To Grow in Your Career, Put People First

Julio Santil grew up outside of Boston and through a strong work ethic, intelligence, and relationship building skills he’s built a path to success. His motto and secret sauce?  Put people first. Whether it was becoming the first in his family to graduate from college (Boston College) obtain his MBA (UC-Berkeley-Haas) or work at one of the top management consulting firms (Deloitte Consulting) Julio has used this approach to build relationships and achieve success, for himself, his teams, and his community. We chatted with Julio to learn more about his career journey, and the lessons he’s learned along the way.

 

CareerSchooled: When you were a kid, what did you dream of doing when you grew up?

To be completely honest, the earliest childhood dream I can remember is wanting to become an NBA player.  I was probably in the 7-8th grade. By Sophomore year of high school, when I hadn’t grown past 5’10”, I saw the writing on the wall.  Luckily enough for me, I was a top student so going to a good college was very much in the cards. After my hoop dreams fizzled, I started thinking I wanted to do “business.” Totally naïve to what that meant, I started looking for people around me that I thought were successful.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have role models in my community that worked in corporate jobs or were entrepreneurs. I had to wait until my time at Boston College to be surrounded by people from different walks of life that I could learn from.

 

CareerSchooled: Prior to your recent job change, you spent 8 years at Deloitte as a management consultant. How did you end up there after graduating from Boston College?

Once at Boston College, I made the choice to join the business school. I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer, a doctor or an engineer, so I was left with business or liberal arts.  I chose to major in finance because I thought that learning how money worked could lead me to a job at a great bank. My peers had aspirations of joining Goldman, JP Morgan etc., so it seemed like a reasonable path to pursue. Once I dug a bit deeper into what working at one of those companies was actually like, I scratched Investment Banker off my list of career goals.  How about accounting? One of the best teachers I’ve ever had in my life, Amy Lacombe, also happened to be my Managerial Accounting teacher. I did well in her class and sought her mentorship when it came to career advice. Being the thoughtful, caring person that she was, she took the time to help me evaluate careers that spoke to my strengths. Rather than push me to become an accountant, she introduced me to careers in Consulting.  

 

I had absolutely no idea what consulting even meant. She told that she felt I had the analytical and interpersonal skills to help companies solve problems they had trouble solving for themselves. She believed in me and that gave me the confidence to apply to all of the top consulting firms that recruited on campus. That is how I landed at Deloitte upon graduation.

CareerSchooled: Spending 7 years in consulting and at a company at Deloitte is no small feat. What were some things you did in order to help you succeed and develop while you were there?

 

Early on, as a wide-eyed college grad, success was really measured by work ethic and how quickly you were able grasp new concepts. That was my main focus – listen, learn, try not to ask the same question twice.  After about two years as an analyst, I started to build a tool kit of both hard and soft skills that I could lean on and also began to build a reputation around. Towards the end of my 2nd year, I started to think about what was next, and that is when I began to seek out mentors.  One particular mentor, Dio Diaz, was someone I always looked up to. He was two years older, also Dominican, from the Boston area and worked in Deloitte’s tech practice. One of the things he taught me early on was that in order to be successful, particularly in consulting, you had to own your career.  What did that mean? It meant networking and exploring with intentionality. It meant seeking out opportunities rather than relying on the optimal project so magically fall on your lap.  So I did just that – set up coffee chats with partners working on projects that seemed interesting, expressing my skillset and passion with enthusiasm.

 

What that quickly taught me was that it was THOSE people, the bold, that secured the roles on the best projects. I carried that mindset with me throughout my time at Deloitte and is what I think led to many of my proudest moments and experiences.    

 

CareerSchooled: During your stints at Deloitte you also attended UC-Berkeley (Haas) for your MBA. Did you always want to get an MBA? What led you to pursue that?

Graduate school was not something I strived for.  To be honest, I never really dreamt or thought that far ahead. Every major milestone in life, whether it was getting into BC or securing my first job at Deloitte, felt like I had made it. That doesn’t mean I felt complacent, but just reaching those milestones meant I had to work my ass off to be successful within those environments.  That didn’t leave much room for dreaming. That started to change once I reached that 2 year milestone at Deloitte.

