3 Must-Have Skills for becoming a Great Product Marketer

Over the past five years, Product Marketing has become an increasingly popular role at tech companies ranging from emerging startups to established tech titans. But the role and responsibilities of a Product Marketer varies company to company. Shyna Zhang knows this well, having launched products and led Product Marketing teams at fast growing startups (Marketo) and large tech titans (Microsoft)

Recently, Shyna left to start a new venture, and we got the chance to talk to her about what she is working on as The Founder of Rigging Academy. During our conversation, Shyna shared her journey to becoming a Product Marketer, what a good product marketer looks like, and her advice for those interested in transitioning into or building a career as a Product Marketer.

CareerSchooled: Over your career, you’ve made your mark doing product marketing for a number of multinational organizations and tech startups. But thinking back to your childhood for a second, what did you think you were going to be when you were growing up?

As with most of America, I was glued to the television watching Michelle Kwan try to bring home the gold medal in the Salt Lake City Olympics after getting ‘robbed’ in Nagano. Growing up in Louisiana, there were few Asian role models around me, let alone female, let alone in mainstream media. I was convinced that despite living in a place that averaged temperatures of 100 degrees with 90% humidity for the better half of the year, my future was in figure skating. As you can imagine for obvious reasons, that quickly didn’t work out.

When declaring a major for college, I realized that I was really interested in people – understanding what makes them tick, what motivates them, and how they work well (or not so well) together. I floated the idea of being a Sociologist or Journalist with my tiger mom, who quickly dismissed that idea and a more practical Business Finance degree was decided upon :). 

Although in hindsight, it wasn’t a good choice or fit for a number of reasons. One of the main ones being that I’m probably one of the only Asians in history that scored better on her SAT Verbal than the math portion.

CareerSchooled: How did you get your career started in Product Marketing?

Getting into marketing was a combination of luck, curiosity and hard work. During my junior year of college at the University of Texas, I realized that I wasn’t good at finance – the degree I was studying – and that the bachelor’s degree in finance that I was going to end up with would be useless for me. I was fortunate to get internships at Accenture and Microsoft in their marketing teams, through alumni of the University of Texas who were willing to take a chance on me. The experiences I gained during those internships helped me to realize that a career in marketing offered me the opportunity to be creative, plus I could define and own what success looks like.

 

My early marketing roles, like my internships, were in broad marketing roles that provided clear visibility into how an entire business operates and makes money. At Microsoft, I learned about general management – that is, how to run a business across marketing, sales, customer readiness, partner services and more. The job also gave me the opportunity to live in Singapore working in a regional role with responsibility across Southeast Asia, Australia and Korea. Joining Marketo taught me the importance of the story-telling aspects of marketing and how important it is to create messaging that’s repeatable, concise and memorable.

 

CareerSchooled: What are some of the challenges that Product Marketers face in their day to day jobs?

Measurement is a huge challenge that some of the most talented PMMs struggle with. Sales has a clear quota that they need to hit, while Product teams may have clear adoption or MAU goals. Product Marketing often owns messaging, positioning, storytelling – functions that can seem nebulous when it comes to defining a hard value to the organization. I’ve found that aligning with revenue metrics is always a good place to be for PMM (ie. revenue, share, time to chose, win rate, etc..) as well as developing good partnerships throughout the organization.

Impact and influence is also something that’s hard to achieve within the organization, but critical to the success of PMM. Often PMM doesn’t have direct ownership via reporting structure of Sales, Demand Generation, Customer Success etc.., yet are held to business outcomes such as pipeline, revenue, time to close, win rate, renewal rate, etc… It’s important to be able to make your case, build the relationships, and lay the foundation to be able to drive change throughout an organization.  

CareerSchooled: Throughout your career as a Product Marketer, what’s a project, deliverable, or experience that you are especially proud of?

I left a pretty cushy life in Seattle at the age of 24 to move to Singapore to run a $500M P&L for Microsoft across Asia Pacific and launch a product in less than 3 months. Don’t feel sorry for me, but it was probably the most challenging professionally and personally for me. Leaving my support network and everything that I knew behind and jumping into a stressful work environment (in addition to figuring out my personal life) covering 9 countries led me to lose a patch of hair about the size of a half dollar from the side of my head. Yes, I had a bald spot at the age of 25 :).

As the saying goes, ‘what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.’ I learned a lot about resilience, grit, determination and my pain tolerance from that experience. I ended up getting promoted at the end of that year, but more importantly, I learned a lot about myself and what I’m capable of.

CareerSchooled: Like any job, there are numerous skills needed to be a great product marketer. What are 2-3 skills that you believe are critical to being a Product Marketer?

