Why is there so often conflict, friction, and even an outright adversarial relationship between a company’s product management and marketing teams? Aren’t these two departments ultimately after the same things—a successful product, happy customers, and a thriving, growing company?

Well, yes and no.

Of course those are every department’s big-picture goals. If you asked anyone on either an organization’s product management or marketing department if those objectives matched what they wanted for their company, they would say yes.

But then, inevitably, work gets in the way. People get busy. They get caught up putting out fires, hurriedly chipping away at their to-do lists, and responding to urgent requests from their senior managers. Keep in mind, too, that in many companies, product managers answer to different VPs than the people in marketing, so these urgent requests are often based on very different, department-specific agendas.

All of this is to say that in their good-faith efforts to accomplish all of their day-to-day responsibilities, product managers and the folks in marketing can often find themselves with very different priorities and goals.

But your products will enjoy the most success when both product management and marketing (not to mention all other departments across your organization) are working toward the same goals, all operating from a cohesive strategic plan. And to accomplish this, product management and marketing need to come out of their departmental silos and begin thinking of their two departments as a larger, unified team focused on product success.

So, how can product management cultivate an excellent relationship with marketing? I’ll outline some practical suggestions below, which are based in part on our recent webinar titled “Building an Amazing Relationship Between Product Management and Marketing.” But first, let’s take a quick look at some of the common reasons why tension builds in the first place.

Common Causes of the Friction Between Product Management and Marketing

  • Product management is often working toward a very different set of success metrics (positive user feedback, favorable product reviews by industry analysts) from the metrics that interest marketing (lead generation, brand awareness).
  • Everyone’s day-to-day goals (or the demands of their supervisors and department heads) often cloud out or take precedence in the short-term over their company’s larger, strategic-level goals.
  • The roles and responsibilities across these two departments are often loosely defined, creating confusion, gaps or overlap in responsibilities, and sometimes even territorial battles.
  • The two teams don’t work closely enough together and fail to communicate as often—and early in the product development process—as they should.
  • Sounds pretty bad, right? It certainly can be. If these things are allowed to take hold in a company’s culture, you can imagine the possible results.

So the smart strategy is to build your company’s culture differently, or, if some of these things have already been cemented, to undo them as soon as possible. Here is our five-part strategy for building an amazing relationship between product management and marketing.

5 Steps to an Amazing Working Relationship Between Product Management and Marketing

1. Get product management and marketing working together as early as possible in the product planning process.

One reason for the tension between product management and marketing is that the marketing team often feels like they don’t have all of the information they need—the product’s strategy, a clear understanding of how to articulate its value, etc.—to effectively do their jobs.

Marketing needs to know a product’s unique selling proposition, its key differentiators, and how an informed sales rep would pitch it to a prospect, so that they can do their best work in crafting the collateral pieces that product management will be asking for.

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With this in mind, as a product manager you should bring your marketing team into the very early stages of your product planning—the conversations where you define the strategic thinking, the “Why,” for building the product the way you will.

Not only will this help your marketing team deliver better materials and messaging for your product, it will also help them feel more like part of the team and less like mere collateral order-takers.

2. Collaborate with multiple departments on product ideas and prioritization.

Your marketing team probably has some unique insights into what your market is interested in when it comes to your product. You and your product team are the ones who speak directly with users, but marketing oversees and likely tracks the details of their campaigns—meaning they have valuable data on which specific messages resonate with prospects enough to get those prospects to take the next step.

Even if your marketing team does not have this real-world data that you can turn into insights about your user persona, it is still a great idea to bring them in to help your product team generate ideas and work on prioritization for your products.

That’s because your marketing team will deliver their best work when they feel invested in the product—as opposed to feeling, as I pointed out above, like mere collateral-generating order-takers.

Collaborating with other teams across your organization, like marketing, is also a great team-building exercise. It helps make everyone feel closer to the product you’ll be building, more a part of its eventual success, and more enthusiastic about contributing work to support it.

Indeed, one of the most popular features of ProductPlan’s web-based roadmap software is our Planning Board, which helps teams collaborate on idea generation and prioritization by scoring an idea—a new feature, for example—according to a number of criteria and then determining if it has earned a slot on the product roadmap, or if it should instead be sent to the Parking Lot.

Bonus Tip: If you are unsure of how to approach prioritizing items on your product roadmap, read our blog offering 7 Strategies to Choose the Best Features for Your Roadmap.

3. Clearly define roles and responsibilities—and base these decisions on skillset and interest levels, not strictly on the org chart.

One of the more important strategies we offered in our Build an Amazing Relationship Between Product Management and Marketing webinar is to avoid the notion that there is a set of responsibilities that must fall under product management and a different but equally rigid set that marketing must own.

This is often unproductive, illogical, and even detrimental to a product’s success.

Yes, you will need to clearly define everyone’s responsibilities for the product’s development and promotion—ideally at the outset, so everyone on every team knows what to focus on from the beginning. But your organization should base these responsibilities on which people and teams are best-equipped to do an outstanding job handling them—not on anyone’s title, or your existing notion of which job or department is “supposed to” manage a given initiative.

In addition to ensuring that you have the best people for every task, divvying up roles this way is also another great way to build teams and enthusiasm. If you have a marketing pro who’s outstanding at interviewing users for case studies—and loves doing so—then it shouldn’t matter if traditionally that is a product management task. That marketing person is going to be far more invested in her job now because she is able to handle a project she enjoys and excels at—and your product will also benefit as a result.

Do this with as many projects and areas of responsibilities as you can in your product planning process. Find the best people for the job and let them take it on—org charts and job descriptions be damned.

4. Maintain transparency and communication throughout the process.

Eventually, no matter how cohesively your product managers are working with your marketing department, no matter how much of a team the two groups feel like, everyone is eventually going to have to go off and do their own work.

This is why maintaining transparency and frequent communication among the departments is crucial.

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We believe, for example, that product teams should make their product roadmaps easily accessible at all times to the marketing team. This way, if a product manager asks for something the marketing team wasn’t expecting, they can view the roadmap to learn about why they are asking. And the same goes for marketing teams. Marketing roadmaps should be shared with product so both teams are up to speed on how the product is being advertised.

To use one example, in our recent interview with ProductPlan customer Namely, the company’s VP of Product, Brian Crofts, explained to us that he keeps the product roadmap running at all times on a huge screen in the office’s common area. This way, anyone in any department, has immediate visual access to what’s going on strategically with the company’s product team.

Also, the more your product and marketing teams are communicating, the less chance there will be for confusion, which can lead to frustration and many of the other problems I’ve listed here as causes for product management-marketing tension.

5. Agree upfront on strategic success metrics that everyone—product management, marketing, and all other teams involved—are working toward.

Finally, it is critical that both product management and marketing have a shared, mutually agreed-upon way of measuring success.

Yes, product management and marketing will each have their own success metrics, and this is a good thing. Those metrics—whether customer retention, revenue targets, landing page conversion rates, or likes on Facebook—are all useful guides for each department.

But to bring your teams together, both product management and marketing should also identify and plan to work toward a set of shared, strategic-level goals. This will keep both teams from falling into silo mode, and will also help keep everyone focused on the company’s big-picture objectives.


Do you have suggestions for improving the relationship between product management and marketing? Please share them in the comments section.

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