 

I began to feel like a true professional that could bring something to the table. As my confidence grew I began to think about what I wanted to do next, and that is where Dio’s mentorship really influenced me.  At that time, Dio was participating in a pre-MBA program called Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) which had the mission of increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in top business schools. Through his story I become intrigued at the idea of going back to school.  I didn’t have anyone close to me that had received an advanced degree, not at home nor in my community, so I began seeking out those individuals to learn from them.

Dio introduced me to his mentors and I connected with Manager and Senior Managers at Deloitte that had gotten their MBA. Through their stories I began craft my own. Business School became my next milestone and I poured my nights and weekends into the application process.  I was accepted into MLT, grinded away at GMAT classes, visited a dozen schools, and wrote more essays than I care to remember. It was a trying time, but honestly, I am glad it was, because it proved to me that I was all in.

CareerSchooled: Throughout your career and life, you’ve made a point of volunteering in your local community. What are some of the things you’ve done, and what’s motivated you to do this?

I am not here today if it weren’t for the Boys and Girls Club of Salem.  From the 4th grade through Middle School, the club was my home.  The club is where I learned to shoot a jump shot, sign up for email, open a bank account, resolve a conflict with a friend, and so much more. I owe a debt of gratitude to the club for building a foundation from which I could grow, centered around hard work, respect, and helping others along the way.  Knowing that my successes were a result of an army of people who supported me, I’ve always felt an immense debt that I had to pay back. I am still very much in the red on that debt, but I know it is one I’ll never fully repay.

In 2006, with the support of my former Executive Director from the Boys and Girls Club, I joined the board of a non-profit called Youth Rising in my hometown of Salem, MA. Our work focused on instilling leadership skills through sports, arts and civic engagement for the youth in our local community, as well as in the Dominican Republic. These were kids just like me and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  Although my work with Youth Rising has come to a close since moving to California, one of my passions is still mentoring of young people of color. Today I do that through informal mentorship of those that seek me out, whether it be through an alumni network or internal network at Facebook (my current employer), I make it a priority to find time for those conversations, because it was those exact conversations that guided me through my journey to Boston College, Deloitte, Haas, and to Facebook.

CareerSchooled: What advice do you have for people who came from a similar upbringing as you, who like yourself, were may not initially considered a career in consulting, an MBA, etc?

The answer to this question is a constant evolution for me. I’ve thought about it over and over again.  These are the top 5 themes that bubble to the top of my list every time, in no particular order.

 

Crush it and be humble

Notice this doesn’t read “crush it BUT be humble.”  This isn’t calling for humility in spite of being a top performer, it’s asking that you pursue excellence in all you do while demonstrating to others that don’t think too highly of yourself.  If you’re like me, you’ve heard the old “work twice as hard as everyone else” line enough times, and I’ve found that to have a lot of merit (unfortunately). So yes, crush it. Work hard and be great. Get that “A”, apply for that scholarship, and go that extra mile. Doing so will put you in the conversation and in the rooms that will take you to the next level. What I’ve found, however, is that likeability and humility are what will get you into the next room – the one you REALLY want to be in. Letting your work speak for itself is a noble mantra and may work for some.  For me, what I’ve found to be an important part of the equation was ‘me’ – who I am, where I’ve been, what I care about. People have decided to help me because they believed in me as a person, not just because they think I can do the job.

 

Find mentors, then find more

You’ve read this word several times so far, so it should come with no surprise that its in my top five. Throughout life you’ll find you need mentors with different areas of expertise, mentors that see something different in you, and mentors that can connect you in ways your previous mentors could not. This certainly doesn’t mean that you use mentors until they no longer serve you; on the contrary. Eventually you’ll find that you have a lot to offer your mentors as well.  Mentorship is not one way street, so be sure to find ways to give back however you can.

 

Don’t forget to reach behind you

As you move through life and career, others will be looking to you for guidance, inspiration and validation that their own stories/dreams are possible. Find ways to help your community, whether that be formally or informally.  I can think back to singular conversations and moments that inspired a thought in me that led me down many paths. Be that person for as many people as you can. You’ll never feel like you are doing enough – I certainly don’t. Make it a point to find ways to make yourself, and your story, available to others.