Communication through impact and influence across the organization (storytelling).

PMM doesn’t own sales, demand generation, customer success, etc.. however, we need their partnership to hit our goals and provide us feedback. Building these relationships and being able to share ideas/proposals across the organization in a way that clearly demonstrates the value to them is important to make impact.

Deep buyer (and stakeholder) empathy.

Any marketer worth their salt can talk about their own solution/product. The trick is to figure out how to speak to the value/benefits of your solution in your user’s language. You’re selling to Oil and Gas Executives? How does your solution benefit upstream vs downstream initiatives? To effectively talk about the benefits of your solution, you have to develop deep empathy for your buyer. Starts with speaking with them and getting into their shoes. What are their dreams? What are their aspirations? What are their painpoints? What are their fears?

Ruthless prioritize to get shit done.

You’ll never have enough time and resources to get all of the things that the organization is requesting complete. You’ll have to work with your stakeholders to ruthlessly prioritize, otherwise, you’ll never get anything done or burnout. Figure out what’s urgent vs important and where your points of leverage (scale) are. If you create this collateral, are there additional use cases for it or is it just a one off to close a deal or a one specific campaign?

 

Careerschooled: What advice do you have for someone who doesn’t work in Product Marketing, but wants to make the transition into Product Marketing?


1.Build your PMM portfolio

Similar to an artist who may have a portfolio of their best work that they are proud to display, I always ask to see a PMM (or a potential PMM’s) portfolio of work. It could be a compilation of blogs, ebooks, content, decks, etc.. that they have created for personal value or for previous roles. I want to see that you’re a talented storytelling, that you understand how to get across a message in a compelling way, and that you are able to succinctly explain something that may be complicated.

2. Build your Network

I find that the term ‘networking’ can be really awkward and painful and have found myself eating chocolates on the couch instead of going to an industry event to shake random people’s hands while awkwardly juggling a drink in the other hand. However, I’ve found that often going in with the mindset of learning something new through interesting people helps. Instead of

3. Be curious. That can help you to hustle to get as many informal, social interviews as possible.

It can be easy to be tunnel visioned when looking for job or career transition. People will be much more open and willing to help if you invest in building a relationship first. That requires being genuinely interested in their journey, their learnings, and seeking their guidance. People want to help, however, when the ask comes off as purely transactional, it can not feel as fulfilling. Once you learn about other people’s interests and initiatives, brainstorm how you could be of value and help. Beautiful things happen when we are willing to bring our cumulative gifts to the table. 🙂

CareerSchooled: While you’re a seasoned Product Marketer for many notable tech startups, you recently transitioned into the role of a Founder. What are you up too now and what are you working on?

Specifically for product marketing, I help run a community called Product Marketing Masters. We’re on a mission to educate the next wave of product marketers with real world examples and practical guidance. We hold monthly events and workshops on topics like Messaging & Positioning, Go To Market Strategy, Pricing and Packaging, etc.. in the Bay Area.. I frequently have people reach out to me for career advice or information about product marketing. Without a single source of information to point people towards, I wanted to bring practical guidance to help create the next generation of product marketers.  I was lucky enough to find a tribe of other women who felt the same way – we now work together as the Product Marketing Masters. I’d encourage anyone interested in product marketing to join our Product Marketing Masters Facebook group, Meetup, and www.ProductMarketingMasters.com.

I’m also passionate about developing talent, especially those earlier in their careers. I run a minority talent incubator called Rigging Academy. Minorities tend to self-select out of opportunities consciously or unconsciously due to lack of confidence or not knowing the rules of how Corporate America operates. I’m focusing on helping people develop the soft skills they need to succeed in a professional environment (ie. negotiating salary, marketing yourself, etc.). I’m building an online community consisting a virtual classroom, group work, and 1-on-1 coaching. Sound interesting? Sign up for the Spring 2019 waitlist!

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How to Succeed In a New Job

Getting a job is just the beginning

Successfully navigating an interview process to get a job is a challenging and arduous process, so it only makes sense to celebrate and breathe a sigh of relief once you land an offer. However, the real challenge begins when you show up on the first day and you are expected to start delivering results. Afterall, we’re not rewarded for getting the job, but for what we do in the job.

A few months ago, I started a new job, and since it was the first time in a few years that I’ve actually started a new job I wanted to take a thoughtful and strategic approach. In a recent survey, 75% of hiring managers said they made a bad hire, and I was determined to not fall victim to that statistic.

