Being a product marketer is like being an octopus - we have our hands in everything across the organization.
This analogy was shared at the Product Marketing Summit in Toronto last year — it resonated with me, and of course, led to a unanimous tickle across the room.
Using a food-based analogy (because why not?), being a product marketer is like being that one spice that brings the whole dish together. While this is a great position to be in, it does come with the responsibility of constantly representing a vision to different key stakeholders across the organization.
Whether it's a big launch, long-range planning, or ensuring a cohesive market positioning, we must work closely and effectively with all cross-functional teams.
While it's essential to align and work seamlessly with these teams, a less acknowledged skill is the ability to work with the leadership of these cross-functional teams.
Teams within an organization have different goals and responsibilities, which are reflected in the key performance indicators (KPIs) they track. Sales teams focus on pipeline, revenue, and close rate.
Product teams focus on product adoption, usage, and user feedback. Customer success teams focus on customer retention and renewal rates. Marketing teams focus on engagement rates, brand awareness, and demand generation.
Thus, product marketers must build soft skills that'll allow them to navigate different perspectives and priorities, align teams, and drive them toward the organization's shared objectives.
What is stakeholder management and why is it important?
"Stakeholder management is the process of engaging with and influencing stakeholders to achieve the desired outcome."
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon
As a product marketer, it is essential to be the champion for your product positioning, articulating the value it adds, how it compares to competitors, and most importantly, how it fits within the broader context of business objectives.
Many product marketing jobs frequently stress the need for strong relationship-building skills, emphasizing the significance of this skill in successfully fulfilling the role.
Thus, stakeholder management is an integral aspect of a product marketer's role that requires a combination of strategic thinking and effective leadership to ensure successful product launch and adoption.
Timing is key for building this essential skill
Building a strong foundation in stakeholder management should be a priority from the start of your product marketing journey.
It's not something that can be ignored or left as an afterthought. It's a skill that takes years to build and master, but it should be an integral part of your foundation as you start your career in product marketing.
“A great PMM is able to: 1) lead and inspire without formal authority, 2) tell stories that build identity and community, and 3) operate at every level of thinking from strategy to implementation.”
Alex McDonnell, Marketing Intelligence Lead at Airtable
Don't wait until it's too late to start thinking about building this skill- it's essential for your growth and success in the field. Make it a priority as a product marketer from the start of your journey.
How to build this skill: A guide for early career professionals
1. Invest in cross-functional relationships early on
Early on in your career, you might not necessarily be present in strategic meetings with the cross-functional leadership and this can seem daunting, but don't let that stop you from developing key skills like stakeholder management.
To develop relationships in your organization, look outside of the boundaries of your team and portfolio to spark collaborative opportunities that will benefit everyone involved - network with other departments such as Sales, Customer Success, and Marketing to gain knowledge of other products and portfolios within the company.
This will not only help you stay informed but also lead to identifying cross-functional collaboration opportunities that can benefit your portfolio. You may even be able to pick up tips on leadership or gain insights into business best practices that could help you take your product and career to the next level.
Networking with individuals is crucial as it can open doors to attending high-level meetings where critical decisions are made or discussed. By building connections, you'll have the chance to contribute your ideas and insights, which can play a crucial role in driving progress and resolving challenges.
2. Knowledge is power
When it comes to making urgent or strategic decisions that impact multiple teams, there is no substitute for knowledge. Executive leaders often have their hands full, so for a major decision such as launching a product or service it is important to make sure the presentation contains succinct and compelling points.
Having access to all the necessary data, being able to analyze it, and presenting it clearly and concisely can help the leadership team make informed decisions quickly and efficiently.
"Product marketers are information sponges in an organization. Never be afraid to surface this information and share it - you’ll be surprised that some of the knowledge you take for granted can be a pivotal insight for decision-making.”
Kevin Chan, People Manager, Product Marketing at Hootsuite
3. Data is your friend
Making strategic business decisions requires data that is current, precise, and reliable. Working with data can be a daunting job; assembling complex information, verifying the accuracy, and making sure everyone is on the same page about interpretations are all time-consuming and demanding tasks.
Having strong relationships with your colleagues can be incredibly beneficial when deadlines are looming and you need to quickly gather data.
Even if there isn't a dedicated analyst in the company, having an understanding of who is playing those roles makes it much easier to put together pieces from all around the organization - it's like gathering pieces from all corners of your organization until they form one useful picture.
With the fundamentals taken care of, my team and I have employed a tried-and-tested template to steer key strategic initiatives forward without interruption in our ambitious product launch timeline.
Our secret? We place equal importance on both pressing deadlines as well as insight-led plans, allowing us to hone in on objectives more efficiently and quickly reach tangible outcomes.
With this innovative strategy, we've noticed a considerable increase in our product launches’ success rate time and time again.
Present the worldview
With so much data and business outcomes to consider, decisions can be difficult. We use smart strategies designed not just to provide executive leadership with the facts they need - but also to take into account potential challenges that could affect our final outcome.
We gathered the pros and cons of each option to gain a full understanding of all possible impacts on the chosen path forward, giving ourselves clarity when deciding what is best for future success.
Don’t go empty-handed
As experts on your product and its launch, you should go into the presentation armed not just with the facts and research you conducted, but also proposals for solutions or potential outcomes.
Support these proposals with concrete historical data from reliable sources so leadership can make an informed decision. It's even better if your suggestion takes into consideration other departments that will be impacted by the decision as well - this shows that you've done your homework and are ready to provide practical solutions.
Plan for associated risks
With any product launch or a new feature, there is always the risk of unknowns - from how user experiences will be affected to brand sentiment to financial business outcomes.
Before a decision is made, it is important to consider and present potential risks and create a plan that effectively addresses them. Write down what those potential high risks could be and devise an actionable solution.
Adding an appendix to your presentations can be extremely beneficial in securing feedback on any project. Not only does it save time by allowing the person you are presenting to quickly locate all of the supplementary information, but also avoids any confusion that may occur when seeking clarity.
We recently tried this method in a presentation and the feedback we received was very positive; our audience did not even need to search outside of the document because everything they needed was clearly displayed in our appendix.
This resulted not only in a smoother process but also allowed us to avoid any lengthy delays as approval came swiftly. When preparing your next presentation, always consider adding an appendix to make sure that all of the pertinent information is easily accessible.
To sum up...
Mastering the art of managing stakeholders is an utmost important skill for product marketing leaders. The keys to unlocking the power of this skill lie in incorporating soft skills like active listening, understanding empathy, and humility when dealing with stakeholders.
Whenever possible, try to include your stakeholders earlier on in a process as they can be invaluable assets throughout. While successful product marketers tend to have all the answers, recognizing personal limitations and knowing when it’s time to seek help from others can often be far more beneficial. Remembering this fact will only increase your effectiveness and give you more confidence as a leader.