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

The One Thing All Leaders Can Do to Make a Difference

For anyone who has achieved career success, there’s probably a litany of people who helped you along the way, whether it was providing counsel or advice or opportunities to succeed.

Think back for a second – Who gave you your first big career opportunity? The person who took a chance on you? Could you imagine being where you are in your career without that? I know for me, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of a handful of people who opened doors for me that I didn’t have access to on my own.

During my first year at Deloitte, I had wrapped up a project at one of my very first clients and I was looking for another project. I couldn’t find anything, so I reached out to a Partner at the firm who I had met previously during my first week of training. Not knowing if he would remember me or not, in my email I re-shared our conversation topics, and asked if he needed help with anything he was working on. A few days later, someone on his team reached out to me about a project opportunity that related directly to the topics in our conversation.

Despite not really knowing me that well outside of a few minutes of a conversation at training (and that we had a mutual interest in music and sports) The leader took a chance on me by giving me access to an opportunity that I was probably not qualified or ready for. When I took the assignment, I was surrounded by a great team, who went out of their way to make sure I had what it took to be successful. That assignment changed the trajectory of my career, and led to numerous other opportunities and experiences that I could have never found otherwise.

Not only did it help me find experiences and opportunities that I was interested in, but it also helped me hone my craft and build my own brand and thought leadership in key areas. I got to meet and work alongside some of the most senior leaders in the firm, and built my own credibility and expertise. And while I worked hard to go above and beyond to deliver exceptional results, the senior leader worked behind the scenes with HR to ensure I was properly evaluated and compensated for my efforts. This experience changed the course of my career, and I would not be where I am today without that opportunity and support.

 

While I didn’t know it at the time, what I encountered then was my very first Sponsor.  A sponsor is someone who sees your talent and potential, and uses their own political and relationship capital to  you access to experiences and relationships that you cannot find on your own. They’ll put their own reputation on the line to advocate for you.

When we talk about people who do these things, we tend to call them to mentors. Mentors are important, but they focus on giving us advice, share perspective, teach us knew skills, and being a sounding board. We all should continue to seek and develop relationships with mentors.  

But not everyone who mentors you has the power to help you accelerate, move up, get to the next level, advocate for you when it really counts. Yes, mentors matter, but to accelerate our careers, break through to the next level, or achieve exponential success, we need sponsors to actually to help us achieve greater career outcomes.

A quick rundown of the difference between Mentors and Sponsors (via Center For Talent Innovation

Sponsor

  • Senior Person who believes in your potential and is willing to take a bet on you
  • Advocates for you to achieve promotions, access to opportunities and experiences
  • Encourages and empowers you to take risks
  • Expects a great deal from you

 

Sponsors have a voice at decision-making tables, champion their protégés for promotions and critical opportunities when they are not in the room, and provide “air cover” for the less experienced individual to take risks. Sponsors may also make introductions to senior leaders, promote visibility, and provide critical feedback. In return, the protégé repays the sponsor’s investment by achieving exceptional results that reflect well on him or he

Mentor

  • Experienced person willing to help and support you
  • Builds your confidence and provides a sounding board
  • Expects little in return

 

Center for Talent Innovation founder and CEO Sylvia Ann Hewlett describes a mentor as someone who gives valuable career support and advice, builds self-esteem, and provides a sounding board. He or she has the time and desire to aid the beneficiary in self-assessment and “blue-sky thinking,” and is often considered a role model.

 

While it’s important to have sponsors to achieve success, the purpose of this article is not to talk about how to find sponsors, but rather, why you should be a sponsor. There are a bunch of benefits of being a sponsor, but here are three:

 

  1. Having an impact on others – Being a sponsor allows you to drive impact for others. The impact you can make by providing an opportunity to someone else who wouldn’t have access to that opportunity on their own is incredibly powerful.
  2. Improving your own network  – When you invest and sponsor others, you begin building your own network, and you develop your reputation as someone who goes out of their way to sponsor others. This has tangible benefits for when you need to hire other talent for your team, or if you are trying to drive a specific project/initiative and you have to get others to buy into your goal. When you have a positive reputation, others are probably more likely to trust you or work with you. And when you’re seen as a champion of talent, this certainly helps your case when you are trying to compete for top talent to join your team
  3. Driving ChangeIt’s been statistically proven time and time again that organizations with diverse teams drive better results, but despite this many organizations struggle with attracting, retaining, and developing diverse talent. Sponsorship when done right, is a way to buck this change. By sponsoring people who are underrepresented, or who don’t look like we do, we can help drive the change that’s needed to create the diverse workforce that yields better business results.

 

A few more key points about sponsorship

It’s different than mentorship – mentorship is also important (you should do that too) but sponsorship has a different focus and outcomes.

You don’t need to be an executive to do it – While Executives can and should be sponsors, especially when it comes to accelerating career paths within a company, anyone can be a sponsor so as long as you’re providing someone with access to opportunities they otherwise would not have.

