How does your team establish and standardize researching audience/segment needs and how do you then leverage your findings systematically to influence the product roadmap?
It first starts with identifying who your target buyers are, and building a set of “persona packs” that establish a baseline of key information in understanding buyer needs and evaluation criteria. This is critical to have so that you can properly educate your sales teams to have more effective conversations with prospects. At a high level, they include:
- Distinct buying roles that exist within an organization
- Desired business outcomes driven by each role
- Sample org charts within each function
- Your products/solutions related to their business goals and objectives
- Key customer stories by persona
Once I have this established, my teams update them every 6 months.
This is only part of the research needed in order to influence the product roadmap. There are other insights you should gather, such as industry analyst insights (if applicable), competitive landscape, customer feedback, sales feedback, CS feedback — and use this data to inform the evolution of your recommendations around product strategy and messaging. It’s this collective insight and expertise that separates great PMMs from good PMMs, and the type of expertise that Product values.
We establish multiple listening channels ranging from our field to direct customer conversations to engagements with analysts. The insights we receive from these channels allow us to then identify the general areas of opportunity which we then partner with engineering on researching further through qualitative and quantitative research. This allows us to priortize the highest areas of opportunity which get added to the product roadmap.
In establishing segments, it is critical to get cross-org alignment so that all functions are working off of the same definitions. Methodologies for defining segments can vary depending on how you plan to use them, so I would recommend investing heavily in the upfront phase of gathering requirements from all internal customers, establishing a shared understanding of how your segmentation will be used and getting buy-in on the methodology.
From there, research on the needs of those segments can take various forms depending on the type of question you are seeking to answer. I always start with learning objectives and then tailor the approach accordingly. Once you have findings, you can leverage those insights to influence the product roadmap by sharing those insights with the cross-functional product team and asking "how might we" begin to address these needs. Rather than just handing off a report, I like to unpack insights in the context of a Design Sprint or through interactive workshops where a cross-functional group can seek to understand and design around key user needs.
During roadmapping, each product team articulates the "understand needs" for their product area and what we will do with the information to improve the product. This process is often led by the PMM.
From there, we work with the product team to document hypothesis to test based on information we need to know and detail the best approach to prove of disprove those hypothesis.
At that point, it's all about execution and pulling together what we learn in a compelling way.
With regard to systematically influencing roadmaps, I feel like this is an "always on" job. First, I try to bring the product team along while research is done. That might mean having engineers and designers sit in on customer interviews or sharing early learnings during team meetings. While I typically recommend having some kind of "report out" - as a memo or a discussion / presentation. The final product shouldn't be a surprise.
We often do recaps of everything we learned on a given area at the end of a half, but I find that the real "influence" happens consistently over the course of a year when we share what we learn in ways that can be debated and then acted upon.
Also, very tactically, I find opportunity sizes are really important. Make it clear what you expect will be gained by acting on your findings / solving a need. Findings without opportunity sizes are often a hard sell.
There are a variety of low touch and high touch research methods we've used over time. Most recently what's been on my mind has been the value of Closed Won/Lost interviews for earlier stage products.
As companies scale they're likely to have existing products that have been in the market for a while (I think of these as graduate students or grown ups depending on how mature they are) and others that are new kids on the block (I think of these as toddlers or preschool children). Each of these requires a different degree and type of attention to make it successful.
We've recently launched a few products to a new audience and have started our early Closed Won/Lost interviews with these "Preschoolers". These include an analysis of how our marketing programs influenced a deal, an interview with the sales team that closed the deal for their insights, as well as an interview with the account itself (depending on comfort level of course). Our goal through these interviews is to better understand the qualitative aspects of our audiences buying journey beyond just what our data tells us (i.e., what was clicked, time to close, etc.).
Once we've gathered and documented this information we share through a variety of systematic means so there's not a huge heavy lift. Those include real time/ad hoc updates to teams via our slack channels, regularly scheduled syncs with the product organization discussing the product roadmap, and evergreen storage in our internal reseach library. When everything goes well, we also find these learnings making their way into our feature positioning documentation for that audience as well as our persona cards (both used by other internal teams) to the extent they've helped us learn something new about our audiences needs.
