We spend a lot of time asking ourselves the question "How do we build a great product?" It's easy to get consumed by just the core building blocks of a product, such as the code, the interface, and the infrastructure. We rarely consider things like marketing and support from the very beginning. Why should we? Marketing and support aren't a core part of our product, right? Or, are they?
Instead of asking ourselves "How do we build a great product?", I think we should be asking ourselves, from the very beginning, "What makes a product great?" When you reframe the question that way, you quickly realize that pairing incredible interface designers with talented developers still isn't enough to make a product great. It eventually becomes clear that marketing and support are required to make your product complete, and therefore great.
Your customers don't see your product the same way your company does.
A lot of businesses struggle to see their product the same way their customers see it. In his book, The Lean Startup, Eric Ries defines a product as "one that encompasses any source of value for the people who become customers. Anything those customers experience from their interaction with a company should be considered part of that company's product." Internally, we see our product as the tangible thing that was built through many hours of design and development. Potential and current customers don't see it that way. Most customers don't even think about the words design or development, or backend infrastructure. They don't care about the nuts and bolts of what makes something they can use. Customers see your business and your product as one-in-the-same, so why should we treat it any differently?
What happens when marketing and support are not considered part of your product?
When you don't consider marketing and support to be a core part of your product, you risk creating a disjointed experience for your users. As a result, you may struggle to attract, acquire and retain customers. Let's explore some of the down-sides.
Customers get clunky, confusing user experiences.
When marketing and support operate indivually, they begin to tell different stories to the user, while your tangible product experience will tell it's own story.
Customers will experience these different stories separately as they interact with your company. The user may first experience your marketing efforts, then your product as they try it, and eventually, they'll experience support separately. This will be a jarring and confusing user experience. When you treat marketing and support as part of your product, your users only ever experience your product, from the very beginning. You may even begin to consider issues with marketing approaches or support hiccups as "bugs" themselves; things that need to be refined or fixed in future iterations.
Departments become disconnected silos with separate goals.
When the your product doesn't include marketing and support as a core part of its entire experience, teams within a business can begin operating as silos with their own agendas instead of one shared agenda. Marketing may begin to focus too heavily on conversion metrics, while support may devote too much effort to "closed ticket" quotas. These are certainly important things, but by always operating as separate teams with very different goals, they may not understand how they both impact each other, the product, and the customer.
In some instances, these silo'd teams may even begin to be pitted against one another by the very product itself. A false sense of disdain for the product can even begin to grow, as the product seemingly becomes the very thing that prevents these teams from being able to excel at their respective duties. There is rarely a part of the customer journey through your product that doesn't require both marketing and support to be handling either proactively or reactively. That means that both of these teams should be invested in the product, in each other, and in the customer, just as much as the product design and development team aims to be.
"There is rarely a part of the customer journey through your product that doesn't require both marketing and support to be handling either proactively or reactively."
The customer gets the short end of the stick.
Ultimately, we can see that when these teams operate individually of the product and the product team, there is a tendency to only focus inwardly on the business, rather than outwardly thinking of the customer. And frankly, it's less about the business's ability to think outwardly. It's more about the business's ability to see itself from the outside, from the customer's perspective. The success of the business is, of course, a very important consideration. But the business can't be successful if the customer isn't also successful, especially if your product claims to make something in your customer's life easier.
Considerations for structuring product teams.
Depending on how your organization is structured, there may be some simple ways to begin to make marketing and support a part of your core digital product management team. If you follow some sort of Agile methodology, start with offering to allow someone from both teams to be part of your product's sprint planning meetings. If you're building a brand new product, consider marketing and support as core product team members from the very beginning.
As time goes, and you grow your digital product team, consider structuring it so that both teams are just as much a part of planning your product roadmap as the core product development team. Don't just wait for them to tell you they need something, or that something is wrong. Take a proactive approach and include them as part of the full solution to the problem your product solves for your customers.
Tools and approaches
When you start treating marketing and support as a core part of your product, you'll want to begin making sure everyone has visibility to all product planning, development and support efforts. Tools like Intercom or Uservoice are great examples of third-party products you can integrate to help marketing and support be treated as core parts of your product. Many of these third-party products also integrate with messaging platforms such as Slack or HipChat, allowing key people in your product teams to get real-time updates on everything going on if they want to. No matter the tools or approach you use, including other departments, and the feedback they receive from users as part of your product planning and development efforts, will offer many new and beneficial insights into how you decide to grow or refine your product.