But even with all the faith you place in your product teams, you may not know exactly what to expect of these product managers and marketers. And that’s frustrating for you and your team members.
Communication is essential—speaking the same language, agreeing on responsibilities and deliverables, and aligning to the company’s bigger strategy. And the Pragmatic Institute Framework is a good place to start to help everyone, from team members to executives, align on the structure and responsibilities of product teams. It also helps ensure everyone is speaking the same language.
Once your organization and structure are in place, you can establish priorities and define deliverables based on this fundamental common understanding. So what are those priorities and deliverables?
The Messenger of the Market
Above all else, a product team needs to provide the organization with an understanding of the market. At the core, that means being the voice of the customer, though the market is certainly larger than just your customers.
With their understanding of the market and its context, your product team can evaluate potential new opportunities, whether they stem from the market or from your employees. That evaluation process leads directly into product strategy and vision—the problem you’re trying to solve, your big-picture goals and how you’re going to accomplish them. Once vetted by the product team, those opportunities can be presented to the executive team for initial review and to gain approval for further detailed analysis.
Of course, to take an idea to market, you also need to identify sales and marketing channels, the right messages and the positioning. Other parts of the organization are responsible for delivering those artifacts—the sales team for selling, the marketing team for developing the messages, the development or engineering teams for actually creating the products. But before anyone can execute on those responsibilities, your product team must fulfill its essential role as messenger of the market and share that knowledge with the rest of the organization.
The Key Deliverables
Next up, you need to assign tasks. A product team should be creating several basic tangible deliverables as the messenger of the market.
Market visit documentation. First and foremost, your product team should be engaging in market visits, documenting them and then sharing that documentation. The information from those visits is extremely valuable to the rest of the company. Download a template to document your market visits here.
The documentation should cover who they met with, their role and the topics discussed. Most importantly, it will document any problems uncovered during the visit. What are the unresolved issues that a company or person is facing that could lead to opportunities for your organization?
Regardless of the primary intent of any specific meeting, a product team should capture as much data as possible, documenting everything and using broad categories—the buying process or key interactions, for example—in the reporting.
Executives vary in style and preferences for the shared information, of course, but mostly we want succinct, quick, easy-to-understand, fact-based and clear documentation. Have the conversation with your product team to make sure that the final reporting aligns with your expectations.
Business plan. The product manager is often referred to as the CEO or president of the product. As an executive, you should expect a well-thought-out business plan that you and your product team can use as a tool in evaluating your success. These business plans should go beyond the numbers that are often the focus of discussion. You should understand the methodology and assumptions that drove the numbers, as well as business strategy elements like distribution channels, product portfolios, and buy, build or partner decisions.
Positioning documents. Positioning documents allow the product team to summarize what they’ve learned through their interactions in the market, providing the rest of the organization with context and understanding of the problems you’re trying to solve. This is an important artifact to everyone involved in the success of the product. Imagine if your sales collateral and sales team referred to the same key market problems that were reflected in your marketing and messaging. And that those were the same problems the development organization was focused on solving, which just happened to be the same market problems that executive team members described when interacting with press, analysts and other market influencers!
Roadmap. One or more members of the product team should be responsible for road-mapping. If the positioning document describes the big-picture goal that you want to accomplish, the roadmap is a statement of vision that translates the big picture goal into deliverables over time. Much like a traditional roadmap, the product roadmap starts with where you are today and describes where you want to go in the future and the route you plan to take to get there. It is not a quarter-by-quarter description of the features that you hope to deliver to the market.
Buying process. The product team should take the information they’ve gleaned from the market to help define the buying process so that the company can understand its buyers and how they make decisions. Then, that information should be mapped into a selling process. Ultimately, this should help you be efficient, allowing you to give your buyers the information they need and swaying that buying decision in your favor.
Metrics. Expect product teams to report on key metrics—customer satisfaction and market share, for example. After all, the product’s success drives the evaluation of the product team. Ask questions like:
- Are you achieving the goals set forth in the business plan? And if not, why not?
- Are you hitting our revenue numbers?
- Are you pursuing deals that make sense?
- Were your assumptions solid?
- Are you generating the results you expected to on a product-line-by-product-line basis?
- Are you losing potential profit through inefficiencies in your internal operations?
Ask the questions, and assess those metrics with your product team.
The Executive’s Role
Clearly, it’s your job to hold the product team accountable for their deliverables. But even more important is empowering the team. Give them the time and resources to focus on strategy, and support their efforts to get into the market.
For product teams—and companies as a whole—to succeed, you need to effectively communicate the corporate strategy. Take the time to define that strategy and to share it. Your product teams have to know what the corporate approach is so they can create product strategies that support the big picture.
In fact, the person sitting at the front desk greeting visitors to the company should know that strategy just as surely as the people who are answering questions on your customer support line and those who are developing your products.
The skills companies need in product managers and product marketers are often not part of formal university education. For that reason, it’s also essential to set aside a professional-development budget to ensure your product team receives the ongoing training and skills development they need to be successful.
Part of leadership is trusting your product teams, providing them with what they need to do their jobs, and then getting out of the way. And when everyone understands their roles and responsibilities and the key deliverables, it sets up everyone for success.