When you’re striving for success in any organization, few things are more important than setting clear goals for yourself and your team. But how do you ensure that your product marketing goals are ambitious yet attainable? And how do you create an environment where your employees can thrive as they work towards those goals?

Scott Shapiro, former Principal Product Marketer at Qualtrics, and current Director and Global Head of Product Marketing, Secure Code Warrior sat down with Angela Byers, Senior Director of Product Marketing Management at Microsoft, to get to the heart of these questions and dive into how leaders manage teams when they have a large portfolio of businesses and products to nurture.

This discussion was originally recorded for an episode of The Goald Standard Podcast, a five-part series in which Scott picks the brains of product marketing experts to get the insights you need to achieve and surpass your goals.

You can listen here, or if you’re in the mood for a quick but insightful read over a cup of coffee, stick with us to find out all about…

Angela’s remarkable journey in product marketing

Angela has been a marketing leader at Microsoft for the past 10 years, working across some of their most iconic brands, including Office, Windows, and of course, MSN. She currently runs the outbound and go-to-market (GTM) teams for Microsoft Viva, a brand new platform focused on the employee experience in the workplace.

Prior to joining Microsoft, Angela was a fellow at the McKinsey Global Institute, where she led research on the impact of information technologies on businesses, the economy, and society at large. In addition, Angela earned her Master's and Ph.D. in Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University with a thesis on a decision-making model for breast cancer adjuvant therapy.

The combination of Angela's unique background, astute marketing instincts, and grounding in research and sound methodology has helped her to build repeatable and scalable success throughout her career.

Scott asked Angela to share more about how her background has influenced her approach to be a product marketer and a leader, to which she replied:

“I think because of my engineering and strategy background, every time I take a new product onto my product marketing portfolio, the first thing I do is write down the business strategy.

“I want to have a clear understanding of the market opportunity, the customer trends, and the competitive landscape, and be able to write down what I think our strengths and weaknesses are. That helps me understand the differentiating strategy that product marketing has got to execute. I can then make it show up across all of our marketing and sales channels.

“I think that might be a little bit unique. I don't know if every product marketer does that as the first thing when they take on a product.”

How to be a successful product marketer

Scott quizzed Angela about her perspective on what it means to be a successful product marketer.

“Several analogies come to mind. I think of a product marketer as the quarterback of a football team, sometimes I like the analogy of the shepherd. And, yes, in reality, we probably are a bunch of cat herders too.

“I see the product marketing function as the hub that all the spokes connect into so that we can, in partnership, create the right strategy from business to marketing to sales. Then we all move in the same direction to execute.

“I’ve always coached my team to take on an owner and operator mentality. Even though we're not the ones doing everything, we should have that mindset and make sure we do the right things to empower our peer teams to be successful.”

Creating and setting goals as a team leader

Keen to learn more about how Angela decides which metrics to focus on, Scott asked, “Tell me a little bit about your approach to creating and setting goals as a team leader. You’re a leader, but you're also part of a massive organization. Walk me through your philosophies and mindset of how you bring together your team's goals within the bigger company's needs?”

Angela laid out her approach:

“It goes without saying that the success of a product or business depends on not just the product marketing team – you need the engineers building a great product, you need the marketing channel teams executing to a high standard, and you need your sales channel partners to be turning all that great momentum into revenue. So many people have to work together, so first, I have to understand where my team fits into the bigger picture.

“And then I think of goal setting as a cascading approach. I know it sounds a bit old-fashioned, but logically, that's how it works. It starts with the product or the business unit, and you at the leadership level have to first agree on what defines success for it. Is it a revenue target? Is it a usage target based on past trajectory and future growth potential?

“From that top-line goal, you can – I think this is the engineer in me – logically construct a funnel from awareness and perception to interest and conversion, to adoption and retention, and maybe upsell and cross-sell at the end. With that funnel, you can calculate back into the KPIs you need at each stage so that in the end, it exceeds your revenue or usage goal.

“As we mentioned before, there are many teams who contribute, but once you get down to the funnel and KPI level, there'll be a natural alignment on which team should move first on each KPI. I've always learned to make sure your partners sign off on your KPIs if you're the ones on first.

“It just goes back to shared accountability and shared ownership. That’s demonstrated in regular meetings to review how things are going, so you can learn and iterate rapidly together.”

Cascading goals to the rest of the team

Knowing how to effectively cascade broader goals into individual opportunities and responsibilities for your team members is a vital leadership skill. Scott asked Angela how she goes about doing it, and she gave some examples from her working life at Microsoft.

“We have a mix of top-line revenue or usage goals and KPI goals that are needed to get there – customer acts, as an example. Even though my team isn't the sole contributor to those, I think they're such an important Northstar that they’re worth repeating on my team charter. Several of my peer teams carry them as well.

“My team goals then consist of specific programs or initiatives that my team leads the way with. This is where the top-down meets the bottom-up – my team, in their individual scope, will be thinking about cash and the strategies and priorities that will allow them to contribute.

