What are mistakes product marketers make when trying to influence the roadmap that end up damaging their relationship with product managers?
Two mistakes I've seen are:
(1) Not getting on the same page as to the goals for the product. If you don't have a shared undersatnding with your PM / your product team as to what you are building and who you are buidling for you are likely going to provide insights that miss the mark. More hurtful than not providing persuasive insights is the risk that the PM / product team will not perceive you as an invested member of the product team. This doesn't mean you have to agree with everything, you may need to disagree and commit to some goals. But I suggest always persuading from a shared understanding of the end goal.
(2) Not running an inclusive research process. When I first arrived at Facebook one of the PMs I worked with asked me "how was I going to ensure that the inbound I did was impactful when it may take months to complete." The implication being that PMMs often disappeared from the product team to go to research only to come back when they had polished insights. Don't be a PMM that disappears. I suggest trying to make your research process as inclusive as possible. Engage PMs, engineers, design in defining the questions we need to answer / hypothesis to test, invite the team to customer interviews when possible, and share early results. I find this is not only effective but avoids the risk of delivering info that misses the mark and strengthens your relationship with the rest of the product team.
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).
The big one is thinking they are smarter or better equiped to make roadmap decsions than the product team. Don't do that. Don't make it your crusade to get something on the roadmap. You have to give your Product team the space to make the right calls. If you don't trust them why will they trust you? Be a good partner, don't tell them what to build, just give them insights that help them.
It’s so important to understand the lift of the project you’re petitioning to add to the roadmap when approaching the team. If you’re not sure, speak with the stakeholders beforehand. When I first began my career in product marketing, many product features I thought would be a relatively low lift were not, and vice versa—which could lead to me not giving enough lead time on a feature, or prioritizing projects that weren’t as impactful. Even now that I have a deep understanding of the mechanics of our product, I confirm the required work of any ideas we’re working on before bringing to roadmap planning. And whenever I can, I build off of product features we already have, or have created before, to cut down on unnecessary work.
It’s also important to give as much lead time as possible when you can. At OkCupid, sometimes our product marketing asks are responses to moments in time and we can’t give prior notice. For example, when the BLM movement began in 2020, we knew showing support was incredibly important to our users and we wanted to give them that opportunity as soon as possible. Our product team dropped everything, and we were able to deliver a BLM profile badge within four days. And while that was certainly not advanced notice, having that be an outlier versus the norm helped to get the team on board to drive it forward; that, plus the fact that the entire OkCupid team felt strongly about showing our support, and letting our users do the same.
A wise mentor once told me, there is a very big difference between being respected and being liked. You don't need your PM to like you, you need them to respect you.
With that being said, remember that as a PMM you're a strategic partner to the product management team. PMs are ultimately responsible to make the decisions about the roadmap, our role is to help them make the right bets.
There is no way that PMs can champion all the workstreams needed to understand competitive landscape, product usage funnels (or win/loss data if you have a sales team), growth performance, customer insights, etc.
Ask how you can help. Better yet, find a gap and suggest that you lead the work to bring those insights together. If you have valuable context that's your enterance fee to have a seat at the table and build trust with your PM.
With so much at stake, a lot can go wrong when trying to influence the product roadmap. When tensions run high, PMMs might risk their most important relationship by:
Not providing Sufficient Quantitative and Qualitative data. Most PMs are data-informed and driven. Insufficient quantitative and qualitative data on the impact of a feature is a sure shot way to fray the relationship.
Focusing on the how: Many PMMs are technically savvy and understand the product’s capabilities and anyone. PMMs should leave the final ownership of how a feature is prioritized and developed to a PM. Telling a PM on developing a feature should only be a suggestion for the PM to consider.
Unaligned timelines and capability: Timeline mis-alignment is a common source of disagreement. Product capability being delivered is another key area.
