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Of the many different teams that Product Managers work with on an ongoing basis, very few are as misunderstood as marketing teams. Most other teams seem to have direct and measurable goals driving them forward — development teams build the product, sales teams bring customers and revenue into the picture, services teams engage with and bring customers onboard, etc. But marketing is often seen as a “necessary evil” or part of the company in charge of “spin.”

In fact, Marketing and Product Management are (or should be) much more closely tied together, as they share much the same role of being a “hub” around which other spokes of the company revolve. In fact, the best Product Managers usually have very strong relationships with their Marketing teams, if for no other reason than to ensure that they have a direct method of contact and communication with the market and prospective customers. Building that relationship requires that we delve deeper into what Marketing really does, what needs they have, and how we as Product Managers can contribute to their success.

 “Our job is to connect to people, to interact with them in a way that leaves them better than we found them, more able to get where they’d like to go.”
– Seth Godin

Know What Your Marketing Team Does

One of the reasons that a lot of people don’t “get” what marketing does is that marketing can mean very different things to different people in the organization, and even entirely different things to different companies — something that should sound very familiar to any Product Manager out there. There are typically three areas in which marketing teams deliver value to their organization: (1) brand & market awareness; (2) managing the demand/sales funnel from the top down; and (3) events planning and execution.

Brand and market awareness is what most people commonly think about when they envision what a marketing team does on a daily basis — this is the work that goes into establishing and enforcing brand guidelines, creating and distributing press releases, executing online and print ad campaigns, and even establishing and building partnerships. The goal is to extend the knowledge and understanding of the company as broadly into the market as possible, and to exert as much control over the perception of the company as possible.

The other thing that marketing usually manages is the generation of leads for Sales to follow up on — taking control of the top of the inbound sales funnel. This takes many different forms — from social media and digital marketing to webinars, and email marketing campaigns. But all of these things are primarily intended to drive as many qualified leads into the sales funnel as possible. A heavy component of this part of the marketing mission is driven by tracking and reporting on a wide variety of metrics related to the campaigns, sometimes even more than creating the content that is used for these efforts.

Marketing also typically handles public appearances and event planning for the company, both on a small scale (local lunches, cocktail hours, and dinners) as well as on a larger scale (industry events, partner conferences, and national conventions). Often these are dual-purpose events, providing an opportunity for brand presence and presentation as well as demand and lead generation.. Events usually involve a large amount of advance planning and preparation, including negotiating for floor space, finding and securing appropriate venues, and creating the right collateral to conform to the theme of the event.

“Good marketing makes the company look smart. Great marketing makes the customer feel smart.”
– Joe Chernov

Understand What Your Marketing Team Needs
product collaborating with marketing team

Once we understand the things that our Marketing team needs to do, we can start to better understand what they need to achieve these goals. While many of these needs are similar to what others in the organization need, some of them are very specific to the needs of the Marketing team.

One common need that Marketing has is for a clear understanding of the vision and strategy for the company and the product. Without this context, the planning and writing efforts that you see from the Marketing teams will seem random and disconnected from each other. Working with your Marketing team to understand how they view the vision and strategy is an essential component to ensuring that there’s a coherent and consistent message that connects everything that the team is doing, — from collateral to webinars to events. We want all of this to reflect not just the current state, but the future vision as well.

Once we’ve got Marketing on board with our vision and strategy, the next big need that Marketing has is for accurate product and feature information. While Sales and Marketing often have a reputation for “making things up,” that usually only happens when there is a vacuum of useful and accurate information available to them. Nobody wants their marketing material to advertise vaporware or for prospective customers to think the product does something it really doesn’t. But in the absence of useful information, something has to go into those materials — and that’s when people start to make things up.

Finally, Marketing needs someone to translate the inevitable tech-speak into market positioning and customer-friendly language. This goes above and beyond merely knowing what the product does and into the depths of what’s being worked on, what stage it’s in, and how it will benefit the customer. Many marketers glaze over when presented with technical specifications, user stories, and bug reports — they’re far more interested in the why than the what. And, in a similar vein, they need someone who’s able to translate the feedback that they’re getting from their marketing events into actionable product improvements, so that the cycle can continue.

“Speak to your audience in their language about what’s in their heart.”
– Jonathan Lister

Figure Out Where (and How) to Contribute
marketing and product management

Now that we know what Marketing teams are trying to achieve and what they need in order to deliver on their goals, we can think seriously about what we, as Product Managers, can do in order to help them out. There are several key efforts that we can collaborate with Marketing on in order to improve not only their work but our own as well.

First, and foremost, we can help provide them with useful and usable content. Whether this is writing up feature/benefit documentation, collaborating on positioning statements, or even creating drafts of collateral for them to modify as needed, every little bit can help. You should also consider guest posting for the company blog — this helps build your own authority as well as the trust customers have in your product. We need to remember that we are the experts on the product, and we should be able to describe how everything that we’re doing and building will benefit our customers and our prospective customers in the market.

Next, we can help out by providing our own presence and support in webinars and similar outreach efforts. Doing so benefits the Marketing team by providing a new voice to the market, the company by presenting more expertise, and ourselves as people seeking to develop our skillsets and our careers as product leaders. Webinars —whether live or pre-recorded —are a great way for Product Managers to help Marketing bridge the gap between the market and the product. And, for the most part, the work needed to contribute to and present a great webinar is relatively minimal when done in collaboration with a strong marketing team.

Finally, events are one of the hardest and most grueling aspects of marketing — from initial planning to setting itineraries to set-up and tear-down. It’s stressful, difficult, and both mentally and physically exhausting. Because of the intense nature of these activities, they are great opportunities for Product Managers to reach out, lend a hand, and establish some social capital with the Marketing team. Any time a PM works an event, we should help out as much as we can with the day-to-day logistics and even with the setup and teardown. It helps us to establish credibility with the team, which is something we can cash in on later on down the line when we need Marketing support behind our product ideas.

“Our jobs as marketers are to understand how the customer wants to buy and help them do so.”
– Bryan Eisenberg

Marketing is an essential part of the success of any business, and the breadth of what marketers are required to do opens them up to collaboration with other teams. As Product Managers, we share many of the the same skills, desires, and capabilities, just with a different twist. Once you understand what marketing team members value, how they want to achieve their goals, and what you can do to contribute to their success, collaborations between marketing and product can make both teams more effective.

Cliff Gilley

About Cliff Gilley

Cliff Gilley has been a Product Manager for nearly 12 years, working in a variety of industries and company sizes. He has assisted several of these companies in their transitions to Agile development and Scrum methods, and is a firm believer that agility is a value you must have, not something you just do. He currently blogs and consults as The Clever PM, providing providing tips, tricks, and hacks to make people better, more clever Product Managers.