“We'll go through a prioritization exercise together, where I’ll promote the top one or two programs that we come up with and add them to my team goals. That’s a way to ensure that we have a great strategy and that we’re prioritizing. The list of goals on my team isn’t exhaustive – it just highlights what’s most important for us to collectively achieve.

“I think cascading goals sometimes get a bad rap because it's somehow implied that it's completely top-down. But I think you just have to build into that creative bottoms-up process to make sure you get the best ideas from your teams too.”

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Prioritization, goal-setting, and resource allocation in a large portfolio

As you can imagine, Angela’s team has a lot of products and businesses in its portfolio. Scott was curious to know how she manages goal-setting, prioritization, and resource allocations, particularly with regard to mature businesses compared to newly launched growth-stage products.

“My team, probably like many other product marketing teams out there, has multiple products and they serve different markets; it’s not unlike in companies that have like different business unit lines in different markets.

“As you would imagine, you should at first assess the ROI of investing in each business unit. What's the additional upside given the market growth and share each product already has? How much investment is needed to capture that upside?

“Usually, when you do that kind of strategy exercise, you’ll see that certain products have a much higher growth trajectory. Only 20% of them will make or break your company's top-line expectations.

“I take that idea and apply it to the product marketing team in a more microscopic way. I assess and align with the leadership on the ROI of each product in my portfolio; it will become obvious that some have much more growth potential than others, especially the more mature ones. Therefore, it's logical that more time, attention, and resources should go towards the growth products, versus the mature ones that are in maintenance mode.

“That impacts goal-setting in that you should set the numerical value of the goals accordingly. Growth products should have more stretch built into them, and there should be a bigger delta than for mature products.

“Here at Microsoft, we started using the OKR approach last year, and another difference between mature and growth products is that I’ll have a much longer list of KRs for the latter. I’ll maybe even have several sections of OKRs because I really want to focus on specific drivers and learn from them. The list for mature products will be much shorter because we already know what the drivers are.”

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Managing these two different approaches can’t be easy, especially when the ego is thrown into the mix. Scott wanted to know how she manages it.

He asked, “Some of these phrases can have connotations, right? Growth sounds exciting; maintenance mode seems like ‘why do you want me to be the one working on that?’ How do you manage those personalities on your team and make sure everyone feels excited and like they have meaningful work?”

She explained, “Despite the connotation, maintenance is important. At every level of leadership, we have to remind folks that the mature products are what got you to where you are today and they’re what earns you the right to continue to grow.

“They are in many ways, as important as growth products because if your mature businesses start to underperform, gosh, now you have a much higher gap, and you just don't have the mindshare and attention to find new areas to grow.

"There is this balance that we make sure doesn't get lost in how we motivate and inspire our teams. We want to be clear about priorities, but we also want to be sure that everyone knows how important their contributions are.”

Cultivating a culture of meritocracy

The importance of building a culture in which everybody’s contributions are recognized and rewarded cannot be understated. With this in mind, Scott wanted to know, “How do you make sure that your team believes in meritocracy? How are they going to get out of it what they feel they've earned from doing the hard work successfully?”

“Having the OKR system and approach has really helped in that regard,” Angela shared. “The key results are always very well defined with a specific numerical time-bound outcome. And if a KR is cascaded to an individual, that’s one clear way to measure if they were successful or not. It also helps with transparency when everybody can see that. I think that builds a sense of meritocracy and fairness.

“I will caveat, though, that I have learned over time, especially in the product marketing function, not to tie goal attainment directly to performance and rewards discussions. So many factors are beyond your control, and if you tie in incentives, you're going to encourage weird behaviors like setting really low goals, and you're going to discourage people from changing direction if something's not working.

“So I think KRs are a great measurement, and they’re certainly a part of the performance and rewards discussion, but I make sure we're doing it holistically.

“You know, trust is so important, and the foundations of trust are transparency, openness, and collaboration. It’s about how you get your work done and how you're achieving your KRs. At Microsoft, how you get your work done and contribute to other people's successes and KRs is just as valuable as your individual impact.”

The value of knowing your purpose

All good conversations must eventually come to an end. To wrap things up, Scott asked Angela if there was anything else on her mind that she’d like to add about goal-setting and attainment. She left us with her thoughts on why goal-setting is especially important today.

“Goal-setting and attainment has always been an important topic, but maybe even more so now. As more and more people are working from home, they’re rethinking what their relationship is to work. They're not just thinking about what they do and where they work, but really asking ‘why do I do what I do?’

“People are searching for purpose. Sometimes that purpose can be the business results; sometimes it's a more personal purpose. Regardless, I feel like goal setting now has an incredibly powerful opportunity to become that tool to help everybody find and ensure that they live the purpose that they want to have.”

Optimize your goals

Needing to measure your product marketing success is a huge part of the role. After all, how are you going to identify what works and what doesn’t without metrics and data to back it up?

Our Metrics Certified: Masters course will give you the knowledge and confidence you need to measure the impact of your work and continue driving, not just your product and department, but the entire company towards success.

By the end of this course, you’ll be able to:

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💪 Identify which metrics you should track for each deliverable.

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