One of the most important roles product marketing plays in most organizations is as the connecting force between other key departments.
Establishing a link between marketing, sales, and the product team is hard enough. But for the work you do in that regard to really pay off in the long term, you need to keep those connections current over long periods of time.
Why Maintaining Cross-Functional Alignment is Important
Everyone working together toward a common goal when building a go-to-market strategy can be hard enough to manage.
But if teams hunker back into their silos after the product launches, none of what each team learns moving forward will benefit any other. And so much of building a successful company is learning how to improve based on the response you get after a product goes to market.
Ongoing collaboration is necessary for the knowledge each team gains to make its way to all the others.
It’s how your product team learns what customers like in the product now and what updates they most want to see. It’s how marketing learns more about who your target audience really is and what their most pressing concerns are. And it’s how sales gets a better grasp on your product’s competitive advantage and how to position it to the leads they work with.
Challenges to Maintaining Cross-Functional Alignment
All of your cross-functional teams benefit from collaborating with others. But expecting any of them to take it upon themselves to do the work of staying in touch is unrealistic. In most organizations, there are both structural and everyday challenges that make it unlikely.
1) Each department uses its own tools.
Software products have provided so much value to businesses, but they’ve also presented new challenges.
At most organizations, each department depends on a particular product (or a few) to help them do their jobs effectively. And often, those different tools don’t connect to each other in a meaningful way.
While they may improve efficiency and provide valuable data at the departmental level, these products can exacerbate the silos that grow between departments.
How can sales and marketing manage to stay on the same page, when they’re accessing data that only tells part of the story?
2) People get busy.
Everyone in your organization, across departments, has their own list of responsibilities and priorities. Coordinating check-ins with other departments takes time and work. When they already have a full to-do list to manage, it tends to simply not happen.
Often, the things that help the most with long-term strategy and progress are precisely those that get lost in the flurry of the short-term priorities that take over the day to day. Cross-departmental communication and collaboration falls into that category.
3) Someone has to own it.
On a normal day, employees in most departments stick with communicating within the department. And to a large degree that makes sense.
It’s confusing if everyone’s getting irrelevant messaging throughout the day—your sales team doesn’t need to know about every piece of collateral the marketing team works on. But not needing to know everything tends to translate to not learning anything.
The only way collaboration and information will ever happen between different departments is if someone takes charge of making it happen.
Since marketing, product, and sales enablement are all key parts of what product marketers do, that someone is usually the product marketing team.
4 Strategies Product Marketing Can Use to Overcome Alignment Challenges
Organizing the conditions for ongoing alignment between different departments is challenging. And it usually requires a range of approaches. An occasional meeting here and there is a band-aid at best.
It’s a start, but won’t provide the kind of continuous, valuable exchange of information you’ll truly reap the benefits from.
1) Establish open lines of communication.
If departments are only hearing from each other at the occasional meeting, they’ll miss a lot of insights in between those times.
It’s harder to understand the full context of information when you’re catching up on it all after the fact. Instead, brainstorm the best way to create open lines of communication between the different teams.
Consider what tools your business has at its disposal now. Is there anything being used company-wide, like Slack or a project management platform?
People will be more likely to check a channel they already use regularly. And people from different departments may not use that communication channel every day, but simply knowing of a convenient way to share any relevant information they learn smooths the process of getting them to do so.
2) Actively solicit crucial information from each department.
As the main link between the different departments, product marketing knows what information each one will most benefit from. Make it a regular part of your schedule to check in with each department with the questions you know others will need.
Collect data and updates from everyone on a regular basis to stay up to date yourself, then you can do the work of analyzing all the information to determine who needs to know what.
3) Distribute relevant details to each department in their preferred format.
Each department needs a different set of information to do their jobs effectively. The best way to make sure everyone actually learns and uses the information gleaned by other departments is to make sure you get the right information to each person in a way that makes it easy for them to absorb and put to use.
For the busy sales team, that could mean one-page competitive battlecards that lay out the most important points they need to know to make a successful case to leads.
For marketing, it could mean updated messaging and positioning documents, and new personas that incorporate insights your sales team has learned.
Tailor the content format to the person who will be viewing it, and pack it with the most valuable insights they need for their job.
4) Set up regular meetings.
While meetings aren’t enough on their own, when you treat them as one part of a larger effort, they play an important role.
They give employees a chance to add stories to the data shared between the departments, and fill in any gaps that may be valuable to the others. And they help everyone on the different teams get to know each other as more than just names and job titles.
If you only ever interact with somebody over email and Slack, you end up with a much more limited idea of them than if you’ve had a conversation in person or over Zoom.
The meetings help everyone remember the humanity of the people they collaborate with, which can help them feel more incentivized to do the work needed to help each other out.
Collaboration is important
Coordinating alignment between different departments is hard. It takes work. It means overcoming any objections team members with other priorities have.
But when you pull it off, everyone in the organization benefits from having access to the information they need to make your product better, improve your brand reputation, and increase sales.