How Product Management and Marketing can collaborate to tell stories and align on KPIs

If you’ve worked with me, you know I’m a huge advocate for marketing and product management to remain in lockstep throughout the product conception, design, launch and even after the product is in the market. Thousands of decisions are made at each step in the go-to-market process and customers are often underrepresented.  In this article, Alex reminds me of the other view and that marketers could do well to ask more questions, get curious about the problem/solution and to align on measurements (KPIs).

In case you missed Part 1, and want to learn more about Alex Westner’s background and philosophy about building successful products, you can read it here: Do You Have A Product Or Do You Have A Business?

Here’s part 2 of my interview with Alex Westner:

Speaking of marketing, how does product management work with marketing?

First of all, I’ve learned that product management means different things to different companies. Sometimes it’s an engineering role and a product manager is writing specifications for the engineering team. In other companies, a product manager is more of a marketing manager. Usually though, the product manager is responsible for building the solution to the problem, while marketing is more focused on the customer/problem validation (e.g., are we sure we understand the customers we’re trying to reach, and are they articulating the specific desires or pains or whatever they’re struggling with?) As you approach the end of a product development cycle, the focus shifts to developing the story.

 Marketing needs to ask lots of questions of both Product Management and Customers to get the best product and positioning possible.

Marketing needs to ask lots of questions of both Product Management and Customers to get the best product and positioning possible.

Here’s where you need an aggressive marketing team that’s going to ask a lot of questions, be persistent, and plays the role of the customer. You also need a confident product manager to be able to handle that! That’s when it’s worked best for me—when you have a marketing person who’s just really going after it.

Challenge me, ask me questions, let’s figure this out. A PM can learn a lot in those encounters. Often, unexpected questions will come up, and I'll then go back to my team and figure out if we’re actually ready to have these conversations with customers.

On the other side of the coin, sometimes marketing managers are less involved, less connected to the product, or just green. Then the product manager is doing a lot of the heavy lifting for the marketing story. In those instances, the story ends up being a little too complicated and too feature focused rather than benefit focused.

Recently, you mentioned to me that marketing is hard to control, what do you mean by that?

The product design part of the job is relatively easy. You do the research, you figure out your best shot at designing something that’s going to make someone happy, and then you build it. But with marketing, you do the research, you design a campaign or plan or message that you think someone is going to understand, you put it out there, and then it becomes the customer’s responsibility to get it or not.

When you’re building something, you have control and it’s awesome. With marketing, you can only put something out there and then it’s up to the world to pick it up. Of course, you can influence it, measure it and iterate on your message, but at the end of the day, the final results are still up to the consumer. Having been in a position recently where I’ve been responsible for marketing, I just have a huge new respect for how challenging that is.

It’s like there’s a two-way relationship: the messenger and then the receiver of the message. You can only control the delivery, not the interpretation. A marketing story can modulate or evolve in a way that’s totally hard to predict. Then you have to react to that. Sometimes products are even used in ways they weren’t intended, maybe in a good way, maybe in a bad way, then you end up in sort of interesting places.

 Communication is a two-way street. Both messenger and receiver influence your story.

Communication is a two-way street. Both messenger and receiver influence your story.

Luckily, digital marketing creates the environment where you can actually listen and respond quickly to your prospects. However, if you don’t jump in there and engage with them, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. Maybe 20 years ago, you just put out a print or TV ad and then hoped it would work. Today, you can post on Facebook and get quick reactions from your target market, then you can jump in and respond, watch the discussion unfold, and learn like crazy.

Flipping the script, what should marketing people know about product management?

There are a lot of compromises that are made in product design and product management, and sometimes for good reason. We may have an ideal picture of what we think a customer is going to want but there are costs to manage, technical limitations, deadlines to hit, and so on. Most conflicts arise between PM and marketing when marketing says, “This is the ideal thing we should be making," and product management says, “Well, we can’t.” “So why can’t you, are you incompetent?” Often the ideal product is not even remotely feasible.

On the one hand, it’s great that marketing challenges PM but at some point, it becomes unproductive. If marketing takes the time to learn more about why the decisions were made, they can become a part of the solution and even propose another option that they think might work better for the story or for the customer.

 iZotope's Multiple TEC Awards including Ozone 7

iZotope's Multiple TEC Awards including Ozone 7

Something that you and I did at iZotope with Ozone 7 and something I was able to repeat at Cakewalk with Momentum is getting marketing and engineering all together before you start a project. Doing a lot of strategic, high-level thinking and planning collaboratively across departments and functions makes the whole thing go a hell of a lot better.

With Momentum, the product development process was so smooth. We didn’t have fancy user stories and dashboards and scrum masters; we didn’t need any heavy processes because the team was so aligned before we started --we all just stayed aligned together.

 Momentum image above. At last I have an animated Gif on my site. Thanks Alex.

Momentum image above. At last I have an animated Gif on my site. Thanks Alex.

