What are some effective strategies to inevitably influence the product roadmap rather than simply bringing that roadmap to market?
The most important thing to keep in mind is this: having the product marketing title doesn’t automatically mean you get to influence the roadmap. You have to put in the work and show your value to get a seat at the table. There are three big levers to pull here to help you shift the way product marketing works from a team that’s just responsible for the launch of a product to one that’s involved in the entire product process.
1. Create a partnership with your PM: When you’re thinking about how to influence, you’re probably thinking about managing up and influencing people who are more senior in the organization. While I agree that managing up is a key part of a PMMs work, most people are over-indexing here. I’d argue that you should spend the bulk of your time trying to create a strong relationship with your individual PM partners, not their managers or their manager’s managers.
Take your PM partners out for coffee or lunch and get to know them, ask them questions to clarify the assumptions that you’ve made about them, understand how they’d like to work together. Tell them, straight up, that what you’d really like to build is a partnership with them and ask them what a true partnership relationship would look like from their POV. They might not give you the answer you want, but that’s okay - at least you’ve got an answer! Once you know where you’re starting from, you can build from there. Say the PM told you that they don’t think you should be involved in defining the customer problem and you feel strongly that you should - as soon as you know you differ in that area you can start showing your value here, providing information or insights that might be helpful. To be clear, your objective should not be hearing all of your product partner’s opinions and then going on a quest to prove them wrong, but starting to show where you think you can provide partnership can be the starting point you need to shift the way the PM thinks about your involvement in their work.
2. Come to the table with insights and data
A lot of PMMs come to the table with a point of view based on instinct and that doesn’t take them very far in terms of actually being able to influence the roadmap. This is an area that I’ve struggled with most in previous positions because I didn’t have access to data or I didn’t know where to get insights. The insights that are best to lean into are:
- Competitive intelligence: Looking at how competitors solve a similar problem and what your team might be able to do to match, exceed, or differentiate yourselves from the competitor’s capabilities
- Market sizing data: Helping a team understand how much opportunity exists in the market for the products or features the team is considering to help them make prioritization decisions
- Customer-facing team insights: Being the bridge between the sales, CS, and support teams and product and helping give a clear overview of each team’s priorities and needs. So often, the loudest voice gets what they want on the sales side, and PMM can really help make sure the team gets an accurate look at the feedback from all of the customer-facing teams.
Another important factor is to look at when you’re presenting this information to product. So often, PMMs are bringing this intel too late in the game, where decisions are already made and these insights start to feel like hurdles that a PM has to jump over to get their product out the door, rather than something that can help them make decisions. If you’ve built a strong relationship with your PM (see step 1) you can see if they’ll show you their early thinking or investigation into a potential feature or product where you might be able to supplement with insights or data, so you’re doing the right work at the right time.
3. Get leadership bought in
An all-star PMM can do a lot of work to change the way that product thinks about their role, but if it’s just one product marketer pushing on this, you run the risk of that one product marketer getting a seat at the table without the fundamental role of product marketing shifting within your company. PMMs are usually independent, very senior individual contributors but, at a certain point, you need to make sure your head of product marketing and head of product are aligned on what product marketing’s role should be at a fundamental level. Let your boss know when there are issues or roadblocks, keep them in the loop on the work you’re doing to change or shift your role in influencing the roadmap and make sure they can be an advocate for you in making that change.
At HoneyBook we have established a product feedback process between Sales/CS/Product. We meet every 6 weeks and share customer feedback. We prioritize feedback based on number of requests, which we track in Salesforce and with an internal system. But what has really made a difference is that instead of sharing 20 feature request, we dive deep into 3 of them. We tie the request back to our key value props, so product understands how it's affecting the user experience. We bring lots of quotes and examples, we show workarounds that we see our users doing, and we classify issues into "incomplete feature", "missing feature" or "lacking education". Going deep into few issues has help product understand the pain and features eventually make it into the roadmap. It's important to manage Sales and CS expectations too, so I make sure to always close the loop and tell them what is going to get worked on and what's not. I also make sure to highlight features that get develop thanks to our feedback so that CS and Sales feel heard.
Use customer insights and data to your advantage.
Your customers should be the “why” behind your product vision and at the end of the day, there shouldn’t be anything that goes on your roadmap that doesn’t help address customer pain and solve their problems. Maintaining customer focus within your roadmap also means not wasting your team’s valuable time and resources on features that will have no impact. Investing time into meticulously prioritizing your customer’s needs and coming up with real solutions to real problems is the best possible way to keep the product roadmap relevant.
Conduct win/loss analysis and review the results on a monthly basis to help inform Product, CS, Sales and Eng. Are there recurring trends that are noteworthy to highlight? Are there key competitive factors that are showing up more and more. Develop a template to socialize the results and then you can start to make justifications for certain capabilities that are impacting revenue.
Devise competitive intelligence framework and back it up with relevant analyst reports. Are competitors starting to take market share in key segments that your company doesn't play in? Are the analysts starting to position you differently?
These are some effective strategies to implement as you start to think about influencing your product roadmap in a much more methodical manner.
As product marketers, we can move from "tactical roadmap executers" to "strategic roadmap influencers" by leveraging the most important role we have: acting as the voice of the customer. It is our job to stay deeply in tune with what customers and prospects need, how our existing solutions meet those needs, and where we have gaps that can be filled by changes in product, pricing, positioning, or customer experience.
I've found it easiest to partner with Product Management and influence real roadmap direction by bringing clear data that answers the following questions:
- What product enhancements are customers/prospects asking for? Consolidate feedback across your channels to understand what customers want that you are not delivering. Is it ease of use? platform stability? deeper analytics? missing features? Customers give feedback daily on what they want, in places like online reviews, support tickets, and sales calls. Listen to those channels and extract the most impactful requests by frequency.
- What would the impact be if those product enhancements were delivered? Segment feedback to understand how roadmap changes could expand your total addressable market, convert existing deals, or retain customers by providing missing value. Is there a growing competitive threat that makes delivering on the product enhancement more important? How many additional customers could be acquired if the roadmap item were built? How could improvements in overall product reliability ensure existing customers keep coming back? Quantify the asks to show the real opportunity to the company if change is made.
By combining impact with insights, product marketers can move from being the executers at an organization, to being strategic influencers and drivers of company growth. Data is power!