How Product Managers Really Want To Work With Product Marketers
"Product management without product marketing is like cereal without milk." A former product marketing colleague of mine used to say this. It is not a perfect analogy, but I believe it expresses an important truth about the value that a strong product marketing team brings to the product development process. Sure, you can technically build new experiences without the input of product marketing. But how satisfying and resonant will those experiences actually be for customers? A close collaboration between product managers and product marketers makes the offering that much sweeter.
A strong partnership between product management and product marketing is essential to building lovable products — amplifying customer happiness and driving business growth.
This partnership has been top of mind recently as our team has come together to launch Aha! Create, a new digital notebook for product builders. Big launches are inherently complex — successful ones rely on product management and product marketing staying tightly coordinated. While each group has their own areas of focus and responsibilities, we collaborate on positioning, customer use cases, go-to-market strategies, and more.
I am grateful to be part of a company where a close working relationship between product management and product marketing is the norm. But it is not just because we like and respect each other (which we do). It is because we intentionally consider how to work together across each stage of product development — from strategy and planning through to launch and analysis.
It is less about a smooth hand-off between product management and product marketing and more about moving through the product development process together.
I know from prior roles that this type of partnership is not always the reality. I have seen firsthand how roles and responsibilities can bleed into each other, causing confusion or even resentment about who should be taking the lead on which type of work. Infrequent communication is another common source of friction. Say that product managers change course on a set of features without telling product marketing managers — leaving the marketing team scrambling to modify communications to customers. Or product marketing managers get excited about the benefits of an upcoming feature and overpromise what the product is able to do, annoying product managers and (eventually) customers alike.
If you have ever experienced something like this, you know how draining it can feel. Nobody wants to be left to clean up a mess while others slink away. I do not really think that one group is trying to be crummy to the other — you have just not set each other up to succeed.
Having been in both types of situations, it brings me solace to realize that small adjustments to process and communication can make a meaningful difference. So I asked members of the Aha! team to share what they deem most valuable for building a better partnership between PMs and PMMs. Here is what they had to say:
Align on goals
"Make sure both groups understand the company and product goals and how their work contributes to achieving them. At Aha! we use the product value scorecard to determine the strategic value of potential features. Listening to product marketing's deep product expertise and customer empathy helps us calculate this score more precisely — ensuring that the functionality we are introducing will help us reach our business objectives and address customer needs." — Kelly Sebes, Product Management
Pair up on positioning
"Schedule time with product marketing to review positioning well in advance of any releases of new products, features, or enhancements. Typically the product manager drafts a positioning document summarizing the main customer challenges, how you will address them, and the benefits of what you are offering. But refining your positioning should really be a collaborative exercise. Share relevant ideas and resources, explore ideas for key use cases, and align on the core benefits of the new functionality." — Austin Merritt, Product Management
Share feedback early
"As a product manager, I value the fresh perspectives and hard questions I get from product marketing. Bring them in early and often during discovery and development so you are both part of the iterative process of bringing a feature to life. Product marketing often has great ideas on how to adjust the functionality and language to make a feature more impactful or connect it more deeply to the overall product story. Hearing that input early lets us build an even better product with less wasted effort." — Jeff Tucker, Product Management
Review the roadmap
"Set up regular product team meetings to review the product roadmap, as well as upcoming launch plans and timing on the go-to-market roadmap. Because our product teams at Aha! discuss roadmaps weekly, product marketing already knows about upcoming features. This eliminates surprises and last-minute scrambles. Plus when everyone in the meeting feels empowered to ask questions and share ideas, the team can think through the best way we can deliver value to our customers." — Amy Ellis, Product Marketing
"Whether you are planning a launch or refreshing customer personas, open and consistent communication is vital. Create a dedicated instant messaging channel for product management and product marketing to share updates, ask questions, and keep in touch on any changes to functionality or design leading up to a launch. There are always tons of details to be shared (in both directions) before a launch, so having one place for everybody to sync on timing, key messages, and more is a huge help." — Kathryn Tirador, Product Marketing
"Carve out time to review product performance and surface any problems or opportunities you are seeing to each other. Product manager Kelly Sebes and I do this in our weekly product team meeting for Aha! Ideas. We use this time together to go over product-related metrics and dig deeper into our audience and their challenges. These discussions then inform how each of us adjusts our respective product and product marketing roadmaps going forward." — Rose Smith, Product Marketing
Make a point to invest in the relationship between product management and product marketing. Regular communication and mutual respect for the different (but related) work you do is essential to product success.
As I reflect on our launch week, I am both immensely grateful and ready to recharge. Big launches are an opportunity to reorient yourself around collaboration — by necessity you are communicating more often as you come together to build something worthwhile for customers. Leverage this time of closer connection to strengthen your relationships and identify areas to improve. And do not forget to celebrate your wins together.
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