You know those moments when you’re talking to someone and they’re staring back with a blank look on their
face? They’re not bored or disinterested. They aren’t disagreeing or confused. But they’re certainly not excited
or intrigued either. They’re just, well . . . there.
I recently read this article by Wes Kao about testing your messaging and positioning until you visibly see your
customer’s eyes light up. You know that moment—the other person perks up. They lean forward. And their
eyes light up. It’s a visceral reaction that we all have when we’re interested (give it a read . . . it’s great).
When people would stare blankly back at me, I used to think that they were just processing or that they’re just
not the type of person to get excited about things. Nope. I just hadn’t said anything interesting.
Here’s the thing. When someone’s eyes light up, it reveals what’s important to them. And as a product
manager, that’s something I’m always on the lookout for.
Here are some ways I’ve learned to light up eyes with the three groups of folks I work with most—customers,
stakeholders and the team.
In my role on the Ramsey Education Team, I’ve had the chance to talk with teachers all around the country
who teach our Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum in high schools, middle schools and colleges. These teachers are rock stars. Many have inspiring stories about how their lives were transformed by following
Ramsey principles and now are sharing their wisdom with their students.
It’s not hard to find a teacher who is a raving fan. It’s a lot harder to ask the right questions that will get past
their enthusiasm for Ramsey and expose opportunities for us to serve them better. After months of lukewarm
customer interviews, I finally stumbled across a better question: “What got you into teaching?” After a few
probing follow-up questions with Stacy, a teacher in Wisconsin, her eyes suddenly lit up when she described
the feeling of standing in front of her classroom. Y'all, it was like an actor talking about their passion of being
on stage in front of an audience, except her audience was a room full of ninth graders. It was the thrill of
performing that got Stacy out of bed every morning.
This changed the way we thought about serving teachers like Stacy with our digital platform,
RamseyClassroom. Setting up classes, grading tests, and navigating teacher resources were barriers to what
was actually important. Our goal became removing all the obstacles that stood in the way of Stacy getting in
front of her students.
A while back I was talking with stakeholders about a new project I was working on. Overall, the response was
lackluster. Occasionally, I’d get a, “That’s interesting.” Yeah, I’ve got news for you. They didn’t think it was
interesting. They were just being nice.
After many failed attempts, I started using an analogy when pitching the idea and ding ding, there it was. Eyes
lit up. They were noticeably excited. It was almost an instant, “Alright. Let’s do this!” Dr. John Delony says, “People think in pictures, but speak in words.” The idea that I was pitching didn’t change. I was finally speaking
in pictures and people suddenly saw what I saw.
A response of indifference doesn’t mean you’re headed in the wrong direction—a stakeholder will tell you if
you are. It’s a cue that you haven’t painted the vision clearly enough. Indifference is an opportunity to adjust
and test your messaging until you get a visceral response. And once you get that type of reaction, stakeholders
will not only rally behind your idea, but they’ll also fight for it.
Before I was a product manager, I worked in the sales area of Ramsey Education. I love the energy, drive to
win, and humor that our sales team has. Over time, I learned how to collaborate with them—and we got crap
When I moved into product development, I tried to copy and paste the skills I gained with the sales team to
software engineers, UX designers and writers. Very different outcome. What was fun, exciting and motivating
to my last team was loud, annoying and aggressive to my new team.
It took a lot of trial and error, but over time, I learned what lights each team member up. For some, it’s
showing off completed work at department meetings. For others, it’s getting to talk with customers. And
some just love being given really hard problems and having the autonomy to go solve them. If opportunities
are created for the team to work in ways that light them up, they’ll bring even more energy to their work. And
since we’re in the business of changing lives by helping people take control of their money, bringing energy is
Listen: It doesn’t matter who you’re talking to. They’re human, and there’s something that will make their
eyes light up. Look for those moments, and you’ll learn what’s important to them.