 

Don’t let imposter syndrome consume you

Boston College, Deloitte Consulting, Berkeley Haas School of Business, Facebook.  One thing all of these places have in common is that I didn’t feel I that belonged at first. The problem wasn’t with these institutions, it was with me and my lack of confidence and feeling that I’d be “found out.”  Maybe I hadn’t done enough to truly deserve the opportunity. Maybe I didn’t learn from my parents what others learned from theirs when they were children. I’ve conditioned myself to tell this voice in my head, “so what. you’re here now.” With each success and each goal achieved, that voice begins to quiet just a little, only to be reignited with the next promotion or opportunity. We belong. Remember that.

Travel

Take every opportunity you possibly can to travel.  Leave your city, state, and if possible your country.  Traveling the world has given me layers of perspectives on life that I’d never been able to gain at home. I look back at my undergraduate experience and wish I had studied abroad. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel more than most and I can attribute a lot of my outlook on life to those experiences. Our world is smaller than ever and you will certainly find yourself sharing a class project or work station with someone from a different background.  Traveling has taught me empathy and that at the end of the day, we aren’t as different deep down as the surface my suggest.

What is Product Marketing?

One common challenge I’ve run into talking with many other Product Marketers is that Product Marketing is really hard to define. For a role which focuses so much on clarity and concision, this is somewhat ironic. While there are many definitions out there (while acknowledging that it will look different everywhere, this is a good baseline to start from Hubspot

Product marketing is the process of bringing a product to market. This includes deciding the products positioning and messaging, launching the product and ensuring salespeople and customers understand it. Product marketing aims to drive the demand and usage of the product.

But there are a few really good other definitions out there.

One from Drift

Product marketing is the process of bringing a product to market and overseeing its overall success. Product marketers are focused on understanding and marketing to customers. They drive demand and usage of the product, which often includes writing positioning and messaging.

One from Ada Chen

The role of the product marketer is to accelerate product growth by championing the customer, communicating product value, and driving distribution.

TLDR: All of these are good definitions, use the one that suits you best

What does a Product Marketer do?

#AllTheThings. But seriously, Product Marketers have a wide range of responsibilities and it will vary by your org and your team, but here are four areas where Product Marketers play a key role:

  • Role 1: Partner with Product on The Product Roadmap
  • Role 2: Create The Product Messaging and Positioning
  • Role 3: Execute The Go-To-Market Strategy
  • Role 4: Drive Ongoing Sales Enablement and Distribution

Role #1 Partner with Product on The Product Roadmap

Goal: Partner with product to influence roadmap based on customer insight

This is all about partnering with product management to help them build the product roadmap. Using your understanding of the customer, the business, and the persona you are targeting, you work with your PM colleagues to figure out how to build the product (or build the next version of the product) In any given product, there’s a bunch of great ideas for the roadmap, it’s your job to help PM’s identify and prioritize what should be built, for whom, and when.

Key Activities: This involves anything from:

  • Meeting with customers to solicit feedback
  • Meeting with Product and Tech Teams to prioritize the roadmap
  • Soliciting other forms of feedback on features, needs

Role #2: Create The Product Messaging & Positioning

Goal: Get everyone internally aligned about how to talk about what you’re building and contextualize the product to make customers care

Messaging and positioning is all about understanding what problem does your product solve, who does it solve it for, and how it is differentiated against other products in the market.

Positioning defines how you want your audience think about your product, while messaging is a set of specific statements crafted to establish and reinforce your positioning

When done right, messaging and positioning ensures that:

  1. How you talk about your product is done in a way that is unique and differentiated with your specific customer base
  2. your entire organization is talking about the product in a consistent, coherent and compelling manner
  3. the messaging that is then infused into all of your content and assets and discussions is striking a chord with your buyers.

Since the outputs and deliverables from messaging and positioning will be used in all of your content, assets, presentations and conversations about your product (ex: eBooks, Sales decks, website copy, PR release, etc) awareness, alignment and understanding are critical aspects of these activities.

