Answer questions before they are asked

If you want to be a bad product manager, wait until questions are asked to answer them. Making people have to ask you a question to get an answer — rather than letting them figure out the answer on their own — is a great way to show your value as a product manager and show your “customer service” by actually responding. Plus, there are just too many possible questions that can be asked, so it doesn’t make sense to try to prepare.

If you want to be a good product manager, anticipate the questions you are likely to hear and answer them before they are asked. Rather than having to scramble on your feet to come up with an answer, make sure that the question does not come up in the first place.

This does not just apply to questions from customers — it is a general philosophy that can be applied to all areas of product management. Product managers get all types of questions from customers, sales, customer service, executives, and other internal and external stakeholders. Anticipating questions that may be asked saves you time, allows you to provide more consistent information, and makes you appear much more in control of a situation (rightly so).

The best way to anticipate questions that will be asked is to learn from your experiences and the experiences of others, and then make changes to ensure that those questions are proactively answered. Here are a few examples:

  • If a senior executive asks questions one month about a specific aspect of your product’s performance and you do not have an answer right away, first provide the answer in a timely fashion. Next month, monitor the performance metrics and proactively communicate status to that executive and others.
  • Talk with other product managers who have presented business cases for approval and find out what types of questions arise. Make sure that your business case answers the questions that have been asked before.
  • When coming up with proposed new product enhancements, run them by internal thought leaders who are notorious for their scrutiny of such things. Getting their input early on will allow you to fine-tune the enhancements and your presentation of them.
  • Direct sales often request a standard presentation to give to customers. Create a first draft and present it to a handful of customers yourself. Make note of the questions and comments that come up and be sure to alter your presentation to address those issues.

Product managers need to be proactive about addressing questions and issues. There are simply too many stakeholders and too many potential questions for most products that answering them reactively is just not an option. Take time to learn the types of questions that come from the various different audiences and make changes to your presentations, documentation, and to your product itself to address as many questions as possible before they are asked.

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4 thoughts on “Answer questions before they are asked

  1. Jeff,
    I agree with anticipating the questions, product managers have to be in control of the situation (or at least seem to!), but I would be less stiff
    about answering them systematically before they are asked. 2 reasons:
    – First, if you try to answer all the potential questions in a presentation, conference, meeting, etc, your speech might look messy and confused your audience. The main point, the leading line could be lost among all the detailed arguments.
    – Second, knowing the answers, you could let few easy questions to the persons who listen to you. Then, they will have the pleasure to ask you questions (it’s always frustrated when you don’t have questions to ask ;-)), and you will be able to confirm and definitely settle your control by answering then without hesitations. And you could even lead the conversation towards sub-questions they did not even though about yet…

    Anyway, I completely agree with your main point that lead to know the questions and their answers before they come, but I wanted to look at in perspective when you say “address as many question as possible before they are asked”

    By the way, thanks for your tips to be proactive (as a young product manager, they will certainly help me)


  2. Great feedback Jeff. One that I find works very well is what we call at work “meeting before the meeting” – get input from the people on a one-on-basis before you get in front of the crowd so that you don’t get ambushed in front of everyone.

  3. C+line — Point taken. Of course you can go overboard and try to answer all of the possible questions before they are asked. Product management is an exercise in moderation in many areas, this being one of them. Too much of a “good” thing could easily turn you “bad.”

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