The PMM Guide

PMM and product team collaboration

Three tips for building a partnership with the product team

Anna Wiggins, ex-Google, ex-PayPal, PMM Director at BlueVine
Published: November 10, 2020

As a product marketing manager (PMM), you will partner with product managers (PMs) to define and deliver the best possible experience for your customers. While PMs work with engineers to build the product, PMMs collaborate with PMs to research, position, launch, and drive adoption of products.

PMM and product teams must collaborate to succeed

As part of this collaboration, you will get insight into the product roadmap, a document that plans product vision and direction over time. Access to the product roadmap will give you a unique opportunity to contribute to company strategy and building a close relationship with product will be critical to your success in this area.

In your career, you'll frequently hear that product marketing needs to influence the product roadmap and you'll come across many strategies that try to help with this. However, in reality, there is no silver bullet for shaping the roadmap. The roadmap is managed by product managers who are human just like you. And as with any interpersonal relationship, you can influence once you build credibility and trust. So let's talk about how you can do that.

Learn the Product

First, invest time into actually learning the product. As a product marketer, you should intimately know the killer features, differentiators, and shortfalls. This information is essential to positioning, messaging, and optimizing the end-to-end product and marketing experience.

If you are a B2C PMM, become a power user and actively listen to customer chatter on relevant forums, message boards, and Facebook groups. Social listening is a great way to get an unfiltered view of how customers feel about your product and companies like SproutSocial can automate getting these insights. You can also ask your friends and family to use the product or service and get first-hand feedback on their experience.

If you are a B2B PMM, get close to customers by attending sales calls or shadowing customer support. Hearing the sales team pitch the product or frustrated customers calling support is the best way to understand what's working and not working and to develop genuine empathy for your audience.

Get to know the product and engineering teams

Next, get to know your Product and Engineering partners. Set up conversations with key players to learn how the teams make decisions, prioritize projects, and collaborate. Note that as a product marketer you'll work more frequently with product than engineering. While you should get to know as many product managers as relevant for your role, you can just focus on establishing a connection with the Engineering leads instead of the entire team.

To collaborate, you can join Slack channels and attend product prioritization meetings so that you have context and empathy for any issues the team encounters. Also, make sure to understand the product team's definition of product marketing, how your role best fits in their world, and if you need to expand or realign the definition.

Finally, you should pay attention to the product team's KPIs, key performance indicators or metrics the product team uses to measure its success. Ideally, product marketing and product management have shared metrics. However, if this is not the case, ensure you are driving towards the same goals.

Here is an example of why this matters. Let's say that you and your PM are both working on customer onboarding. The PM's KPI is to increase sign-ups, so they create a frictionless sign-up flow that doesn't require email verification. Your KPI is a lift in account activation and you need a verified email address to confirm account creation and to send getting started tips. Given this setup, the PM could hit the goal while the PMM could fall flat. Even though you are working on the same initiative, you are diverging instead of amplifying each other's efforts. It's vital that you align your strategies so that you can meet the overarching goal of developing an effective onboarding experience.

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Contribute your expertise

In your conversations, you will likely discover gaps in resourcing and expertise. For example, the team might need new customer insights, better feedback loop, faster GTM process, or closer connection with the sales team. This is your chance to use your experience to meet these needs and help position yourself as an important partner.

Keep in mind that while customer insights are helpful, most product managers are already regularly gathering feedback. However, this is usually done on a smaller scale, the information is scattered across inboxes, and is normally limited to current customers. You can quickly add value by delivering potential and current customer research at scale that's statistically significant and can be benchmarked over time. As an example, you can launch a regular survey that documents customer demo-and-firmographics, measures product satisfaction, and gathers feature requests. This will help you and the product team understand trends and patterns in your customer base.

Sanity check: is the PMM to PM partnership working?

Ok, you've done all of the above and you hopefully have a great relationship with your product team. A good indicator that things are going well is if product managers proactively ask for your opinion or help on initiatives such as developing a response to a competitor or prioritizing customer feature requests.

The most common sign that your relationship needs work is if you are finding out last minute about a launch and are scrambling to line up GTM plans and training Sales and Support teams. If this happens, you should help product understand the downstream impact of surprise launches such as high customer confusion, low satisfaction, and lost revenue because you went to market with unclear messaging and incomplete customer resources. This is also a good opportunity to take another look at your GTM process and whether cross-functional teams need a refresher.

All in all, product managers will be your essential counterparts, and a close working relationship will make you both excel in your roles. Luckily the path to this is simple - learn the product, understand product management's world, and be a good partner. For a more detailed overview of PM vs. PMM roles, be sure to check out Kenton Kivestu's, Founder of RocketBlocks, The Difference Between a PM and PMM blog post.

P.S. Are you preparing for PMM interviews?

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