5 things marketers wish their PMs knew about working together
Over the course of my career, I’ve sat in dozens of conference rooms, Zoom meetings, retreat centers, and team outings all created with the sole purpose of getting Marketing and Product talking.
The two teams often get pitted against each other. As soon as engineering resources are on the line, and KPIs are outlined, teams are biting their nails wondering whose resource requests will get prioritized. There are product goals and marketing goals. There are P1s and P2s. The room is rife with scarcity, competition, and anxiety. What’s up with that?
Frankly, it’s unnecessary and a little passé. This is my invitation. Let’s kick that trope to the curb once and for all. After eight years (and with gratitude for the stellar product leads I’ve worked with), I’d like to share a handful of key learnings and collaboration points that made our product, brand, and teams sing.
Our customer doesn’t care what’s Product and what’s Marketing
Have you ever worked at a startup where there wasn’t a product and marketing team? Me either. This team separation is standard across the industry. Product builds the, erm, product. And Marketing markets and sells it.
This makes sense in terms of goals, skill sets, and how to divide a team into manageable groups. But our customers don’t see it, and they don’t care. No person thinks: cruddy blog post, but great product. Or great content, but buggy product. So it’s essential to prioritize, resource, and support all teams equally. No more [insert team here]-led companies. I’m serious.
Here’s why: Let’s empathize with the customer journey.
Perhaps I’m interested in taking an online coding course from Example Code School:
- Maybe I start Googling what programming language I want to learn
- And then what courses are out there.
- Maybe I sign up for an advisory call
- And then finally start a trial and test out a virtual learning environment.
- Finally I purchase
I just moved through the areas owned by the marketing team, customer support, product, and probably growth (if you have it) and all without caring what was Marketing and what was Product.
No person thinks: cruddy blog post, but great product. Or great content, but buggy product.
Customers walk away with one overall experience that puts them on the scale of convinced or unbelieving. Put another way, for digital products, your marketing and customer support functions are part of the product experience—all teams within an organization should roll up into one company, one product, one brand.
I’d like to make a point for keeping these teams on equal footing with an awareness that both are providing an Example Code School experience. Pitfalls with either team ultimately hurt a business’s bottom line.
Our KPIs are heavily co-dependent
It’s time to stop blindly giving top-of-funnel metrics to the marketing team and engagement metrics to the product team without having a strategic conversation about how the two relate to each other.
If you’re on board with the idea that a customer can’t tell the difference between what’s Marketing and what’s Product, then it’s easy to see how one experience early in the customer lifecycle will impact how that person engages down-funnel.
For example, I once worked with a company that had a very successful product early in their business formation. As a side effect, many years later, visitors still signed up quickly but jumped over recently released features. New customers didn’t “read the box” because they assumed they knew what was inside.
Marketers love these kinds of challenges.
The team changed awareness and activation rates by updating hero copy on the pricing page to mention the team’s full offerings and then forcing new signups to move from the homepage and through the pricing page to create an account. Slowing down the signup flow increased awareness of all features and had a down-funnel impact on engagement, activation, and even LTV. Zooming out, something as simple as marketing copy on the website changed what are generally thought of as product KPIs. And they didn’t even need the engineering team to do it.
The inverse is also true. Oftentimes, if easily acquired customers have a poor product experience, it shows up in your marketing analytics. This connection is a bit harder to prove in Google Analytics since marketing attribution from organic traffic can be hard to trace. With that caveat, I have seen companies with struggling products slowly, over time, lose top-of-funnel traffic. Pageviews drop as customers stop referring the product, companies stop wanting to partner with subpar tooling, and press mentions are increasingly hard to achieve. It’s not your content marketer! It’s how you priced, debugged, and evolved your product.
With that in mind, I encourage teams to speak with nuance and understanding about how both teams’ activities are impacting each other and also how you can both work toward one goal.
Improving Marketing-Product hand-off points can be an easy win
They say that the architecture of software tools reflects the internal organization of a company, and wow do I believe that.
Create three teams, and don’t be surprised when you have three areas of your product. Create product and marketing teams, and eventually you’ll have to very precisely delineate which part of the customer experience is Product and which is Marketing.
