How can marketers be in the driver seat of product launches while managing eager product and sales stakeholders?
It’s a good idea to get super aligned early in the product development lifecycle about what success looks like and what everyone really cares about. Get to know your stakeholders as humans. With these insights, you’ll be able to anticipate needs and gain trust. Over communicate, and have fun!
Create a “voice of the prospect” and/or “voice of the customer” program that allows you to proactively share market insights that allow you to influence product roadmap decisions.
I think it’s useful to think of the PMM as the quarterback of a product launch. I’ll acknowledge that this is a thoroughly American reference :). For larger launches, as early as possible while the to-be-launched product is still in development, the PMM should assemble a cross-functional launch team consisting of the PM, marketers from several other disciplines, and a representative from each key function such as Customer Success, Sales, Support, etc. The PMM holds regular meetings with the launch team, educating them about the to-be-launched product, gathering their perspectives on proposed launch messaging, forming a detailed launch plan with them, and eliciting their help in creating launch deliverables and activating the launch in chosen channels.
The PMM is a quarterback in the sense that the launch team doesn’t report to the PMM; i.e. the PMM doesn’t have formal authority over the launch team. The PMM's informal authority comes from the fact that the PMM is at the center of the planning for the launch. In American football, a quarterback is not the coach or the owner of the team. But they are a key decision-maker who is at the center of each play.
As the game progresses, the quarterback throws the ball to other players who attempt to score. In a launch, the PMM’s core positioning for the new product is activated by different members of the launch team in the channels they’re responsible for (e.g. the blog, the email channel, the sales channel, etc.). So, at launch time, the PMM is “passing the ball” to each member of the launch team. The PMM herself creates several launch deliverables, and the members of the launch team create additional deliverables based on the core positioning the PMM wrote, or take key actions based on the launch plan the PMM wrote.
So how does the PMM ensure that stakeholders give her the opportunity to be the launch quarterback in the first place? By laying groundwork through the establishment of certain practices and processes. Here are a few examples of those practices and processes:
1) Ensure that the Product Marketing leader (and/or the senior-most Marketing leader, if applicable) has strong lines of communication and mutual understandings with Product leadership and Sales leadership. In the case of Product leadership, the mutual understanding needs to be: Product Managers own product strategy, and Product Marketing Managers own go-to-market strategy. In the case of Sales leadership, the mutual understanding needs to be: for Sales reps to learn about plans and timing for new product launches, and for Sales reps to get messaging to enable them around product launches, their go-to people are the Product Marketing Managers.
2) Set up a formal PMM:PM partnering system where each PM who is responsible for a given product area / customer persona is formally partnered with a handful of (typically 2-4) PMs who are responsible for the same product area / customer persona. The PMM should meet regularly with those PMs and form a strong working relationship. This partnering system has multiple benefits. It greatly reduces the possibility of the PMM encountering nasty last-minute “Hey, this feature is being released next Monday, can you take it to market?” surprises. It gives the PMM an early view of new releases coming down the pipe, so they have enough time to prepare. It ensures that the PMM is getting thorough information about the product area on an ongoing basis, which positions the PMM as the go-to product expert for the Sales team. And it gives the PMM a seat at the table in product strategy conversations with the PMs, allowing the PMM to bring their unique perspective to inform key roadmapping decisions and product design decisions.
3) Maintain several resources and regular activities that allow anyone in the company (especially the Sales, Customer Success and Support teams) to easily learn what the upcoming and recent launches are, and to learn about the plans for each upcoming launch. Examples of these resources and activities include: A) a Product Launch Tracker showing the timing and current phase of each upcoming and recent launch, with basic at-a-glance info on each launch, B) an in-depth Launch Plan for each launch of significance, so stakeholders can deep-dive as needed, and C) a Sales Briefing cadence where Product Marketing / Sales Enablement keep the Sales and Customer Success organization abreast of key product happenings. All of these resources and activities position PMMs at the center of all product launch activity, which allows them to naturally occupy the launch quarterback role.
The best way to get yourself in the driver's seat is to know where you're going and how to get there. If you understand the needs of each of these stakeholders and can start to anticipate their questions and put that proactively in your plans and communication I think you will start to feel like you are driving vs. reacting.
Have a plan...and SHARE IT.
1. Stakeholder Management Milestone Meetings: I often share roadmap/GTM plans at key meetings like Sales Management meetings, CS team meetings etc. So that it shows you have a plan and are top of the launch. This should happen during development, beta, pre-launch, and at launch!
2. Weekly Updates: Here at Udemy I send out a weekly status update on key areas of the business. This again brings visibility and pro-active communication on status.
3. Weekly PM meetings: Have a weekly sync with your PM. Make sure you are on top of what's happening with development and equally let your PM know what's going on with GTM.
4. Get Feedback: Don't plan in silos. Get feedback on messaging strategy, key value props etc to see if they resonate. This helps get perspective from all areas of the business, while showing other teams that you are incorporating their feedback.
I have found that what works really well is looping in both product and sales throughout the whole go-to-market planning process. I keep both teams (and customer success) updated with what we're learning from users and what we're thinking in terms of channel execution and get their input often. This allows me to take decisions and how we bring the feature to market and also get their buy-in. This also helps with making the launch more effective because everyone knows what's going to happen ahead of time.