It wasn’t too long ago that designers and developers were disciples of strictly separate crafts – but today, someone who can do both well is quickly labelled a “unicorn”, and sought after by many a unicorn-thirsty start-up.
I believe the same synthesis of skill sets is occurring between marketers and product managers, but all too often, they’re treated organisationally as separate disciplines, broken up into siloed teams. It’s a common-sense approach, but customer attitudes are shifting significantly, which means there’s a growing need for both teams to get each other’s backs in order to effectively deliver a seamless customer experience. To quote Adaptive Path co-founder Peter Merholz from this blog: “The experience is the product.”
I’ve worked on the teams of several SaaS products in a dual marketing/product management capacity, and have seen first-hand the overlapping work that exists between crafting a compelling brand, and building a product that people love. In doing so, I’ve witnessed the benefits gained when a cosy relationship develops between marketing and product teams, especially in fast-moving start-up environments.
Easier said than done though, right? I’d like to share some practical ways that I’ve found invaluable to get marketing and product people pulling in the same direction, and in doing so, nailing objectives for the business.
But first we must ask ourselves: why?
Why Marketing and Product must work together
We’re all familiar with some variation of the traditional linear marketing funnel. The pyramid that starts with Awareness/Acquisition, and ends with Loyalty/Retention?
It’s becoming a less and less reliable model for how customers actually engage with brands and businesses. As traditional marketing messaging is increasingly met with distrust, consumers are now empowered by their smartphones and mobile connectivity to find and engage with businesses at almost any stage of the marketing funnel. As long ago as 2014, the Harvard Business Review was talking about how marketing can no longer rely on the funnel.
Now, if all your marketing resources are concentrated at the Acquisition stage, it’s either not reaching or is irrelevant to those people who’ve already moved on to later stages in the funnel.
But, there is an alternative model, devised by consulting firm McKinsey, that gives us a bit more insight into today’s consumer behaviour: the Loyalty Loop.
The Loyalty Loop articulates how today’s consumers form relationships with the brands they do business with. It demonstrates that they’re highly likely to stay loyal to the brands which deliver them the best end-to-end customer experiences – from initial consideration, through to post-purchase use of the product or service, and back around to subsequent purchases.
The Loyalty Loop means that competitive advantage has shifted to those businesses that retain the most customers, instead of the ones that gobble up the most new customers – which in turn means the responsibility for providing a great customer experience falls upon both Marketing and Product teams, equally. Retention has become everyone’s top priority.
Now, we know that Product has key insights into customers’ preferences that could help Marketing propel them around another buying loop. Likewise, Marketing has the inside scoop on what excites and engages users and turns them into customers – so let’s look at some practical ways we can get that kind of seamless collaboration going.
How to align Marketing and Product
1. Give them common objectives
One easily-implemented way to incentivise the dissolution of barriers between Marketing and Product teams is to give them (or advocate for) common objectives and KPIs to go after – to have them succeed and fail as one team.
For example, let’s say you have your marketers and product team set a common goal to reduce your product/service’s churn rate to 5% this quarter. Your product team can inform your marketers about the characteristics of those customers who tend not to churn, thus helping them to tailor their messaging to that audience. In the meantime, the product team could be prioritising bug fixes and new features that tackle the churn problem head-on – and which gives the marketing team even more fodder for compelling announcements to customers.
