16 Jan 2014

What Does A United Marketing & Product Team Do?

It's harder to measure some products' customer satisfaction, like that of children playing with their toys, because the marketer/product creator isn't around to observe them.

It’s harder to measure some products’ customer satisfaction, like that of children playing with their toys, because the marketer/product creator isn’t around to observe them. Image via Boston Public Library

The team’s goal is to profitably sell something of value to customers, then produce and deliver it.

(For those just joining for the first time, you can understand this post on its own, but for max value, you’ll want to read Part 1 – Facebook is Replacing Google – and Part 2 – Why Product & Marketing Need To Be One Team. Even better would be buying Running Lean and The E-Myth Revisited to understand where these ideas come from.)

To achieve its goal of profitably selling and producing valuable products, the united product and marketing team has to

  1. Define the target market, in terms of what customers need and who they are.
  2. Find out the most minimal solution that customers are willing to buy.
  3. Find out how to reach customers and sell that solution.
  4. Create a method to produce and deliver the promised solution, consistently.
  5. Measure its performance on key metrics, and compare that to benchmarks.
  6. Optimize the whole process

In that order.

I can’t emphasize enough how important the order is. You must understand and validate your market (i.e. problem and who has it) before you start selling them a solution. You need people to commit to buying before you start production (because you may understand the problem yet have produced a useless solution), etc. This prevents wasting time and money when one of the above four elements – target market research, solution, sales & marketing, production & delivery – is lacking.

What role do systems play in this picture?

The team creates repeatable market research, marketing, production and measurement/optimization systems. The systems guarantee uniform inputs and outputs. The outputs should be achievement of specific, time-limited goals, meaning a reading of your key performance metrics that is equal to or better than your benchmarks (aka standard result). Measurement holds the system’s operators accountable for achieving the business’ goals. These goals include profit, but also such things as number of [potential] customers interviewed/week, having a clear (to outsiders) profile of the primary customer segment etc.

Another benefit of creating systems to run the business is that this eliminates dependance on any one individual. This changes sick days and holidays from being something a company is reluctant to give – because a person’s absence blocks the rest of the team/project from moving ahead – to something a company wants to be generous with, since this helps attract talented individuals and is no longer a problem for the company.

Allow me to elaborate on the four items listed above as responsibilities of the marketing/product team. This should help clarify more of what the systems do in practice.

Define the Target Market, In Terms of What Customers Need and Who They Are

Running Lean

Running Lean, an excellent book for all entrepreneurs

This is where the market research begins. You identify customer problems by starting with qualitative research, asking open-ended questions aimed at discovery of customer problems. In the terms of Ash Maurya’s Running Lean, this is conducting problem interviews. You follow this up with quantitative research aimed at prioritizing/ranking of customer problems.

One trick I can share is to reach out via Facebook to get problem interviews scheduled. You’ll be speaking to friends, so you’re likely to get a higher percentage to agree to an interview (as opposed to speaking to strangers), and this initial speed/learning will give you a taste for more. If you have a good professional network, you can also try Twitter and LinkedIn.

In parallel, the qualitative and quantitative research also identifies key questions that define the customer (personas in modern, fancy marketing speak; central demographic model in E-Myth Revisited terms). If you’re attending SMX Israel, I’m scheduled to speak there on the specific ways to do this. I can suggest you start with Wufoo and their Likert scale question format, to get a numeric ranking of the problems your audience has.

Find Out What the Customers are Willing to Buy

Next, you and the customers brainstorm about the minimum solution required to solve the problem. This is followed by creating and demonstrating a basic version (minimum viable product) and asking the customers to buy. The ultimate product of this stage of the campaign is finding a solution desirable to the client, as measured by pre-orders or commitments to buy for enterprise type products.

Find Out How To Reach Customers and Sell Your Solution

While you may have benefitted from reaching out to people you know to find the first customers, this won’t necessarily scale. (If it does, e.g. your new salespeople can just reach out to their contacts, and older ones can get a large stream of referred leads, fantastic.) If this doesn’t scale, you need to figure out how to reach customers repeatedly, – i.e. what channels to use.

