Product marketing is a game of influence without authority. It's one thing to get alignment across a team of your own direct reports, but what do you do when you need cross-functional participation and buy-in from your peers?
In order to answer this question, I caught up with Gaby Izarra, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Webflow, one of the fastest-moving product teams in Silicon Valley to hear how the best cross-functional teams work.
Gaby provided tons of practical advice on:
If you haven’t heard of Webflow, chances are that you will soon. The $350 million powerhouse, backed by Accel, Khosla Ventures, and Y Combinator enables companies to design, build, and launch responsive websites visually.
It’s the only hosted service that allows designers to create websites that work on every device, and push it live without coding. In fact, it’s how we design and develop our own site at Hugo.
As a Senior Product Marketing Manager, Gaby is one of just three people on the team responsible for managing regular product launches. We chatted about how she keeps the Webflow team aligned, even as the company has more than doubled in size from 80 to 170+ employees over the last year.
Success in Gaby’s role relies on being able to pull in the skills of people throughout the organization. As any product marketer knows, bringing new features and improvements to the market is one of the most cross-functional processes in any product-centric organization.
Over the last year, the company has moved from a product-oriented approach to a campaign-oriented approach. Gaby says this transition has gelled the team around specific release dates. Although the company does use an agile methodology where minor releases happen on a weekly basis, choosing the campaign dates and focusing the company’s effort towards those dates has made it possible to coordinate across product and marketing more effectively.
Though somewhat counterintuitive, one common pitfall of cross-functional leaders is to tell people what to do and how to do it. Gaby’s approach is highly research-based, starting with the customers’ needs:
We have a seat at the table when it comes to product roadmap development, surfacing the customer insights that help our product team. We help our product team stay informed on what customers are needing and what those customer pain points are. That starts at the macro-level, but goes down to a granular-level that informs the actual release, publishing schedule and the communications around the releases.
In other words, when it comes to marketing campaigns, there are no surprises. The features are developed based on the knowledge of the customer. The launch of the product features is lined up with the marketing objectives from the get-go.
Starting with the facts reduces friction. Everyone is working from the same sense of reality. Campaigns and launches don’t start with someone having an idea, or if they do, the idea has been vetted through market research. When everyone has the same foundation of facts and information, the next step is figuring out how to meet the customers’ needs.
Often, you’ll hear managers talk about how they get buy-in from other team members or cross-functional team leaders. Gaby turns that idea upside-down. Rather than getting buy-in on her ideas or her department’s ideas, she presents the target customer, the research about their needs, and the metrics for success.
This is the difference between presenting a list of pre-determined action items vs. the opportunity to solve a problem together. If you were the IC, which sounds more attractive to you?
Practically, this means that in every launch kickoff meeting, Webflow includes representation from all of the teams who are involved in the launch. Everyone knows the target metrics and resources. Together, the group maps the features relevant for the customer needs and brainstorms how to reach the metrics for a successful launch.
When the team creates the plan, there’s no need for buy-in. You don’t have to convince people to do something that they themselves created. Gaby’s idea of empowerment is clear and defined: Give the team facts and targets and let them come up with the course of action.
Product Marketing is one of the most cross-functional roles within the entire organization. The most valuable way that you can get other people’s cooperation is to have them come up with the ideas. They probably have better ideas than you do most of the time anyway.
Each team and each individual has their specific tasks and outcomes under the complete plan. Of course, follow-up and project management are essential, but throughout the campaign, team members understand why they have certain assignments and responsibilities because they had a say in the planning process.
Fortunately for us, Gaby has provided the company template and methodologies for applying this approach to any organization. Get started with Gaby’s Product Launch template on Hugo.
The product launch plan goes out before the first launch meeting, so people can come prepared. By presenting the facts about what the customers want, the team gets a jump start on making wise decisions and avoids getting sidetracked. You can start with ideas about the campaign, but the more you leave it open, the more the team feels they can be creative.
Make sure to keep the conversation focused on how to reach the success measures.
Let the participants in the meeting come up with different strategies and campaign ideas. Don’t settle for the first idea that comes up. Make sure that people feel it’s okay to have crazy ideas — sometimes the best ideas start with something off-the-wall.
For example, Webflow recently launched the ability to sell digital goods online, a new feature that served their audience of professional creators. The team came up with the idea of an integrated campaign featuring a blog, tutorial, and an example Digital Dollar Store, all promoting how easy it is to create a site selling digital goods with Webflow.
People should be excited about the final idea. In the case of the Digital Dollar Store, the team was so excited that the project team managed itself. Once things are rolling, Gaby recommends check-ins to make sure that everything is on track and unblock anything that might be holding the team back.
Every sub-team should be clear on their role in the launch. The product team should understand what features to prioritize and when to release them. Paid advertising and content management teams each have their publishing schedules.
As you create the plan, make sure there is an organized way of keeping everyone aligned. Webflow uses Asana, and the tasks in Asana are linked to the planning document and resources in other locations in the organization. Using the same templates and structures for every campaign means that everyone can find the information they need when they need it.
This “source of truth” planning document scopes the links, resources, and actions for the implementation and dissemination of information on the campaign.
It’s important to define specific agreements around communication. On any given campaign, we define what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate to communicate around the specific product and specific features.
Setting up the right tools and structures is essential for making Gaby’s job easier, but there’s always a human aspect to project management. Izarra says, “If your company is growing, the systems will change over time, but the basics of project management are applicable everywhere.”
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