Every market, even historically difficult ones, creates opportunity. Legendary SaaS product leader Cheryl Chavez, formerly of Martech innovators Engagio and Marketo, knows better than anyone how to make the most of a market and industry ready for change. Now as CPO of hospitality tech provider Duetto, she’s putting this knowledge to work helping an industry that’s resisted digital transformation see how to adopt it quickly and meet today’s market demands.
Cheryl’s superpower? Her commitment to creating alignment between her product team and the go-to-market functions, starting with product marketing. Read more to learn how she’s delivering growth while building the human connections that make it possible for a product team, and a company, to deliver exceptional results.
Megan: Cheryl, something I know you’re great at is fun ice-breaker questions to ask at the start of meetings, so let’s open with a really important question. Tell us your favorite flavor of ice cream?
Cheryl: Peanut butter and chocolate ice cream from Baskin Robbins. I'm old school, nothing fancy. I don't need anything like Tin Cup, just Baskin Robbins with the big chunks of peanut butter in it. Perfect. You know, questions like this may seem silly, but they’re really important. Everyone needs to feel part of a meeting and like they can talk and don’t have to be so proper. This is one way to make that happen.
Megan: Tell us all about your role at Duetto. It’s fairly new for you. How’s it going?
Cheryl: My role is Chief Product Officer, so my primary responsibility has been to buildout and scale the product management organization. I'm new at the company and have been there for about five months. We’re in hospitality. The software we build helps hotels forecast and price their rooms, so we're all about driving revenue for the business. No surprise, we've been highly affected by COVID market changes. There's an opportunity for our business to come out of the COVID period and really tell a story around how technology can help hotels do more with less.
It's a very familiar set of messaging around automation that's not new to the tech world, but it's very new to hospitality. They are not at the forefront of technology, maybe 10 or so years behind in terms of tech adoption compares to most of the companies we’re used to working with in SaaS. Having this narrative and making sure what we're building helps these hospitality companies adopt tech is critical to delivering on Duetto’s opportunity. The next big piece for me is really understanding the road map for recovery for our customers.
Megan: Tell us about some things you’re working on going into next year. What are you really excited about for 2021?
Cheryl: The way customers used our products before COVID doesn't work anymore. For example, we do forecasting for hotels. The thing is, one of the main inputs for forecasting is historical data. Well, historical data is useless now. I can't look at what my booking was for July 4th, 2020 to predict July 4th, 2021. We've had to rethink how we build our products and how we're going to strengthen our core competencies and improve upon them.
That’s the broader narrative that we're talking about, and those are some pretty hefty goals for the teams. We’re building out our road map and aligning the product team so what we deliver is exactly what we are telling the market. This is not a two, three or even six-month goal. It’s going to take about a year to get implemented and see the results of it. The work is going to continue into 2021 because that’s when we believe the recovery will really start for our customers.
And of course, you know, with product management, they span multiple organizations. It's just not about product and engineering, but no product marketing is a big piece of what we're doing here as well as the rest of the marketing department.
We're continuing to hire product managers and deliver on our roadmap.
Megan: It’s counterintuitive because we’ve been led to think hospitality is all doom and gloom, but Duetto is seeing a boost from these crazy times. Has it accelerated digital transformation in the industry?
Cheryl: Yes, it has. As I mentioned, our software helps forecast and price hotel rooms. The job of a revenue manager is to make sure they’re pricing the room correctly every single day of the year. There is a set of rules a hotel can apply and automate in our system to make that work smarter and easier. Imagine on a daily basis what that revenue manager Is thinking about.
Let’s talk about Labor Day, for example. A few weeks out, people are starting to think about booking rooms, so demand starts to increase as you get closer to the date. The system can automate building a forecast that is further out. As we get closer and closer to the dates, there is a lot more input our system brings to the revenue manager to so they know what to look at to build a more accurate forecast. Then we can create rules in the system that says if your occupancy levels hit a certain percentage, automatically increase pricing to a recommended point."
Megan: What’s creating the urgency for your buyers right now?
