x close
Nothing to display...
13 min read

Product Marketing Life [podcast]: Angela Zhang


Full transcript:

Emma Bilardi - PMA  0:01

Hi, everyone, and welcome to Product Marketing Life brought to you by Product Marketing Alliance. This week, we're joined by Angela Zhang Product Marketing Lead at DocuSign and we'll be discussing building trust with stakeholders in a fully remote environment. Hi, Angela.

Angela Zhang  1:27

Hey Emma, great to be here.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  1:28

Thanks for joining us. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at DocuSign?

Angela Zhang  1:32

Sure. Currently, I lead product marketing for Identify, DocuSign's suite of identity verification and authentication products. Previously, I spent some time at Gusto and Facebook, also in product marketing. My background is typically in the zero to one stage, moving new products from innovation to launch. I come from a strategy background and really have loved product marketing's blend of strategic thinking, insights, and execution. Oh, and I'm based in San Francisco, which is the city I love even in the pandemic.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  2:10

Excellent. So in your opinion, what are the key components to effective cross-functional delivery when your team's completely remote?

Angela Zhang  2:19

Yeah, that's something we're all learning to adapt to. I would say there are a few things. One is really get to know your team members one on one as much as possible, especially with the key stakeholders, which for me, and for a lot of product marketers will be product management, sales, any kind of post-sales adoption, customer success, and then data science as well for my particular role.

Number two is, I think getting that balance right between talking about tactics versus still keeping everyone aligned on the broader picture of what a particular product or launch is trying to accomplish in the context of the roadmap or the product family. What I found is, especially during COVID, sometimes it's much easier to just execute, keep your head down, everyone does their own thing.

But you lose a lot when you don't have those frequent sync ups, where you really talk about, 'Hey, what's the goal behind this big launch? What are we trying to really get at? And what is the North Star beyond just trying to get through this next phase? Or insight session?'. Very tactical issues.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  3:57

So talking about the pandemic, how has that impacted your roadmap plans? And how have you adapted to those changes?

Angela Zhang  4:06

DocuSign has always believed in the power of doing business digitally. That's how we started and our roadmap reflects that. COVID-19, the pandemic, really did cause the whole team to have to adapt, again, going from in-person collaboration and brainstorming to doing everything over video conference and email. I will say we're pretty fortunate, and I feel pretty fortunate that a lot of the things that were already on the roadmap are now only more relevant because of the pandemic.

So I would say the pandemic helped us, even more, accelerate and see the impact and importance of what we're doing. Then what we had to adapt to is working completely remote and especially between PM and PMM and sales, trying to find the cadence in the new situation.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  5:06

Absolutely. So how do you keep the same level of engagement then on a Zoom call if you're working remotely when you're prepping for a launch, as you would for an in-person meeting?

Angela Zhang  5:20

That's something I'm still trying to figure out. For me personally, what I found helped is one, depending on the meeting, I usually try to save a couple of minutes to ask people how they're doing, bring in a little bit of the chitchat you would have when you first get into a meeting room when you're in person.

The second piece is trying to find times that work for folks, especially those who are globally distributed. So our team is very global and I work with a lot of people based in London and Paris.

So even in normal times, I'll take extra effort on everyone's part to engage over Zoom and accommodate time zones and all of that. But once you have all the setup done, and make sure you have that good relationship, it's again, focused on like, 'here's this launch, and here's what we have to do'. But then strategically bringing it back to the bigger picture. I think it's important to help the team focus on these bigger strategic goals and see how our efforts for individual launches ladder up to the broader vision.

To that end, I believe a blend of really tactical, 'here's what we need to do for launch', and then being really clear on, 'ABC, who is the person responsible for doing that? Who needs to review and then what are the broader timelines that we have to meet within org-wide in order to get this launched to where it needs to go?'. But on the other hand, it's also helpful to have virtual off-sites that can break down these organizational silos that I think spring up much faster when you're in an all-remote environment.

For example, I organized a two-day virtual off-site with a VP of product a while back to bring together core and extended teams. So in addition to PM and PMM, we brought in design, CS, solutions, engineers, etc. to talk about our roadmap for upcoming launches and how that all impacts our goals for the year for our annual vision. I think once you have people who feel really bought in, then during the Zoom call themselves, it's not just one more thing they have to take off their to-do list but it's more of a shared sense of excitement.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  8:07

Yeah, they feel some kind of ownership over it as well and it becomes pretty important to them I guess. So, has the pandemic forced you to delay or pull any launches?

Angela Zhang  8:20

It really hasn't. I've been impressed with how focused the whole team is and we're building and we're launching and so I feel very fortunate to be where I'm at.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  8:32

So, operationally speaking, how has DocuSign adapted to the changes that COVID's thrown its way?