Last year, during my time leading the team behind a blog analytics platform called Filament, our objectives were often focused on quarterly revenue goals. Our marketing and product teams collaborated closely by pursuing multiple strategies at all stages of the funnel, in order to maximise our chances of reaching them:
- Increasing traffic and sign-ups – Our product team often heard that our customers loved being able to see which influencers had shared their content, so our marketing team prominently displayed that feature on the home page, which drove more sign-ups
- Increased upgrade conversion rate – User behaviour insights surfaced by our product team helped marketing identify the highest-converting sources of traffic, and then focus on growing those channels – which boosted our overall upgrade conversion rate
- Launch and upsell new features – By sharing ongoing product development updates with the marketing team, we were able to keep our existing customers engaged and upsell them to additional features and apps as soon as they were launched
2. Speak the same language
Agreeing to a common language and standardised internal jargon when it comes to talking about customers is effective for removing the friction from collaboration between your teams, and provides a few key benefits:
- It gets the teams thinking about the typical customer’s whole journey as they pass between marketing and the product
- It reduces confusion between the teams, and gets them considering the same customer/user personas when making decisions
- It makes it easier for product teams to share insights back to marketing on how customers behave after acquisition
I personally experienced this kind of friction on a product where there was a clear disconnect between the marketing and product teams’ definitions of an engaged user:
This disconnect caused mass confusion whenever we wanted to know how many engaged users we had, and several times, it resulted in the teams pursuing conflicting priorities. A single meeting was all it took to hammer out a meaningful, commonly-understood definition that eliminated the confusion, and allowed the teams to see their impact on the shared objective of growing user engagement.
3. Everyone does customer support
The very best feedback comes from sitting face-to-face with your customer – it gives you the richest, most in-depth feedback upon which game-changing hypotheses get validated or broken. After all, how can you develop a mutually satisfying relationship with someone, when you never communicate with them directly?
In my experience, great things start to happen when everyone shares the responsibility of supporting your customers:
- Everyone develops an innate sense for what customers need, and how those needs apply to their specific roles in delivering the customer experience
- Response times go way down, which means happier customers
- Marketers get a deeper understanding of how their messaging should adapt to customers’ needs at every stage of the business funnel
- There are fewer disconnects between what marketing is promising and what the product/service delivers – which can actually reduce pre-purchase support inquiries
Roping in people from our product design and marketing teams to handle frontline customer support tickets inspired a major redesign of my past blog analytics product, Filament, as the same question kept coming up from our users while they looked at their analytics reports: “So… is that good, or bad?”
We began gut-checking the redesign of our analytics reports to ensure they were clearly answering this simple question – and the improvements we saw started finding their way into our marketing messaging: “Know at a glance how your content is performing”.
Find a way to carve out time for your marketers and product people to rotate through customer support, and I think you will be amazed at the ideas they generate as a result.
4. Everyone has a say in the whole customer journey
What do I mean by this? If your customers’ experience through your business’ Loyalty Loop is to be seamless, it helps if everyone involved in constructing and managing that experience understands the full context of their work.
Have representatives of your marketing and product teams (and others) collaborate on an experience map to fully understand – from multiple perspectives – the pain points where your customers’ needs or expectations aren’t being met. Good ideas can come from anywhere in your business, so give your teams the opportunity to tackle dips in the customer experience from their own perspectives.
While building and scaling various SaaS products, the products team at Digital Telepathy, (of which I was a part), leveraged elements of experience mapping, as well as the intensive Design Sprints methodology pioneered by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky at Google Ventures, in order to walk through our users’ experiences step-by-step. We used insights from this discovery process to identify our users’ wants and needs at each stage, then rapid-prototyped and tested solutions to create a more seamless transition between marketing and actually using the product.
In summary: seek alignment between Marketing and Product
A great end-to-end customer experience is becoming an expectation of today’s customers, and the only way to provide this is through tight alignment between Marketing and Product teams.
Having both teams pulling in the same direction confers massive benefits to your product, including:
- Stronger retention (and the associated competitive advantage)
- A more seamless customer experience
- Greater focus on more impactful work, instead of chasing vanity metrics that don’t actually help the business
- Less redundant work – Marketing knows things that can make Product’s life much easier, and vice versa
To get that elusive alignment between your teams, treat them like they’re a single team. Remember, “The experience is the product” – so set shared goals, remove any barriers to collaboration between marketing and product, and get both teams some direct facetime with your customers.
I think you’ll be surprised at what happens next.