This article originates from a presentation at the Product Marketing Summit in San Francisco, 2022. Catch up on this presentation, and others, using our OnDemand service. For more exclusive content, visit your membership dashboard.

Hey everyone, I'm here today to talk about working with cross-functional teams and how you can help them succeed. I've got a few hard-learned lessons to share about how we, as product marketers, can be the glue that holds these groups together.

But first, I want to level set. Right now, I'm running on caffeine and adrenaline. My company, NVIDIA, has a major biannual conference coming up in two weeks, and I'm involved with some of the big announcements and launches that are part of our keynote. No pressure, right?

So why am I writing this instead of frantically dealing with last-minute conference planning? Aside from being a workaholic overachieving perfectionist with impostor syndrome, I’m doing this because I've got an amazing cross-functional team.

Our group of product, sales, marketing, creative, campaign, events, and other teams have come together to pull something amazing off. We're now working on the final details, and I couldn't be prouder of how it's all coming together.

I can do this because I know that my team has my back, I know that we’re aligned on our objectives, I know that we all share and understand the same goals and needs, and can trust each other to make those goals happen.

So, how can you get here?

I want to do a quick thought exercise with you. Think of a time when you were in a room with a group of people that didn't really get along. You’re all working on the same project together, but there's a bit of tension. Maybe there are some heated discussions; maybe there are some strong debates; maybe there are some outright disagreements.

Are you thinking of a meeting with people outside of your immediate team? Are the people in that meeting from other teams like product or sales? I thought so.

Often, we as product marketers are in these cross-functional meetings. They're crucial for the work that we do. We can’t go off into a corner and build a marketing strategy or develop messaging and positioning on our own. We’re reliant on sales teams, product teams, and others for that input.

So what can we do about this tension? How can we help our cross-functional teams succeed? How can we make those meetings less awkward, and help everyone to get along? How can we be even more successful as a team than we've been before?

The secret is you. As a product marketer, you’re in a unique position to build connections and help bridge the gap between these disparate technical and non-technical teams with different objectives, who may not even speak the same language.

If you've ever worked in a tech company, you can understand the difference between the engineering jargon and the sales jargon and bridge those gaps, not to mention the gaps in the goals and KPIs of different teams.

Product marketers are born connectors

In preparing for this article, thinking about cross-functional teams, teamwork, and what that means as a product marketer, I rediscovered Malcolm Gladwell's book, The Tipping Point. Perhaps you’ve read it – it's pretty well-known in product marketing circles.

He describes three types of people:

  • Connectors,
  • Mavens, and
  • Salespeople.

The way he describes Connectors really stands out to me.

I wouldn't call myself the most extroverted person, but I absolutely love bringing people together. Even though I might not be the life of the party or the one that's typically up on a stage, I love connecting people who have something in common or might be able to help each other out. In my career, that's led me to mentorship, volunteering, and all kinds of incredible opportunities.

Rediscovering this book was also an 'aha' moment for me because I realized something else: this definition of a connector also applies to product marketing.

Where Gladwell says, “Having a foot in so many worlds, Connectors have the effect of bringing them all together,” and we can very easily change out “Connectors” for “product marketers”.

Now, let’s take a step back for a second because product marketing is, I would argue, a loaded term. There are a lot of different definitions of this role, but I love how Product Marketing Alliance illustrates the work we do in the diagram below.

Even if your role is more outbound, or you're more focused on content or sales enablement than overarching messaging and positioning, this structure makes sense.

We’re essentially the driving force behind getting products to market and keeping them there. In representing the customer or developing our product messaging, enabling sales teams, or even helping drive product adoption, we’re working together with all these other teams. We’re dependent on them. We sit in the middle, and we ultimately bring them all together.

Product and sales are set pretty far apart, and that can cause problems. We in the product marketing world are focused on understanding the customer, understanding sales’ needs, understanding product development, understanding the roadmap, and bringing all of that together.

That allows us to develop realistic sales enablement material that ensures that the sales team is aligned on what the product can do, rather than selling the world.

So how do we do this effectively? What skills or superpowers do we need to hone to become connectors within our cross-functional teams? I'm going to share three that have really helped me. These are skills that we often use when we market externally, but they're just as valuable when we're working with our internal cross-functional teams.

PMM superpower number one: Translation

Product marketers are translators. By developing personas and segments, we help other teams to understand our audiences every day.

Think about how we can use that power internally. Maybe you’ve been in a room with a technical team and a sales team and realized that you understand what both sides are saying, but they don't seem to understand each other. I can't tell you how many times I've had to swoop in and explain what a CTA is, for instance.

Let’s look at some practical steps you can take to harness your translation superpower.

Step one: Listen actively

As a translator, the most important thing is to actively listen and understand what our team is really saying. For that, we need to make sure we’re paying attention to all sides.

Step two: Know where they’re coming from

Context is also crucial. Make sure you know where everybody is coming from. I've sat in a number of rooms, especially launch war rooms, where things have gotten heated. Maybe sales is demanding something and product teams are saying that they can't deliver it because the timing doesn't work.

Where are they coming from? Well, sales is under pressure to drive revenue and close deals, while product is under pressure to deliver a quality product. Understanding where each team is coming from is going to help you defuse that tension and bring everyone together.