TEI 264: How product managers can make better use of marketing – with Jill Soley


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How marketing and product management work together

Product Manager Interview - Jill SoleyTurns out if you ask 50 different people what marketing is, you’ll hear 50 different answers. That is what our guest did to investigate what people think about marketing and how it fits into the work product managers do. Our guest is Jill Soley, a Silicon Valley strategic product and marketing executive. She currently leads Product Management at Obo, where she is working on agile product management software that aims to reduce the high failure rates for new products. She has two degrees from MIT and a ton of practical experience.

Listen to understand the basic definition of marketing, marketing roles that may have resources useful to product managers, and how product managers can make better use of marketing resources. Also, we talk in the beginning about Jill’s experience developing the Adobe Creative Cloud; lots to learn just from that.

Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers

[0:38] What was your experience developing Adobe Creative Cloud?

Adobe Creative Cloud was transformational for the company, the customers, and me personally. It transformed Adobe from selling boxed products to selling services and subscriptions, creating new value for customers. It was transformational for me because I had been working on smaller seed products, and for the first time I was in a leadership role on a major transformational project.

[3:07] How did you build up confidence that the Adobe Creative Cloud was the right direction to go?

Before Creative Cloud, we had a product called CS Live, which was a total failure. It failed because we weren’t all-in, not because the product was bad, but because the go-to-market model was completely wrong. The Creative Cloud was a definite risk. We faced a lot of resistance from customers, but ultimately the adoption was quicker and higher than we expected.

[7:06] How do you describe marketing?

Marketing is the two-way communication between your company and your market. The four Ps of marketing are Product, Price, Promotion, and Placement. We often think product and marketing are very separate, but the first P is Product. Customer interaction with your product is critical to your business’s success.

Product marketing specifically is connecting your product with your market and your market with your product. The number one reason products fail is because their companies weren’t able to find and connect with the market.

[10:11] What is the role of marketing communication, marcom, in marketing?

Marcom is one piece of marketing. Marcom exists to tell your customers how all your products relate to each other and why it matters. Marketing is all about your customer. Different products for different customers need different marketing, but all your levels of marketing should tie together. A common pitfall is a lack of focus on a very targeted customer.

[12:33] What marketing roles and resources can help us in our job?

Resource number one is market research. Too often, we start with an idea for a product and build it without doing real market research. A marketer or market research department can do it, or you can do it yourself by writing some surveys in a survey tool or interviewing people at a conference.

Second, product marketers are often undervalued, but they can provide input and help with customer research. All the feedback you get in customer research is super useful to product marketers when they’re planning launches and content so that they know how to talk about the value of your product.

My book, Beyond Product: How Exceptional Founders Embrace Marketing to Create and Capture Value for their Business, is another great resource. It’s a practical marketing book for anyone launching or growing a new product or business. It provides a roadmap for how to think about marketing at each stage of your growth to turn your idea into a successful business.

[18:13] How can product managers engage those marketing resources?

Start with building relationships. Throughout development of your product, include and listen to the people who will be launching it. Incorporate marketing early on as a core part of the product team. It’s easy to become very siloed in what you do, but part of being strategic is getting to know what people from other parts of the company do.

Bonus Questions:

What do you enjoy doing as Chief Product Officer at Obo?

My primary job is setting the product strategy and vision. I love figuring out where to start on a product, who the right customers are, and what the key differentiator is. The really fun part of product management is sitting down with customers, getting their requirements, and finding the gaps we can fill. I spend as much time as I can talking with customers, as well as doing quantitative market research.

I also execute–figuring out how to prioritize and what to build. Even more important than product strategy, I keep the team focused and engaged, and make sure that everyone is working toward the same goal.

I’m only as successful as the people on my team, so the best thing I can do for my success is build a fantastic team and help it grow. I believe that career is a team sport. I have benefited from many people who helped me grow, so I feel like I owe it to the next generation to help them grow.

What are some headaches you face in your role?

Because I’m in a startup, I’m also the chief whiteboard cleaner and food orderer. At a startup, you can’t focus on just one thing. However, constraints are good because they force you to think hard about your priorities.

Context-switching is also hard. Some days I feel like I moved lots of things an inch and didn’t really move anything forward. I try to keep a list and focus on moving the top thing forward.

Useful links:

  • Jill’s book, BEYOND PRODUCT: How Exceptional Founders Embrace Marketing to Create and Capture Value for their Business
  • All about Obo product management software
  • Connect with Jill via her LinkedIn Profile

Innovation Quote

“Innovation is hard because solving problems people didn’t know they had and building something no one needs look identical at first.” -Aaron Levie, CEO of Box


Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.

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