 

Furthermore, as someone with goals and aspirations, I really was excited about succeeding and taking on a ton of responsibility for my new exciting job. But I recognized there’s a learning curve, and that Rome certainly wasn’t built in a day, so I created a plan to do my best to decrease the learning curve and accelerate my “time to market” in my ability to deliver results. I believe have been instrumental in helping me get up to speed, contribute quickly, and build credibility and my reputation within my team.

 

Go on a listening tour

As Alexander Hamilton said, “Talk less, smile more.” Politicians use listening tours as a means to shake hands and kiss babies, but in the context of a new job they are a great tool for meeting people and learning the ins and outs of the culture of your new organization.

 

Listening to others to learn about their job, department and place in the organization helps you understand the organizational structure, builds your reputation, and gives you information on how things get done at your new company. Furthermore, in the event that the person you talk to is someone you have to work with, it helps build a relationship.

 

During my first week, I asked my team to help me to put together a list of people that I should reach out to and talk to. I asked for people that were either A) people I would be working with or B) people who had a good reputation within the company and had be a veteran of the company.

 

From there, I went and made the effort to reach out and speak to these people, to learn about their role in the organization, best practices, and if necessary, how we might work together. This was a valuable opportunity for me to learn but also to start building relationships, which was critical for me as I work in a very large company.

Learn and Set Expectations

Understanding what’s expected of you is critical to success. Learning what the expectations are helps you prioritize your work, and helps you understand the quality and effort you need to exhibit in order to be a top performer. The earlier you do this, the better off you’ll be in ensuring you are meeting and exceeding expectations.

 

To do this, set aside time with your manager to ask about what the expectations are, and clearly articulate them to make sure you both are on the same page. In addition to explicitly asking about your roles, responsibilities and general expectations, consider asking questions like:

  • Who’s an example of a top performer and what does she do that stands out?
  • What are some best practices around working and collaborating with others?
  • Is it better for me to schedule a regular check in, or are you more comfortable coming on an as needed basis?

 

While it’s important to learn the expectations of someone in your role, it’s also important to acknowledge that you have a role in setting those expectations as well, so don’t be afraid to use your judgment in shaping those expectations based off of your own opinion and perspective.

During my first week, I made sure to talk to my manager and my team to get a better sense of what my role was going to be. I asked questions around what projects I should be working on, how to prioritize my time, and the best ways to ask for feedback.

 

Create Your Information Diet

As a regular consumer of content, I rely on digital and social channels for relevant information and to help with informal learning and “getting smart” on topics in a quick manner. Since I was starting a new job, I had to make sure my content sources were up to date.  I went and updated my content and information intake diet to reflect the sources of information and topics that I wanted to get smart on for my new role.

That meant finding new sources and websites to read for industry information, finding new sources industry experts to follow on Twitter, and updating the terms I get reminders on via Google News. From there, I made sure to check these sources daily, and tried to read during the evenings and weekends to make sure I was informed. If you aren’t doing this, consider signing up for a Twitter account, downloading a content reader like Pocket, or setting Google alerts to key topics that are relevant to your job. If you want to go a step further, ask your colleagues what they are reading. I think you’ll be surprised at how much you can learn.

 

Take on what you can take on

Research suggest it takes about 8 months to be fully productive in a new role.  While you do have time to learn, a great way to get started is to start raising your hand for anything that you feel you can take on or contribute to.

 

For example, if your team needs someone to do a research report and that’s something you’re comfortable with, raise your hand to work on it. If you are a little uncertain, offer at least to be a reviewer, or to tag team it with someone else. Taking the initiative will allow you to contribute, get you more familiar with your job, and also win some brownie points with your co-workers and manager.

 

During my second week, I was in a meeting where we began talking about a project that needed some support, and it was on something that i had done in my previous job. While it wasn’t in my direct job description, I volunteered for it anyway, and made an impact right away on the project because of my previous experience. The project lead was very grateful for my support, and it also gave me confidence in my abilities to contribute.

 

Leverage your strengths (and weaknesses) to your advantage

Everyone has a set of strengths and weaknesses, and since you got a new job, clearly your new employer is betting on you using your strengths to make contributions. Take the time to articulate out your strengths, and to share them with your manager or your teammates, so you both can begin thinking on how you might contribute to projects or deliverables. And while everyone has strengths, all of us have weaknesses. Use this as a chance to identify training or learning opportunities, and to build up some competency in areas where you can improve upon.

 

Create a User Manual

Last year, I stumbled across Abby Falik’s user manual that she created for her direct reports. The purpose of it was to explain her values, preferences, quirks, and overall leadership style to others in a transparent way, so others could understand her better and ultimately work with her more effectively.

