All related (52)
Alexa Schirtzinger
VP Product Marketing, BoxJuly 21

First of all: patience. Lots of it. :) As you start to unravel the history of the relationship, you’re likely to find norms that were established so long ago that no one knows why they’re there. And with every new person who comes on board, you have the opportunity to start building new, more positive norms...but of course this can take a long time.

In addition, a few other tactics I rely on:

  • Build support at every level. The individual contributors on a team can be just as powerful as the executives when it comes to setting cultural norms. If you’re coming in as a new leader, it’s really important to meet with (and get meaningful feedback from) people at every level.
  • Find your allies. Some people are more open to change or more naturally aligned with you than others. Find allies (again: at every level) and lean on them for input, direction, and support when you need it.
  • Listen without committing. Listening is so important! But it doesn’t mean you have to say yes to every request. Hear out as many people as you can, then synthesize the feedback and come up with a strategic plan that combines what others need from you with what you know needs to be done.
Jasmine Jaume
Director, Product Marketing, IntercomNovember 9

As I said in another answer, being a successful PMM relies heavily on being able to build relationships and trust with your cross-functional stakeholders. The tips in that answer about building relationships apply here, but I'll also add 2 things:

1. Always look for opportunities for PMM to add value, and make sure you understand other functions' goals and priorities. If other functions can see the value PMM bring - and that you want to help, not hinder them - it's much easier to get a seat at the table - they'll want you to be there, because they've seen the benefit of having you involved in the past. This doesn't mean giving in, doing whatever everyone else wants and never standing your ground, but it does mean being strategic about when to push back, when to go the extra mile and when to compromise.

2. There is always going to be some tension between functions, because whilst we all have the same ultimate goal (the business succeeding), functions also have their own goals and priorities. Whilst that tension can feel uncomfortable, as long as you can find compromise and still work together, it's a good thing because it helps keep things in check. For example, if I was a product manager, and my goal is adoption of my feature, of course I'm going to want us to message every customer about that feature until they all use it. But as a PMM, I might know that there are also 10 other things we need to tell customers about, and I want to make sure we spread out messages so we're not annoying them by spamming them repeatedly. This may cause tension - but that tension will eventually lead to a better outcome, which is likely to be some sort of compromise between the two that gets the message to customers without annoying them. 

Kevin Au
Senior Director, Product Marketing, Bill.comFebruary 22

Product Marketing is one of those roles that can be very different from each organization. I find the most successful way to develop a strong relationship is to show value from the start and align on your mutual goals / objectives. If there are certain functions where you have a tense relationship, i'd suggest to first understand why there is this less collaborative relationship. Is it based on some historical context (prior launch)? Is it due to a difference in role expectations? Once you've identified the possible root cause, setup time with your key stakeholder and have that open discussion. Often times, there is a miscommunication or misalignment of expectations and just having this convo to reset will help. This will allow you to wipe the slate clear and then you can rebuild that relationship built on shared objectives and open communications.

Jameelah Calhoun
Global Head of Product Marketing, Eventbrite | Formerly Amazon, Ex-AmexFebruary 8

At the core, these situations are about finding the product-market fit for the product marketing function in your organization. You are trying to establish a conversion thesis that will make them a future advocate for PMM instead of a detractor. So take a similar tact as you would do for customer-facing work. 

1) Start by listening. Have 1:1s and understand what they see as having gone wrong in the past. Ask what areas they would like to have support for. 

2) Look for data or anecdotes on launches or products that have underperformed expectations in the past. These mini-retrospectives can provide context on what aspects of the current launch and commercialization processes have the most areas of opportunity that may not be obvious to your stakeholders in other functions. 

3) Focus on quick wins, especially in non-controversial and/or under-resourced areas of scope. Showing value is important to repair the relationship. 

4) Identify supporters and influencers within the function you want to gain buy-in from. Identify a collaborative initiative that you can partner with them on as a pilot for the future working model of PMM. Again, this is aimed at gaining proof in the pudding about how PMM will drive value. 

5) Focus on the research and insights and share liberally. Teams are generally hungry for new ways to think about their products and customers. Competitive intelligence is generally a less controversial area that can help you begin to establish relationships and productive meeting cadences with resistant teams. 

Roopal Shah
Head (VP) of Global Enablement, BenchlingMarch 10

We're all human after all so taking the time to understand the baggage but also find a path forward. Find a champion on both sides willing to go on the journey with you and who is as vested as you are in moving forward. And making time for building carmaderie. I remember we once had tensions between our PMM and Marketing organization - so we spend time in workshops doing joint planning, finding operational projects where we could join up people to build bridges, and finally team bonding - including team building activities and dinners, happy hours, etc. And doing this on a repeatable basis. It takes time but is worth it if the teams are critical to the success of your goals.

Sunny Manivannan
Vice President & GM, Global SMB, BrazeJune 16

As I wrote in another answer, the market will reward some kinds of tension, especially if there is substantive disagreement between leaders or functions on a critical topic (e.g. pricing and packaging, which I believe is the least understood topic in all of enterprise software). In these cases, lean into the tension, and remind each other all the time that you are doing something really hard but also really important to the company. It is absolutely worth it to have tough conversations in these cases - because when you make it to the other side, you will have built a significantly better company. 

