What recommendations do you have for influencing the roadmap early?
Building relationships with the right stakeholders. If you want to have any influence regarding the product roadmap you need to garner respect from the people who already influence it most. The best way to build those relationships is to create consistent touchpoints and check-ins that don't just happen when you want something :) Think about what you can bring to the table, whether it's competitive intel, customer insights, or general brainstorming - you need to give to get. I see many PMMs make the mistake of only asking for what they need vs. building a symbiotic relationship with the product, engineering, designer, support, and sales teams! It's similar to any other type of relationship, friendship, romantic, or otherwise - no one wants to engage with somebody who only takes and never gives.
In B2B SaaS, the roadmap is an important sales tool. Buyers aren't just buying a tool, they're buying into your company's strategy for the future, and the roadmap you communicate to prospects and customers is the best way to articulate that.
I like to work backwards from this, and ask myself, what do we want to communicate about our company through the roadmap? It might be about specific features that make your product better, or potentially new products you're working on. But the most important thing you want the roadmap to highlight is the themes of your innovation.
For example, if you're an AI-centric company, your roadmap should probably have one or more themes that reinforce why your AI will continue to be the best. If "performance at scale" is a key selling point, how does your roadmap reinforce that?
If you can identify the themes -- often closely related to the work you're doing on positioning -- and bring those to your discussions about roadmap with product management, you'll be adding a lot of value to their product and feature centric thinking, and they will (hopefully) be very grateful for the help.
Just remember...the roadmap is a selling tool, not just for internal alignment.
Here are a few of my approaches to influence product leadership on the product priorities:
- Work cross-functionally across UX, research, Data Science, Product Operations, Sales, etc. to incorporate everyone's input so Product Marketing's list represents all input and is the source of truth. One of the challenges Product faces is distinguishing signal vs. noise with all the input that comes to them. Product Marketing can take a leadership role to collect, analyze, and synthesize the input to provide one source of truth.
- Prepare synthesize a list of Voice of Customer to help inform the planning process, so it is timely. For instance, if your company invests in 2H and annual planning, ensure that the cross-functional synthesized Voice of Customer report is finalized before planning starts so it is top of mind as planning begins. A reminder planning always begins informally before the formal 'kick off' on the company calendar, so be earlier rather than later. The first time I did this, the meeting was standing room only as everyone was excited to hear the insights.
- Quantify the impact of recommendations. For instance, if you know from win/loss reports that a specific feature will drive $1M in revenue capture it or there are 5K monthly cases on a specific bug.
- Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. A list should always be prioritized based on the impact.
- Identify both tactical recommendations (bug, feature requests) and strategic recommendations (new vertical entry, etc.) so you address both short and long term and prioritize each list separately.
- Include insights to validate recommendations, including customer quotes, 3rd party data points, internal data including usages, win/loss reports, case volume, etc.
- Create a 1 page executive summary that captures top recommendations and why. I've done this historically where I see the one page printed and on PMs desk as a reminder of the top opportunities. Make is memorable, clear, concise, and impactful.
- See other questions on the inputs into the process.
A Product Marketer can influence the product roadmap by bringing valuable insights to the table and building a trusted relationship with the product team. In terms of insights, great Product Marketers are experts on the market, buying process, and psychology of the buyer. Product Marketers can contribute to product decisions by highlighting relevant findings from Voice of the Customer programs, competitive analysis, sales analysis (e.g. win / loss programs), and market research. Product Marketers should also build trust with the product team. To do so, Product Marketers should aim to understand the objectives of the product team and why product decisions are made, including any constraints that the team faces. Product Marketers should ideally work closely with Product throughout the launch process, clearly communicating how different product directions impact GTM outcomes and collaborating with Product to achieve collective goals. By bringing informed perspectives and working together frequently and collaboratively, Product Marketers become an indispensable part of any product launch and will naturally influence the roadmap.