Updated: April 13, 2023 - 14 min read
Editor’s note: the following was written by a guest blogger. If you would like to contribute to the blog, please review the Product Blog contribution guidelines and contact [email protected]
Planning is one of the key responsibilities of Product and marketing leaders. The right goals help us focus on building products for our users and bringing them to the market effectively. So if you are working in the Product space, you have probably heard of goal-setting frameworks like KPIs, North Star, Meaningful Milestones, or V2MOM (Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles, and Measures). Today, we’re going to look at Objectives and Key Results (OKR). This goal-setting framework clarifies how to deliver results that truly matter, and directs all initiatives toward measurable strategic outcomes. Let’s spend a moment covering the basics. The Objective tells your team where to go. It’s the final destination of your journey. In order to arrive at your dream destination, you will need to achieve some milestones first. These are the Key Results (KR). Typically, the Objective is set by the leadership team, showing the big vision. While the Objective can be inspirational and high-level, the KR should be practical and measurable. When picking Key Results for your Product Team, be sure that you can directly influence and measure them. The SMART methodology will be handy to ensure every result is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Now I suggest we talk a bit about Initiatives.
Key Results consist of Initiatives or Projects. Usually, Initiatives come bottom-up from the Product, marketing, design, or engineering teams. These are the projects that help achieve team KR: onboarding redesign, experiments to drive product activation, or pricing page optimization.
The OKR framework really works when it’s adapted across all of the organization. This means that everyone is motivated to solve the company’s challenges, instead of working in silos on their individual projects. For this setup to work, it’s important to understand the Objectives, Key Results, and Initiatives of other teams. Based on my experience, one of the most important cross-functional collaborations happens between Product and marketing teams. You can dive deeper into Product OKRs in this amazing guide, and I will focus on marketing OKRs, explaining why Product Teams should care about them.
Check out: The Difference: OKRs vs KPIs
How OKRs help Product and marketing teams work together
As a marketing leader, I’ve been using the Objective and Key Results framework to establish a robust tracking system for Product Marketing, content, and community teams. My deliverables have been connected the most with revenue, user growth, and product launches. This means that every marketing project was laddered up to marketing KRs and Objectives, which in turn ladder up to the company-wide OKRs.Let’s discuss an example of Product KRs, shared by the GitLab Director of Product:
Delivering a paid feature is teamwork, with a lot of cross-functional collaboration between PM and PMM/marketing teams. While Product Managers will lead the feature release process, the marketing team will need to:
Deliver sales enablement materials, training for the sales team, and a GTM plan for the new feature rollout (PMM team).
Write case studies to explain how the paid features can help prospects (PMM & content teams).
Talk about a new paid feature on a regular basis via company-owned channels to drive features awareness (content & social teams).
As you see, marketing should take an active part in driving product KRs to success. So how can we be sure that PMM, content, and social teams will have time and resources to focus on the Initiatives above? With the common company-wide Objective of “Increasing enterprise ARR by 20%”, the goals of the two teams will be perfectly aligned. There will be fewer conflicts of priorities between marketing and Product. So Initiatives that are important for a Product Team will not be pushed into the backlog by a marketing team and vice versa. The beauty of implementing the OKRs framework is the visibility of everyone’s deliverables and a chance for other teams to plug their expectations and receive the support they need. To make it even more hands-on, we’ll cover real-life OKRs for Product Marketing, content marketing, and community-building functions. We’ll also take a look into practical use cases of how Product Goals are naturally tied with marketing.
Product Marketing OKRs and Product Goals
Product Managers and Product Marketers are two best friends. These two functions work hand in hand in delivering exceptional product experience to users. The main focus of Product Marketing Managers is running user and competitor research, defining the positioning and packaging, as well as bringing new products to market (GTMs). So where can Product Marketing bring the most significant positive impact on the company’s Objectives? It really depends on the stage of your product’s life cycle. Is your product in the introduction (development, pre-MVP, validation), growth, or maturity stage?
If the startup is working on delivering the first Minimum Viable Product (MVP), then the main focus should be on defining Product-Market fit, value for target users, and launching the product itself. In this case, the company Objective could be “Launch MVP and receive meaningful learnings in quarter 1” with 3-4 Key Results for the PMM team. The good practice is to make Key Results measurable, for example:
MVP launch with 5000+ signups at the end of the first quarter. Note: on-schedule MVP release will be owned by the Product Team, while MVP Go-to-Market launch by PMMs.
