PM 101 – Working With Marketing

PM 101 – Working With Marketing

We’ve already touched on the importance of working with Designers and Sales — and UserVoice gave me an opportunity to discuss working with Engineers — so today we’re going to continue the logical progression of teams that a Product Manager must have good relationships with by talking about the proper care and feeding of your Marketing teams.  Product Management often has a bit of a love/hate relationship with Marketing — they provide us with many opportunities for direct contact with the market, but often the positioning and materials are viewed as not reflecting reality.  So how can we not only improve the relationship that we have with Marketing, but also help them to be more effective and accurate in their own work?

Understand Their Goals

As with any other team, the first and most important step to working with your Marketing teams is to understand what it is that drives them — what are the goals that they have as individuals, as a team, or for the organization as a whole?  Is the marketing team working on a growth strategy — trying to make the sales funnel as broad at the top as possible?  Are they trying to make an awareness push, or a rebranding effort — where the goal isn’t necessarily to drive sales but to extend the identity of the company?  Or are they focused on driving specific revenue goals — performing very targeted marketing campaigns with a specific, high-conversion target in mind?  All of these things require different strategies, tactics, and information to be successful, and understanding not just the what that the team is trying to achieve, but the how and the why will help us to provide the right amount of support, and the right kinds of information, at the right time and in the right context.

When working with Marketing, it’s key that we engage in the same kind of problem discovery that we would with a customer — we want to dig into the why’s so that we can be sure that we understand the unspoken assumptions and unspoken goals that the teams really have.  We want to dig underneath the veneer request for a “feature and benefit overview” so that we can manage the information that’s going in and coming out of our teams to ensure that we’re giving them what they really need and not just what they’re asking for.  As Product Managers, we are the product experts; and we need to make sure that’s understood and respected.  At the same time, we’re probably not the marketing experts — which means that while we might be managing the flow and content of information, we need to rely on what Marketing thinks is the right strategy as their decision.  Openly second-guessing the efforts of any team without working yourself into that team is a sure-fire way to eliminate all of your social capital with that team, and is a rookie mistake that we simply cannot afford to make as Product Managers.

Insert Yourself Into the Process

Often the primary reason for issues between Marketing and Product Management simply lie in a separation drawn in the sand between the organziations — a siloed perspective that differentiates between “inbound’ activities and “outbound” activities, or between “internal” activities and “external” activities.  All that these artificial constructs do is create a perspective that certain people are only “allowed” to be involved in communications and decisions that flow in one direction.  If you’re “outbound” then you’re in marketing and creating collateral or planning events; if you’re “inbound” then you’re a product manager taking feedback from the market and creating product efforts from them.

This distinction is pure and utter bullshit.

There is no situation I’ve even been in where an effective Marketing team dealt only with “outbound” efforts; and there is not a single Product Manager in the world who can be effective if their efforts are limited to dealing only with “inbound” communications.  These artificial constructs usually exist to reinforce a dysfunctional organization structure that reinforces feelings of superiority and unnecessarily limits the scope and influence of people with actual and useful knowledge.

The only way that a Product Manager can be truly effective in working with a Marketing organization is to insert yourself into their efforts — starting out as an observer, providing valuable insights and suggestions, and eventually engaging directly with the team in most (if not all) of their efforts.  We need to clearly understand the processes that they use, the calendars that they rely on, their planning and execution cycle, and most importantly the gaps in their capabilities — gaps that we can help fill.

Make Yourself an Invaluable Resource

Marketing can be a tough job — there are a lot of messages in the market you’re struggling with, brand identity is fragile and malleable by both controlled and uncontrolled influences, and events can take months to plan but must be executed in an extremely short period of time under extremely tight budgets.  Each of these things gives us as Product Managers opportunities to not only engage with the Marketing teams, but to make ourselves a resource that they can and do rely on.  Take a look at the Marketing calendar for your organization — it’s nearly always going to be overbooked and under-resourced, which means there is ample opportunity for us to engage.

  • Are there multiple webinars scheduled that rely on a single person to engage and deliver?  Volunteer to take over one or two of them.
  • Is there an event coming up that has two days of setup before the three days of the event?  Ask if you can help out — it buys you goodwill from the Marketing team and puts you firmly in place as an attendee.
  • Do you see any upcoming product messaging efforts that don’t align with your product release calendar?  Point it out, and do what you can to align the two dates.

Marketing often struggles to find allies within many organizations — they’re viewed skeptically and with uncertainty.  This provides us as Product Managers with significant opportunities to create a lasting and trusted relationship that allows us to step in and provide the right information and the right direction to the teams at the right time — with the end result being better execution and better results for everyone involved.

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