What to do if you don’t know your product 1000%
As a product marketer, there’s an underlying assumption that you know the product as well as your customers and your product managers. While this should be reality for all product marketers, I’ve found that this isn’t necessarily true for me. While I know how the product works, where the product falls short, and how we fair against our competitors, I lack the implicit knowledge that day-to-day users have. That’s the knowledge that’s not necessarily captured in support articles or product demos, but it’s there, that knowledge gained from regular use of the product.
The reason for this is simple. Unlike my customers, Customer Success and Product Teams, I don’t need to use the product on a regular basis to get my work done.
Instead, I use tools like HubSpot, GoToWebinar and Intercom to complete my day-to-day tasks. When I check out our software for work, it’s to learn more about a specific feature to write on, or to grab a screenshot of a tool to add to our website. Otherwise, I’m working through a list of pages from the Product Team where I need to edit or write UX copy.
Given that’s the amount of interaction I personally have with the product, how do I get better at learning about the product I’m trying to market?
1. Product education exercises
I learn the quickest by experiencing and experimenting so I created a series of product education exercises that took my team and I through different parts of the software. I worked with our Customer Success team to come up with a 3-month exercise where we cover the most common use case for our software, learning the ins and outs of the software from our customers’ point of view.
It was a great way for the team to build that implicit knowledge about the software, to better understand what the product can and cannot do, and to increase our awareness when creating content around the product.
2. Check-ins with the product team
I schedule bi-weekly check-ins with my product team and we have a Slack channel going called “content for product” where anyone can pop-in requests for UX copy or edits in-between check-ins.
These channels are a great way for me to learn about the product and get up-to-speed on all the cool things the team is working on. To get the most out of these sessions, I compile a list of questions or a list of suggestions to improve the experience of the feature in question.
When raising up questions and suggestions, I tend to approach these conversations in the form of a discussion, often asking more questions to understand where everyone is coming from when building the product. I also find that being the most product-dumb person in the conversation helps me get my message across, especially when discussing why we should make the product simpler for our users.
3. Exploring use cases with product experts
I’m currently updating the content on our website and that includes changing the way we talk about certain features. Over time, we’ve learned how certain features work well for our customers and we’ve also discovered unique ways our customers have applied our tools to their businesses.
Scheduling an hour-long session with a product manager or customer success manager can be useful to uncovering all the fascinating ways we can talk about a feature. In a recent post I wrote about TrekkSoft’s Business Intelligence tool, I added a “how our customers use it” section to demonstrate how the feature can improve day-to-day analysis. Is this a ground-breaking addition to a blog post? Probably not, but it does help me get my ideas across a lot clearer.
Questions to ask:
Why was this tool developed? How did the idea for this feature come about?
How does it help the customer get their job done better or faster?
Have we received positive or negative feedback about it? Why?
What are some of the common ways you’ve seen customers use this tool?
What are some of the unique ways you’ve seen customers use this tool?
What are some common questions you’ve received about this feature? What content can I create to address this issue?
4. feature releases & product updates
While this should be something you do constantly have your finger on, here’s a friendly reminder if you’re keeping up-to-date with the latest releases and updates.
Our PMs release weekly “release notes” that I check out at the start of each week to help me stay on top of the small changes that happen in the software. I also share this with the marketing team in our weekly meetings to make sure that everyone’s on the right page.
5. Get involved
Offering my time and energy to something that still “in the works” is another great way to learn about the product. Apart from writing UX copy, I also help proofread and edit our support documentation, user research communication and surveys, update automated emails, and ask to get involved in anything I find interesting.
A few months ago, I worked with our PMs and developers on a 5-day sprint following The Design Sprint created and popularised by Google Ventures. We designed, tested and built a feature for the mobile app in 5 days. It was an incredible opportunity to learn about an area of the company that fascinated me and it was fun to work with people I don’t regularly collaborate with.
6. Make time to go on a product excursion
This last idea I thought of while I was listing down all the other things I do to get better at my job.
I would imagine blocking out 60 to 90 minutes for this exercise where you pick a feature you’d like to learn more about, and dig into the resources you already have to get up to speed on it. Using the questions in #3 to guide my exploration, I’d look up blog articles, support documentation and forum posts about it too.
To turn this exercise into something useful, I could:
Present the feature at a team meeting
Write up a blog post about the feature, centered around common misconceptions or questions about the feature
Update the support page with FAQs
Create sales enablement materials about the feature (e.g. product sheet, comparison sheet, updating sales deck)
REmember, Your team is your biggest resource
I’m big on stating the obvious because it’s often most overlooked and undervalued. With my team, I’ve been able to learn about the product at an exponential rate. Understanding why certain features were created the way they are and how are customers use these features has not only helped me create more valuable content for leads and customers, it has also helped me gain a little bit more of that implicit knowledge I wrote about earlier. The stuff that just is, that people learn through experience.
Often times, it’s also in that implicit knowledge that the secret sauce of the product is waiting to be discovered. Now, while I won’t be spilling the beans anytime soon, I will say that learning more about the product has helped me better communicate our secret sauce.
This forms my product content strategy that I hope will continue to win over new users while keeping current users coming back for more.