When it comes to product development, we spend a lot of time agonizing over the product management-engineering relationship. Yes, it’s important, but we don’t spend half as much time talking about the relationship between product management (PMM) and product marketing (PM), and this can have a detrimental impact when it comes to building new features and products.
In this article, I’ll share what we’ve learned about a successful partnership between PMM and PM including why challenges sometimes arise, how we can overcome them and the benefits to be had with a harmonious PM-PMM relationship.
My name's Caroline, I'm a Director at Zendesk, specifically looking after the Explore product, which is our data product. My career has been in technology, I am old enough to have started my career in the first.com boom in San Francisco, learning my trade with startups.
I've worked in various industries across the US and the UK; Disney, British Telecom, Paddy Power, and Intercom, working both on the delivery side of product but also the product management side of things.
Ultimately, what I'm interested in, regardless of the product that I'm working on and the team that I'm involved in, is people and relationships. We're perfectly imperfect. But how can we all actually come together so often to create brilliant products and brilliant experiences for our customers?
In my experience, when it comes to product development, the relationship that we navel-gaze on most, that we write about most, that we agonize most over, is that between our product management and our engineering teams.
We talk about it a lot and that's right, that relationship absolutely does need to work. It needs to work because we need to have efficient teams, we need to have a shared understanding of the problem that we're solving.
We need to get aligned on the solutions that we're implementing to ultimately validate our ideas and solutions. They're just some of the reasons why that is important.
The PM-PMM relationship
But I really believe that there's a trifecta part of this relationship to make great products and customer experiences, and that is working with our product marketing managers. We don't focus on that relationship in any way close to the same extent that we focus on our engineering partnership. But first..
What's the difference between PMMs and PMs?
In a nutshell, product management is about building the right product, while product marketing is about showcasing and selling that product. Think of it this way: product managers work closely with engineering, focusing on product development, features, and functionalities. They're the ones ensuring the product meets market needs and drives value for users.
On the other hand, product marketers are like the voice of the customer. They craft messaging that resonates with target buyers, ensuring the product's value proposition is clear and compelling.
While product managers are more inward-focused on the product itself, product marketers are outward-facing, shaping how the product is perceived in the market and driving demand. Together, they form a dynamic duo, collaborating to bring products from conception to success.
This is an image that we use to think about building product at Zendesk.
We know it takes an army to build product and to not only build it but to maintain it.
We have this massive broader product team that doesn't just include product management, engineering, and design, at a big org like Zendesk it also includes people doing our documentation, our education, our translations, our product marketing.
We then have the supporting teams around billing, legal, support, all of those things.
Ultimately, we have our customers as well, who are there to help us validate our assumptions, give us feedback, and take part in our early access programs to help us with our MVPs.
We're in this massive system; we've moved over time with our engineering and product design colleagues from a waterfall process into this agile process. We're trying to remove our silos. We're trying to remove those handoffs, we're trying to reduce context switching, we're trying to reduce gaps in knowledge, where there are assumptions made and incorrectly made because they don't have the information.
But it's my assertion that we've done that really well within the Product Development and Engineering world. But we haven't translated that into how we work with our product marketing colleagues and our partnerships there.
It manifests when we build a feature or product, we're delighted with ourselves and we say 'hey, product marketer, can you go talk about this? Yeah, here's some documentation. You can go and read and find out about it. That's not good for the product. It's not good for the customer. It's not good for our teams.
If you take the two extremes of the impact of that, you have a scenario whereby your product marketing is engaged when you have your feature built. They don't necessarily have all the context. But they're tasked with going and building a communication plan, engaging your customers and your prospects.
They have some of the information, but they don't have all of it. They don't really have the relationship with product where they can go back and validate because it's just seen as a fractious relationship.
So, what gets pushed out is potentially borderline vaporware. There are gaps in the information. It's not 100% correct. The product team is left saying, 'that's not what we've built or that's a version of what we built.'
A worse example might be that you're working hard on a feature on a product. You release this but you haven't partnered with your marketing partner. Tumbleweed.
You don't have anything out there. There's no communication. Your customers can't find out about it. The team is left thinking "what are we doing if we're not even talking about it to our customers and prospects?"