 

Since it can take time to adjust to a new environment and build relationships with colleagues, I decided to write my own user manual. While I’m not a CEO of an organization, since I was new, I thought it would be helpful for my teammates to know me in a more transparent way, and to start our relationship off as best as I could. In it, I shared my values, preferences, workstyles, and offered tips on how to work with me.  

 

Additionally, I offered to help other write their own user manuals. My team embraced the idea, and while it’s early, we seem to be working together well. Additionally, they shared it broadly with the rest of the organization, and now user manuals are sprouting up on a number of different teams.

 

Build a question log

There is so much to learn when you start a new job that at times, everything can seem overwhelming. To combat the information overload, I created a document on my computer called a question log.

 

On the first day, I started a question log, and everytime I had a question that I didn’t know the answer to, I would write it down. Each week, I would meet with someone on my team, and for 10-15 minutes we would go over the questions that were in my question look. Not only was this helpful to me, as I got the answers to my questions, but on a few occasions the question helped identify an issue or an opportunity and it got raised to the broader team. Being new is tough because there’s so much you don’t know, but it’s also a great opportunity to question the status quo to uncover opportunities that others who have been there might have overlooked.

 

First impressions mean a lot, which is why it’s really important to start off a new job in a positive manner. While it’s unreasonable to expect to knock it out of the park right away, investing the time and being proactive about beginning your job will set yourself up for longer term success.

6 Tips to Ace Your Next Performance Review

Even if you’re career driven, the performance review process can be challenging and stressful. Whether it’s the preparation leading up to your review, the waiting game to hear the results, or thinking about everything you’ve done (or haven’t done) it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I know the feeling having dealt with this myself many times over the years, and have learned a few things along the way that have helped me manage the process and achieve results that I’ve generally been happy with.

Starting today, add these simple tips to your daily routine, and you’ll be prepared for a much better  meeting.

Ask for Clarification  – This sounds simple and basic, but in order to understand how you are doing you need to know how you’ll be evaluated. Start with the employee manual. Or, make sure to ask your boss or HR representative what the process looks like as well as the key areas of evaluation. Knowing this will ensure that you are clear of the expectations/measurements for the process as well as how you’ll be reviewed, so that as you prepare, you can focus on the right things. (Note: One challenge that often comes up is that not all companies have clear or formal review processes. In this case, simply asking the question is a very valuable activity!)

Keep Track of Your Work – It starts with preparation, way before the meeting or review process kicks off. Open up a Excel/Google Spreadsheet, look over your job description and create a spreadsheet of all your projects and responsibilities. Make sure to set aside time once every two weeks to update the spreadsheet to include progress, results, and the key skills/competencies that you are using. You’ll want to make sure that the results are measurable/quantifiable when possible, that way, your manager can use that data point to understand the impact that you are making.

Go Above and Beyond – In many companies, doing what’s expected is a good start, but if you want to set yourself apart, get the higher rating, or get a promotion, you need to go above and beyond what’s expected. In that same spreadsheet, highlight anything that was not within your core set of responsibilities so you can let your manager or evaluator know that you went above and beyond what you were asked to do.

If you don’t have anything yet where you’ve gone above and beyond, no need to worry as it’s never too late to start! Think about a specific strength of yours and think about how you can use that to take on a new initiative or responsibility. Another option would be to ask your boss or manager for something that’s on their plate that they want to get done but don’t have time for and take on that project. You still need to make sure you have done everything that’s asked of you, but this is a good differentiator to have.

Put Together a Brag Book – Acing your review is not just about what you think of your work, but what others think of you. One of the best ways to have others vouch for you is to create a “brag book.” For every time you get an email that congratulates you on a great job, save it. If you get great feedback from your colleagues, make sure to include that too.

Learn From Others – There are most likely people at your company who recently got promoted, or did well in the review process – take a page out of their playbook by learning from them what they did and how they were successful. While everyone has different strengths, goals, and measures of success, knowing what others are doing who are successful can give you a good sense of the types of behaviors/actions that your company values and rewards.

Identify Areas of Improvement – Not everything is rainbows and butterflies at work, so surely there are some challenges or areas of development that you need to work on. Make sure to identify what these are, and ideally, put together steps or a plan that you can take to improve upon these areas.

Have a Conversation Before The Conversation – Once you know when you’re review process will start, make sure to take the time to meet with your manager prior to the process or meeting to set expectations and get on the same page. During this meeting, you can use this as a time to talk to them about the upcoming process and to at a high level remind them of some of the things you have achieved throughout the year. Also use this time to ask any questions you have about the process, or if there they recommend you do anything else before the process kicks off.

With a good understanding of what you accomplished and some prior planning and preparation, you can be sure you’re ready to ace your next performance review.