It should come as no surprise then that hand-off points are where your growth opportunities and Low Hanging Fruit lies.
In my experience, Marketing hands off to Product somewhere around “signup.” It’s key to get hyper-specific here. Does signup occur at email address submission or account creation? Who owns those experiences? This area of the funnel is always hairy and sometimes the purview of a growth expert. But no matter what you call it, you need someone here who is tapped into your acquisition channels and customer mindset to team up with someone who can seamlessly design and build to create a high-converting experience. You’ve got to bridge Marketing and Product.
I’ve found a very smart Mixpanel Dashboard incredibly helpful here since you can easily slice and dice your data with its funnels tool. At Buffer, I worked hand-in-hand with our data science team to track our signup funnel from acquisition channel, to signup location on site, through email address submission, and finally account creation and engagement. It changed how I work.
What we learned is that the page someone signed up on, or the Signup Gateway, had a large impact on down-funnel metrics like engagement. We also learned that there was more drop-off than anticipated between email address submission and account creation. By getting very specific with how we defined signup, we spotted the holes in this flow and were able to adjust the design and copy on up-funnel pages to increase metrics in this part of the funnel.
Your marketing team is as focused on your customer metrics as your product team
I don’t know when or how it happened, but there’s the belief that marketers aren’t technical, data-informed, or good with numbers. As if everyone falls into two categories, right and left brain, math and words, logical and emotional, product and marketing. Silly!
Your marketing team wants to read your product analytics reports. Sharing more with your marketing team means we can refine and pivot our strategies to prime visitors to engage with products in the optimal way.
Marketers know that we need to get customers to sign up and then to an “ah-ha” moment, or when someone experiences a feature that hooks them as a long-term customer. That makes it very important to understand what features and customer behaviors preclude that moment.
Which is all another way of saying your marketing team wants to read your product analytics reports. Sharing more with your marketing team means we can refine and pivot our strategies to prime visitors to engage with products in the optimal way.
Take for instance a place like Notion. Getting customers to create their first workspace seems key to their user journey, so anything the team can do to help people get there is crucial. That’s why I’d imagine you see things like case studies, a crips onboarding flow, and templates. Marketing strategy rolls out of this fundamental product metric.
Marketing can take the pressure off of product launch timelines
Engineering estimations. The two scariest words in tech.
Many “launches” I’ve seen follow a fraught pattern: Engineering estimates a product launch on date, the PM tells the marketing team this date, the marketing team preps a timely campaign and maybe even involves press or partnerships, and then a few days before launch, timelines get pushed back.
If you’ve reached out to partners or press, this is very bad. These relationships are built on trust and mutual respect, and last-minute shifts crumble connections and opportunities to partner again in the future. Luckily, there are MANY things you can do to avoid this, but it takes a bit of understanding and unconventional thinking.
First, you can relaunch features at any time. Building new features is an expensive way to grow. Instead, take a feature people love, a feature people don’t know about, any feature, and “launch it”— even after it’s been live.
Think of the math. When you launch a feature, you send an email to communicate that something new has been built. In the best case scenario, 50% of people open that email, and 10% click (these are much higher benchmarks than the industry standard). The majority of your audience still doesn’t know about this feature.
Better yet, time that relaunch around a cultural event that makes sense for your brand. You’re an EdTech company; how about back-to-school season? You’re a productivity tool; think about the start of the year.
Another idea is simply creating a buffer window with your PM or beta-launching before actually launching. The risk here, of course, is if that one is also missed, but that feels like a separate issue.
All in all, there are many ways to get around creating a moment when launches have to happen at a very specific hour. And given that marketing contacts are very precious, it’s something worth collaborating around.
These lessons came together over my career working with great product leads. Together, we figured out just how to move company metrics, work as a team, and create beautiful experiences for our customers. I hope they help you do the same!
About Ashley Hockney
Ashley is a growth and marketing consultant with a focus on copywriting. She was previously the Director of Marketing at Buffer and an early hire at Codecademy and Zapier. Looking for more customers? You can work with her here.