Cheryl: The automation piece is what's so key here. Typically, pre COVID, there was a revenue manager in every hotel. Now with COVID, most hotels unfortunately furloughed their entire revenue management and marketing teams. It’s now one revenue manager to multiple hotels. Automation becomes much more important because there's no way they're going to be able to keep their eye on every day of the year for every hotel. We have tools and workflows and automation to helps them manage days even when they're not in the office.
Hotels have typically been a bit behind on adopting technology, especially at the front office part of the hotel. Now they have to adopt technology around contact lists, check-ins and services within the hotel. This is really kicking off a whole digital transformation. Some hotels still use spreadsheets to manage pricing and forecasting. How can you do that if you're now responsible for a portfolio of hotels? More hotels are saying we need automated revenue management right now, even though we know it’s going to cost us money. They say it’s a must-have to be successful in this market and to hold up against competitors. So, it's actually pretty exciting. The pipeline of opportunities and inbound leads is looking pretty good, all things considered
Megan: It’s great to see a positive change come out of these events, right?
Cheryl: We're in a unique situation because we're a fully cloud-based, multitenant solution while a lot of hotel tech is very, very old and even still on-premise. This market is a wakeup call for the hotel industry. They’re saying, hey, we can actually be more efficient and save money in the long run if we can get onto this modern technology.
Megan: Given all these market changes and opportunities, as a CPO, what are skills you feel are most important for product marketers to be really good at right now?
Cheryl: Product marketers need to understand the problem their product team is solving with the features they’re delivering. But I think sometimes it's not the product marketer’s fault for not understanding the problem. Good product management is about identifying a problem and solving for that particular problem. If the product team can really articulate the problem, the product marketer needs to have the empathy to understand and feel how this product is going to help. I believe that means getting their hands dirty a little bit. I've seen some product marketers who say, “ I don't even know what the product looks like. I don't even know how to log in.” You need to do that. It will bring you closer to the product management team.
Megan: What else can help bring product teams closer together?
Cheryl: I believe the partnership between product marketing and product management doesn't start after code is complete. It starts at the earliest phases of product management. One example: we write opportunity assessments for 75 to 80 percent of our product features. That opportunity assessment is basically to say, here's the problem and here are some ways we think we can solve it and how we could talk about it in the market. Product marketing has a big place in helping us write that opportunity assessment early on because that’s where the story starts to become the way we talk.
So many times, the product team will use funny ways of talking about a feature, then it sticks and ends up in a customer’s hands inadvertently. One example: At a previous company, we had a feature we called “monolith,” which isn't a bad term, but our customers didn’t know what it meant and it could have a bit of a negative connotation. Product marketing can help teach the company about a feature early in the right way, because roadmaps are talked about well before the feature is delivered. Get involved early.
The skill needed for this in product marketers is empathy, and product managers have to have it as well. It’s that curiosity and desire to understand not just at the surface level but a little bit deeper about how the product operates and what it can really do for customers.
Megan: What others ways can product marketing get involved early to ensure product success?
Cheryl: You want to be thinking about pricing and packaging. I've worked at companies where product marketing owns pricing and packaging, but it's a collaborative effort, right? If the product marketer can't price and package and they don't understand what the heck we're building, that’s not going to create alignment. Product management wants input from the product marketer because they’ve got more of the voice of sales. It’s so much about building software is collaboration. I see too many silos in organizations right now.
Megan: Can you share some of the ways you help build bridges to make alignment happen? Especially for people like you who started a new role recently and may not have ever met colleagues in person?
Cheryl: I started three days before we shut the office for COVID. I believe everything we do is about personal relationships. If you don't connect with people and you don't find ways to make sure people understand that you understand them and where they're coming from, it gets really difficult. I tend to like to get to know people. I want know what makes them tick. What wakes you up on the weekends? What do you like to do? Little things that might sound silly, but it helps you connect with somebody, maybe you share an interest. Like for me, it’s wine. I have people coming to me all the time saying, hey, I'd love to learn a little bit more about wine. it breaks that ice and allows people to feel they can be their more authentic selves.