40% MVP adoption rate (new engaged users /all signups) via smooth onboarding and UX. Note: this can be shared KR between PM < > PMM teams.
Validate 10 Product-Market fit hypotheses to learn if the MVP solves users’ needs. Note: PMM team can own hypotheses about user segments, problem domains, and value propositions. While the PM team can focus more on how current features solve needs or how usable they are (discoverability and usability hypothesis).
If the startup has passed the Product-Market fit stage, Product Marketing OKRs can be centered around building Competitive Intelligence programs to constantly stay ahead of the competition, both from positioning and product features perspectives. The positioning aspect can be owned by marketing leaders and features differentiation by Product Leads.
Another example of post-PMF Product Marketing OKRs could be bridging the gap between Product and sales, which comes to various sales enablement projects. Let me give you a practical example here. When I was leading developer marketing for Abstract SDK (Software Development Kit), our Product Marketing goals were tightened to the company’s OKRs. Imagine that the company Objective was winning enterprise customers, with Company Key Results of “Increase demand from Enterprise companies by xx% quarter by quarter”. So my department projects could be something like “Create and distribute an internal education course on the SDK possibilities”. This is a pure sales enablement Initiative that would involve a huge content help from the SDK Product Team. Take a look at how it could be formed together:
The Project KRs for this example could be owned by the Product Marketing Team. However, the overall success would depend on cross-functional collaboration with others:
SDK educational course is released and shared with the customer-facing teams (Q3). Note: part of the course covers SDK job stories and use cases. That part could come from SDK Product Team expertise.
100% of the customer-facing teams have passed the course and acknowledge it (Q3).Note: internal users of the course could be sales, customer success, and design advocates teams. So the success of the course adoption could come only with support from team leads of those departments.
Content marketing OKRs and Product Goals
Content marketing is one of my favorite marketing functions, as it drives impact at every part of the customer journey. Almost each company Initiative would need help with micro-copy, UX copy, short-form marketing content or long-form articles, announcement posts, and educational guides. The list can be endless. Content marketers are always busy with BAU tasks (business as usual). So it’s very important to get their time allocated beforehand, ideally as part of their Objectives. What could those be?Content marketing OKRs can relate to Search Engine Optimization, inbound or outbound content, website blog traffic or lead generation, brand awareness or client education objectives, GTMs, or forming community-generated content. Let’s get to the example here.If the company-wide Objective is “Win Enterprise Customers”, the content team Objective could be “Generate 15% more enterprise variable leads from content in quarter 2”. In this scenario, the Key Results could be:
Map & implement 9 TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU content ideas to drive enterprise variable MQLs (with forecast). Note: those content ideas can be related to product features, pricing, competitors’ comparison sheet sheets, or clients’ case studies, which is exactly what the bottom-of-the-funnel content (BOFU) is about! So if you’re a Product Leader who has KRs of increasing feature usage, you can pitch your content idea to the content team. Also, don’t forget to use the combination of the magic words: “it can be a Product-Led Growth article”.
Increase conversion rate from blog readers to MQLs (blog website visitors/left emails). Note: this KR can be connected to the blog page optimization. So the content team might come to PMMs, PMs, or designers to ask for help with crafting ideal “readers’ customer journeys.
Implement a content distribution strategy to increase monthly traffic to the blog and content campaigns page by 30%. Note: this KR might require the content team to run some paid ads for the best-performing content pieces. So maybe some of the Product-related content matches this box?
It is worth saying that Content OKRs can contribute a lot to the Product Team’s results. My favorite example is when the Product Team is responsible for growing product adoption. And the content team is the one who writes educational how-to guides, short-form feature updates posts, and Product digest emails. So it’s important to have enough time allocated by the content team for all Product-related queries. What could be a good example here? Think about a specific number of Product-related articles, plugged into content marketing team deliverables. I had this practice at LottieFiles (design company), where we defined the expected amount of Product-focused content every quarter. Those content had a specific goal of growing product adoption for released tools. Below you can see some examples of such cooperation:
Community OKRs and Product Goals
Community building and thought leadership are promising growth pathways for many tech companies. Depending on your org structure, the community team can be a standalone department or a part of marketing. It can have its own OKRs or overlap with the OKRs from other teams. So how can you leverage the community to bring more value to the users and push the company products forward? You can think of such an Objective: “Building brand awareness among opinion leaders in quarter 3”. It can consist of very measurable KRs:
Published 12 thought leadership articles with top experts in the industry on the company blog.
Get 10% of targeted opinion leaders as a part of the company opinion leaders’ program.
