The PM Vision

Does Sales-Marketing Alignment Include Product?

Many product managers don’t get it.

They say things like “I’m not marketing,” or “How could you stand to work in product marketing for six months?” They think of Sales-Marketing Alignment as someone else’s job.

They think of product management as building features and products, separate from generating leads, pricing and closing deals.

Sadly, some organizational structures–and some providers of product management training–encourage product managers to think that way.

Further, many product managers think of “sales-marketing alignment” as outside of their purview. They think that alignment is only about making sure the right content is available to the buyer at the corresponding stage of the buying cycle.

News flash: Product–and Sales-Marketing Alignment–are parts of Go-To-Market!

Defining Go-To-Market

Before we go on, let’s define the term Go-To-Market.

[also: Please see the follow-up to this post on Medium]

Go-To-Market (GTM) is your organization’s comprehensive approach or strategy for identifying needs in the marketplace, identifying and reaching the customers your organization exists to serve, and creating effective and profitable offerings to meet those needs.

In a sense, that “offering” is your product. The whole product. Product Management owns that.

You’re an offering manager.

It’s important to note that GTM is an organizational competency. You may need to devise a distinct go-to-market for a particular product that serves a subset of your organization’s customer base, but the organization’s GTM strategy straddles all your individual offerings.

What’s involved? Wikipedia provides a good basic list of questions to start from:

Something else that should be called out is a reference to organizational competencies. There may be a great opportunity in analytics software for a given market, as one example, while the company’s analytics competency is weak. This might suggest an acquisition or other strategy to take advantage of this opportunity, despite the limited current capabilities of the organization.

As a product manager, it’s drilled into your brain that to do your job well, you need to be market-facing. Go to trade shows, call a few customers each week, sit with a sales rep on a call or two, and visit your customers in person.

This is intended to let you understand your customers and the world in which they operate, and to identify unmet needs and problems with your current solution. That contextual information is particularly useful not only in identifying product opportunities, but selecting marketing and sales channels that are most appropriate for your market. It provides context for finding a differentiated go-to-market strategy than your competition.

At another level, you’re asked to collate inputs from the market and identify what capabilities you should deliver in the future. What are your customers asking for? What are prospects asking for? And perhaps most importantly, what will they be asking for in three years?

You have great allies in customer service and sales for questions about customers and prospects, but those are both operational teams who exist to support a known set of needs in a market you’re already serving. They won’t be sending you emails asking you for the next great innovation. That’s for you to sniff out and build a business case for.

But those allies are part of your go-to-market business process.

Sales-Marketing Alignment is a hot topic these days. Why don’t more authors raise the importance of also aligning with Product?

Go-To-Market crosses organizational boundaries. It requires significant contributions from Product Management, Product Marketing, Sales, Marketing Communications and others.

While Product may get frustrated with Sales for various reasons, don’t forget their importance to GTM. If Go-To-Market is about how you choose which customers to serve and how you deliver your solution to them, how can Sales not be an important part?

At a high level, identifying customers and crafting an offering to solve their problems is a Marketing exercise. That puts you on the Marketing side of Sales & Marketing Alignment.

Sales & Marketing Alignment

These days with the advent of marketing automation, it is common to hear concens about sales and marketing alignment. I find it interesting that product management rarely seems to be discussed in those conversations.

We all know that buyers now proceed further down the sales funnel on their own than ever before.  Today’s challenge for Marketing is to provide the right content to meet a buyer’s needs at the appropriate point within the funnel.

Content marketing has an impact early: For buyers simply searching for how to solve a problem, content that provides answers can build awareness by informing them of your presence and the products they should consider in the future.

The handoff that occurs when buyers progress through the funnel and reach out to involve a sales representative requires precise alignment to ensure the buyers attracted through your funnel are the people willing to pay to solve the problems your offering addresses.

But is your product tailored to those same buyers and to the needs those buyers represent?

Most product teams report the roadmap up to the executive team on a regular basis. It’s important to determine whether the executive team is critiquing the roadmap from the appropriate perspective.

If you’re in a predictive environment, where the general shape of the product is known and you’re operating in an established market, the company is likely in execution mode. That is, you’re trying to deliver new capabilities to meet known market expectations.

Those expectations translate to a defined Go-To-Market strategy. You may emphasize solving buyer problems is an innovative way, but if the market is known, your Go-To-Market strategy assumes the product you are delivering will meet existing prospect expectations.

Although you certainly want the product team to be in touch with users directly to understand market needs on a tactile level, in that predictive environment the critique should be watching for signs of veering off course.

In environments that are more adaptive than predictive, for example in market-defining startups where product/market fit has not yet been found, the critique should be more focused on whether iteration is happening fast enough and whether the roadmap is being driven by NIHITO time. (Pragmatic Marketing’s “Nothing Important Happens In the Office“)

In these cases, executive critique should not be about whether the features selected are right or wrong, or whether they’re being built as efficiently as possible. In an adaptive market the organization is learning rather than executing.

