Marissa Hastings

AMA: Codecademy Group Product Marketing Manager, Marissa Hastings on Influencing the Product Roadmap

June 22 @ 10:00AM PST
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Codecademy Group Product Marketing Manager, Marissa Hastings on Influencing the Product Roadmap
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Marissa Hastings
Marissa Hastings
Codecademy Group Product Marketing ManagerJune 22
Two things I wish I knew: * The importance of building trust and establishing good relationships * My unique capabilities/value as a PMM and how to communicate that to my partners In the beginning of my career, I think I over-indexed on producing a good work product and tried to influence through having the best ideas or strongest case. In hindsight, I realized that the first thing you should do as a PMM is establish trust and invest in building good relationships with your partners because if you don't have a foundation of trust it becomes difficult to push even the best ideas through. Additionally, I wish I had known the importance of identifying my unique capabilities/value as a PMM and communicating that to my partners. The role of a PMM can often overlap with PMs, designers, researchers, and other marketers, so it's incredibly important to define the unique value you will bring (what can you do that others can't) and how you will enable your partners by bringing that value. For example, you can enable product by bringing insights and competitive intel to inform the roadmap and product differentiation. You can enable design by framing the problem space and requirements. You can enable marketing by articulating the positioning and GTM objectives. Doing good work is important, but even the best or most accurate recommendations will fall flat if you can't influence your partners effectively. So if you can align on roles and responsibilities and build great relationships at the outset, then influencing and collaboration becomes much easier (and more fun!). 
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How do product marketers lead a product launch when roadmaps and priorities are constantly changing?
There is a lack of alignment at my company and our teams act in silos. Consequently, my roadmap and goals seem to change on a weekly if not bi-weekly basis because marketing keeps getting pulled in different directions. There needs to be some sort of roadmap and role that aligns sales with product, but I'm not sure if that should come from product marketing or not. I want to initiate this conversation, but I don't know if it's overstepping my role or not. Advice here?
Marissa Hastings
Marissa Hastings
Codecademy Group Product Marketing ManagerJune 23
I think PMM is the perfect function to initiate this because you sit at the intersection of both teams. What my team usually does is work with Product to inform the product roadmap, then once that is settled (or in parallel) we develop a product marketing roadmap for the quarter which includes all of the product releases we will support, timing, and priority level. As part of this we consider: - Priority level (not every release needs to get marketing support) - What level of marketing support is needed (simple feature launch, campaign, no support, etc.) - Can certain features can be bundled together into a larger launch + what that strategic narrative is - Timing of other marketing campaigns or sales initiatives and if there is overlap there we should be mindful of or try to align with Once we have a fist pass at the PMM roadmap, we then present it to Product, Sales, and Marketing for feedback. A core part of the value PMM can bring to this conversation is identifying the overarching narrative and positioning of the features and if there is a larger, holistic message we can tell that ties several launches together.
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Marissa Hastings
Marissa Hastings
Codecademy Group Product Marketing ManagerJune 23
There are a few aspects to this. The first involves being proactive and enabling your team with insights ahead of time. The second involves bringing in other data/business rationale to round out your case as to why these user needs should be prioritized. Enabling your team ahead of time Think about ongoing customer feedback mechanisms you can set up. For example, weekly customer churn surveys, customer calls, sales feedback loops, VOC programs in conjunction with customer success, design and sales, etc. If you collect customer feedback as part of your normal BAU work and consistently share that back with the product team, then those insights become common knowledge and can more naturally influence the roadmap. It's much easier to influence proactively rather than trying to justify a project retroactively after it's already been added to the roadmap or make the case for a new initiative if the roadmap is already baked. Making your case Customer needs are important but their not the only thing you should use to influence getting projects into the roadmap. In addition to solving a customer need/addressing a gap in the product or market, projects also need to drive business impact. I like to think of this as finding the gap in the market and finding the market in the gap (the latter being the business opportunity/size). In addition you should consider level of effort/resources because that will be another important consideration for product. If after constructing a great case grounded in customer feedback and strong business rationale you still can't influence the roadmap, then you can also try suggesting adding a project as an "experiment" or MVP to see if you can get additional signal beyond the existing customer feedback to help influence prioritization.
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Marissa Hastings
Marissa Hastings
Codecademy Group Product Marketing ManagerJune 22
I would first make sure that any assumptions you've made when crafting your proposed idea are clearly documented so that everyone is aligned on the risks. When thinking about assumptions, ask yourself "what must be true in order for this idea to succeed?" Then try and anticipate questions they'll have about risks and ways you can mitigate them. For example, can you propose experiments to validate hypotheses or identify other ways to derisk a project? Showing that you put thought into thinking about how to mitigate risks and coming with a plan can help others feel more comfortable. Additionally, sometimes thinking about how you can break the opportunity into smaller pieces and start with an MVP or scaled-down idea can make people feel more comfortable investing in something that needs further validation. You can propose an MVP and identify key things you want to learn/gain feedback on from customers in order to move from MVP into Phase 2. 
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Marissa Hastings
Marissa Hastings
Codecademy Group Product Marketing ManagerJune 22
I would first try to understand where the product manager is coming from, i.e. what knowledge or perceptions are they starting with about Marketing? What context might they need? What pain points might they have experienced in the past with other marketers? Starting from a place of empathy can help you determine what information would be most helpful to share with them to bring them along as a partner and gain their support. Once you have that baseline, I'd then craft a deck or document that provides an overview of Marketing or Product Marketing. You can include things like team structure, mission, focus areas/responsibilities, and examples of what marketing activities with product look like in practice. Once you've taken the steps to align, I'd focus on carving out small win projects that you can do with Product to show value through doing vs. telling. Proving your worth through consistent action and results is often times the easiest way to change someone's mind -- but just remember it may take some time and you have to be patient. 
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Marissa Hastings
Marissa Hastings
Codecademy Group Product Marketing ManagerJune 22
The biggest mistakes to avoid when influencing the product roadmap: * Being too prescriptive with the idea/solution, rather than presenting the problem space and enlisting your product, design, and eng partners to help you arrive at the best solution * Pushing too far with an opinion (failing to "disagree and commit") * Overstepping boundaries and trying to do the PM's job When influencing, it can be helpful to think about what unique value you bring as a PMM to your product squad. For example, PMMs can often add a lot of value by bringing the "why" behind ideas on the roadmap, i.e. the user insights and market context. PMMs can also bring a perspective on how to bundle features together and tie them into an overarching narrative that solves a user problem/need. Additionally, PMMs can help inform feasibility and timing conversations by bringing feedback from Marketing and Creative partners about GTM campaign timelines and resourcing. Part of being successful with your product partners is clearly aligning up front on the role PMMs play vs PMs and where there may be overlap (research, insights, ideation) and where PMMs can bring unique, differentiated value to help the team (positioning, GTM strategy, etc).
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