PS: Typically the Closed Lost interviews will often be more valuable and very compelling in uncovering features that should be built in the future to help turn those loss's into wins.
PPS: We also implemented an automated Closed Won/Closed Lost notification email that gets circulated in real time when an opportunity closes. It's a very basic notification, but it includes account details and a very brief write up on why a deal closed written by the sales rep. We find this short update helpful and gives members of the team an opportunity to follow up in real time when insights are fresh.
Research has to be an ongoing, continual process -- if you aren't continually talking to market experts, customers, and prospects, you lose credibility both with your sales organization and with your product organization.
True standardization is less critical than repetition and at-bats, and building the muscles to produce high quality results quickly.
If you can do that well, you'll have earned a seat that the product leadership table to influence roadmap because it won't be "so-and-so the product marketer said so", but "this specific market research said so, and here's five quotes from prospects to back it up".
I tend to think of product marketers -- especially including industry marketers -- as the voice of the market and of prospects back to product, and CSMs as the voice of customers.
You must first:
- Identify overall approach for alignment with brand and company priorities
- Identify primary target segments for programs
- Determine program-specific messaging
- Communicate plans to stakeholders
From there an Industry marketer must then define:
- New market opportunities
- Define overall messaging & positioning & personas
- Win / Loss analysis
- Market segmentation and sizing
- Competitive intel gathering + analysis
From there you then execute on the measurement and reporting:
- Training: Messaging by solution and sub-audience
- Messaging: Messaging by Segment/Marketing type
- Content: Top level or big rock content creation (e.g. blog posts, case studies, webinars, etc)
- Buyer persona and ICP Profiles
- Launches through solution based marketing
- Competitive analysis and training
- Webpage content and messaging
This one depends on company stage and maturity of the market.
At Cisco, we're incredibly mature, and I'm very fortunate to work alongside Sophia Danvers and her amazing Audience Marketing team. They eat industry intel for breakfast and turn it into not just persona insights, but messaging, content, and campaign ideas that keep our top industries growing, even 15 years later.
In earlier stages, this process is a lot more ad hoc, and really depends on how much time you can spend with customers and sales. When you're building, it's less a formal process than it is a habit or a practice. You should continually put yourself in a position where you're talking with customers, handling objections, seeing failures in the sales process. And then in your regular syncs with product (you have, those, right? Right?
I'd recommend setting up a quarterly roadmap cadence with your product team. Numbers are sequential, not necessarily calendar:
- Q1 - PM-led roadmap sync; what's coming, why, when
- Q2 - PMM-led sync; what we're doing to support, what we're hearing, what we need
- Q3 - PM-led sync; what we heard from you, what's changing, what we're investing in
- Q4 - PMM- led; what's critical for the year ahead, what's changed in the market, etc.
It's a good starting cadence, enough for each of you to build a POV and build trust in each other. The name of the game is still execution, but trading off the presenter/inbound role here really helps.
One thing worth adding to Laura's great reply is that "systematically influencing the product roadmap" can be viewed as an ongoing process. Once you have a set of segments and persona needs per Laura's playbook above, it's important to regularly reinforce this as the "single source of truth." As a critical internal product evangelizer and voice of the customer, it'll be on you to keep beating the drum.
Two specific examples of what this can look like in action:
- During quarterly/annual roadmap planning sessions, point out where the group's thinking does/doesn't align well to the needs of your various customer segments. A lack of alignment means either a missed opportunity to refocus the roadmap on core customer needs, or that it's time to refresh your segments to account for the gap identified by the group
- Utilize the segments in your reporting on campaign and product engagement to highlight opportunities. If you have segments A/B/C, which ones are you serving effectively and where do you need to double down? This is an effective way to develop more targeted solutions rather than apply a one-size-fits-all approach