How 3 product marketing managers execute product releases
While product managers puppeteer a product journey end-to-end, product marketing managers tend to be the masterminds behind releasing said product to market. Despite this generally accepted understanding, coordinating product releases of any size can still get messy.
So we spoke to three product marketing managers to explain how they approach product releases while working in conjunction with product management. Each product marketing leader walks us through a typical product launch. They also expand on their areas of ownership during a product release, their most challenging product launch experiences and how they prevent overlap between product management and product marketing.
Stock up on these product marketers’ insights to smooth out your upcoming product releases. Here’s who we spoke with:
- Jeffrey Vocell, Principal Product Marketing Manager at HubSpot
- Ashley McClelland, Product Marketing Manager at GitHub
- Peter Ganza, Former Product Marketing Leader at Salesforce
Title: Principal Product Marketing Manager Company: HubSpot Tweet at him: @JVocell
What does a product release look like at your company?
At HubSpot we follow Jeff Bezos’ “two pizza” rule by working within small teams comprised of a product manager, tech lead (plus a few engineers), designer and product marketing manager. As a team, we define the priority for the launch using a two by two matrix.
Walk me through your product release process. How do you work with product management and what steps do you take leading up to a release?
Before we even build something, a PM defines the vision. As they write the vision, the product marketer in that group will work with them on market analysis and defining priority level.
Based on priority level, the product marketer defines a narrative for the launch plan which then is tested internally (by customer-facing groups) and externally with customers. For each priority level we have a template defining a “core” set of activities to complete for each launch. In a P1, the product marketer works with our content, video and brand teams to determine how we can tell the product’s story through various mediums like video, podcasts and written content.
Can you elaborate on these templates you have for launch plans and what they entail?
Launch templates vary by priorities. For a P1, we create a full product story explaining the product, how it works and how it impacts a user’s day-to-day. For P2, we write positioning and a narrative, but won’t necessarily create a dedicated video (so the story is told through a limited set of channels).
When releasing a product, we run through this template which is a checklist of drafted content ready to push live. Internally, we send an email to a Google group called “product notifications” to alert HubSpot employees that the product/feature is live. After that, we publish content externally to our HubSpot customer, marketing and product updates blogs. We’ll also monitor forums like inbound.org and Quora to answer questions. We also use in-app communications, email, video and other methods to communicate with existing customers and the market.
You mentioned how you’re specifically responsible for the narrative and positioning. What other areas does a product marketing manager own in a product release?
Product marketing is ultimately responsible for anything that is involved with a product’s go-to-market strategy. As a result we’ll talk with operations, finance, legal and other groups within HubSpot to ensure a release is set up for success.
While we don’t have a diagram that divides work between a PM and PMM for a release, product marketing generally owns the release process and product management owns the success of that product — which we measure in various ways like retention and NPS.
Tell me about a particularly challenging product release you’ve experienced. What were some lessons or takeaways?
Honestly, I haven’t experienced a “challenging” release at HubSpot. That’s not to say releases aren’t hard work. We’re always releasing, and this cadence is great for customers but it also means we need to be thoughtful about the stories we’re telling. Especially when two products release the same day and may have an overlapping audience. That said, the product marketing team communicates frequently to avoid issues where possible.
What’s the key to a successful product release?
It all starts with truly understanding your buyer. Without that you’re lost from the get go. Our narrative is really rooted in who that buyer is and why they need this product. Our job is to tell a story that resonates with the buyer and shows them a better solution than they have today.
Also, any good product release has really SMART and measurable goals. We have specific goals set for 30, 60 and 90 days post-launch that we work towards. As a product marketer your job doesn’t end when a product’s released; I’d say after a product release is when your work really starts.
Title: Product Marketing Manager Company: GitHub Tweet at her: @ashr0se
As a product marketer, what’s been the best approach to working with product management when ramping up for a product release?
I’ve worked on both sides of the table as both a product manager and a product marketing manager. (I recently joined GitHub, so I’ll draw on past experiences.) The best case scenario is when product marketing is included in roadmap discussions between engineering and product early on — with their own seat at the table. When product marketing is allowed to be the strategic function it can (and should) be, they bring market insights — competitive analysis, market research and customer feedback — into the product development process.
If product marketing is an afterthought for team(s) shipping a product or feature, the release generally falls flat. If product marketing is involved early on, everyone can align on what success versus failure looks like once the launch happens.
What’s an example of a particularly challenging product release you’ve experienced and what were some lessons learned?
Any release that ends with, “Hey, this just shipped, can you tweet about it?
” For a PMM, those are the releases that nightmares are made of.