We knew what to do, and we had regular and productive meetings to stay connected. We laid a foundation by working together to understand the market and understand the situation. It may seem expensive to take engineers and designers offline for a month, but it pays off in the long run. I estimate we’ve saved at least three times that initial cost by having the alignment upfront rather than having to do resets as we go along.

How about working with customer service?

One thing I’ve done with customer service departments is to implement the Net Promoter Score system (1-10 scale of how likely are you to recommend our product?) and to be clear about what part of your product/service they are evaluating.

 Here's how to calculate Net Promoter Score. Click to learn more even more info on Net Promoter Score, including some of the risks.

Here's how to calculate Net Promoter Score. Click to learn more even more info on Net Promoter Score, including some of the risks.

At Cakewalk, we discovered that some customers need technical support, while others are pre-sales or even first-time customers wanting to get set up. Initially, we were focusing on the detractors, people who gave us low scores and told us why. We read those weekly and categorized them to find the trends and, most importantly, we did something about it! When we started this survey early this summer, our score was in the 20s, and two months later, after we learned some really important things that customers were frustrated about (pricing, confusion about product lines and product roadmap), we cleared these things up and our score doubled from being in the 20s to being in the 40s. We were able to eliminate some of the major problems that customers had with us.

The biggest early wins were communication-related. Once those problems were solved, we focused more on where their pain points were in the product. The most common problem was that new customers just found the product too complicated and they needed help. This led us to start producing a bunch of new getting-started videos, and we put on the roadmap a feature that allowed us to easily create interactive tutorials in the product. They’re right there telling us exactly what we need to fix about our company. We can follow up with them, but they’re all things that we already know. Having that information and having the company really want to make that score go up really helps get some internal adoption and urgency: “Yeah, let’s go fix these problems!”

Customer service people tend to be inexperienced: it’s an entry-level position in a company. They can be intimidated by a big organization full of people who have been doing this for 10, 20 years—yet it’s the department that really needs to have a strong voice in order to make a change. That’s something that I see as an organizational challenge.

Aside from net promoter score, what other metrics do you have your eye on?

Right now, everything I’m capturing is about the funnel. We’re not doing anything unless we can measure it. If we can’t measure it, we’re not doing it. That forces us to find a way to measure it. It doesn’t make us not want to do something, it makes us realize that if we know something is important, there’s got to be a way we can test it, measure it, and improve upon it.

Tell me about an easy win that resulted from paying that kind of attention to measurement.?

Easy win? Surprisingly, nothing is easy to measure! Getting web analytics, getting store analytics, I’m surprised at how hard it is to get data in a form that is easy to understand and actionable. I manually go through shit every Monday and I copy stuff into a spreadsheet.

 Cakewalk Momentum Image

Cakewalk Momentum Image

When we launched Momentum, I was looking at the whole funnel. We’ve got automated marketing campaigns, so I’m looking at all the metrics for our engagement rate, our open rate, and our click-through rate on all the emails that we’re sending out. I’m looking at our e-commerce stores—we sold direct on our website, through the iOS store, and through the Google Play store. From the app stores, they give us metrics like how many people came to the product page, where they came from, and how many of each segment downloaded the app. I was focusing on conversions.

For example, on iOS in the most recent week I had measured, 86 percent of people who landed on our Momentum page downloaded the app. That’s pretty cool, sounds good. I’m looking at conversions like cart close rates, abandonment, and things like that. I learned that we were successful getting people to download the product, which was our primary objective in marketing. We believed that they were not going to buy it unless they started to use it. As far as download conversions, that was working pretty well. Thirty-five percent of people who went to our landing page download the product. That’s not too bad. The problem was our sales conversions were shit. We were converting on less than a percent. That’s where we needed to do a better job; we weren’t selling.

Right now, everything I’m capturing is about the funnel. We’re not doing anything unless we can measure it.

So, marketing is getting people to download it—they are achieving their goal of attracting people to the product, and they download it. The sales guy is not converting. I’m also looking for referrals. We did a campaign with a third-party partner that actually worked really well. We looked at what we did in that campaign and then we applied that to our overall marketing message. When we launched, we led with a subscription pricing model that everybody hated. When we ran this third-party campaign, however, we sold it as a one-year plan. We already had that option available at launch, but for this campaign, we restricted the pricing options to one-year plans. So, the customer response was now, “It’s 30 bucks for a year? Yeah, that sounds fine.” When we tried to sell it as monthly or annual, customers were like, “OMG, I’m signing up for this for the rest of my life! No way!”

 Paying attention to the right KPIs is key for both product and marketing to dial in the message an pricing.

Paying attention to the right KPIs is key for both product and marketing to dial in the message an pricing.

So $2 a month was a non-starter for most customers, but $30 a year felt OK. They would actually be paying less with our monthly plan, but they were happier to have a fixed commitment. And all of this is something we learned because we were tracking KPI’s and paying attention to them. A lot of the game is just paying attention.

In case you missed it, the first part of my interview with Alex Westner can be found here: Do You Have A Product Or Do You Have A Business?

If you want to continue learning, Part 3 can be found here.

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