It’s Time to Ditch the Product Triad

As Product Marketers (PMM), we’re a misunderstood bunch.

Whether it’s the overlap between Product Management and Demand Generation or the lack of metrics tied to the role, data from the Product Marketing Alliance shows that only 4% of PMM’s feel their organizations understand what they do. That’s a jarringly small statistic for one of the most in-demand careers in tech at the moment.

Companies are launching new products and services faster than ever amidst the digital transformation across all sectors. Given the rapid rate of value delivery to the market, PMM’s are no longer dealing with “launch starvation” caused by a low cadence of release from their technical counterparts. Instead, as go-to-market (GTM) experts, we’re being afforded the opportunity to enjoy the spotlight since product launches are our specialty—in addition to Sith Lords, of course. Here’s to hoping some of you got that reference.

The problem is that Product Marketing is often seen as a downstream role from Product and Engineering, only to be looped in once a release is ready to be made generally available (GA). Due to this misconception, it’s all too common for PMM’s to hear about a feature mere days before being shipped, which inevitably results in a scramble to develop and execute a sub-par launch plan. In a world of increased competition, heightened buyer persona knowledge, and product-led go-to-market motions, Product Marketing must be an integral component of the product team, influencing early in the development of new products to launch new value to the market with maximum impact.

Triads are Just Funnels

Part of the issue is how we organize the teams responsible for actually building products within organizations. The “Triad,” also referred to as the “TPD,” is a typical setup for Product Management in technology companies and represents the smallest unit of product leadership; it consists of a Product Manager (PM), Product Designer, and Development lead. The group’s core mandate is to set, manage, and execute the product vision and is accountable for the product’s success or failure in the market. This is accomplished through deep empathy for the user persona and subject matter expertise that each individual brings to the table, specifically to manage the three risks:

  • Value Risk: Owned by the Product Manager and considers whether customers will choose to use a product
  • Usability Risk: Owned by Product Designer and considers whether users can figure out how to use a product
  • Feasibility Risk: Owned by the Development Lead and considers whether a proposed solution can actually be built with the time, skills and technology available

By bringing together the key stakeholders involved in product delivery, customer knowledge is regularly shared such that everyone has a sufficient understanding of the problem being solved for the customer and is empowered to make the best decision possible for the end-user.

Rise of the PMM

In the past, the concept of a Product Triad might have been revolutionary. Today, it’s stale practice because nearly 50% of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies go to market with a product-led strategy. Since the product itself plays a more significant role in converting prospects into paying customers and, subsequently, their retention, there must be a focused effort to imbue buyer persona knowledge into the early stages of product development. This is where Product Marketing can be a trusted partner within the Triad—although it’s more of a Tetrad at that point—to drive acquisition, adoption, and churn reduction.

The fact that 93% of all product buying motions start with a search engine means that the critical role PMM’s play in the awareness of their products will remain an essential activity. However, the position has evolved from being a unilateral content creation stop on a product’s way into the market to a bilateral conduit between technical teams and the industry. The best PMM’s can drive pipeline generation, product adoption, and revenue growth while also evangelizing the customer’s needs to internal stakeholders, highlight market trends, and identify new areas of opportunity with their technology.

The Fourth Risk

I realize my opinion on this matter might not be enough to sway even the most liberal of Product teams—hopefully, Marty Cagen’s will. For those of you unfamiliar, Marty Cagen is the founder of the Silicon Valley Product Group and author of several Product Management books, including Empowered. In it, he revisits the three risks of product development we discussed earlier and introduces a fourth for consideration: Business Viability risk, which considers whether a solution works with the various aspects of the business.

Digging deeper, Business Viability risk pushes Product teams to think about the GTM implications of their solutions by pondering questions such as: 

  • Will the product work with existing sales channels? 
  • Will it drive upsell/cross-sell opportunities with other products? 
  • Will our customer acquisition cost (CAC) be sustainable? 
  • Will this product deliver on the company’s brand promise? 
  • Will this impact partner relations?

To be clear, PMM’s own GTM and, therefore, own the Business Viability risk. From a Product development perspective, they must be looped into the conversation early and often. By being at the table early, we can fuse our deep knowledge of the customers’ problems, the technology, and the market into highly resonant messaging that will ultimately oil the GTM engine to support the product team’s objectives. We can better plan launch strategies that have a cohesive narrative around product value to drive momentum in the market for the business. And most importantly, we can develop empathy within our internal teams to better understand and work alongside each other in service of the customer. And therein lies the differentiator. We’re Product Marketers. We have a vested interest in the product and, therefore, a vested interest in delivering value to our customers, ultimately generating value for the business.

Key Takeway: Loop your PMMs in Early. 

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