Yes to Growth, No to Silos: A Discussion with Zillow’s Alex Luchini About Uniting Product and Marketing

Learn about uniting and syncing the efforts of your product and marketing teams to achieve sustained growth, even in times of economic uncertainty.

Perspectives
June 28, 2023
Image of Aly McGue
Aly McGue
Former Customer Advocacy Director, Amplitude
Side-by-side headshots featuring Amplitude Chief Product Officer Justin Bauer and Zillow Director of Product Management Alex Luchini

In May 2023, Amplitude’s Chief Product Officer Justin Bauer led a session at the annual MAU Vegas—one of the premier industry events for mobile app professionals. Justin leads product management, design, growth, and analytics at Amplitude. He also has mobile gaming experience as the CEO and co-founder of Rivalry Games, acquired by You42 in 2016.

Justin’s session at MAU Vegas focused on the importance of aligning product and marketing teams to achieve sustainable growth. The session featured Alex Luchini, Director of Product Management, Customer & Analytical Data at tech real-estate marketplace giant Zillow.

Key topics
  • How to break down silos between marketing and product teams
  • Modeling growth as a system of loops (flywheel method), instead of a funnel
  • Identifying “champions” from every team to partner in identifying issues and working on solutions

Watch the full session >

Breaking down silos between product and marketing teams

To better understand how professionals feel about the relationship between product and marketing within their own organizations, we recently polled 7,000 Linkedin users.

Poll run by Amplitude leaders

LinkedIn polls run by product and marketing leaders to survey cross-department alignment

A majority of both product and marketing professionals believe that their respective teams could better collaborate. Close to 60% of both product and marketing leaders polled described the relationship between their companies’ two teams as either “distant, needs improvement” or “feels combative, unhealthy.”

At least there’s alignment on the fact that alignment needs to be improved. But where do you start?

Moving away from funnel-centric models

Most growth models over the last decade or so have revolved around funnels. But one of the biggest problems with the funnel model is that it naturally creates departmental silos across different layers of the funnel.

In this model, very little overlap exists. Each team is responsible for a specific, separate phase of the customer journey. Product typically focuses on user activation and retention, while marketing focuses on acquisition.

Stronger collaboration between product and marketing requires finding a common language around the inputs and outputs of the company growth model.

“Instead of thinking about growth as a funnel, in this world of sustainable growth, we encourage people to think about growth as a series of loops—ways that you can invest that actually drive increasing returns into your growth model versus it just being something that decreases over time.”

Justin Bauer, Chief Product Officer, Amplitude

Rethinking your growth model as a system of loops

Following Justin’s advice about rethinking growth as a series of loops entails figuring out which levers to pull to drive sustainable growth over time. The growth loop model removes silos by creating a cyclical process that requires insights from each team to work. The loop model has three phases:

  • Inputs define the processes you’re using to get new or existing users into your loop.
  • Actions define what you are doing to create value for your users in order to generate a desired output.
  • Outputs are outcomes that can be reinvested over time to create self-sustaining growth.

This loop model of growth is often referred to as a which emphasizes maintaining momentum through a cycle of processes. Each activity feeds into the next to produce a self-sustaining growth model.

Inputs are acquisition tactics. Actions usually focus on delivering superior customer experiences, while the outputs are often customer feedback that can be used to improve your inputs and actions in the future.

With funnels, marketing, product, sales, and customer service teams work in silos, and each handles a specific part of the customer journey. By contrast, the flywheel model is cyclical. Every customer interaction is seen as an opportunity to improve each next phase of the cycle. It prioritizes customer experiences and building long-term loyalty over immediate profits. The flywheel model is proactive, leveraging feedback from customers at every touch point to continuously improve the customer experience.

“The key here is that no one team can solve for this in a silo. By definition, if you're thinking about actions that users take that can drive more users to come in, you've got to have product and marketing working together. In the same way, you’ve got to make sure that the users that you are acquiring are driving this loop.”

Justin Bauer, Chief Product Officer, Amplitude

Using retention as a key growth metric

Once the growth model is in place, it’s time to start thinking about what growth metrics to prioritize. What metrics provide cross-functional teams with clear insights they can all use to sustain the growth loop?