To do this, Product Marketers partner with internal teams, such as product, engineering, and sales, to make sure that you can take what they are building to market and talk about it in a way that resonates with customers. PMMs will craft buyer personas, which dig into buyers needs, pain points, and key considerations and metrics/business drivers. From there, they’ll build messaging and positioning templates to synthesize all this feedback, and confirm that it aligns to the brand of the company, what’s actually being built, and the needs/desires of the buyer.

While the PMM is usually the one that “owns” messaging and positioning of the product, a key part of this role is synthesizing a ton of information and feedback from diverse sources (ex: customers, sales, engineering, product, external landscape, etc) and making sense of all of that to determine the messaging and positioning. (Example: See this role at Facebook for a Messaging & Positioning PMM role)

Key activities include:

  • Meeting with customers to understand their pain points and desires
  • Meeting with internal teams to understand their perspective of the product (ex: sales, engineering, product)
  • Developing messaging & positioning documents, putting together a product marketing brief
  • Pitching messaging and positioning documents to internal stakeholders for feedback

Role 3: Drive The Go-To-Market Strategy (GTM)

Goal: Launch a product to the market to accelerate growth attract customers, drive engagement, or create revenue/upsell opportunities

Go-To-Market revolves around taking the product to market and getting it into the mind and hands of customers. The most visible part of this role is a product launch, whether that’s a net new product, a new feature release, or a chance to relaunch to drive some sort of outcome (e.g. upsell, cross-sell, entry into new market)

Like many of the other responsibilities that product marketers have, Go-To-Market related roles and responsibilities are cross-functional efforts, so while Product Marketers don’t necessarily “own” this activity they are a major player and must engage with lots of other key stakeholders. This means lots of cross-functional meetings, participating and contributing to other teams’ deliverables and meetings.

As a PMM, I am a bit biased, but I think one of the key roles of the PMM in a GTM role is to not only contribute PMM’s part, but to also help everyone else they are working with understand how the whole team needs to collectively work together to deliver for their customer.

Regardless of if there is an upcoming launch, one critical component of Go-To-Market that happens with a launch but also is just ongoing is field and sales enablement. Even after a product launches, Product Marketers are there to provide customer facing teams (sales, customer success, etc) with training and content to help them sell. Furthermore, they are there to obtain feedback from sales teams and from customers about the product, and then to relay that back to Product Managers. PMMs act as sort of a bridge and liaison between product and sales. (Example: See this role at Dropbox for a PMM Go-To-Market focused role)

Activities Include:

  • Creating product launch assets (ex: launch blogpost, Press Release)
  • Participate in Cross Functional meetings leading up to launch to review status and open items
  • Meet with design and creative teams to review copy/asset creation
  • Work with a Cross-Functional team (Sales, Product, broader Marketing team) to review pipeline generation and maturation efforts, and create/build marketing programs and demand/campaign efforts that create pipeline, mature pipeline, or drive sales
  • Handle a Launch event, and/or ongoing events that drive awareness and pipeline

Role 4: Drive Ongoing Enablement and Distribution

Product marketers play a key role in making sure these products reach their customers. While launching a product is fun and exciting, this is just the beginning, as it’s time to acquire and retain customers through common key objectives such as sign-ups, upsells, conversions, engagement etc.

Sales teams, customer success managers, and account teams interface with your customer on a daily basis, so making sure that they have the proper product education, understand how to pitch the value of your product, can work a demo and handle buyer objections are really important. This is generally done through sales enablement training and through the creation of sales enablement content, such as training decks, battle cards, objection handling documents, etc.

Distribution is all about running marketing programs across all of the possible channels you have at your to get your product in front of your customer. While it would be great to use every single channel and load it up with all the content you need, there are never enough resources and time, so PMMs must be good at selecting the right channel with the right content and the right message to reach their customer.

Product Marketing looks a little different at every company, and this is certainly an area where the role of someone in this will vary depending on a number of key demographics. For example, in a more B2B focused organization this role of enablement will focus more on training and coaching sales teams to sell to customers, as well as ensuring they have the content and assets they need in order to communicate the message and value of the product. In this role, being able to work with Salespeople and Sales leaders and a good understanding of training and enablement are great skillsets to have.