You can use it for anyone – But please also consider focusing on helping populations who are different than you. Why? Because diversity is a driver of business outcomes, and if we only help people who look like us, we’ll never fully benefit from the benefits of a diverse workforce

It provides extrinsic and intrinsic benefits – I always recommend doing things because they are fundamentally the right thing to do, but the great thing about both sponsorship and mentorship is when you do it right it actually helps drive results for you. Personally and selfishly, knowing that you had a positive impact on someone else and helped them achieve something  provides personal fulfillment and meaning (In addition to helping them achieve their own goals) Furthermore, if you develop a reputation for sponsoring others, you can probably expect future opportunities either for additional sponsorship or just being aware of other opportunities. that’s a great reputation to have. If you are hiring for roles on your team, or need the help of others to get a project or initiative accomplished, the power of your reputation will make others want to help you and see you succeed.

Formal sponsorship programs that are run by companies and organizations are always a great place to start. Furthermore, while I’m a believer that any relationship (mentorship or sponsorship) works best through organic development, if you are in a position to be a sponsor I urge and challenge you to be proactive and take the initiative to identify someone who you can sponsor.

Here’s where you can look to sponsor people:

  • Identifying a more junior colleague on your team who is looking for greater opportunities to accelerate their career
  • Connecting with a younger alum of your alma mater looking to expand into a new field and connecting them to people you know in that field who could potentially hire them
  • Reaching out to a friend or colleague who doesn’t have access to the same experiences and opportunities as you do and using your network to open up opportunities for them

Being a sponsor is a great way to use your privilege, resources, and position to drive positive impact, especially those who are underserved or underrepresented. It’s also a way to invest in your own network by investing in other people. But more than that, investing your time and energy into someone else can change their life, and that can have an incredible impact.

Think back to that individual who sponsored you, and gave you a shot, and consider the impact they had on you and your life. Imagine if someone (or numerous people) felt that way about you…

How to Build a Career Development Plan

While most people understand that that a proactive and engaged approach to career development is important, it’s not something that people intuitively come to understand or grasp, especially without training or guidance. The topic of career development can also be overwhelming, especially if you aren’t quite sure of what you want to do, or where you want to go.  

Ideally, organizations would do more to foster career development – teach their employees how to build career development plans,  develop clear performance criteria, provide resources for learning and development, etc. The reality is that the bigger burden is on employees.

The Reality: You Own Your Career

What this means is that at the end of the day, you and only you are responsible for managing your career, and ensuring that you are getting what you want out of your career. This does not mean that you are the only one who can control your career, you’ll certainly need to rely on the help of others to achieve success, but what it does mean is that you are solely responsible for articulating what you are looking for.

 

Knowing where to start with career development is not always easy. In fact, trying to answer the question “what are your career goals?” can be fairly paralyzing, but over the years, I’ve refined my own method for doing career development planning, and have identified a number of actions and steps that are helpful to articulating goals and aspirations, which then can be used to build a plan for action. Here are some of them:

 

Step 1: Understand The Measurements and Metrics You’re Evaluated On

First and foremost, you need to understand how you currently are progressing in your role, and to do that, it helps to know what you are being measured against. Understand what you’re evaluated on. What does success look like in your position? What are your job goals and success metrics?

 

It’s best to identify these with your manager, but if that’s not happening, then write down what you understand the goals and measures to be, and take the time to align with your manager to get feedback. This will help you understand if you are progressing on the right path.  

 

Another evaluation tactic is to review your job description, or a job description that is similar to your current role. Doing this helps in a number of ways. First, it helps you see how your current projects and responsibilities map to the job you are being asked to do. If you see any gaps, or see anything that’s missing, write them down, and bring them up with your manager just to confirm that you are focusing on the right skills and projects.

Second, it also helps you understand if you actually want to keep progressing in this role. If you take a look at the job description and realize that what you are doing is not aligned with what you actually want to do, then it serves as a starting point to finding another opportunity that is more aligned with your interests.

 

Step 2: Write down your key projects, and identify your breakthroughs

This sounds (and is) really basic but you might be surprised at what you forget you did amidst all the busyness of trying to get things done. Take the time to write down everything you worked on in the last month/quarter/year to get a complete list of everything you worked on.

From there, start to identify the metrics behind each of those projects, and identify the ones where you had the most enjoyment as well as the most impact. The simple exercise of writing down on paper what you’ve done and quantifying where you’ve made an impact in your job can be very helpful to understanding what other goals you want to achieve.

 

“People who focus on their strengths every day are 6 times more likely to be engaged in their jobs, more productive and more likely to say they have an excellent quality of life.” – Gallup

 

Step 3: Identify the skills you used that you really enjoy

Research suggest that when we use our strengths at work we become more fulfilled, engaged, and productive, so identifying those strengths will be a really great place to start when thinking about how to define your role moving forward. For those projects you identified that you really enjoyed, start writing down the skills that you used to make that project successful.

