"Innovation is the catalyst for change, but it can also create resistance and friction in the marketplace."
- Seth Godin
There are a lot of things that can go wrong in the product-marketing process. Sometimes it's a big, hairy beast of an issue that everyone can see coming from miles away. But sometimes, it's something small—something you might not even notice until it's too late.
Why? Because when you're spending your days and nights thinking about your product and how to market it, you're also probably thinking about all the other things on your plate: business development, sales training, customer support…you know what I mean! When you're buried in all those other responsibilities and opportunities, friction points can slip by unnoticed until someone gets hurt—and then there's blood all over the floor.
Let's go over seven of the most common frictions in this role (you may have already experienced some of them). After all, when your team is aligned and frictionless, everyone experiences more success and less stress.
1. Making decisions based on the wrong data
You've probably heard the saying, "garbage in, garbage out." This is especially true of marketing data. Data can be incredibly valuable if you're using it to make informed decisions—but that assumes that you're collecting the right data, to begin with. If you aren't looking at the right numbers, your interpretation of what's happening in your market will be skewed from reality.
Imagine a company trying to decide whether or not it should shut down a particular product line amongst a suite of apps. They look at their lead flow and notice that it has stagnated over time—so they draw a conclusion that the product isn't profitable and decide to kill off this area of their business. But then, after taking action, they realize that there are several other products in their suite that heavily depend on this one for success. Closing doors where new opportunities might have been lurking is an expensive mistake to make!
To make quality decisions about your marketing strategy, choose metrics based on well-defined goals you want to achieve as a company—not metrics around vanity activities like website visits and social media shares (although these can be valuable as supplementary info). Then, dig into those metrics and figure out what's going on under the surface—is decreasing lead flow due to declining interest in your industry overall? Or are leads just not finding your content because of poor SEO? Understanding how users interact with your content is critical: how are they finding it? What paths did they take through it? How quickly did they lose interest or leave altogether? Understanding what works—and what doesn't work—will help you improve upon future efforts.
2. Lack of alignment between marketing and product development
This is one of the most common friction points I encounter in B2B SaaS companies, especially those recently grown to scale. Marketer-developer relationships are often fraught with miscommunication, misunderstandings, and tension—not surprising, given that sector specialists from both groups frequently lack the necessary knowledge base to understand each other’s roles in supporting customer success.
The best way to avoid this dilemma is to ensure that a representative from each department attends all meetings where product strategy and communication are discussed. This can be a difficult balance for small businesses (or even large ones) to strike, but it’s essential for coordinating efforts and developing products that fit customer needs. It’s also important for team members from both departments to come together regularly (at least weekly) and discuss the specific joint goals they need to achieve for customers in order to keep everyone working toward the same overarching objective: creating high-quality products that solve real problems for real people.
3. An incomplete understanding of the user journey
You should understand the user journey from beginning to end, including the initial awareness of your product, the research and consideration phase, the purchase stage, and finally, post-purchase habits. Work with your sales and customer success teams to create a “day in the life” sketch for each buyer persona. Include:
- The top priorities that cause this persona to be actively interested in a product like yours
- Their typical decision-making process (including who’s involved)
- The key questions they ask during their decision-making process
This will help you connect the dots between marketing and sales so that you can deliver content that rings true at every stage of your customer's journey.
4. Lack of relationship between product marketing and sales
It's no secret that product marketing and sales need to work together, but often there's a lack of a relationship between them.
You're sitting in your office working on a new campaign for your product and you realize that one of the features you want to highlight isn't as great as it could be. If sales were working with product marketing to develop this feature, they would've been able to give you the right information to roll out a successful campaign!
Or how about this situation: your company is launching a new product and sales has been trained on its functionality, but they don't have all the information from marketing because "things changed at the last minute." If sales were involved in training from day one and had access to resources provided by marketing, then any last-minute changes wouldn't affect their ability to sell your product effectively.
5. Underestimating the need for a strong brand
Your brand is the promise of what you deliver and the personality of your product. It’s the story you tell and a pledge of future experiences. It’s the community you build and the perception you leave with others.
We love our products, but we have to remember that they are just tools. As marketing professionals, it's our job to make sure that people don't see them as tools -- because when something is a tool, it's easily replaceable by other tools.
Our job is to make sure that people connect with our products at an emotional level -- this way, they become part of their lives, not something tossed aside when another thing comes along.
6. Expecting too much from one person (or position)
Many product marketing teams make the mistake of expecting one person to run the show, but in reality, product marketing is a team effort. While some individuals are incredibly talented (and boast an impressive list of skills), there aren’t many people out there who can do it all on their own. Product marketing requires expertise across multiple disciplines, including:
- Marketing strategy
- Product strategy
- Positioning and messaging
- Competitive analysis
- Go-to-market planning and execution
While you may think that a single person could tackle each of these items, they would be far better served with complementary skillsets and cross-functional communication. I’ve seen many organizations hire a “product marketer” instead of an entire team, but this often results in unrealistic expectations being placed on an individual and ultimately sets them up for failure.
7. Not seeking feedback from enough people (or users)
Another key friction point is not seeking feedback from enough people (or users). PMMs need to have a deep understanding of their market and the needs of their customers, but getting feedback directly from users can be challenging. It’s usually hard to get a random user to give feedback on your product, and more often than not, you only get feedback from those who are really happy or really unhappy with it. By looking at NPS data and qualitative responses in tandem, you can gain deeper insights into user sentiment during different stages of the customer journey (e.g., onboarding). And by prioritizing these moments when speaking to users one-on-one, you’ll learn which problems most urgently need solving.
Getting feedback from users is hard, but it’s worth it for two reasons:
- You’ll hear about your highest-priority problems directly from your market.
- You can inform stakeholders about real issues that need real solutions rather than overgeneralizations like “we suck at marketing because no one likes us!”
Product marketing is hard work. It's not glamorous, it takes time and dedication, and it requires you to be a jack-of-all-trades. But if you love what you do, it's worth it.
I hope that this article has inspired you to take the next step in your career and become a product marketer yourself!