How to work with (Product) Marketing
and why this relationship is crucial to make sure your product / feature lands into the right customers
Product Managers must think about certain aspects that are normally attributed to marketing folks. Even if your organisation prefers a model where one person can do both, things such as positioning, messaging, packaging and pricing, are things that should be articulated in conjunction between product and marketing.
After the words pronounced by Brian Chesky at Config by Figma, where he stated the idea of combining the role of product and marketing into a single function, I reflected on my experience and other friends’ experiences, that are working in different environments and industries, to understand when it is appropriate to have that configuration.
Although Airbnb is peculiar, because they were forced to reorganise themselves after losing 80% of their business in 8 weeks and they share principles from Apple, I truly believe that product people should not only thing about the product, but a bit beyond that. How do we connect the value proposition of the product to the right people? What channels do we use to communicate that? What is the medium customer will use to reach out product? How should we price the product / feature? How are we going package it?
Brian’s words motivated me to write this post, and urge PMs to recall that if we build the best product but we don’t know how to “sell it” - at least convey the why behind it, position it, package it, and how much it cost - we have a hobby, not a business.
What are the common / shared areas?
I strongly recommend to take a look at this Reforge program to understand the areas of responsibility that a PMM (product marketing manager) should cover.
Most of the areas we (as product managers) could and should dominate, are:
Positioning and Messaging
Packaging and pricing (when possible)
GTM Roadmap —> product goals
Launch plan —> align product to metrics
Measurement plan —> track, measure, and analyse launches
The above are the main inputs that will influence the ability for a product marketer to create the GTM Roadmap and eventually measure the post-launch of the different products/features.
As you can see, there ir a lot of overlapping between what a PM and PMM should know, and to be honest, it’s hard to thing how these activities could be separated. Nonetheless, I believe we have as many configuration as companies.
Does it need to be the same person?
The answer is yes and no.
May be yes, in the context where you have companies where design is at the center (such as Apple). In these companies, most of the ideas start with the best possible experience and work backwards to the technology. In these cases, thinking separately on what you are going to build and how are you message it, doesn’t make a lot of sense.
May be yes, in companies that want to have an integrated approach, by simplifying the structure of their teams and running it in a more functional way rather than with multiple business units organised in different departments, with multiple roadmaps. This is the case of Airbnb, where they realise that they organisation became a plethora of projects and experiments running at the same time. They took the best people, assign them to a couple of critical projects, reduced the size of the teams, and unless you don’t know how to talk about what you’re building, you don’t ship it.
As you can see, the idea of “getting rid of” the typical PM role and combine it with a marketing function, was taken together with several others, such as changing the company from an organisation by business units to a functional organisation, considerably reducing the number of ongoing initiatives, centralising roadmap decisions with the CEO and releasing twice a year to users 80% of what is being done.
May be no, in the context where you may be a multi-product company and business units. It could be quite complicated to operate the same way in areas where you have very different products that are tackling different use cases.
There is an interesting analogy I like to use, which is the idea of the chef and the waiter. In some organisations, the product manager is acting as the chef, and the marketing folks are the waiters. Waiters are not allowed to get into the kitchen, and if they do they are yelled at.
Regardless of the stage of the company you work for, please avoid the idea of having Product managers acting as chefs, jealous of their work, yelling at anyone who attempts to help, and telling others what to do.
At Nexthink we tried to avoid that “siloed” approach as much as possible. As a PM of a specific area, you were paired up with a PMM (product marketing manager), and most of the work was collaborative since the beginning, from understanding the use case, how that is translated into the messaging we wanted to communicate, positioning against our competitors, quotes from customers and how it was integrated with other products within the overall platform.
When you are part of a platform team and you are building things for internal stakeholders, the PM (and the entire team) could fill the marketing position in. I recall when we were building our internal telemetry platform, how much time I’ve spent with other teams educating them, helping them instrumenting their events, how to use that data to make decisions, and later on seeing how many adopted it, the friction that could prevent teams from adopting it, and so on. Even in these cases, I strongly recommend to do your homework from the marketing perspective. You are responsible of what you build, how it lands to customers, and eventually how to expand it.
When you are part of a startup, you are figuring out both, the product that enchants customers and the distribution. Therefore, here the collaboration is critical to ensure you align what you build and how to sell it. At Erudit, I experienced first hand how to do a bit of both. From crafting a message that was reflecting what were hearing in our research calls, to discuss with our CPO how value scales and how to price our product. This combination of product and marketing when doing wrong could kill your business (more of this on future posts).
It is a spectrum (and an evolution)
As you can see, the context of the organisation (stage, size) the way the think about product (previous experiences) affects a lot how the responsibilities of a product manager and a product marketing person are combined to create a great product that is used and it is delivered to the right people, at the right time, through the right channel.
Most of the configurations are answering a question to a specific problem, beliefs of how things should be done. I’d suggest to not falling into the trap of saying, “we should do what Airbnb is doing, or what worked for me was having this or that”.
Go back to first principles. If you are thinking to incorporate your first product marketing manager, think what is the problem you are solving for?. What second and third order effects might create by doing so? Can you address the same problem without bringing someone in? What principles are we honouring / breaking by bringing someone new?
Even when you have some configuration that works, it’s likely that it won’t last forever. Companies change, grow, they hire and fire. At this time, where the horizon is a bit uncertain, I’d recommend to be prepared for doing both.
Depending on the context of your company, your operating model and what you decide to optimise for, you may prefer a single person that takes care of product and another one of marketing or the same individual.
Regardless of the configuration, what it’s important to highlight is that that PMs must ensure that product + distribution are telling a coherent story and are aligned. We, as PMs are biased and hopefully good at the first one, but we cannot blindly think that distribution is not our job either.
We must be able to tell the rest of the world about what we have built, how it is going to impact our customers for good, they medium customers will get it, the pricing behind it, and the way to deliver it, and how to package it.
Although responsibilities can be clearly delimited, it doesn’t mean both qualities are needed to deliver a great product and connect customers with the value your product in a coherent way.