A Google search for “sales and marketing alignment” yields dozens of case studies and blog posts (including one that we wrote). This is unsurprising; it’s generally taken for granted that getting sales and marketing on the same page is of the utmost importance.
And it is important—that’s inarguable. Although the day-to-day lives of salespeople and marketers are often considerably different, there’s clearly a unifying goal: revenue growth. Whether you spend your time writing blogs or running demos, your performance is evaluated—albeit to varying degrees—on the bottom line. Given the obvious overlap between these two arms of your organization, it’s no wonder that so many people prioritize their alignment.
Underneath this conventional wisdom is a notion that we want to challenge: that marketing is in service exclusively to sales. When we buy into this notion, we artificially narrow our vision. We neglect relationships—relationships on which the long-term success of the business hinges.
One such relationship is that between product and marketing. Product managers, like their sales and marketing colleagues, strive towards revenue growth—they just go about it in their own way. As the marketer drives leads, the product manager drives adoption. The tactics are different, but the purpose is the same.
So, why does a Google search for “product and marketing alignment” yield so little content?
A mindset shift
Let’s dive deeper into this notion that marketing is in service exclusively to sales. What does that mean?
Taken literally, it means that marketing contributes to revenue growth in one way and one way only: by helping salespeople win deals—typically through the generation and nurture of leads and the creation of sales enablement collateral.
Is that often the primary way in which marketing contributes to revenue growth? Sure. The most direct way? Certainly. But it’s not the only way.
Another way marketing can contribute to revenue growth is by aligning more closely with the product team. We’ll discuss specific areas of alignment in a minute, but first, we should explore the intuition behind our argument.
The work of both the product manager and the marketer is informed by the needs of the market—the pain points, goals, and demands of target customers. When product and marketing work closely together, everyone benefits from an enhanced understanding of (1) what needs to be solved and (2) how it can best be solved. The product manager is better equipped to build, and the marketer is better equipped to communicate. Everyone does their job more effectively, and as a result, revenue grows over the long term (all else being equal, of course). As we touched on earlier, this is obviously not as direct as, say, a webinar that generates hundreds of leads. And that’s OK—indirect does not mean ineffective.
What we’re driving towards is a mindset shift—a recognition of the positive impact that can come from closer alignment between product and marketing. When marketers buy into the notion that they can work in service of the product team, and vice versa, good things happen.
If you’re convinced—or if you had already understood everything we just said—let’s discuss three specific areas in which product and marketing can become more closely aligned.
3 critical areas of product & marketing alignment
For clarity, when we talk about areas of alignment, we’re referring to common concerns, duties, and/or initiatives. In other words, each area of alignment is something that both product managers and marketers care about—and, therefore, is an opportunity for these two groups to put their heads together.
1. Use cases
Different people buy the same product for different reasons. Take email marketing software, for example. Whereas some folks may buy it to run automated, multi-touch campaigns, others may buy it to get a better sense of how their individual emails are performing. The product is the same, but the use cases are different.
Use cases, as you may have already deduced, are inextricable from pain points. Someone who buys email marketing software for the sake of running automated, multi-touch campaigns is likely spending too much time writing and segmenting emails. Someone who buys the same product for the sake of analyzing performance is likely struggling to determine which emails are more or less effective than others.
Each use case can be thought of as an answer to the question, “Why would someone buy our product?” And, crucially, not all answers to this question are created equal. Some use cases are more common than others; some are more urgent than others; some are more concrete than others. This is why, for any given product, some use cases may be addressed while others are neglected, or why some may be addressed thoroughly while others are addressed superficially.
Specifics aside, use cases are fundamental to both product and marketing. Product managers need to identify, understand, and prioritize use cases when creating and executing the roadmap; marketers need to do the same when positioning and promoting the product.
Whether you’re a product manager or a marketer, the use cases that inform your work are the same. When product and marketing are aligned on use cases, everyone does a better (and more consistent) job of identifying, understanding, and prioritizing answers to the question, “Why would someone buy our product?” As a result, both teams produce output that is more in line with the needs of the market.
Pro tip: Review win/loss data on a regular basis
By shedding light on why some deals are won and others are lost, win/loss analysis can help product and marketing align on use cases. Let’s say, for example, that the most common explanation for lost deals is failure to satisfy Use Case X. This is a valuable insight—one that can help both product managers and marketers fulfill their duties more effectively.
2. Brand experience
A customer’s relationship with your business starts not when they buy your product, but rather when they first interact with your marketing. Depending on your strategy, that first interaction could come from one of many different places: a billboard, an email, a YouTube bumper ad, an event, a blog post, a tweet, or something else entirely. Of course, it’s through successive marketing (and, eventually, sales) interactions that your prospects become your customers.