Go-To-Market is a Business Process

It’s important to remember that GTM is a business process, not just a bucket of things product teams do.

With one existing product in market that serves a specific group of customers, a product team may explore the market to find other groups that can benefit from similar offerings, or look for unmet needs that group presents.

That may not be enough.

Corporate goals may include a higher rate of growth than those tactics can achieve. Corporate strategy may include expansion into adjacent markets to fuel the requisite growth. Perhaps it’s a goal related to future sale of the company; or market position; or simply ROI for dollars invested.

Whether or not that happens organically or through acquisition, the point here is to illustrate that solving customer problems isn’t solely the purview of product management, or of the Go To Market activities owned by product marketing, product management, marketing and sales.

Go To Market is derived from corporate strategy.

This is one of the many contributors to your need (post product-market fit) to make allies in Sales. Sales teams are given objectives based upon the

An insightful Bain & Co. article from 2012 describes the enterprise level system that differentiates successful companies–and this insightful passage about companies who are less successful:

they have functions called Sales, Marketing, Product Management and so forth. But these functions at many companies are like fiefdoms, isolated from changes in the marketplace, from their own company’s strategic priorities, even from each other.

Keep in mind, they’re not suggesting that Product Management is losing power in the organization by suggesting GTM is a collaborative effort. Here’s another passage that describes another common frustration among product managers who feel their organization doesn’t prioritize well enough:

What are the go-to-market capabilities a company needs most? One is the ability to design crystal-clear requirements for product and service offerings geared precisely for target customers. That includes delivering what the customers want and nothing more that could distract from the value. When the environment is changing rapidly, marketers face the temptation to play it safe, to develop products and services that try to be all things to all people.

Sales wants to sell the product to all people as well, of course. I think we’ve all worked there. but it’s up to Product to clearly define which prospects are most likely to encounter the problems the product solves, and which problems prospects have are relevant to the offering.

And it’s the job of your Go-To-Market strategy to identify what problems you should be solving for whom.

That answer drives what products you build, and what benefits (not features) are required to be successful.

Should Product lead Go-To-Market strategy?

If Marketing is charged with lead acquisition, and Sales is charged with delivering on company revenue targets, what is Product charged with?

I would argue Product’s responsibility is to understand the market and drive development of offerings that solve the market’s problems–specifically those which the company aims to solve with its Go-To-Market strategy.

Product isn’t concerned with “getting the word out” at least directly–they should certainly be driving messaging and positioning, at least on the Product Marketing side.

Product isn’t quite as concerned with the latest prospect or the deal that Sales wants to close.

They are concerned with continuing to make the best decisions about how to move their offering forward; decisions around what features are needed should be based in what business problems the company’s GTM strategy ranks as most important, and for which segments of the market.

Product, perhaps with the assistance of User Experience, is in the best position to understand how features map to solving the business problem. But in this role they are consumers of the GTM strategy, not owners of it.

The strategic side of product management is the market research around which customers have which problems. Which solutions are feasible and can be offered at a price compelling to the buyers who have money to spend.

Does Sales-Marketing Alignment Include Product?

Sirius Decisions gets it. They emphasized the alignment between Sales, Marketing and Product at their recent 2015 Summit.

A few of their assertions were captured in a blog post by Lisa Singer. She describes the strategic mandate of Product Management as follows:

they take a thoughtful approach to investigate market opportunities in order to find attractive, strong candidates – based on the organization’s sales, marketing and product competencies.

The value Product brings to the table is long term in nature. Product evaluates current markets against current product offerings, considers how to grow those offerings and how that growth can solve opportunities the organization currently solves and those the organization can solve in the future. Proper consideration can lead to insight as to which opportunities the organization should solve in the future.

She raises another challenge for product leaders in the post–the need to take responsibility for sales results:

Strategic product managers remember that their responsibility every day is to drive sales results for the company. A highly strategic product manager does not simply “leave sales to the sales people” but takes full responsibility, ensuring the most relevant data is collected monthly, and that revenue generating functions (product, marketing and sales) review and analyze the data and plan for action as needed.

At the end of the day, whether Product “owns” GTM strategy, leads it, or acts within its parameters, Product cannot be successful without at least understanding the company’s go-to-market strategy.

Sales Benchmark Index, a sales and marketing consulting firm, also gets it. I’ve shared two of the most recent SBI podcast episodes on Twitter because, while SBI’s primary audience seems to be Sales, they’ve brought in Product experts and recognized how important product is to “making the number.”

Check out:

Product managers, think of yourselves as a revenue-generating function. Grab hold of Go-to-Market.

Earn that “Strategic” label you seek.


Image source: Pixabay