Having clear communication, visibility, and reasoning in either direction can help drive alignment
Product Marketers should be user/customer-centric, insights-driven, and data-driven. Understanding what users/customers need with breadth (at scale, representative of your target audience) and depth (deep insights of your users in each of these segments), where the market is heading, and how your product is performing from a usage AND business standpoint is key in order to develop a robust understanding of where your product stands, where you should be heading, and what you need to build to get there. This is valuable information to bring to Product Managers when discussing strategy and product roadmap, and a point of view that they often don't know or have readily available.
Where I often see Product Marketers damage the relationship is when they continue to push for items in the roadmap yet not anchor on the points above. Some examples are basing recommendations on insights of one customer vs. tackling both breadth and depth of your target segment, single points of data without understanding it in the context of the bigger picture, and/or anchor too much on opinions and become fixated on their personal point of view of a problem.
- Not knowing the product: I've known PMMs who had never...used...the product. For real. This is job #1 - get familiar with the product, build and do demos with customers, spend time with the product managers understanding the roadmap, what's been the history, what is the vision for where the product is headed. This is a critical first step in building a credible relationship with product. I often "indoctrinate" new PMMs to the team by getting them on booth duty right away, so they learn the product and get exposure to customers early on. You can't be a thought partner to Product without knowing the product in and out, and seeing how it lands with customers.
- Lack of data / insights backing a holistic POV: l I used to caution folks to not walk in like "Molly Marketing" (no offense to the Mollys out there) with all the answers and a perspective that "the product doesn't do xyz and that's why we're not winning." Deeply understanding the customer's needs and pain points, where does the product deliver and it is breaking down, having robust data points around deals lost / churn, competitive advantages , etc. is critical in being a good, credible partner to product. It's also important to have a holistic view of where things might not be working and to show where you are rolling up your sleeves (e.g. maybe the product is fine but we have an enablement issue) - you are there to make the product successful together, not to point fingers.
- Lack of a growth mindset: Making assumptions or starting to provide opinions off the bat is a good way to put off your product manager partners AND it doesn't get you to a winning, differentiated roadmap. Be curious about the process that went into determining the roadmap - what is the approach, how are priorities determined, what insights were leveraged, where were that gaps that maybe you as a PMM can help fill.
- Lack of aligned approach: Having different criteria, data inputs and measures of success can make it pretty hard to build the relationship with Product and successfully influence the roadmap. Following #3 and leading with a growth mindset, you can then be in a good position to get to a collective point of view on what data will you look at and how will you evaluate priorities...then it becomes a lot easier (and more objective) to start talking about what actually goes into the roadmap.
- First - Not knowing the product. It doesn’t matter how many customers you talk to, how many insights you can glean from user analytics, or how many sales deals you can unlock with your ideas- you will never have credibility with PMs if you don’t use the product. My advice to all PMMs- please use the product. It will help you develop better relationships with PMs, and it will make you a better ‘Product’ marketer
- Second - Being too prescriptive and pushy - PMs have a hard job. They have to balance multiple inputs into the roadmap - UX research, sales/CS teams, the CEO, their own customer interviews. You are but one input into the roadmap. Sure , as PMM , you bring a strategic perspective and can often help balance out competing priorities, but you won’t have the complete perspective or the pressures that a PM incharge of a product feels. Please show some empathy and don’t be too prescriptive
- Third - Not establishing credibility. If PMMs truly want to have credible inputs into the roadmap, they need to establish credibility as a source of unique insight. It could be your ability to synthesize all features that sales is demanding to win deals. It could be your unique perspective on competitive blockers. It could be the time you spent gleaning at usage (especially for PLG companies). It could be the ten customer conversations you have every month. Or the market research you led. It could be your industry expertise. Or something else altogether. Being a PMM often allows you access to all these channels/sources of customer insights. But you have to use them effectively and establish that credibility with your PM counterparts first
In short, if you know the product well, have empathy for your PM counterpart and establish credibility as a source of unique insight into the roadmap - you can much better chances of influencing product roadmap