A PMM’s role is not just to “make a splash” or “get the word out” on a few social media outlets, but to help understand and optimize the impact of what’s shipping to the market. Without a function dedicated to your product’s impact on the market, it’s hard to determine if you’re directionally building the right thing. My main takeaway from those experiences is that product marketing needs to be involved earlier than you think they should.
When it comes to product releases, what areas does a product marketing manager own?
As I mentioned, I believe product marketing needs a seat at the table across the product development lifecycle. Within that, they should own the understanding of the market — competitors, trends, sizing, opportunity — and how the product is strategically positioned within that market.
They should also own working with product management to deeply understand the user journey and how they expect a given release to be adopted and purchased (if relevant). They should also work with product management to determine what criteria will be measured to determine a release’s success. For PMs, all of this is critical for shaping and iterating on the product’s vision and direction. And for PMMs, all of this is critical for crafting product marketing’s main responsibility: how new products and features go to market.
The lines between product marketing and product management can blur, especially during a product release. How do you prevent (or pushback against) any overlap?
This varies based on skillset and personal dynamics. The only real answer is “talk to each other.” Any toestepping is an opportunity for healthy discourse and learning how to better work together. I think of product management as owning internal product development and advising how that’s externalized. Product marketing is the inverse. We’re the experts on the product’s external presence, messaging and positioning, and should advise on internal product development strategy.
Are there any specific areas during a product release that product managers and product marketing managers especially have a ‘tug of war’ over?
A PMM will sometimes have to put a stop to a release that isn’t ready for public consumption, whereas a PM will often want to “just ship it.” I’ve been in both positions (as a PM and PMM), and the best way to resolve is to rope in both parties from the beginning.
What determines a successful product release?
Establishing trust and understanding the dynamic and skillset across your team. Get everyone on board with a release strategy. Outline what you expect to happen so you can measure success. Get together to discuss what went well and what to try next time. But most importantly, you need to build killer products that people love.
Title: Product Marketing Leader Company: Salesforce (previously) Tweet at him: @pganza
In your experience, what have product releases at your past companies looked like?
Organized chaos! The larger the organization the more stakeholders and complexity one must navigate. At all of my smaller company roles, each and every product release was a big deal. Whereas at a large enterprise like Salesforce, there are 3 releases each year. So each one is not nearly as critical to the success of the business.
During product releases, how should a product marketer work with product management? What steps should they take leading up to a release?
It all depends on the size of the company. In the work I’ve done with startups some of them didn’t even have a formal release process or they had PMs doubling as product marketers (or vice versa). A good working relationship with product management is one of the most important roles a product marketer has. This goes beyond standard plans and checkpoint/milestone meetings and keeping up-to-date on what’s happening; nurture your bond with your PM team beyond work.
What’s been your most challenging product release? What did you take away from it?
The 3 P’s: preparation, preparation and preparation. One example that comes to mind was at Xenos when we released an existing but modified product into a market we had never sold into. The biggest lesson learned is to constantly educate yourself on the market and most importantly actually talk to the customers and prospects you’re going after.
When it comes to product releases, what areas do you own as a product marketing manager?
The larger the organization the more defined this tends to be. In an ideal world, product marketing owns the collaborative process behind defining the product positioning and messaging. Beyond that core responsibility, I’ve owned a variety of deliverables ranging from sales enablement to demand generation and even events and public relations.
When the lines between product marketing and product management start to overlap during a product release, how do you combat that?
Communication. Every single company I’ve either worked for or consulted at has this challenge. Clear ownership of deliverables and defining and reviewing milestones weekly can mitigate overlap. One trick that works well is to try and define what success looks like in a visual metric. Once people see what they could be responsible for in a graph or chart, you’ll see the list of stakeholders who could potentially do it shrink quickly.
Are there any specific areas/tasks/duties during a product release that product managers and product marketing managers struggle to determine ownership over?
The biggest one I’ve seen is pricing and packaging. Both product management and product marketing should be talking to customers and prospects. This means both will have opinions based on their experience in market. Having data to support the area or task will really help you influence other stakeholders.
What’s the key to a successful product release?
Recognizing they never go 100% to plan. With software and technology, things never turn out exactly as planned. The important thing is to not get emotional and adapt to changing circumstances.
What would you change about previous product releases you’ve experienced?
Ownership has been the biggest challenge I’ve consistently seen to date. Who actually ‘owns’ the success or failure of a product release? Oftentimes a product release doesn’t generate the demand you expected and fingers point all over the organization. Give a PM a profit and loss statement for a product and see what a difference that can make!
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