 

These skills will be a good basis to both understanding your own strengths, as well as how you can find other projects that use those skills in your role. For example, if you recently worked on a project where you enjoyed leading the team and handling the project management aspects of the project, identify other opportunities where you can flex your project management skills. Or, if you just helped re-launch your company’s website, and you helped re-write the copy for the webpages, try finding other projects where you can use your written communication skills.

Note: I know sometimes that trying to answer “what are my strengths?” is actually a little harder than it sounds. If you need some help, I highly recommend Business Chemistry by Deloitte as a good place to start. I’ve used this with hundreds of practitioners in a previous job and it’s a good way to do a self-assessment and understand not only your style but what makes you tick.

 

Also, if you’re still struggling to figure out what your strengths are, ask for feedback. Find 3-4 peers, and ask them the following questions

  • What are my strengths, and where are examples of when I’ve used them?
  • If we were to work on a team together, what role would you want me to play?
  • What’s a unique skill I have that you don’t see in other people?

 

Step 4: Set Some Goals

Now that you have a good sense of how you are performing, the things you like doing, it’s time to build out some measurable goals for how you want to develop in your career. It can be easy to anchor in on a specific job description or role (ex: Move from Associate Product Manager to Product Manager) but another way to look at goals is around specific skills, experiences, or opportunities that you want to have, such as publishing a paper, speaking at a conference, or leading the strategic planning process for your department. Sketch out a general timeline of goals that you have for yourself, and make sure that they can be measured (see Smart Goals for more details).

 

Step 5: Do a Gap Analysis

A gap analysis is where you figure out the differences in the qualifications between where you are right now and your goals/next steps. It’s also a way to identify what you need to work on in order to achieve your goals. One way to do this is by anchoring your goal around a specific job or title. Take out a job/role description of a job you want in the next year or two, and assess your current candidacy for that job, with special emphasis of where you are lacking. Use this as a means to figure out what skills or experiences you need to build in order to make you qualified to have this role.

Once you have done this, identify all of the items where there is anywhere from a fair amount to of development needed. Look for commonalities and clump those together as a category. This is the basis for your career development plan. This is also a good place to do a sanity check. For example, if you’re dead set on becoming a product manager in 2 years, but when you do your gap analysis you realize you don’t have enough of the qualifications or experiences to achieve that goal, it allows you to reflect and examine the goals you’re setting and if they are realistic.

 

Note: If you aren’t quite sure what role you want in the next 1-2 years, this exercise is still valuable. Instead of using a job description, start sketching out the skills or experiences you want to have in 1-2 years, and then identify where you are today against those specific skills or experiences.

 

Step 6: Build Your Learning & Development Plan

Now that you know where you are today, what you are good at/interested in, where you want to go in the future in terms of career goals, and what’s currently lacking, you now have all the ingredients to build out a holistic action plan. The key is to ensure that you for each of your goals, you’re putting together some sort of specific and measurable set of actions that you can take that will help you make progress towards achieving that goal.

 

Those actions can be a combination of experiences and projects that are in your job, learning opportunities such as online classes, or e-learnings to help bring you up to speed, or perhaps even “side projects” that will help you build competency in skills you need to achieve those desired goals. As time progresses, you can revisit this plan and your goals to see how you are progressing, and make adjustments as needed. You can also use it as a way to leverage more experiences/projects in your day to day role that align to your career goals. For example, if one of your goals calls for more strategic work, highlighting that with your manager is a great way to identify more opportunities in your current job that will allow you to develop your strategic thinking skills.

 

Step 7: Find Some Advisors

While each individual is inevitably responsible for their own career development, you’ll eventually have to rely on many other people in the process to help you get to where you want to go. Other people include your manager, mentors, sponsors, or other colleagues at your level. As you start to build your own career development plan, or articulate your goals, take the time to speak to others to get feedback.

 

Peers you can trust can be helpful in providing feedback based on knowing you and your own skills, strengths and personal interests.

 

Managers can be helpful to providing feedback about how you can go about achieving some of those goals, especially as it relates to crafting your current job with projects and experiences to help you achieve those goals.

 

Mentors are critical to providing you with an honest and objective voice into your plan, as well as giving you practical advice as to how to achieve it.

 

And Sponsors can be helpful to identifying and providing you with opportunities that you need to achieve your goals that you may not have access to.

 

The most important thing is that you take the time to define what career success looks like for yourself. This is especially important in large organizations, where it can be easy to go along with what the majority of people are doing because it feels like we have to do that. Furthermore

 

Where do you stand when it comes to your career? Are you ready to make a change, or start your journey, today? Whether you’re just beginning on your career journey, or you’re considering changing career paths or jobs, developing an effective career plan will help you get to where you need to go. Reflect, set goals and make your decision, and you’ll find yourself on the right path.