 

But this role could also look different at say a B2C consumer facing company, where instead of focusing on sales enablement (Example: See this Field Activation PMM role at LinkedIn) a PMM might focus more on driving marketing campaigns and content that drives specific marketing objectives across the entire funnel. This PMM role on LinkedIn is a perfect example. In this case, having a robust understanding of digital marketing, understanding of key marketing channels, and good content marketing chops are critical or success.

Key Activities

  • Executing marketing campaigns (ex: webinars, events, social campaigns)
  • Developing and executing a content marketing strategy across the entire funnel
  • Creating Sales Enablement tools such as training decks, battle cards, and objection handling documents for Sales People
  • Running training and enablement sessions

While the day-to-day work of product marketing is varied and diverse, the focus often highlights similar outcomes/goals:

  1. Partnering with Product Management to build the product and product roadmap
  2. Creating the messaging and positioning that differentiates the product and connects it to a buyer persona and their pain point
  3. Building and Executing the GTM Strategy that empowers sellers to get your product in the hands of your customers
  4. Creating and driving enablement and distribution of your product

From Movie Sets to Enterprise Software, The Journey To Becoming a Product Marketer

As a Product Marketer, Jodi Innerfield spends her days trying to understand what CIOs and Business Executives need to transform their business, but that wasn’t always the case. After graduating from Columbia University, Jodi Innerfield started her career as a Production Designer Assistant on the movie “Wall Street 2.” With stints in HR, startups, and business school, the journey to becoming a PMM was not always linear, but in hindsight, it’s where she wanted to be. Jodi shared with us her career journey to becoming a product marketer, how she connected her experiences together to find her interest in product marketing, and her advice for professionals who are interested in a career in product marketing.

CareerSchooled: We know you are a PMM now, but looking back for a second, what was your first job, and what does it have in common with what you do now?

At first glance, my first job out of college had nothing to do with Product Marketing–I started my career in film production as a Production Designer’s Assistant on the movie “Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps.” Part of my job was working with the art department of the film on everything from researching art and graphics that should be used in the film, working with licensing to get the rights, naming fictitious companies and designing their logos–it was a lot of fun to see something you worked on on the big screen! The other part of my job was as a personal assistant. I drove my boss everywhere, went with her to meetings, made sure she had the exact type of tea and chocolate she needed to keep going. That was, quite obviously, the part of the job I liked least, but it gave me such great exposure to people I never would have met, and it taught me how important things like anticipating someone’s needs are.

 

While it wasn’t technically in my job description, I spent a lot of time on set because I loved seeing how all the pieces of a film come together. I would stick around on night shoots just so I could experience the magical chaos. I raised my hand to help anywhere I could so I could be close to the action. And you know what? That film experience has definitely been valuable in Product Marketing, where I’ve worked on a number of customer films.

CareerSchooled: You went to business school prior to moving into PMM roles. What were you doing prior to business school, and how did an MBA help you move into PMM?

 

I left film production because that life wasn’t sustainable–80 hour weeks with no benefits and no overtime–and got an internship in HR. I was a psychology major in college, and had interest in business and law, and after talking to a number of people I thought HR might be a nice blend of the three. While I liked being in HR at a startup–it was fast paced, I got to put a lot of processes and programs into place from the start–I had an itch to do more, but I wasn’t quite sure what “more” was.

I applied to business school initially thinking an MBA would help me grow within HR, since I realized to be successful in senior leadership you needed to have a well-rounded understanding of all aspects of the business. But soon after starting school I realized I didn’t want to stay in HR, and that now was the time to make a move.

Business school gave me that foundational, well-rounded understanding of business which is just as valuable as a PMM as it is in any other role. Besides the marketing courses which are an obvious help when you’re trying to transition into a marketing role, we had a lot of opportunities to work on presentation skills that I’ve found infinitely valuable. Michigan is known for its Action Based Learning, and one experience–the Leadership Crisis Challenge–was particularly impactful for me.

