When it comes to planning and launching new products or features there’s only so much you can do yourself. You can have the best timeline Excel’s ever seen, most forward-thinking feature the market’s had in a decade and the Rolls-Royce of Go-to-Market plans, but if you don’t have the engineers to build it, sales reps to sell it and stakeholders to drive it, what hope have you really got?
Influencing organisations and stakeholders to stick to your timelines is no easy feat. Everyone’s got their own priorities and KPIs and convincing them to make time for yours too can be testing.
If you’re reading this though, take solace in that you’re not alone and hopefully, these 11 tips will help you shake up that internal shift and make your next project less taxing.
Let’s kick things off with a few words of wisdom from Hanna Woodburn, Product Marketing Manager at FullStory:
“In terms of getting buy-in from other teams, it can be immensely helpful to use a decision-making framework, such as a RAPID framework, to clarify what role cross-functional team members play. That way, when you need buy-in, your team members know if their feedback is a launch blocker (and you can prioritize your time accordingly).”
1. Paint the bigger picture
Whether it’s targeting a new audience to gain more of the market share, adding a new feature to retain more clients or creating a whole new product to add another revenue stream, in theory, everything you do should be tied to an overarching business goal.
That in itself is your in, but it’s on you to explain how project X, Y or Z is going to achieve that and usually, being specific and data-driven is the best way. We know we’re oversimplifying it here but take a look at these two approaches:
“We’re doing this because we’ve been targeted with reducing churn by 5% in the next quarter.”
“We’ve been targeted with reducing churn by 5% next quarter and our research and data shows us 55% of churned users currently leave because we don’t have feature Y. The interviews we’ve conducted with lost customers tell us 80% of them would have stayed if we added this feature already, so we are confident completing this project will directly correlate with a lower churn rate and $XXXX more in company revenue.”
The second is unarguably more compelling and it’d be pretty darn hard for anyone to turn that away, which leads us nicely into our next point…
2. Link it to their objectives
“Position the launch in the context of what’s in it for them and the greater impact of the business to get buy-in. Then, help them understand the driving reasons behind the deadlines; as a PMM, you are perfectly suited to highlight the why behind deadlines [e.g. business impact, cross-functional partner needs, etc].”
- Sapphire Reels, Product Marketing Manager at Pluralsight
In a dream world, our first tip’s enough to get everyone bought in. The reality is that’s not always the case though. Everyone’s got their own objectives and if people have got to-do lists as long their arm, justifying taking their eye off one of their balls to focus on yours can be...tricky.
So, if you can, find a way to tie your objectives into theirs. For example, for sales, a new feature might make it considerably easier to close deals which would directly correlate with their new business targets. For IT, it might mean a reduction in tickets. For customer service, it could be less inbound calls.
More often than not, there’ll always be a way to intertwine the two so take the time to work out what that connection is and then tailor your pitch to hone in on it. For this reason, it might be worth splitting your approach by department...
3. Segment your briefs and plans
As product marketers, we spend a lot of time segmenting our market and customers to get optimal results, so take that principle and apply it to internal stakeholders too. There are a few benefits to doing this:
- As we just touched on, you can position your project and requirements in a way that resonates with what matters most to each department/stakeholder. Because they will all care more and less about different things.
- You can dedicate your time with them focusing solely on the facts that matter to them. Let’s be honest, we’ve all begrudgingly been in one of those 45-minute meetings where only five minutes of it have actually been relevant to us. It doesn’t engage people and in the long run, they’ll probably just stop turning up. So, instead of having one big meeting with everyone, consider setting up two or three shorter ones with individual departments.
Don’t stop your segmentation there though and if you’re building an internal roadmap, consider splitting them up too.
Because if you create a catch-all roadmap for sales, engineering and marketing, etc. you run the risk of diluting each’s tasks and responsibilities and people not paying attention to what they should be focusing on. If sales don’t need to know about a software migration IT will be doing in week five don’t bother them with it - and vice versa.
