeting. In response, I listed down multiple planned improvements for the product, and the outline of a high level PRD. This gave that team the comfort that I am capable of doing the work, even though I have an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad. Sometimes, that is all you need.
For some people, negotiation or public speaking classes can help them increase their communication effectiveness. If these courses are available to you, do check them out.