The VP of Product vs. the VP of Marketing
November 27, 2018

The VP of Product vs. the VP of Marketing

by Brian de Haaff

Powerful people do not work well together. At least, that is what one study suggests. Researchers concluded that when working in a group, powerful people underperform and fight over status and decision-making authority. To which I say: If key leaders cannot cooperate, how can they expect the broader team to create anything meaningful together?

When it comes to collaboration between teams, senior-level leaders must always lead by example.

Take product management and marketing. The vice president of product and the vice president of marketing have their own areas of the business to run — product strategy and roadmaps on the one side, marketing strategy and campaigns on the other. Tension sometimes emerges between these two roles in the areas where their organizations overlap.

I have seen this play out a few ways over my career. I once witnessed a fully chaotic scene — the VP of product threatening the VP of marketing that the product team would just launch and market the product if the marketing team did not get behind the new product plan.

Sure, this was not an ideal scenario. But it was both good and bad. Good that the VP of product was so passionate about getting the product to market — bad that she could not get aligned with the VP of marketing.

My experience is that conflict is often due to misaligned goals and lack of clarity around responsibilities.

It all starts with knowing exactly what the business goals are and how each group supports those goals. Starting with clear objectives ensures that logical tradeoffs can be made and that product and marketing are working together.

The second key to meaningful collaboration is having clear lines of responsibility. Otherwise, fogginess around ownership will lead to wasteful arguments and often overlapping work. When both leaders agree on the boundaries, the two groups can move forward together.

So, how do VPs of product and marketing and their organizations work best together? Here is a detailed assessment of how the two groups can almost always be in sync:

Business-driven goals We already mentioned that ensuring that there are corporate goals is a must. Both the VP of product and the VP of marketing need to transparently set and share goals specific to their functions as well. The goals should be actionable, measurable, and tied back to the overall company strategy. These leaders are also ultimately responsible for their team’s initiatives — the areas of investment needed to achieve those goals.

VP of product sets goals centered around the product itself. These might be around product development, such as introducing new key functionality that customers are demanding or bringing an entirely new offering to market. Continuous innovation and improvement of the product is a common theme for most product management organizations.

VP of marketing sets goals that are focused more directly on driving the growth of the business. These might be specific, like driving a certain number of prospects and sales leads. There may also be brand-centric goals, such as building up the company’s thought leadership. The focus is generally outward on customers, the market, and key influencers.

Customer and market insights The two leaders are experts as it relates to customers and the market. They analyze trends and developments in both. Anticipating changes in customer behaviors and the market is essential — those insights then guide priorities and areas of investment for the company.

VP of product stays close to who uses the product, how they use it, and why they buy it. This includes researching and having a point of view on customer needs or sensitivities, market dynamics, pricing, and what is needed to stay competitive or improve team efficiency.

VP of marketing interprets and distills research on customers and the market for the team to use in marketing campaigns and go-to-market launch activities. This includes competitive analysis, marketing and positioning, new acquisition channel testing, and conversion strategies.

Strategic planning Based on their deep understanding of the customers and market, each VP drives strategic planning efforts and defines initiatives that the team will pursue over a given time frame. The purpose is to communicate how the product management and marketing teams will support the business goals, though the structure and terminology will be different to reflect each department’s priorities and activities.

VP of product sets the overall product strategy, acting as a champion for both the customers and the product. This means making sure the customer’s voice is heard throughout the organization, driving the product roadmap, and helping the engineering team make tough prioritization decisions.

VP of marketing sets the overall marketing strategy, owning the company’s position in the market, campaigns, and brand-building efforts. The strategic plans that they set focus the team on the target audience, messaging, content themes, campaigns, and promotional mix.

Metrics and performance Senior leaders cannot keep track of every single team member’s tasks and to-dos. Nor should they. Instead, the VP needs to monitor key activities and track KPIs to make sure the team’s deliverables are tied to meaningful business outcomes. This happens by guiding prioritization of work that directly supports functional and corporate goals.

VP of product makes sure the team is keeping close track of a range of product management metrics. These should include key customer stats, such as overall business growth as well as user-based adoption and engagement rates. Analyzing these metrics helps teams stay on track and helps the VP evaluate how the team and product are progressing.

VP of marketing tracks more key data than just about anyone in an enterprise — aside from finance. Technology marketing teams are tracking vital marketing metrics in a number of key areas, including views, conversion rates, trials, sales, add-ons, brand awareness, and share-of-voice to name a few. Ultimately, revenue and growth rates matter most as well as keeping programs on budget and on schedule.

When the VPs of product and marketing set the standard for collaboration, it benefits everyone. Planning, researching, performance, and tracking tasks are efficiently completed and both teams are clear as to who is responsible for what work.  

Building and launching products that customers love is the goal. But I would argue that the most important work senior leaders can do is building a high-performing culture. The best ones do this by cultivating transparent communication across the organization. And through their passion and mentorship, they inspire the team.

Have you seen VPs work well together? Or not?

Help your team do great things — sign up for a free trial of Aha!

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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