Some reasons for challenges between PM & PMM
From my experience, there are three main areas why I think there are challenges between the PM and the PMM relationship.
Unclear roles and responsibilities.
That's not just what is in the job description. That is also an agreement between the PMM and the PM as to who's responsible for what. That might depend on the personalities in this relationship and also how much trust there is between the pair. It also depends on the organization.
But I think being very conscious of that is important.
Lack of alignment on the problem to be solved
Another reason why I've seen stress between a PM and a PMM is when there is a lack of alignment around what problem we're solving or why we're solving it.
Measure of success differs
When there isn't a shared KPI or shared measures of what great is,, you've got different motivators pulling the PM and the PMM in different ways. The PMM may be measured on how successful a campaign is, whereas a PM could be measured on shipping. There's no alignment there.
The ideal scenario
So we all take a collective breath, and we imagine the ideal scenario for us.
For the product marketers reading, what would that look like? If you were working in sync and in step with your product management partner what would it look like?
- Would you be involved earlier on in the roadmap process?
- Would you be contributing to actually what the problem is that we're solving?
- Would you, Oh my God, be having a co-hosted customer call?
Then, from a product management perspective, if you were working well with your product marketer, what would change?
- Would you have faster time for communication plans?
- Would you have better clarity on the positioning of the product?
- Would your product marketing partner understand better the roadmap and the reasoning behind that?
I think oftentimes, when we think about the difference between the role of a PM and the role of a PMM, it boils down to a very crude statement.
The PM doesn't do marketing.
That is the most black-and-white way of looking at it. We need to look at a continuum of tasks.
The continuum of tasks
It's true, oftentimes, product managers are not marketeers. But there are very clear tactical areas for both teams to be working on. If you look at this continuum:
- We could think about it as the product manager is responsible primarily for driving the internal team and the internal product development.
- Our product marketer partner is responsible for communicating externally and with our customers.
That is not to say that a product manager is not customer-focused, that's just assumed that the customer is at the heart of everything that we do. But if we're instead looking at the tactical tasks.
Let's look at the customer side, and think about the PMM. Some of the tactical work that the PMM completes revolves around:
- Sales enablement,
- Positioning and marketing.
If we look at our product manager, it is around:
- Feature prioritization,
- Team alignment.
But the real benefit of these roles working hand in glove is that strategic sweet spot - where there is overlap in the work that they do.
Those areas include, but are not limited to:
- The roadmap,
- Go-to-market planning,
- Looking at how you're going to talk about your product to your customers and prospects,
- Competitive analysis,
They're all highly important.
PMs at Zendesk
At Zendesk, our PMs are responsible for the roadmap, the technical roadmap, and the product roadmap, feature prioritization, feature development, team alignment, our billing, our security and compliance for our product, and our cross-product collaboration.
PMMs at Zendesk
Our product marketers are responsible for go to market, messaging, campaign management, sales enablement, competitive analysis for pricing.
Zendesk shared components
Our tier one, tier two, and tier three product launches. Our customer-facing roadmap is a shared activity. Our monthly launch posts are not just left to our PMM, but our product guys are very much involved in that.
And then understanding our customer, the analysis, the segmentation, and reporting. Revenue is also here as well.
There are also factors, outside of these tasks, that can influence who's responsible for what.
Just because you're in a specific role doesn't mean you don't have an interest in another area, you could be a product marketer who has somewhat of an interest in the product management side of things or components of that or vice versa.
If you've got flexibility and trust, there's potential for you to dip into that.
Time & pressure
Also, teams are busy, teams are under pressure. When you have that trust and that relationship, and you understand the role’s responsibilities, you're able to dip in and help as needed across the organization.
A highly effective team
We think of our product marketing and our product management as a team, with our engineers and our product designers.
It's not just something we put pretty pictures up about. It's something that we work hard at. We are a highly distributed team. We have product management in San Francisco, in Dublin, and in the South of France, and our product marketers are in San Francisco.
We do not allow the tyranny of distance to become a barrier for us working effectively together. We are a highly effective team. Some of what drives that is that we understand and we believe, and it's in our DNA.
