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Building Effective Marketing + Product Partnership

Product and marketing are key players in ensuring the success of a product. However, often these two functions struggle to work effectively together.

Marketing and product are often out of sync

In my experience leading marketing teams, a common complaint I hear from product teams is that marketing comes in at the wrong time. It’s a week away from launch, and the marketer produces a huge set of copy edits throughout the product experience with no regard for space constraints or release schedules. Similarly, marketing teams have their complaints too. The product launch slipped two months but a different feature was just released with no notice, and now we’re on the hook for promoting it. Despite their best intentions, teams often aren’t in sync.

The end result is a poor experience for customers. The sales collateral and website may not match the experience inside the product. Features developed and released may not be consistently messaged or even promoted throughout the site experience. Issues raised to sales and support about bugs or feature requests may be met with unsatisfying responses which are slow to roll out into the product.

What causes lack of coordination between product and marketing?

Product and marketing teams often struggle to work together for several key reasons.

They see the customer from different perspectives

Product teams are focused on the user of their product with an emphasis on interaction, features and functionality. Often these can be framed as user stories which are simple narratives describing how the user will use the product. In contrast, marketing teams are focused on the business context, commonly framed as buyer persona documents describing the customer’s title, role in the organization, toolkit and primary motivations. Both teams are touching different truths about the customer but not seeing the entire picture. The product manager may lack vital context about the business context and motivations of the customer, which can result in an inappropriately prioritized roadmap that isn’t addressing customer needs. Without an understanding of what is actually being built into the product, the marketer may have shallow understanding which results in mistimed product launches and poorly written collateral.

They don’t share common goals or metrics

The key deliverables and output for product and marketing organizations are similar but do not closely overlap. A marketer’s deliverables are a marketing plan and execution of marketing programs and campaigns. The measure of marketer’s output is often product adoption and customer sentiment. A product manager’s deliverables are a well-executed and polished product. Their output is often measured by speed to market, product engagement, and customer satisfaction. Viewed in a narrow lens, the focus of these teams is perceived to be very different — marketers are focusing on the top of the funnel and customer communications, and product managers on building amazing product experiences that engage and delight customers. However, the bigger picture is how the product is actually doing, or what the common north star metric is that everyone is aiming toward. Without a shared understanding of what this metric is, it becomes possible for a product to falter despite great execution from marketers and product managers.

It’s possible to work without working together

It’s common for product and marketing teams to have very little knowledge of each other’s day-to-day work. From an execution perspective, they work with different, non-overlapping teams — product managers often partner closely with their design and engineering counterparts, and marketers work with internal marketing functions, creative teams and agencies. Without a conscious effort to work with and speak to each other, it’s easy for product managers and marketers to travel in separate orbits despite how interconnected their work is. Often marketers are building campaigns with the product definition shifting under their feet, and without regular communication marketing messages can get out of sync with the product.

Five strategies for marketing and product to work together more effectively

Agree on your product’s north star metrics

The entire team that touches a product should have a shared agreement of the product’s key success metrics. Common measures often include revenue, active users, installs, churn, average order value, customer satisfaction, etc. The important element is that the teams have discussed and agree on what their key metrics are because it enables constructive discussion around prioritization and impact of their activities.

At both SurveyMonkey and LinkedIn, we had a regular cadence of weekly, monthly and quarterly reports for the key metrics for the product across product, marketing, sales and other key functions. The entire team had access to these metrics, and we prioritized initiatives based on their potential to move these metrics. In LinkedIn’s monetization team, we’d request a marketing promotion inside the product with a quick data pull and forecast to project the impressions and projected revenue impact for making the change. Or we’d determine whether to develop a potential feature based on sales feedback and customer requests.

