How should product marketers collaborate with product managers?

I got asked this the other day by one of my new colleagues and didn’t have an immediate answer.

It’s one of those questions that does depend on the kind of company you join. But I can tell you about some team dynamics that you should avoid like the plague.

To put some flesh on the bone, I’ve broken this down into:

I’ll then round off with my top tips. 💡

Scenario 1

A product marketer receives a Slack message from a product manager. A new feature that their team has spent the whole past quarter working on is shipping next week. It’s a top priority feature so it’ll need full marketing support as soon as it goes live.

The PMM is stunned. They had no idea this feature was even being worked on, let alone in need of its own launch plan. Why weren’t we looped in earlier? And does it really need to be announced next week?

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Product Marketing should be in the loop well before product development even begins. It’s not just a function for shipping new features.

Additionally, you don’t always need to announce a feature as soon as it’s ready. Most of your users won’t notice if you release in stealth mode for a few weeks, plus it’ll give you time to address bugs and monitor early feedback.

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Scenario 2

A product marketer bursts into the product team’s sprint planning session. Marketing has been on a two-day offsite and had a eureka moment about the future positioning of the product. They’ll need a new website built ASAP and several new features added to the app. But don’t worry, marketing has sketched out what these should look like.

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Marketing should never be prescribing product solutions. This isn’t a healthy way of working - and is a highly effective way of irritating product teams. Bring problems, insights, and ideas to your product managers instead.

Scenario 3

A CEO is reading her Sunday newspaper when she spots an ad for her own company. The product is described as ‘A game-changer for growing sales teams’. The CEO begins to sweat. The last time she checked in with product, they were building for teachers and tutors in the education sector. This doesn’t sound aligned at all…

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Teams prescribing to other teams is bad, but not talking at all is also terrible! It’s essential that product and marketing be aligned and working towards the same story and vision - and be in sync about who you’re building for - so your customers get a great experience and your prospects have a clear understanding of your offering.

A few tips

So, some basic principles for how the two teams should work together…

A true partnership.

No team should be prescribing a plan to the other. Product teams work best when you bring them problems, not solutions. And product marketing is most effective when the team is looped in at the conception of an idea, to sense-check its commercial viability and determine whether it fits in with your wider positioning.

Go native.

I’ve seen a lot of success from having product marketers officially live in marketing but be embedded in product squads.

It can of course work the other way round but, either way, product marketers and product managers should feel like they’re part of the same team.

Keep the comms flowing.

As a PMM, you’ll need to be a conduit between the two teams, and adapt your communication style for each of them. Your marketing team might want a 72-page deck and 48 different meetings ahead of a new launch, but a product squad could prefer quick huddles or a lengthy Slack debate.

Bring insights.

Drive the conversation and be a valuable partner to your product managers by regularly bringing insights and data that you’ve uncovered to the discussion. This will show the value of product marketing and keep you in front of mind across the product teams, even when a project is moving at speed.

Don’t sweat over remit.

There’s sometimes debate over who should do what between the two roles, but don’t let this weigh you down. Focus on the areas where there’s clarity of ownership.

As a rough rule of thumb, both teams should be involved in identifying and agreeing on the problem areas.

Product marketing can provide the insights that inform the solution, but the solution itself and how it’ll be executed is most likely product’s wheelhouse. Then when it comes to positioning, messaging, and announcing, well you know who that is…

It’s a tricky dance to navigate but once you’ve found your groove, PMs and PMMs are often the best friends in a business.