If you go by the definition of “tango” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the title of this article suggests an interaction characterized by a lack of straightforwardness! Contrary to that, the intention behind this framing is to highlight the need for product marketing and product management to always be in lock-step with each other. This should be the case even when they need to move in seemingly different directions. In an earlier article, I wrote about how a “mismatch” between these two teams can be a barrier to finding and articulating your product’s “compelling differentiated advantage.” While cross-functional alignment between all teams is critical to product success, ineffective collaboration between these two teams has an immediate impact on go-to-market efforts. It can result in a lack of product-market fit, failed product launches, and more. 

The onus of establishing this much-needed alignment and collaboration should be shared by both the teams equally. However, in this article, I want to focus on what product marketing can do to cultivate a strong working relationship with product management.

Understand what causes friction between the two teams

The two teams may not have clearly defined areas of influence, as these roles can be quite fluid. This causes confusion around responsibilities, resulting in gaps or overlaps. It can even create some land-grabbing dynamics. Also, the two groups might be reporting to two different functional leaders. While on paper they should be working towards the same long-term goals, day-to day-requests and guidance from their leaders can pull them in different directions. Both the teams want a great rapport with the customer and can perceive one another as barriers to those customer touchpoints.

Leaders: Sow the seeds of a flourishing relationship

To address the above challenges, product marketing leaders need to be well aligned with their product management counterparts:

  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities. Have a transparent conversation with the product management lead about areas of influence and expectations. 
  • Align around common success metrics. Product teams are typically focused on product usage, user reviews, etc. while product marketing teams are focused on win rate, MQLs, etc. While these are important metrics to track, it also helps to have some common success metrics that both the teams are jointly responsible for, e.g. number of active users or revenue. 
  • Create robust and transparent communication channels. The journey from product conception to launch and beyond is long and tedious. Install operating mechanisms that ensure robust and transparent communication throughout this process. Examples include a way for product marketing to hear about product releases well in advance, a process that gives product management enough time to review positioning work, etc. 

Team members: Cultivate a close partnership

The following are some steps product marketing managers can take to nurture a close partnership with their respective product managers. 

Partner with your product managers from the very start

Product marketing should work to collaborate closely with product management as early as possible in the product process. This can be done in a few different ways:

  • Request to sit in on discovery sessions with customers. Your product manager will have a process for uncovering customer pain and it will be helpful to see that in action. Take notes and share them later with your PM. Reach out to them and ask what they thought was most insightful. Be sure to share your thoughts, too.
  • Become an expert sleuth and help your product manager with competitive analysis. Early on in the product planning and development process, competitive intel is critical. Leverage your industry connections to get vital info and become an indispensable partner to your product manager.
  • Collaborate with your product manager on sizing the market. Market segmentation and sizing is often a tricky exercise based on a set of assumptions in absence of concrete data. Leverage your analytical skills to do some independent back-of-napkin calculations and help validate or gut check some of these assumptions.
Keep most of the conversations grounded in the problem space

The problem space

While there might be some fluidity around certain responsibilities, figuring out what product to build and what its features are is squarely in the product management domain. Product managers usually get ticked off or frustrated when others jump to solutions without deeply understanding the problem first. They love to ask “why.” In fact, it is their job to ask it ad nauseam. So keep your conversations grounded in the problem space. If you want to make a product feature suggestion based on a customer conversation, communicate the problem the customer needs solving, instead of communicating the solution. To get to the why behind a customer request, make sure you use your user research and discovery skills.

Lean into your product managers’ maker mentality

Product managers are makers by nature. They love to build things that delight users and they take pride in their craft. Usually, they have a strong point of view, to the point of seeming stubborn. And they can be bold to the point of seeming arrogant. However, they are also tenacious. Setbacks do not impact their boldness.

All these are traits that enable them to face the uncertainty and risk involved in building innovative products. But these traits can also make them a tad challenging to work with. If this is the case, the best way to address it is to cease fighting it and lean heavily into their maker mentality. Ask your product managers why they built a particular feature or product. Ask them about the insight they uncovered that gave them the idea for the product. Discuss their “aha” moment and what led them to it. In most cases, they will love to talk about these things. And having this conversation will not only help you build a great rapport with your product manager but will also give you many anecdotes about customer pain which you can leverage in your positioning work.

Obviously, it takes two to tango; product marketing will need product management’s cooperation and commitment to establish a strong working relationship. But I encourage product marketers to dance the first few steps!

About the Author

Shruti is an expert product leader with over a decade of experience at the intersection of engineering, product management, and product marketing. She has successfully launched innovative products across enterprise software and hardware verticals. She loves to work cross-functionally with teams to take an idea from being a concept on a whiteboard to a successful product in the market.