Angela Zhang  8:41

I'll handle this from two sides. One is how DocuSign reacted for its employees, and then also the way DocuSign responds to customers and market needs. For the employees, I have to say, I've been really, really impressed with how leadership has handled this whole thing, to the best of their ability, within the constraints of the fact that...

Emma Bilardi - PMA  9:10

No one was prepared for this...

Angela Zhang  9:10

Yeah, and there is a pandemic and you still have to do work. Within those two constraints, I think the leadership, Dan Springer, the CEO, has been really incredible. So they've very quickly pivoted to everything online, they made a determination that everyone should stay home and that safety and employee comfort is number one.

When they decide when to reopen the offices, every all hands that we have, they will address questions and proactively offer up planning or what the leadership is thinking in terms of opening back up and having people back in the office. They've offered folks more days off during 2020 to help combat the burnout.

This is a very salient topic and so I feel comfortable that our leaders are thinking and talking about this and planning for everything with employees’ interest at heart. I find the emphasis on safety really reassuring, and that allows me, an employee, to focus on my work.

With how DocuSign is looking at customers or the market, I think one is realizing that in this, hopefully once in a lifetime pandemic, we are fortunate to be able to make a real difference with our products. But at the same time, we also want to make sure that we treat the situation with the gravity it deserves.

Because a pandemic sucks for everyone, no matter what you do, no matter if you're in an industry that may have not been affected as much as some others. So I think that's our focus, we focus on what are the customer problems, we focus on how DocuSign products can help our customers with those problems and how we can help them get back to business and do the things that they care about. And then just really let our roadmap and innovation lead the way.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  11:47

So has it changed how much you talk to customers at all?

Angela Zhang  11:53

I would say yes and no. On the one hand, for a lot of businesses, there are a lot more things they're thinking about, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. So their willingness or their ability to have in-depth insights conversation with a company, no matter who - DocuSign included or outside of DocuSign - will be limited.

Also, you would have to be more cognizant of what's going on before asking for that time. On the other hand, there are a lot of things coming out and with the whole acceleration to remote work, and remote doing business, that customers are wanting direction and guidance and talking with folks in the industry to understand what they can do better, or how are their peers doing in the same environment.

So my product suite, remote identity verification and authentication, that has always been important but I think during the pandemic people are seeing exactly how important it is, and why you really need to get this step right in order to make sure you're doing your agreements securely.

I would say it's kind of a balance of both. On the one hand, you have more things that take away your attention. But on the other hand, things are also accelerating and so you do want to get more of those insights and customers have been really eager to hear our perspective.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  13:48

So going back to remote working, how have you been maximizing your efforts surrounding knowledge sharing?

Angela Zhang  13:56

It's hard. It's a challenge. And for me, in particular, there's a lot of institutional context that I also had to build up for me personally, before doing it for the product, because I joined DocuSign during the pandemic, actually.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  14:15

Oh okay.

Angela Zhang  14:16

Yeah, I went through my interview process just when everything was shutting down. So the knowledge sharing piece is something that I've been working very hard at both from a personal level, but also to move my product suite forward.

So a couple of things from a product suite side, I would say having those broader more strategic off sites where you can devote at least a chunk of three to four hours a day for a couple of days, maybe two to three days, with a lot of stakeholders - that helps because that's where you replicate the effect of everyone being in the same room. Then you start hearing the information that previously had been locked in silos.

The second piece is making sure there's good documentation. If there's a project manager, that's great, I've played the role of a project manager in some things where we didn't have a project manager. So it's getting everyone on the same page and then having really clear documentation on what's going on.

Three, having regular syncs and saving time for those smaller core team updates because information can be siloed even when you are three or four people working very closely together. But if you meet even once a week, which is quite a frequent cadence, there's a lot that goes on during that week. So I think it's important not just to talk about the action items of what goes on, but also to save a few minutes for things that could bubble up.

Now I'm going to talk about, for me personally, if anyone listening has started a new job in product marketing, especially since it's such a cross-functional job, that requires a lot of stakeholder management and influencing, how you build that up, that well of trust or influence or getting to know folks on the other teams. For me, what's worked is I make a goal for myself to talk to at least one person outside of my org every week.

Some weeks I don't do that because I get a little lazy or things get busy or I feel like it's too much. But I found that really helpful and DocuSign has been really receptive to it. So what I do is a couple of things. One, in a large meeting, I'll usually sign on a couple of minutes early, especially at the beginning, so my first like two or three months here I usually do those big meetings a couple of minutes early. Because there are usually a few other people who are there early as well and so you start a chat, you get to know them a little bit, you at least put a face to a name and a face to a voice.