Maya Goldenberg giving a product demonstration

Product demonstrations are great ways to help the customer appreciate the product’s value by experiencing it in action, and often a key part of selling. Here, professional makeup artist (and blogger’s sister) Maya Goldenberg demonstrates makeup for slice.ca .

Start with the question, “is my product answering an existing demand or creating its own field/niche?” Put differently, is it an iterative improvement whose value proposition is “better X than those Xes on the market,” or is it a revolution whose value proposition is “we solved a problem that nobody else thought to solve yet?”

If there’s existing demand, then you can use both demand-satisfaction channels like search, directories and trade expos, as well as demand-generation channels. If there’s no existing demand then you need to generate it, using demand-generation channels like PR, display ads, social media, direct mail etc. Since there’s no existing demand, demand-satisfaction channels are a waste of your time, in the short term at least.

Once you have an idea what type of channels you need to use, your next question is determining which specific channels you can use to reach the target market you defined earlier.

To narrow things further, consider whether you have more time or money. If you’re bootstrapping, you probably have more time than money and can go for earned media. If you’re well funded, you can focus on ads and paid media.

Got both time and money? Hey, go wild… so long as you are in it for the long term with both paid and earned traffic. Don’t just gamble on both, because most first campaigns fail.

If you don’t have the time/money to commit to even just one channel over the long term (at least a year), then get more time or money before you start. Marketing campaigns are successful thanks to optimization, not just lucky initial guesses. (Lucky guesses do happen, but you can’t count on getting lucky.)

By now you know what type of channel – demand satisfaction or generation you need to use – and whether the approach is going to be paid or earned media. Make some initial choices based on further research. Are direct or indirect competitors engaging in a particular medium, over an extended stretch? Do you have evidence that a lot of potential customers can be reached in a specific channel?

"Every time you leave a demo bag on top of the demo cabinets... Merch will kill a puppy. Please put them away." Comical call to action.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get. That’s why every good salesperson knows that once the product is described/demonstrated etc – they have to call to action. Above, a comical call to action from the logistics team, a part of the product-delivery team. 🙂 Pic by Leo Fung

Campaign Creation

Next, based on your market research, you articulate the unique value proposition(s). It’s essentially a one-sentence answer for how {your customer’s worst problem} is solved by {our most desirable solution}. These serve as your headline; the rest of the ad/landing page/email etc fleshes out the initial premise. Call them to action – add to cart & checkout, request a demo etc. Make sure in the first place that you are measuring your results, and that the measurement is properly set up to capture all the data you need (and even some you don’t, since you can probably learn from it later).

How To Produce and Deliver the Promised Solution

This depends on your solution. Is it software? A physical product? Essentially your product development team needs to create a minimum viable prototype, with careful documentation of each step of the process used in creating it, like recipes but with all the secret ingredients specified in explicit detail! Deliver to the client, measure their use/engagement and iterate.Measuring use/engagement is easier said than done for non-SAAS products. How do you measure a child’s satisfaction with a toy? You can survey the parents after a few weeks or a month, which is better than nothing, but that’s still just indirect measurement.

And that’s what an integrated marketing-product team does, at least, in phase 1 (research) and phase 2 (campaign). The team researches what the market’s problem is, and who that market is. The team brainstorms minimalist solutions, then sells them. Once it’s clear that the solution can be sold repeatedly, look into marketing channels and building campaigns, in parallel with making and delivering the product.

Phase 3 is measuring the results. Each of the objectives will have a system for doing it, as we said earlier. The team (or commonly it’s manager) initially creates the system. The team then runs the system, and the results are then measured. We’ll talk about measurement for the united marketing and product team, in my next post.


  1. Fabian January 23, 2014 at 6:45 PM

    Great article, Gab! Forming a united team can be challenging – time, resources, different perspectives… But the collaboration definitely pays off in long term.

    Our company, Placeit, has a neat tool for showcasing developers and designers work – product screenshots in realistic environments. It’s our effort in app marketing to assist in selling the products. We’re soon launching a new feature to tell the story behind the product. Feel free to reach out for a sneak peek!

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