Unify your planning process

Depending on the organization, planning is often executed on an annual, quarterly or shorter basis. Regardless of your cadence, unifying the process for product roadmaps and marketing plans is a powerful tool for driving alignment. The key to making this effective is to share draft content for collaboration, not merely presenting final plans to each other. By establishing a planning process, the expectations become very clear that marketers should be discussing upcoming features and launches with product managers and that product should be thinking ahead on what marketing resources they will need. Each party can come to the table with proposals on how they want to add value and what resources they need to do so, and walk away with changes made and an understanding of what subset of this will get done.

This can be a light-weight exercise or a full business process. When Mochi Media was at a stage of 25 employees, this looked like product, marketing and engineering bulleting out our key initiatives in an email at the start of each sprint. At SurveyMonkey, a much larger organization, product and marketing shared a quarterly planning cycle and developed presentations to share out and discuss with the broader organization.

Adapt your workflow to depend on each other

While it’s technically possible for product and marketing to work independently with zero overlap, it’s not ideal. If a marketer does product research and no one sees it, does it matter? Harshly, no. Is it ideal for a product manager to plan a product without a go-to-market plan to grow it? Not really.

Marketers and product managers should strive to include each other as key stakeholders or sponsors in customer-focused work. This may feel like slowing down but will help you speed up because it reduces re-work and changes later down the line. Include your counterparts as early as possible. Let them see the first round designs or the buggy initial build in your dev environment, and make it clear what input you expect from them. The issue of bad product copy is easily caught by sending a marketer the link and letting them know that now is the time you need that feedback. Another common example I see is that many marketers tend to treat product partners as a client-agency relationship, and hold off on showing them the work-in-progress. At the point where product sees the polished final rounds, deadlines are tight and you’ve missed the opportunity for insightful debates and early discovery of issues.

In the past I’ve taken even further by including product explicitly into the approval process of product launch collateral and campaigns. We’d ask the product managers to attend marketing plan reviews and also provide final approval of collateral and website copy prior to launch. While this created an extra step, it was a critical element to building consensus on what is getting messaged both on the site and in the product.

Run regular business reviews together

Running regular business reviews is a critical component to getting everyone on the same page about key issues facing the business. Ideally this looks like a regular cross-functional review where a decision-making team is coming together to report status, review dashboards and make key decisions together. This is a meeting where the day-to-day work happens, not where it’s reported. Content can range from from open and honest discussions of lessons learned to diagnosing business challenges and parceling out follow-up items to go investigate. A regular business review creates an environment for collaborative problem solving and shared ownership.

When I worked on LinkedIn’s Sales Solutions business, we had a regular business review attended by key stakeholders in product, marketing, sales, and engineering. It was structured as a metrics review followed by deep-dive topics led by a meeting attendee. These meetings were not just a passive read-out of results, but an integral venue to make decisions and keep abreast of business issues.

Create a system of accountability

Every strong partnership is grounded on the basis of mutual trust and accountability, and the product and marketing relationship is no exception. Establish a system of accountability where it’s clear both what is being committed to, and who owns driving it to completion. I’ve seen this play out effectively as a simple post-meeting email outlining tasks, e.g., Marketer David is responsible for delivering a full marketing plan for the launch by Nov. 15th for the team to provide feedback on. Product manager Ann is responsible for working with the analytics and finance team to pull together a pricing scenario by Dec 1. In the chaos of product development, it’s common for tasks to slip into the ether of hypothetical (“Someone should…”) or unclear (“Maybe you could…?”) resulting in missed deadlines and unclear expectations.

In addition to clear goals, the other half of accountability is the ability to hold each other responsible. Incorporating peer review can be one effective tactic, or on a team-wide basis I’ve seen post-mortems to be an effective way of identifying missed opportunities and talking about ways to improve process.

In conclusion

Building a great product and marketing partnership is a substantial investment of time and energy on both sides. But once it’s established, the benefits are massive to each other and to the business. A substantial, but worthy investment!

Ada Chen Rekhi is co-founder & COO of Notejoy, a collaborative notes app for individuals and teams. She’s also an executive coach who works with founders and executives looking to scale themselves as they scale their teams. If you enjoyed this essay, subscribe to her newsletter or follow her on @adachen.