 

You’re thrown into a mock crisis as the leadership of a company and have to put together a response. My team made it to the final round where you’re grilled in a press conference by actual journalists, and that experience–getting on stage, presenting on a topic I’m not entirely an expert on but need to be as prepared as possible to talk about–that’s pretty much what I do every day.

CareerSchooled: You’ve worked in PMM roles at large companies and at startups. What are some of the similarities/differences, and how do you know which is best for you?

At a startup I got to experience the full spectrum of Product Marketing. I always said my job was 50% working on product (go-to-market launches, product announcements to customers, building demos, writing datasheets, running trainings), and 50% sales facing (first call decks, customer-facing content, sales enablement, customer stories).

Startups are a great way to get started in Product Marketing if you like to do a little bit of everything before you figure out what aspect of PMM you really enjoy. Moving to a much larger company, I knew I would have to pick a “specialty” and become a subject matter expert in a specific area, but that if and when I wanted to try something different, the huge benefit would be that I can make a change within the same company, or even within the same team. And I’ve already done just that–I started as a content and campaigns PMM, and recently switched to solutions marketing, focusing on messaging and positioning and more sales-facing work.

 

Whether or not you want to be a PMM at a startup or a large company really depends on what you value and where you are in your career, in my opinion. Startups are great for learning the full breadth of PMM, while large companies let you develop depth of experience in a specific area. Growth happens differently at startups (where you grow based on what the company’s needs are and how fast the company is growing) vs larger companies (where there are many more openings and areas for you to potentially move into).

 

CareerSchooled: You interview and have hired PMMs. What do you look for in a PMM candidate?

I think the number one thing that differentiates a PMM from other roles in marketing is storytelling. Storytelling requires you to fully understand and empathize with your customer/buyer, know their pains, how your product benefits the customer. And being a great storyteller means you also have the ability to, well, tell the story–whether the medium is writing, a slide deck, or a presentation.

So storytelling, for me at least, is a key skill that encompases a lot of other skills a PMM needs in order to be successful. There’s a lot you can teach someone as long as they are an eager, quick learner, but storytelling is a muscle and an art that it’s really valuable to start out with.

 

CareerSchooled: How do you describe PMM, and what a PMM does?

Product marketing sits at the intersection between the product and the customer. You need to understand the product, communicate what it is, what it does, how to use it, what’s different about it; and then you need to understand the customer, who they are, what they care about, how and where to talk to them. As a product marketer, your responsibility is to be the bridge between the two.

That might mean creating the message that clearly articulates the value of the product to the customer, and how that message translates across slide decks, the website, and paid media. It might mean crafting content for sales to understand the product, or for sales to understand the customer. And sometimes it involves working with analysts and press to make sure the world knows about why your product best meets the needs of your customer, and why it’s the best one out there that does that.

 

CareerSchooled: What’s your favorite part of being a PMM?

I love that Product Marketing lets me flex my creative and analytical muscles in one role. Some days I’m working with our creative team on the graphics for an ad campaign, and other days I’m diving into how successful that campaign was according to responses and revenue. Being in a role that lets me do both was really important to me since I’ve had roles where I wasn’t as creative, and I would get so bored looking at data and spreadsheets all day. I look for any excuse to be on stage, so the fact that that is part of my job description is pretty great. I also love really diving into the mind of a customer to understand who they are, what makes them tick. That’s when I feel like I’m finally putting my psychology degree to good use!

CareerSchooled: What advice do you have to someone who isn’t in PMM but wants to transition into a career into PMM?

Understand what transferable skills you already have and make sure to highlight those on an application, and figure out what skills you still need to develop and work on developing them. One way I made my life easier transitioning into PMM from HR was I positioned myself for PMM roles in the HR tech space. I made it very clear that I fully understood their customer because I was their customer, and my knowledge of the buyer and the industry was invaluable.

I knew I needed to learn the actual product marketing skills still, but having industry and customer knowledge meant I had tackled half the battle already. So if you can find a role at a company that you have some sort of experience with–you’ve been the buyer, you already work in the industry–that’s a tremendous help since PMMs need to eat, sleep, and breathe their customer.