This article derives from a presentation at the Product Marketing Summit Sydney, in November 2022. Catch-up on other presentations using our OnDemand service.

You might be wondering exactly what this article’s going to be about. Based on the title, you’ve probably guessed that time zones are going to come into it. That's true. Whenever we’re running global teams, we have time zones to consider.

We also have languages to consider, and perhaps even more than that, we have personalities to consider too. Plus, all of that is compounded by the role of Zoom over the last two to three years.

Those are really important factors to consider even before we start to talk about how operationally efficient these teams are to begin with.

In this article, I'll be discussing:

  • The joy of getting to know your teams in-person
  • Getting everyone on the same page
  • Aligning with sales leaders
  • Coaching your product marketing team to work together
  • Cultivating connectivity and motivation

To start with, let's take a team in EMEA – how well are they operating already within their own remit, geography, and subset? Do they have a good leader there? Do they have good stakeholder relationships? Are they operating well without the need for oversight?

Managing teams that check all those boxes is markedly easier than having to come over the top and start thinking about how to optimize teams with all their languages and time differences. Not to mention that there's another layer of cultural and socio-economic differences on top of all of this.

All of these factors have a multiplier effect on each other, so you're acutely aware of them every time you're engaging and trying to get the best out of these teams.

Zoom fatigue comes up all the time too. If your team is anything like our team here at Adobe, you might be going through a back-to-work initiative. We’re encouraging people to get back in the office but stay flexible, so it can be a little bit confusing.

Some people are really embracing it; some people are very resistant. You have this hybrid, flexible, semi-in-the-office thing going on, but there's a lot of fatigue around that.

The impact on teams has been enormous and continues to linger in ways. The single biggest missing component that I see in terms of team success is getting team teams together in person.

It's great being back in person, but it's even better being with your colleagues, customers, partners, and internal key stakeholders. That's without question one of the biggest X factors in terms of enabling great teams.

The joy of getting to know your teams in-person

Getting teams together face-to-face is awesome for planning, workshopping, and problem-solving. We also can't discount the social element that's been missing over these last few years.

Here are a couple of pictures of my Asia Pacific team. We recently got together for the first time in three years. I've been at Adobe for three years, based in Sydney, and it's the first time I've met a third of that team in person. It's the first time they've ever been together all in the same place.

Getting teams together face-to-face is awesome for planning, workshopping, and problem-solving. We also can't discount the social element that's been missing over these last few years.

You might notice an interesting element in that picture on the left – our colleague based in Beijing, for understandable reasons, couldn't travel, so she appears as a computer face with a big smile in our team photo. Although we missed having one of our colleagues in the room, we over-indexed to make sure that she felt included

One of the greatest outcomes of that two-and-a-half day off-site wasn't just that we tackled some difficult situations and did some planning – it was about getting to know each other for real.

In fact, I’d say 60% of the agenda was team building. We were getting to know each other, opening up, and creating an environment of psychological safety, which was fantastic. The ongoing effects of that have been incredible.

It's great to have everyone in the room for a day or two, but what's the shelf life of that? How do we make sure that those teams package up that energy, take all of that goodness back to their respective regions, and keep it going?

We know it's not reasonable to be able to do this all the time, and depending on how you work with your teams and how dispersed those teams are, it could be even less likely, so how do we ensure this has an ongoing impact?

I'm going to talk a little bit about some of the best practices that I've seen to help make sure that all that great stuff that happened in the room carries over to your global teams in the long term.

Getting everyone on the same page

Let’s take a step back and look at a challenge that you can probably relate to. What I’ve noticed throughout my career, even in the best-run companies, is that there's often an “us versus them” mentality between headquartered teams and regional or remote teams.

Product marketing has got to be the number one recipient of that dynamic. We build the comms, the messaging, the value prop, and the competitive differentiation, and package it up ready for launch.

Then we’re in the field as regional experts to make sure that the product-market fit is right and the launch works. This “us versus them” dynamic affects not only the relationship side of our work but also our effectiveness, so it’s really important that we turn it around.

For this situation, I find it helpful to level-set expectations with stakeholders. We need to, get in early, establish those relationships, and make sure that there's a level of understanding of what everyone does.

There are two sides to this. When we're talking to our friends at HQ, we need to find out what they do, what their expectations are, what they’re on the hook to deliver, and what expectations we should have of your functions.

Similarly, they need to know what we’re on the hook to deliver, what our expectations are, and who’s going to contribute. It's amazing how often this is overlooked.

Having a strong foundation of clarity around roles and responsibilities helps to break down silos, which are, without question, one of the biggest points of friction in terms of optimizing your time, your team's time, and ultimately, your success. This is always going to be a work in progress, so you need to keep reminding yourself that the juice is worth the squeeze.

Aligning with sales leaders

This opens up another key dynamic that I wanted to talk about. Think about sales leaders and our partners in enablement. They all have an idea of what product marketing does, but is that perception accurate?