This is a quote from Brené Brown, that "only when diverse perspectives are included, respected and valued, can we start to get a full picture of the world", and we translate that into building a more rounded product and into building a more rounded campaign and building better experiences for our customers.
What we’ve tried
What gives me the right to brag about how highly effective our team is?
Very clear roles and responsibilities
We have very clear roles and responsibilities, but there's gray area, meaning that we're not so rigid that we cannot change. We allow space for people to grow, to dip into the areas that they're interested in.
And as we learn how we work as a team, we adapt to that and adapt our processes. People aren't boxed in. They're given the scope to develop.
Deliberately part of the Product Leadership team
Our product marketers are deliberately part of our product leadership team. They're part of all the conversations, they're in all the channels, they're in our direct email list, they're at the table when we're defining our roadmap, they're at the table when we're doing our strategic reviews.
They're not brought in once the product team made these decisions and just say 'this is what we're going to do, can you please tell our customers about it?' They're advising us and they're giving us ideas.
Part of all the communication channels
As I said, they are part of the communication channels. The manifests very strongly for the product in so far as, take the Slack channel, our PMMs will answer questions from our support teams and on behalf of our customers almost more frequently than the product team because they are so involved and so engaged.
Benefits we’ve seen
Aligned messaging on our product up & down the organization
We have alignment up and down our organization around our product. However, if someone in our San Francisco office speaks to our PMM, and they ask him why something is or is not on the roadmap, he will be able to answer. He will not need to go back and check with the product team.
If that same person was to ask any of the Explore product managers why we are or not doing something, they will get the same answer. They might not get the same words, but they'll get the same context and the same rationale. That is incredibly powerful.
That translates then too when we're supporting our customer questions in our support team or answering other team questions about the product. We can trust that our product marketing partners and our product team will be saying the same thing.
This gives freedom, and it gives scale across the organization as our product and our actual footprint grows with our customers as well.
Different product ideas being generated
As I mentioned, different product ideas are being generated. We are very open and we actively encourage the different perspectives that our product marketing partners bring to the table. They look at things differently than product management.
They're seeing it from a different point of view, that adds so much value for our product and for our customers.
No time spent talking about ‘that’s my role’
I can hand on heart say, we spend zero time talking about "That's my role. That's my job. Why are you doing that? Or talking to your manager about talking about that?"
I've been in organizations where I've spent most of my time trying to sort out those kinds of roles and responsibilities. Our focus is on:
- How can we make our product better?
- How can we scale our product?
- How can we get more people on our product?
- How can we grow it?
- How can we make more revenue?
For us, that's both the focus and the driving force.
Because our product marketers are so engaged, and they're part of our team, and we don't just collaborate but we are partners, we can produce marketing material in less than half an hour - this is a real example given from our marketing team - because they have the context and because they understand.
Likewise, our product team dip in and help out our marketing partners when we were launching Explore. As you can imagine, when you launch a product, there's a shit ton of work to be done.
And our product managers stepped in and took on some of the communication, work that had to be done, some of the campaign planning, just because, it was about the product, it wasn't about the role, it wasn't about 'Oh, that person isn't doing their job.'
When we think about the relationship, they should be two peas in a pod. They should be hand and glove. We should be focusing on that dynamic and how that relationship works as much as we talk about our engineering partners.
Consider before you go
Things I'd like you to think about:
- How much time have you actually invested in building a meaningful, deliberate relationship with your product marketer or your product manager?
- How well understood are the roles and responsibilities?
- Can you create that gray area so people can grow and pivot a little bit?
- Where is your strategic sweet spot?
- Where is that overlap? It won't be the same necessarily as Zendesk and it won't be the same as the generic template. But where is that overlap?
- Where can you harness the power of the two people coming together?
- Can you create success metrics that are shared? So you've got similar motivators and drivers towards the work.
- How can you increase alignment, reduce those handoffs, reduce that gap in context, those misassumptions?
- How can you identify strengths and weaknesses and areas of interest regardless of the role? So that people can grow and mature and bring your product forward.
All of that ultimately is boiled down because we all build product. We all love to build and promote and talk about product because we love our customers, and we want our customers to have a great experience.
- What do you need to do or change or dial-up to ensure that your customers are having a fantastic experience with your product and are the advocates for your product in the market?