The second thing I do is I reached out to everyone that I interviewed with because in PMM interviews you'll have folks from other parts of the org. And I asked them for a one on one after I joined. People are really receptive to that. That's how you start building these relationships outside of your immediate team. Then I also asked some of my good friends, mentors, other people I've worked with at previous companies to make some introductions to folks they know at DocuSign.

That's been great. I think the last part is, when I even have some smaller meetings with folks, with folks from other teams, I will reach out and say like, 'Hey, I joined during the pandemic, would love to meet folks from other sides of the org, can we do a 20-minute Zoom chat, and I'll grab my coffee, and you can grab yours'. That's also worked out really well. So I feel a much stronger sense of connection in DocuSign even though I started completely remote. I've never met anyone at DocuSign before, I don't even know how tall people are.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  18:39

It's exactly the same for me. I joined during the pandemic as well and we have a little thing going of guess how tall everybody was because we just didn't have any idea. And everyone who I thought was mega tall is actually kind of short. So that was fun. But yeah, I totally agree, missing out on those water cooler chats and just dipping in there a few minutes early, that's helped me enormously get to know people as well. I think we've all got Zoom fatigue now with quizzes and things, but they've been kind of fun, too. I think everyone was quizzed out just as I joined but I've enjoyed them.

Angela Zhang  19:21

Yeah, there's this buzz site that I really like that our team uses for what we call chat roulette. So we'll put different people into a breakout room and then have a little game to serve as an icebreaker.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  19:39

That's cool.

Angela Zhang  19:40

Yeah, it's called Brightful and they call themselves fantastic online games for remote teams and you can do things like guess something or spot a lie, and it's a great way to start the conversation, especially with a small group of folks that don't know each other.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  20:03

I love this and I think everyone else will get something out of it, too. So I know we talked a little bit about this at the beginning but I just want to go into a little bit more detail. Have your customers’ needs changed since the pandemic? And how have you had to adapt to this?

Angela Zhang  20:51

For a lot of our customers, even though they were doing digital processes before, it tended to be either a blend of digital and in-person or they would save the most important pieces of the process for in person.

So as an example, think about if you were to go into a bank and open up a bank account. Even though you might do online banking, when you first opened up that bank account, usually you go into a branch, and you sign some paper, and you give them your ID. In the pandemic, that has completely changed, especially during the beginning, back in March, April, May, probably all the way into June, for some states, everything went online.

So when you think about these really big life agreements, whether it's getting a loan, opening up an account, buying a car, these really high-value things used to be pretty much all in person. Now we're seeing a lot of customers have to adapt to an online, almost 100% remote situation so that they can keep their business going.

I would say that's the biggest change is moving from a sometimes online, sometimes digital mentality to a 100% digital mentality. But that comes with its own challenges.

Speaking for my products, how do you authenticate and verify identity when you're 100% online? That's something our customers are challenged with, and they have to figure out almost in real-time what to do. Because one day someone can come into the branch, and the next day they can't.

So when we speak with customers, there's, I think, a sense of urgency, more urgency, there's a little bit more of, 'hey, what is everyone else doing? What is best practice in this new normal?' And then also helping customers, especially some of the larger customers to be comfortable with doing things they might not have done before and they might not have seen their peers do before.

So it's educating them, helping them understand like, 'hey, here are some solutions that can help or here's some ways that you can think about your business processes to smooth that digital transaction or transition'.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  23:48

Okay, so we like to end the show on a bit of an advice note. So do you have any tips or best practices for our listeners for remote working?

Angela Zhang  24:01

I would say my biggest tip about remote work is almost not about work at all. What I found is that if I go outside every day, especially during daylight hours, especially during the winter, that helped me so much. So I would say always make sure you have time for two walks a day even if it's 10 minutes. Take lunch and go for a walk. That's helped me a lot. The other piece is there's a lot of, when you're on Zoom and you're with people it's really easy to get Zoom fatigue and really easy to get bogged down.

So anything I found for me that I can do to inject a little bit more fun and excitement back into the day-to-day helps and it trickles down into the rest of my day. So check out that online game or have coffee chats with friends. I've made some really good friends at DocuSign and we will have a 30 minute on the calendar and we don't talk about work. We don't talk about work, but somehow it makes work better.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  25:26

It's the interaction isn't it that you miss when you're not in an office because you're not always talking about work it's the day-to-day chatter and just getting to know your coworkers.

Angela Zhang  25:39

Yeah, absolutely.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  25:40

Angela, thank you so much for joining us.

Angela Zhang  25:44

Thank you, Emma. It's been fun.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  25:46

It's been an absolute pleasure talking to you.

Written by:

Emma Bilardi

Emma Bilardi

Emma is a Manchester-based freelance writer. She's been writing for as long as she can remember, and in the last few years predominantly about product design.

Read More
Product Marketing Life [podcast]: Angela Zhang