How Product and Marketing can collaborate better
How might 2 of the most important departments in an organization collaborate together?
Do these sound familiar to you?
Situation 1: It’s almost the end of Q4 and PMs are working to come up with a product roadmap for Q1. After going through a series of user research, validations, and prioritization, the team come up with a list of features to build for the next quarter. Q1 arrives, and PMs start to collaborate with UI designers, UX writers, product researchers, and engineers to execute the roadmap.
Few weeks and several engineering cycles later, the feature is finally launched. To increase the adoption rate, PMs start to poke digital marketers & the social team to create a buzz around it.
Situation 2: The social team crafted a social content plan that they believe would resonate with the audience. The ultimate social strategy was designed to optimize certain social metrics (engagement rate, followers, brand mentions, and reach).
Few months and multiple iterations later, the brand did see a significant increase in those metrics. However, those improvements were not followed by a linear growth in business metrics.
If you just became a PM or a marketer recently, you probably have been in one of these situations at least once. In fact, I’m willing to bet you have experienced both. Despite those situations being seemingly easy to avoid, it’s more common than we thought.
This dynamic sparked my interest, so I decided to do some mini-observation both offline and in online forums. Let’s start with the people first. There seems to be a common pattern I observe every time this dysfunction occurs:
For PMs: understating the importance of distribution 🚛 — marketing is treated as a band-aid that can magically make a poorly planned product become widely adopted
For marketers: a poor understanding on the product itself 🧠 — not immersing themselves into what the product is, what makes it different, who is it for, and what the north metrics are
When we dig deeper into the root cause, it’s fairly easy to understand why. Both teams feel that they have enough on their plates, so the natural tendency would be to de-prioritize things that seem to be negligible. Collaborating early is one of them.
For PMs, they ‘trust’ their marketer counterparts to figure things out by themselves. Meanwhile, marketers tend to focus too much on the fun part (brainstorming and executing creative ideas) and forget about the hard part (visualizing the ideal customer journey and translating that into a well-planned social plan).
What ends up happening as is a bunch of these, sometimes several at a time…
Poor feature/product adoption & retention — usually due to unclear growth loops and over-reliance in paid channels
Inefficient marketing spending — ads are being treated as a ‘band-aid’ to cover up leaky buckets, which we also know is extremely limited in its own way
Frustration & low team morale — not only that a series of losses can be demoralizing, not collaborating early means one of the teams will have to be the fall guy when a product does not perform as expected
When two of the most important departments in an organization don’t work well together, bad things are bound to happen. What can you do?
Step 1: Know your own role
A great collaboration will only exist when everyone knows what they bring to the table. Unfortunately, I’ve seen it too many times where marketers are being dictated what to do by the PMs. Even worse, they seem to be fine with it.
This is not a slight at PMs. This is actually a jab at fellow marketers. We are there for a reason, and that’s because we are better at marketing than anyone in the company. The same applies for product managers. PMs are there to build a product that users need, and nobody does it better than you.
There are tons of things that PMs and product marketers should be good at, but essentially I believe it comes down to these 3 things.
Determine what features to build and ensure that those features fulfills users’ needs
Have context / thought process as to why the feature is built — and how it aligns with the company’s business goals
Communicate to internal teams what the value of the product / the feature is, who it is for, and what success looks like
Translate product strategy, positioning, and features into layman terms that can be understood by average user (requires deep empathy on how user thinks and behave)
Have a deep understanding of different marketing channels — more on this later
The ability to measure marketing efforts given the context, the channel, and the funnel stage
Step 2: Put your 👣 in their 👞
Building a shared respect among both teams require empathy. As a marketer, usually I’d spend some time to reflect on these things:
What success looks like for PMs and what I can do to help them
PM’s preferred communication style (and whether there’s a common ground between theirs and mine)
Build a solid understanding about a feature / product — my go-to framework is this Product Use Case framework below.
Product Use Case Framework
How is the product being used? (using Playstation 5 as an example)
There is a saying that if you can’t explain it to a 5 years old, it means you don’t understand it well enough. The same principle applies here. It’s hard to effectively communicate a product’s value to an average consumer if you don’t even understand how it’s being used.
I’ve seen a lot of marketers skipped this part and just went straight to create a creative based on what PMs explain to them about the feature. The problem with this is that the quality of your work will largely depends on how well the PM is at explaining a product, and you will probably work with different PMs across the years. Reducing that dependency would dramatically increase the quality of the overall work.
The same thing goes for PM. Product Managers need to take some time to understand the importance of distribution and how it might be baked in the product. There is a saying that great products sell, and I couldn’t disagree more.
I’ve seen a lot of great products with bad distribution strategy that got beat by average / good products with great distribution strategy.
There are two types of product managers. Those who collaborate well, and those who don’t. Here’s some observations of how both look like.
In practice, here is how they usually sound like when they plan for something.
PMs who collaborate well: “Hey Evan, we are planning to build this feature that allows users to do X. The primary target of this product will be Y. I want to align with you on how exactly we could maximize distribution for this feature (and whether there are some things we should bake into the product) before we put this into our engineering sprint.
The rest: “Hey Evan, currently the team is working on this feature that allows users to do X. The primary target of this product will be Y. Could you help on promoting this feature on our social media and SEM so we could get more traffic?
The latter does a lot more damage to everyone involved in the process (and worse, it leads to a suboptimal result):
It puts marketing / distribution as an afterthought 😞
It feels like having to win a F1 race with 3 wheels 🏎 — the lack of planning for an optimum distribution strategy early in the process forces the company to play catch up.
Marketing is there for a reason, and that reason is not a band-aid for a poorly-planned product.
Step 3: Collaborate early & weekly ⏱🗓
Having tried different methods over the years, I don’t believe there is a shortcut on better collaboration. It always comes down to this fundamental: over-communication. Start from building a positive habit and then work our way up.
Few small habit change ideas that you can implement instantly to foster a culture of collaboration between 2 teams:
📝 Send a weekly / bi-weekly updates on what your teams will be focusing on the next 1-2 weeks — it gives each other a chance to get involved early if they feel their contributions are needed
📈 Provide result updates on projects that both teams worked on in the past — people love it when what they spent their times and energies on actually have some impact. Even if the result is not positive, share learnings / feedbacks so improvements can be made
📚 Document learnings and openly share — being organized can take you far when it comes to collaborating with people from different departments. Letting people know that you are a great communicator commands respect. It’s not the goal, but it definitely helps.
There is an obvious fear of spamming people with too many informations. However, given that remote-working is here to stay for a while, over-communicating is almost always better than the risk of under-communicating.
What’s your favorite advice for product and marketing to collaborate better?