In my experience, a lot of the time it hasn't been. I've often walked into new roles, assuming that everyone knew what the product marketing function was all about.

Never assume anything. When you assume nothing, the worst-case scenario is you're going to be duplicative or redundant. The best-case scenario is that you set a course to turn people around.

In my last role. I came into an organization that had no idea of what product marketing was. We were seen as a glorified escalation channel/on-demand content factory.

The CMO wasn't fully in the loop either, but she was open to hearing more about the kind of work we should have been doing. As we hired more real product marketers and started to articulate the business value of end-to-end product marketing, this all began to change.

Eventually, I had a breakthrough, which came to light in a leaving conversation. The CMO and I sat down with some new hires, and the CMO was talking about how our function had turned around.

The new hires couldn't believe it – they had come in a few months before and noticed what a valued and well-oiled machine PMM was and what great partnerships we had with other stakeholders. The reality is that it took a lot of work to turn things around, but it was well worth it.

The moral of the story is to make sure you don't accept the status quo. Challenge it. Be strong about what you think product marketing should be and the business value it can provide.

If we're in good shape in terms of level setting the right expectations with our key stakeholders, we've set the foundation for success.

We also need to set the very same expectations within our team to ensure that’s a solid foundation. We need to make sure everyone understands how to get the best from each other, make the most of our operations, and align the business with our key values.

Coaching your product marketing team to work together

When it comes to working with different personalities, cultures, and work styles, we all know that diversity gets the best results, but how do we make sure that we're optimizing around that?

Now, I love NBA. I'm a Warriors fan – don't hold it against me. In a great basketball team, as with any sports team, you have people with different backgrounds and different skill sets.

You might have an awesome shooter and a great rebounder, but what if one member of your team is a ball hog? What if someone else is the complete opposite and never wants the limelight? How do you get the best of them? Well, that's the coach's job.

The coach is ultimately there to make sure the team wins games, and that involves getting all the different skills and personalities oriented around the same goal. So often, when you see superstars not playing together, that’s because the coach just can't corral them around that one shared value.

It's no different for our teams. Whether they’re local or distributed, we need to take all those different personalities and specialisms and get them all rowing in the same direction. It's about making sure that you're aligned to business impact and making sure that everyone is coming together to achieve it.

So how do we make sure that everyone is aligned, connected, motivated, and playing towards that shared goal? Throughout my career, I’ve leveraged objectives and key results (OKRs) to make that happen.

It’s not a perfect science, but because PMMs are asked to do so many different things, it's vital that we can orient ourselves back to the key business objective and the tactics that we use to achieve it. That’s how I help the team stay in their swim lanes.

This also helps ensure that your stakeholders are in the know about what you're doing. As PMMs, we often struggle to articulate the value of our function back to other areas of the business.

That’s largely because we can't hang our hat directly on revenue, pipeline, or closed deals – we're always a step removed. The OKR framework helps us combat that problem by showing how we contribute to all of those business objectives.

Cultivating connectivity and motivation

I have a confession to make: I have an overshare philosophy. When I go into a role, or even if I’ve been there for a while, I'm like, “Send me all your emails and notes!” I much prefer to be inundated with information than to miss something critical.

One of the things I do when I'm communicating back to help navigate through the fray is adding action items to my subject line. There's a directive – something that the recipient needs to do in the next 24 hours. It's not all in capitals or anything like that, but the person reading the email knows I’m expecting a certain response.

Motivation is the other big thing we need to cultivate. Keeping people engaged and incentivized is vital.

Over the course of my career, I’ve used spot bonuses and hampers to show appreciation for my team’s great work. Even smaller gestures like giving kudos in team meetings go a long way. That's really important in a global dynamic as well.

One recent example from our team is we rewarded the best budget spender with a voucher. Now, the best budget spender isn't just someone who can spend money; it's the most accurate spender of their budget. This was a little shout-out for spending the budget they asked for as they said they would. It sounds silly, but it's gone a long way.

Key takeaways

I guess the point I’ve been driving at in this article is that there are a lot of challenges in managing a global PMM team. To help you overcome these challenges, here are a few things to take home with you:

  1. Find time to connect in any which way you can. The gold standard is to get together in person, whether that’s one-on-one or one-to-many.
  2. Invest in that connection. Learn your team's birthdays, their likes, their loves, their kids, and their pets.
  3. A quick shout-out goes a long way to showing your appreciation and your investment in your team.
  4. Recognize that everyone works differently. One of my previous managers had a great email that said, “My ways of working might not be yours. Please don't feel that you need to respond to this outside of your working hours.” That's now in my email signature too, and I hope to pass it on.
  5. Orientate your team towards a shared goal so that everyone's rowing in the same direction.
  6. Set your team up for success. Make sure you're giving them the tools, frameworks, and technology they need to be able to deliver on their shared goal.

When you do all this, the business will succeed. Just as importantly, your teams will succeed and they'll feel like they're succeeding.