Tension by itself isn't bad. What's bad - and potentially fatal to your near-term career prospects - is repeated tension on topics that don't really matter to the company's prospects. That's when things veer into 'personal animosity' territory, which leads to grudges being held and tense relationships that prove difficult to untangle. 

In either case, when tension exists, I believe you have to make an attempt to do some combination of the following:

1. Acknowledge that there is tension, that you feel it too, and that you have played a part in letting it get to this point.

2. Find some places where you can win together.

3. Release your own agenda and find ways to help "the other guy" win - do whatever it takes, and do it quickly and repeatedly.

Tension tends to be correlated with a lack of trust, and trust isn't rebuilt overnight (but it can indeed be rebuilt, and often is). It will get better with time. Stay in the game, and stay strong.

Gregg Miller
VP of Product Marketing, Oyster®September 27

Oh man, this is a tricky one! 

It's important to start by first identifying the source of tension. Is it due to leaders of those teams (or the leaders of those leaders) not seeing eye to eye and their conflict flowing downstream? Is it due to your predecessor being a jerk? Is it due to one team not following through on their commitments which in turn hurts the other team? 

I'd recommend then asking "what's my scope for influencing the relationship?" If you're a relatively junior IC PMM, you have a high scope for influencing your own relationship with a sales leader or PM counterpart, but you might not have much scope to influence the overall relationship between Product and Marketing if the core issue is the CMO and CPO are constantly in conflict. 

Once you've got those two things dialed, you can start to assess "what's the most meaningful step I can take, and who can I work with to implement the change?" If you're going to be a change agent seeking to help resolve a team-to-team dysfunctional relationship, you cannot do it on your own. You need the buy-in and support of your manager as well as a highly influential individual on the counterpart team as well at a bare minimum. How can you make them prioritize the problem, and how can you enlist their support in your goal at resolving for it? The latter could look like giving a public and visible endorsement of the work you're doing, providing resources for you to lead the change (data, time, whatever it may be), finding you allies for resolving the conflict, etc.

I hope this helps, but it's tricky to give a general answer without the specifics of a given conflict as the number of variables at play is just so large.

Evelyn Ju
Head of Marketing, PersonaNovember 16

It’s always difficult to navigate tense relationships. It’s important not to take this all upon yourself. If you are looking to help, I think the first step is to assess the situation and try to understand the underlying cause that’s driving the tension. Is it due to misalignment of expectations and goals? Is it a result of constant miscommunication, which can stem from having different working styles? Is it a broken process that’s fueling confusion between teams? While it can be uncomfortable, it’s helpful to have honest conversations with individuals that are impacted and gather different perspectives. Make sure you focus on listening rather than jumping ahead to come up with a solution at this phase.

Once you have a better sense of the root cause, you can start brainstorming different ways to work with the teams to reset the relationship and establish common grounds. Help teams understand each other’s goals, priorities, and challenges. In some cases, it might be more effective to bring on advocates and leaders in your org to help, especially when it comes to executing changes needed to solve the situation. Finally, keep in mind that it’s much easier to break trust than it is to build it, so beyond solving for the root cause, it’s incredibly important to invest in nurturing the relationship.

Ajit Ghuman
Director of Pricing and Packaging, Twilio Flex, Twilio | Formerly Narvar, Medallia, Helpshift, Feedzai, Reputation.comMay 28

Oh boy, this is a great question. 

In my experience in working with various different startups in the valley, I've seen this dynamic in many places. Sales and marketing tensions are not a 'thing' for no reason. 

However, these relationships can improve. Some of the people who I've personally (and my team) had tense relationships with are now friends whom I rely on for references, counsel and collaboration. 

Many professionals understand that their frustration is of a professional nature and one or multiple candid conversations can go a long way to begin the repair process. They know how to put their egos aside and move forward. 

The #1 thing that leads to a total failure is whether people develop a long standing 'personal' resentment. If a functional leader in any team holds this type of opinion which they are unwilling to revise, it never ends well and it is a detriment to their organization at the end of the day. 

In summary, the key to improving tense relationships is to first let go of our own ego and reach out with kindness and curiosity. It does help if the company has a vision + destination its working towards where everyone can put their energies towards achieving. 

Final counterpoint. It is also not necessary that all tensions go away. Some tension can even be healthy. Massive projects and initiatives often have a few detractors, and that's ok. 

Lisa Dziuba
Head of Product Marketing, LottieFiles | Formerly WeLoveNoCode (made $3.6M ARR), Abstract, Flawless App (sold)September 2

What a great question! 

Sometimes the smartest people on the planet can not figure out how to work together. It's challenging and, at the same time, it's rewarding to nurture the culture of cross-functional collaboration between functions.

Those are a few tips that helped me:

  • Give first by helping other teams. We are all very busy. Today, the sales team may be overwhelmed with closing their quotas. Tomorrow, you might be under the water with company-wide product launches. So giving a hand to the head of sales by preparing sales decks, for example, can be a huge driver for the sales team to help with a product launch.
  • Praise your team members and celebrate their wins. When the project is delivered and common goals are achieved, it's a good idea to recognize other teams' inputs. Put THEM into the spotlight.
  • Put processes between functions: Establish company-wide goals and set cross-functional collaboration playbooks with clear roles and ownership.
  • Stay calm and positive when things don't work out.