The engine that truly powers the growth loop model is retention. Without retention, you don’t have access to the customer feedback you need to keep the growth cycle moving. High retention is also one of the most difficult metrics for software companies to sustain. According to a 2022 KBCM Technology Group survey, the median annual churn rate for private SaaS companies is 14%.

“The key here is being scientific and meticulous about how you solve for improving retention. You have to think about every single cohort and segment of user that comes in. What is their intent? What should their first-time user experience be? How do you get them to an ‘aha’ moment? It cannot be a one-size-fits-all strategy.”

Justin Bauer, Chief Product Officer, Amplitude

The customer interactions gained through your growth loop help you understand what an “aha” moment looks like for your users. What are those actions that inspire dormant or hesitant users to reactivate and re-engage with your product?

When you understand what these drivers look like, it becomes easier to build the loops you need to improve your retention efforts by syncing your product and marketing teams.

Putting alignment into action with Zillow + Amplitude

While Zillow is one of Amplitude’s newer customers, its Director of Product Management, Customer & Analytical Data, Alex Luchini, joined Justin on stage to talk about how Amplitude has already helped the iconic real estate brand break down silos and focus on the right insights across departments.

Adapting to change

Zillow’s business model went through a complete transformation several years ago to help customers buy and sell their homes.

According to Alex, Zillow found itself “in the position of needing to know a lot more about what drives customers' intent—what consumers are looking for… We've got a huge brand presence, we’ve got a ton of traffic—how do we actually get people to understand that we also provide a number of other services that we want them to start taking advantage of?”

This change in business model also fundamentally changed the role of marketing at the company, which had historically been brand awareness.

“Lifecycle marketing became a much bigger part of what the marketing team needed to do and we started to recognize that we were in this position where, as people started to move lower down into our funnels, our teams were not on the same page and looking at the same data sets."

Alex Luchini, Director of Product Management

Changes in the tech stack were needed. But before that, a consensus needed to be reached across teams regarding what challenges everyone needed to overcome.

Bringing teams together around common goals

“The first step is really getting a solution in place that’s going to get everybody on the same page,” Alex said.

According to Alex, Zillow’s data science team was using one set of products that weren’t enabling them to have access to the product health metrics they needed in a timely way. At the same time, the marketing team was using “many different tools that weren’t connected to anything else.”

“It was really about building out the business case for getting these teams to use the same data, arrive at similar insights, and have an aligned conversation about the metrics they're trying to improve,’” Alex said.

When asked what teams can do to begin this process of uniting product and marketing around shared goals and data, Alex stressed the importance of finding “champions” across the company that are able to contextualize the problems each team faces.

“Whenever you're going through the process of establishing a business case that's going to fundamentally change the way that an entire organization operates…you [need to] have champions on both sides of the fence.”

Asked how to identify these champions, Alex said that they should be people who have experienced certain pain points firsthand and can articulate them to leaders.

“It's about finding people who are are experiencing the pain of misalignment themselves and have real objectives and metrics that they're trying to hit—that their leaders want them to hit, that their leaders are invested in them hitting—and then helping them tell the story of, ‘Hey, if you want me to be able to execute on these things and we want to be able to do this together, this is what we need in order to make that happen.’”

Alex Luchini, Director of Product Management

Why Amplitude?

Alex finds that Amplitude makes it easy for her team to consolidate front- and back-end data, as well as data across all relevant channels, to really visualize the entire customer journey.

“There's so many features Amplitude offers that really no one else offered… being able to visualize the journey was huge. Lots of platforms out there, you can aggregate metrics… but we were really looking to put teams into a position where they could not just conceptually understand the journey and design it and work together on it… but have the tools at their disposal to be able to measure and understand it from the customer perspective.”

Alex Luchini, Director of Product Management

She also said that Amplitude's AI/ML were a real differentiating factor for Zillow’s product team who were looking for ways to quickly arrive at insight in an extremely large set of data.

To hear the complete discussion between Justin and Alex, check out the full MAU Vegas session here.

About the Author
Image of Aly McGue
Aly McGue
Former Customer Advocacy Director, Amplitude
Aly McGue is the Customer Advocacy Director at Amplitude. She focuses on building and nurturing strong Amplitude advocates and bringing their stories to life.

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