Achieve 20+ positive startup mentions in the opinion leaders’ blogs, newsletters, and podcasts (organic, not sponsored).
When I was working on Flawless App, the design & dev startup which I built with Ahmen Sulaiman, we were leveraging the community a lot. We built one of the most popular iOS development publications on Medium, having more than 150 mobile developers writing content under our brand. Eventually, our core product, Flawless App, was named the most recommended tool for iOS developers. Back then we didn’t have community OKRs. We planned community building deliverables as “let’s help our community as much as we can”. While it might sound crazy, the number of brand mentions from community leaders, thought leadership product reviews, and mentions in the popular newsletters & podcasts was way above our expectations! For Flawless App, our user community was also one of the most valuable sources of product feedback. Our customers were designers and developers, who actively used Twitter and loved giving constructive feedback on new products. We were setting up user interviews, usability studies, and surveys via our community channels to test product ideas, prioritize Product Development, and have constant touch with users. Below you can see a real-life example of plugging our Product Discovery into community tactics:
For early-stage startups, building a loyal community should be a strategically important OKR, while for more established companies, community OKRs can go into specific programs (like developer relationships, Product evangelism, or event marketing). Our active and engaged community at Flawless App was one of the main drivers of our acquisition, growth, and Product Discovery (as well as happiness for the founders 🥰).
How to set marketing OKRs, accounting for other teams
I hope you have enjoyed a deep dive into the world of marketing goals. Now I will share a bit about the OKRs planning process. The planning process starts when startup leadership agrees on strategic company-wide OKRs. Then heads of departments break down the company OKRs into the departments’ ones. That’s when marketing or Product Departments’ Objectives are set. Finally, marketing Objectives get decomposed into marketing Key Results. Later KRs lead to the formation of marketing Initiatives for individual teams. For example, Initiatives could be campaigns for Product Marketing (Go-to-Markets), content (content repurpose project), or community (community-led events). It’s important to be sure that marketing Initiatives are connected to the product ones. If PMs are working on a feature release, PMMs should have a launch planned 😀. While it sounds obvious, often, PMs and PMMs’ goals cannot be aligned in the goal-setting stage. Let’s dive deeper and learn about each step in this process:
Setting up strategic company-wide OKRs
Objectives are set up for a year, or if the startup is moving very lean, it could be quarterly goals. The quarterly OKRs for fast-moving companies could be “Achieve Monthly Recurring Revenue of $500K in three months”. It’s important to determine what would be the most critical Objectives, given the Product Lifecycle and company stage. Typically an Objective is a stretch goal. If you achieve 100% of your Objectives, then they are not challenging enough.
Setting department Objectives
Based on strategic OKRs, marketing or Product Leaders set up their own goals for each function or department. Marketing Objectives should intersect and overlap with other teams’ OKRs. For example, for the company-wide Objective “Achieve Monthly Recurring Revenue of $500K in three months”, the marketing Objective can be something like “Achieve XXX monthly traffic with Y% visitor/sign up conversion”.
Setting marketing department Key Results and Initiatives
The last part is to define specific Key Results each marketing function needs to achieve and which Initiatives to launch this quarter. When marketing understands how they contribute toward the greater goal, the Initiatives start having measurable outcomes, very business-related. It’s essential to include the marketing team members responsible for achieving the Key Results in the planning process. So everyone in the team will be thinking about which Key Results and Initiatives are needed in order to have “XXX monthly traffic” and “Y% visitor/sign up conversion”. Ideally, all marketing Initiatives should come from the bottom up.
The final steps of OKRs planning would be putting all Initiatives on the timeline, adding them into a marketing plan and task management system, as well as aligning with cross-functional teams.
OKRs aren’t simple to get right from day one
Most startups will have several iterations in the OKRs process. The startup team should ensure they take time to set the OKRs and don’t rush the process. Many folks in marketing, Product, design and other teams might not be familiar with this goal-setting framework. So they would need more time for self-education. I believe that within a few rounds of using OKRs, teams will settle on a style that works for everyone.Stealing slightly from the Lean Methodology, with OKRs, it’s important to “define, measure, learn” in order to improve continually. Hold retrospectives at the end of the period to see if the Objectives were too easy, or unrealistic. Try to understand if they actually helped achieve positive growth. It’s a learning curve, just like everything else.
I truly believe that by linking marketing OKRs with the strategic vision and Product Team’s expectations, you’ll have peace and love among cross-functional teams.
Updated: April 13, 2023