In the eyes of a prospect, with each of these interactions comes not only an understanding of your value proposition, but also a set of feelings regarding your brand. Although that sounds abstract, the implications are material—especially when you’re in a competitive market. If you and your competitor produce similar messaging that addresses the same set of use cases, but prospects tend to feel more favorable towards your brand, that differentiation will likely make an impact on the bottom line.
And in the same way that your relationships with customers do not start when they buy your product, your customers’ experiences with your brand do not end when they buy your product. Indeed, your product’s user interface (UI) is a form of marketing in the sense that it can reinforce whatever feelings you want your customers to experience. Again, this may sound abstract, but consider the following: If your UI is failing to reinforce an emotional association with your brand, and your competitors are constantly marketing to your customers (which they are), who’s to say the lack of alignment between product and marketing won’t result in lost revenue?
That’s why brand experience is another critical area of alignment. Whether you’re a product manager or a marketer, the emotions you want customers to associate with your business are the same. When product and marketing are aligned on brand experience, everyone does a better job of creating a cohesive customer journey.
Pro tip: Conduct joint interviews with your customers
Only by speaking with customers can you truly understand (1) the emotions they associate with your business and (2) where those associations come from. Without this information, any attempt to create a more cohesive customer journey will be a shot in the dark. Get folks from both product and marketing on the phone with customers and the path forward will become much clearer.
3. Competitive intelligence
Your business does not exist in a vacuum. At a macro level, you’re impacted by changes in the general economic environment: expansions, recessions, cultural shifts, and so on. And at a micro level, you’re impacted by changes in your particular competitive environment: Competitor X increasing their prices, Competitor Y retiring an underused feature, Competitor Z launching a new marketing campaign, and so on. Even if nothing about your business changes, its short- and long-term trajectory most certainly can—for better or for worse.
Competitive intelligence (CI) is the process of gathering, analyzing, and acting on information related to your competitive environment. Serving as the backbone of the business, CI enables everyone to make the right decisions in the right moments—and to do so with confidence.
Specifically, CI enables product managers to create differentiated roadmaps—i.e., to create value for customers in ways that competitors do not. In the absence of a differentiated roadmap, there’s no tangible reason to use your product rather than one of its alternatives. The more your product team knows about the competition, the better equipped they are to build something uniquely valuable.
Meanwhile, CI enables marketers to create differentiated messaging—i.e., to communicate value to customers in ways that competitors do not. In the absence of differentiated messaging, there’s no tangible reason to evaluate your product along with its alternatives. The more your marketing team knows about the competition, the better equipped they are to persuade prospects that you have built (and are continuing to build) something uniquely valuable.
Whether you’re a product manager or a marketer, the competitive environment that informs your work is the same. When product and marketing are aligned on CI, everyone does a better job of differentiating your business in the eyes of the customer.
Pro tip: Centralize competitive data in a shared platform
Misalignment is guaranteed when your competitive insights are scattered across channels. In the absence of a single source of truth, product managers may think Competitor X is zigging while marketers think it’s zagging. Centralizing intelligence in a shared platform—ideally one that automatically updates in real-time—is the only way to ensure that everyone is on the same page in terms of what’s going on across your competitive landscape.
Conclusion — The power of product marketing
Aligning your product and marketing teams is easier said than done. On any given day, everyone is working on a number of short-term projects that, in the moment, feel more pressing than any long-term strategic initiative—especially one that’s as vague as “alignment.”
We won’t conclude this guide by simply reiterating the importance of what we’ve discussed. Instead, we’ll conclude by advocating for an investment that—among other things—goes a long way towards getting product and marketing on the same wavelength: product marketing.
Because an attempt to comprehensively define product marketing would (1) be futile and (2) more than double the length of this guide, we’ll say this for now: Effective product marketing results in increased demand for and adoption of your product.
With responsibilities often including market research, competitive intelligence, positioning and messaging, go-to-market strategy, sales enablement, and customer marketing, product marketers are uniquely equipped to bridge the gap between product and marketing. More specifically, product marketers can help to: identify, elucidate, and prioritize use cases; determine the what and why of emotions associated with your brand; gather, analyze, and activate competitive intel across the organization.
Simply put, an investment in product marketing is the most effective way to engender long-lasting, mutually beneficial alignment between your product and marketing teams. By extension, an investment in product marketing is one of the most effective ways to ensure healthy, long-term growth for your business.
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