It is not uncommon for the lines between marketing and product teams to blur. Actually, the best possible situation, I imagine is for both teams to be working in tandem — like two peas in a pod- But as someone who appreciates the intricacies of startup dynamics, I do understand the frustrations that sometimes arise when marketing teams find themselves shouldering metrics that should rightfully belong to the product team.

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In this article, we’ll dive into the reasons behind this phenomenon, explore the potential positive and negative impacts on both teams and customers and provide practical strategies to steer clear of this conundrum.

Why Does It Happen?

Striking the right balance between startup marketing and product teams is crucial for success. While it’s not uncommon for marketing teams to assume product-related metrics, careful consideration must be given to the potential positive and negative impacts on teams and customers. Let’s take a look at some of the causes of this overlap

  1. Ambiguity: Startups, by their nature, often lack the structure and clearly defined roles seen in more established companies. This ambiguity leads to marketing teams unwittingly inheriting product-related metrics as the boundaries between departments become blurred. For instance, in my own experience at a tech startup, the marketing team was expected to track user engagement and conversion rates, metrics that ideally fall under the product team’s purview.
  2. Resource limitations and the pressing demands of product development can stretch the product team thin, leaving marketing teams to pick up the slack. In an effort to ensure that crucial metrics aren’t neglected, marketing teams voluntarily assume product-related responsibilities. At my previous e-commerce startup, the product team was fully immersed in refining the user experience, leaving the marketing team to diligently monitor conversion rates and customer acquisition metrics.

There are a number of latent positive Impacts to this sometimes unintended passing of guard as shown below

  1. A Holistic Understanding: When marketing teams take on product-related metrics, they gain a profound understanding of the product, its features, and the target audience. Armed with this knowledge, they can devise more effective marketing strategies and foster better alignment with the product team. For instance, during a recent product launch at a software startup, the marketing team was responsible for tracking customer feedback and usage patterns. This allowed them to identify pain points and preferences, resulting in targeted marketing campaigns that addressed customers’ needs more effectively.
  2. Agile Adaptation: Marketing teams that are well-versed in tracking metrics are naturally more adaptable and responsive to changes in the product landscape. Constantly monitoring key indicators empowers them to swiftly adjust strategies, optimize campaigns, and enhance customer engagement. Take, for example, a mobile gaming startup where the marketing team is entrusted with tracking app usage metrics. Armed with real-time data on user preferences, they can identify popular features and levels, leveraging this information to drive further engagement through targeted promotions and in-app events.

I am sure we can all think of quite a few more positives so, what then is all the fuss about you might ask. The truth is, there are also potential problems and pitfalls from this approach.

  1. Skill Misalignment: Marketing teams possess expertise in promoting and communicating a product’s value to the target audience. However, burdening them with product-related metrics may divert their focus from their core competencies, leading to suboptimal marketing outcomes. Imagine a scenario where a marketing team is overwhelmed with tracking user retention and churn rates. In such cases, they might neglect crafting compelling messaging and creative campaigns that effectively communicate the product’s unique value proposition.
  2. Diluted Responsibility: By assigning product-related metrics primarily to marketing teams, the product team may inadvertently relinquish some of their accountability for the product’s success. This dilution of responsibility creates confusion, hampers team efficiency, and impedes collaboration.

Consider a SaaS startup where the marketing team is solely responsible for tracking product adoption and usage metrics. This might discourage the product team from proactively addressing usability issues or enhancing the product’s functionality, assuming marketing can compensate for any shortcomings.

Who feels the impact of this misalignment you might ask. Usually, the impact is felt across the board by everyone but none more so than by the customer

  1. Inconsistent User Experience: Overburdening marketing teams with product-related responsibilities can divert their attention from refining the customer experience. As a result, messaging becomes inconsistent, product information becomes disjointed across marketing channels, and the user journey suffers. In one instance, I witnessed a situation where a marketing team was tasked with tracking customer satisfaction metrics. Unfortunately, the team’s heavy focus on data analysis inadvertently led to inconsistencies in branding and messaging, resulting in a fragmented user experience and diminished customer trust.
  2. Miscommunication and Unrealistic Expectations: When product metrics are handed over to marketing teams without proper coordination, miscommunication and unrealistic customer expectations can arise. This can lead to dissatisfaction if marketing promises fail to align with the product’s actual capabilities.

For example, if marketing teams are solely responsible for tracking product performance metrics, they may unknowingly make lofty promises in their campaigns, creating unrealistic expectations among customers. When the product fails to deliver, disappointment ensues, potentially resulting in customer churn.

So what can we do to avoid or at the very least reduce the impact of these issues?

  1. Clearly Define Roles and Responsibilities: Startups must proactively establish well-defined boundaries and expectations for marketing and product teams. By clearly communicating each team’s primary responsibilities and emphasizing collaboration, a solid foundation can be laid. Consider conducting workshops to outline the core functions of both teams. This ensures that everyone understands their primary focus while highlighting areas of collaboration and handover points.
  2. Foster Cross-Team Collaboration: Encouraging regular communication and collaboration between marketing and product teams is vital. Establishing channels for sharing updates, insights, and metrics facilitates a better understanding of each team’s challenges and progress. To facilitate collaboration, schedule regular cross-team meetings or create shared communication channels such as Slack or project management tools. These platforms foster open discussions, enable feedback sharing, and align strategies.
  3. Optimize Resource Allocation: Evaluate resource allocation across teams and identify areas where additional support is needed. Hiring more product-focused roles or restructuring teams can balance the workload effectively and minimize the reliance on marketing teams for product-related metrics. Consider assessing the workload and skill distribution within your organization. If the product team is overwhelmed, explore options to hire additional product managers or assign dedicated team members to specific product-related metrics.
  4. Cultivate a Culture of Learning: Encourage continuous learning and skill development for both marketing and product teams. Empower individuals through workshops, training programs, and cross-functional exposure to enhance their expertise. Offer opportunities for marketing team members to participate in product-focused training sessions or collaborate with the product team during feature ideation or user testing. This fosters a culture of shared knowledge, strengthens alignment between teams, and helps maintain a healthy balance.

To conclude, by clearly defining roles, fostering collaboration, optimizing resource allocation, and promoting a culture of learning, startups can navigate this challenge successfully. Achieving this balance is by no means easy in the resource-constrained environment of the startup world but it can ensure that marketing teams focus on their strengths while product teams take ownership of the metrics that drive product excellence and customer satisfaction.

Share your thoughts and experience with this situation in the comments.