The simpler and easier you make everything to digest, takeaway and act on, the more likely you are to get the results you’re after.
“Create clarity for stakeholders over what is and isn't a launch blocker, as well as who owns what. This helps spread not just responsibility, but accountability. It also makes the launch a shared win, instead of PMMs or PMs win. Launch teams sink or swim, together! I find that a simple one-pager that divides the launch into key initiatives (e.g. legal, campaign, comms + PR) and assigns cross-functional owners, can help with this.”
- Katherine Brittain, Head of Marketing at Stealth Startup
4. Bring them into the process
There’s a theory in psychology called the IKEA effect which essentially says labour leads to love - i.e. if people help build something they’re more likely to like it than if it came premade. Well, the same concept can be applied to things that aren’t physical - like your plans and strategies.
People don’t like feeling left out or sheltered from discussions and decisions that impact them, and if they are, they’re more likely to be adverse to what comes next. So, bring your peers into the process early on, let them have a level of control, and just watch how much more passionate they become about the result.
“The greatest help here is this: get people to be part of the plan creation. Set the goal, paint the north star, and then build the plan WITH them. When they have actually helped build the plan, with their input and expertise, they are more likely to want to see it come to fruition. Don't just make the plan and throw it at them, build it together as a team.”
- RJ Gazarek, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Atlassian
5. Think about who you’re talking to
Different people have different personalities and factoring these into your delivery can take the impact of what you’re saying to a whole new level. For example, if you know Sam from sales loves a good data-driven presentation, give it to him. If Carol from customer service prefers more of a story outlining the customer’s journey and perspective, try to give that to her too.
For this exact reason, more and more companies are investing in workplace personality assessments - to help individuals and teams better communicate with one another. There are tonnes of really robust paid versions out there but if you wanted to test the waters, here are 14 free personality testing tools.
6. Be specific
Avoid being loose with what you’re after and when by. If you need task A completed by Jan 10th put that deadline on the individual and don’t give them any reason to be able to wiggle out of it on a technicality. Document it, share it, and remind them of it.
Tip: if it’s a long-running project, to prevent it falling off other people’s radar, you could do something as simple as circulating an up-to-date version of each department’s roadmap, say, weekly or biweekly. This’ll take a matter of minutes and should serve as a regular prompt and keep others from forgetting their role.
As well as that, if someone’s deadline’s looming don’t leave it until the day of to ask for it. If you do and they’ve not done it, you’ve literally no chance of sticking to your timings. Instead, set a reminder in your diary to check-in a few days before with a friendly nudge like:
“Hey, I’m just checking in to see if we’re all on track for the delivery of [insert task] by [insert date]? Let me know if you need anything else from me.”
Again, it doesn’t take long at your end and will hopefully stop things from slipping.
“Get face time with people to communicate the importance of the collaboration. It helps to define exactly what's needed and why. Do your side of the work before you approach other teams - this may be a detailed plan, the what and why piece and how it affects this individual. People appreciate when you acknowledge this may not be their core but that their support is crucial.”
- Kirti Sharma, Associate Director, Product Marketing at Whatfix
7. Incorporate feedback
Now it goes without saying you can’t include everyone’s feedback, but if people take the time to give their input they like to know they’ve been heard. This one’s pretty simple but if you:
- Include their feedback, let them know and thank them for the idea; or
- Don’t include their suggestion, let them know the rationale behind the why and still thank them.
This all just ties back to being transparent and seen to value other people’s time and efforts - and we don’t need to tell you being a product marketer requires tip-top interpersonal skills.
“Get everyone's feedback and opinions and put them in three buckets: 1) Desirable. Great idea! It's a feature our clients will need in the future. Let's add it to the product roadmap. 2) Feasible. Yes, it can be done in this sprint. 3) Viable. This one is going to contribute to our long-term sustainability and growth. Let's add this to our product backlog. This way everyone, even outside the PMM team, feels heard, accountable and empowered. It's a great exercise for PMM to collect some outsider's perspective.”