In terms working with the product marketing team, it's involving them early on. Our product marketing leader comes to my team meeting every week. She's involved in the road map prioritization process. I work closely with her on messaging. We've already established in a short time that good banter. She sends me things to review. I give her feedback. She asks me questions and I ask for her thoughts. It really has to do with the leader. You somebody who believes early good communication and involvement is important. We all have to listen and not talk too much.
Megan: What advice would you give product marketers about things they could learn to do differently? What things really help if you do them well?
Cheryl: Don’t be afraid of your product team. They're your friends. They're there to be collaborative and your right-hand person. I spent a lot of time at a company called Marketo and I had a fantastic team of product marketers there who I literally thought were glued to my head. We could finish each other's sentences. Find the right way to connect with the person you need to be tightly coupled with and build that relationship. Don't be afraid to ask questions. There are no dumb questions. The product team doesn't expect the product marketer to know everything. Just be inquisitive and curious, which comes from being a little humble about what you know and not being worried about being judged. Everyone is so strapped right now, trying to do so much with so little. They have to focus their time and energy in the right places. If your job is product marketing, then stay committed to that function and see yourself as a part of the product team, not just marketing.
Megan: Lots of people are making career moves right now. What should product leaders be prepared to answer as they’re interviewing, and what will help them succeed when they land a new role?
Cheryl: When I was interviewing for a new role, I used to get the question “what kind of product leader or are you,” and, ”do you see yourself on the customer go-to-market side or are more of a technical product leader.” Right now, the go-to-market piece of product is extremely important. I've seen so many product teams that throw things over the wall. You can’t do that. You need a process to work very closely with marketing around how to train sales and the company on messaging. The customer success team needs to know how to deploy the product and how to help customers be successful. The support team needs to know how to answer questions. The sales team needs to know how to talk about it and not over-promise. You need a go-to-market process and a cross-functional team.
Product marketing plays a really important role in that meeting because they're the bridge to the rest of marketing. Maybe we want to demand generation around it. Or maybe we're seeing low adoption on a particular area of the product, so let’s do some customer marketing.
Megan: Let’s pause on that for a minute, because it’s a really important point. We’re seeing companies do a lot more to engage and retain existing customers. How can product leaders help with that effort?
Cheryl: Without a focus on making customers successful, our products can’t help our companies grow. We need to make sure customers adopt the features we deliver. Somebody has to orchestrate that effort across the company and I see it as a function of product management. It’s important for all product leaders never to forget you’re never really done. You're not done when code is complete. More work goes into making a product successful after it’s built.
Megan: What are best practices you’ve seen for great interlock between the product and marketing team?
Cheryl: It starts at the top. The CMO and CPO, or whatever titles the heads of those organizations have, must be in alignment because you're essentially sharing resources with product marketing. The whole team needs to understand the role of product marketing. You might have people with a lot of experience on your product team, or newer folks who have never worked with the product marketing organization before or somewhere in between.
Every company's a little bit different. Make sure the whole team understands the role of product marketing and what leaders’ expectations are for how they engaging together. For me, I include our product marketer in our weekly team meetings, make sure she's in product requirements (PRD) reviews, design reviews, roadmap, prioritization, reviews. She's essentially part of the team and gets invited to stuff. If we're not aligned on how the teams should work together, then product management is going to get pulled in different directions from the head of marketing. That means they're going to have conflict.
Megan: Do you think product marketing should fit with the CPO or the CMO?
Cheryl:I don't necessarily have any strong feelings. It goes back to alignment. If you can't get aligned, then it might need to sit in product because it is such a core and import responsibility. But I see some of the benefits of it sitting in marketing is because product marketing feeds into your overall narrative for your business and your company, up to corporate marketing. I've seen it work really well sitting in marketing and that’s been the bulk of my experience, but I also know how to engage with them. That makes it a little easier for me, where it might not be for other people who have a harder time with alignment.
Megan: Cheryl, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us! I love the way you really on alignment and collaboration. It’s so important and sets you apart as a leader.
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