Marketing Should Lead Product Development

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Who leads your product development efforts?

Sales? Product Development? Operations? Engineering?

Perhaps it is time for marketing to reclaim its role in product development.  As the first "P" in the traditional marketing mix, the product is an essential function for marketing teams. Sadly, many companies fail to understand this and view marketing as merely a collateral function within the sales department or worse: non-essential.

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 As a collateral function, marketing tasks tend to be "Promotion" focused - designed to simply be a support service to the sales department.  As a result, product development tends to be driven from a sales perspective vice a marketing one. This myopic approach is risky.

First, the sales department is concerned with what is currently selling, which is where their attention should be. Their viewpoint is rarely forward-looking - focussing instead on the present. When the time comes to start developing the new product line, a sales perspective can result with "we need more of X" with X being what is currently selling.

 On the other hand, marketing is both focused on the now and the future. Like sales, marketing supports the current product through strategically managing the other "P's": price, promotion, and place, but they also provide additional insights beyond sales data such as current trends.  As a result, the marketing team provides relevant data that is historical and predictive, which are both critical to product development.

 Forbes recently published an article on the five trends redefining the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) in 2019. In addition to discussing the importance of being tech and design savvy, the article also considers that it is time for the CMO to reclaim product development. In addition to being provocative, the author rightly points out:

Now that marketing has access to the breadth, depth, and volume of feedback in the marketplace in almost real time, product will make its way back solidly into the CMO’s domain. To product, data is oxygen — and integrated marketing is the oxygen tank. For companies to stay competitive, product will need to be lockstep with market feedback, and that process works best when owned by the CMO.
— Caroline Tien-Spalding - Forbes Communication Council

To be sure, the sales team perspective is a critical part of the conversation. They bring valuable insight that should not be overlooked such as pricing and feedback from retailers or other sales channels. Besides sales figures, however, they very rarely are they able to provide additional critical information necessary for new product development. Information that is typically supported by marketing research and data.

Three ways to engage marketing in product development

So how can companies that do not have a dedicated marketing department and CMO elevate marketing into its appropriate place in product development? In the long term, companies need to evaluate creating a separate team with a dedicated person to lead the marketing efforts. In addition, they should consider placing the product development activities under the CMO. Of course, these types of structural changes require resources and time, so in the short term companies should consider three things. First, involve the sales team. They are closest to the customer. Armed with the right tools, they can collect valuable product development data. Next is to expand your current marketing team’s efforts beyond promotion. They can help collect critical data from your marketing channels. Be sure to invite them to the product development meeting. Finally, if resources are limited, consider outsourcing the company's marketing functions with an emphasis on promotion, market research and current trends.

Companies need to ensure that marketing has a role in product development. Those that do not are at risk of losing market share to companies who do. Moreover, companies need a dedicated person to own the entire marketing mix and more importantly, drive product development. Regardless of the team structure, it is time that the "P" for product is back where it belongs - with marketing.

Note: Another version of this post appears on the author’s LinkedIn page under articles.