- Puja Shah, Independent Marketing Consultant at whiz.ai
8. Keep people up to speed
Sticking with the transparency theme, make a point of keeping people in the loop and try to pencil something into everyone’s diary to make sure they commit to your catch-ups.
“In the words of our CMO, ‘over-communicate’. It’s a great principle to use pre-launch as it forces you to stay in touch with your peers and people you need help from.”
- Sean Broderick, Senior Manager, Product Marketing at Altify
“I completely agree with Sean, especially for teams that are distributed globally and/or working remote. That and a clean, frequently-updated source of truth for the project.”
- Joe Ciuffo, Product Marketing Director - AI at Genesys
- These don’t have to be long. Short and sweet is generally best and it might be something as simple as a 10-minute huddle every Friday morning.
- Be flexible. Things change so don’t see your communication plan as set in stone and have contingency plans for if something doesn’t work out. For example, if a key stakeholder isn’t able to make it one week, could you record the meeting and email it on? Or take notes to share? Or invite another representative from their team? There’ll always be another way.
- Don’t just be open about the positives. If people need to know about the negatives be upfront but just position them in a constructive way that doesn’t result in loss of confidence.
To make sure your catch-ups don’t derail and turn into a platform for people to vent or ask specific questions that could or should happen one-on-one or behind closed doors, send the invite out with a brief overview and agenda. For example:
Just putting this in your diary to schedule in weekly catch-ups around project Z. Here’s the agenda:
1. Product marketing to give a status update
2. Sales to give an update on deliverables
3. Sales to outline any new barriers
If you have any questions or issues outside of this, please come and speak to me separately before or after the meeting.
9. Prepare for objections
Is there anything less assuring than when you ask someone a question and they’re visibly unable to answer it? Don’t fall into that trap.
It’s natural for people to have objections, but just make sure you explore them before you go into a meeting so you’re able to confidently answer them on the spot and shut down the opportunity for uncertainty - once you lose morale it can be really tough to get back.
10. Know the numbers
To expand on our loss of confidence point, make sure you’ve got key numbers at the tip of your tongue throughout and use them where you can to make your updates easier to understand. For example:
“We’ve migrated 45% of existing customers to the new platform.”
Sounds better and more credible than:
“We’ve started migrating some customers over to the new platform.”
No-one’s going to sue you for not having a memory that hoards and regurgitates 25+ stats on command, but if you’ve not got them in your head, have them on paper so you can easily refer to and use them as and when needed.
11. Make it visual
Visuals and stories are much easier to remember than a reel of numbers so incorporate them as and where you can - it’s pretty much guaranteed people will retain more of what you tell them.
If you’re turning your data into visuals just remember to:
- Keep them simple. If a standard pie chart will do it don’t go using a fancy alternative for the sake of it, and
- Don’t use words where you don’t need to. Your charts are visual aids and don’t need an in-depth explanation surrounding them.
It’s probably worth sharing these kinds of things post-meeting too so people can refer to them as and when they want and you get less of those “have you got” requests.
Finally, keep the visual element front of mind when you’re drawing up your roadmaps too. The aim isn’t to showboat with an overly technical and complicated plan, it’s to make the document as easy as is humanly possible to follow, understand and update.
“Ensure that you communicate in a clear and efficient manner. Avoid using technical terminology that is not understood by all and keep it simple.”
- Malaz Idris, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Rocket Lawyer
"When it comes to getting buy-in from teams outside PMM to stick to pre-launch dates, I find there are three key things that are really helpful. The first is to make sure people are really clear on our key milestones, outlining what we need to deliver and why it's important. The second thing is proactively communicating on a regular basis, so if someone misses the information the first time around, they'll get it again in a subsequent communication. And finally, checking in with people 1-to-1 is useful as well to make sure you receive confirmation from other stakeholders that they will deliver according to the milestones, as promised."
- Eric Moeller, Director of Product Marketing at Sage