This article was a presentation from the Product Marketing Misunderstood event given by Maggie Tharp when she was the Product Marketing Specialist at FormAssembly. She’s now Product Marketing Manager at Rockerbox. Catch up on all presentations with our OnDemand feature.
Hi, everyone, my name is Maggie Tharp, and I'm the Product Marketing Specialist here at FormAssembly.
As you probably guessed from the title of this article, we’re going on a crash course in product marketing. This will be especially helpful for those of you who are new to the field, during a major product release, or want to apply a beginner's mindset to your work.
We're going to look at how to achieve product marketing success in a growing company and how to future-proof your product marketing strategy. I'm going to share some of the biggest obstacles I’ve encountered and the opportunities I’ve uncovered so you can learn from my experience.
Overall, we’ll be taking a look at:
About me and my role at FormAssembly
A little bit about me before we get started. I came to marketing by way of journalism, as I'm sure many of you can relate to. Once I was in the marketing world, I gained experience in multiple areas, with a heavy emphasis on content.
I started working in B2B Tech in 2016 when I joined the FormAssembly team. Over my time there, I learned a lot about the product and started exploring how I could put more of a focus on that in my day-to-day job – that's how I moved into the role of Product Marketing Specialist. This was our first ever product marketing role at the company, and currently, it's still a department of one.
While my previous jobs had somewhat prepared me for the product marketing role, a lot of my experience was a trial by fire. I've learned a lot about the product side of our organization and become a more nuanced marketer because of it.
Let me tell you a little more about FormAssembly and what we do. Essentially, FormAssembly is an easy-to-use, yet powerful all-in-one data collection platform.
Our product started primarily as a form builder, but we've recently evolved into a comprehensive data collection platform that lets you build entire workflows containing forms, emails, and other actions.
I moved into my new role at the same time our company released the biggest product development in company history, which provided a ton of great learning experiences as a product marketer.
Why product marketing?
To start, I want to reflect a little bit on the field of product marketing, think about why we're all here, and what makes this line of work so unique.
When I made the transition to the growing and evolving field of product marketing a year ago, I knew I'd be in for an adventure. This specialization intrigued and inspired me to take the plunge. I'm sure a lot of you out there can relate.
This role is both complex and fluid by nature, which can be hard to navigate but not impossible, especially if you like to have a job that's different from day to day.
It might be different in your organization, but at FormAssembly product marketing is the ultimate advocate for customers, marketing, sales, and product teams all at once – it's kind of a junction role between all those different departments.
In my experience, it requires in-depth technical product knowledge and intimate familiarity with buyer personas and customer pain points.
As I mentioned, I came into this role as a team of one, and one of the first major projects on my plate was to coordinate the marketing for the company's largest product release in our history. In a way, it was the ultimate crash course in product marketing.
Crash course in product marketing
Next, we're going to cover the lessons I learned throughout year one. We’ll talk about some of the key elements you'll need to consider as a new product marketer or even an experienced product marketer looking to add more value to your team.
As a member of a 100% distributed team for nearly six years, I cannot stress enough the importance of good communication in the workplace.
I'd already had plenty of practice interfacing with my marketing team before I became a product marketer. However, in this new role, I had the additional challenge of establishing new processes with other teams to make sure that my product marketing plans were in line with product plans and had the greatest impact and reach possible.
I’m going to share a few tips to help you build that vital cross-functional communication.
Build relationships with every team
Nothing is accomplished alone and that couldn't be more true than with product releases. If you want to succeed in your role, you need to make it your job to create strong lines of communication between yourself and other key teams.
Forming strong relations with people from product, sales, finance, CS, and any team in your organization makes it so much easier to work together on complex projects.
I'm not talking just about strictly work-related relationships either. Building a friendly rapport with your coworkers makes your daily responsibilities and interactions that much smoother and more pleasant. Plus, when plans go awry – which they will – you have the mutual understanding and respect to weather any issues together.
Set up regular meetings
This second tip is fairly tactical, but if you're like me, you like tips that you can take and apply to your work that same day. So set up regular meetings with key stakeholders from multiple teams that deal with product releases; consider the attendees a new sub-team of a sort.
You can hold these meetings weekly or at whatever cadence works for you, and use that time to talk about big updates in your area, ask any questions, and throw in a little bit of team building too.
Don’t forget about sales
Sales enablement is a key part of your job as a product marketer. With this in mind, I’ve started coordinating product demos with sales for any new feature releases. It's a great time to show them how the product works so they can talk about it with prospects.
While you have their attention, you can also review marketing messaging and plans together.
Put together a message house
I got this tip from a CMO School presentation: put together a message house. It’s essentially a resource that sales, marketing, and any other team can reference for information on a product release.
This is a template to give you an idea of how I put together our message house at FormAssembly. I cover what the feature is, I talk about the value proposition, who the target audience is, the problem and solution related to the feature release, as well as specific aspects of the product release and their benefits.
It's a simple way to give anyone in sales or marketing an overview of a new release and help them talk about it in an educated way.
#2: Deep product knowledge
The next aspect to think about in our crash course in product marketing is deep product knowledge. If you transition to a product marketing role from a less technical marketing role, there are probably going to be a few meetings (or many meetings!) at the beginning where you don't understand half the acronyms. That's okay – it's a completely different world.
At FormAssembly, I already had a good level of product knowledge from talking about it as a content writer for several years. Part of the reason we didn't have a product marketing role for a long time was that product marketing was folded into content marketing. Even so, I had a lot to learn about the product when I moved into this role.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Two things helped me greatly as I started to wrap my head around my new role; the first is asking questions. Remember that beginner mindset I mentioned at the top of this article? You're gonna need it in this role. Don’t be afraid to ask what might be a basic question to make sure that you really understand something.
Use the product
Using the product will also help you get to grips with the technical things. Whatever your product or service is, use it. For me, that means building forms and workflows and taking advantage of the product training that our company offers.
We recently released a certification program to help people both internally and externally become experts in our platform. That was a really helpful way to brush up on my product knowledge during that first year as a product marketer.
I'd highly recommend implementing a training or certification program for anyone who's involved with product marketing.
#3: Service mindset
The third key to success as a product marketer is having a service mindset. While knowing your product is important, knowing your customers might be even more so. Any product marketing strategy is ineffective without a deep understanding of the customer's pain points and the value of your product.
As a former content marketer, I'd already gained a good foundational understanding of who our customers were and what they wanted. Even so, in my product marketing role, it's been helpful to continually question my assumptions about how well I really know our customers.
Having that mindset helps me stay open to new information and insights; there's a ton of that floating around your company if you know where to look. There are a few key areas I want to go over to help you gain more insight into your customers.
Does your company have a VIP group or customer advisory board? That's the first place I would look for insights. These are incredibly helpful tools to hear directly from your most engaged customers.
I use our VIP group both to watch conversations unfold organically and to ask specific questions about user needs. It’s an engaged group, so we're more likely to get prompt thought-out answers from those people, and it helps them feel involved in the company.
There are a ton of review sites out there – AppExchange, G2, Capterra, and many others. These sites have a lot of valuable information about what your customers do and don't like about your service.
You can also get a lot of solid competitive information by searching your competitors’ listings and reading what their customers are saying about them.
Talk to every team
The last tip that will help you improve your customer knowledge and boost that service mindset is to talk to every team.
Since moving into the product marketing role, I've had more cross-departmental collaboration than ever before, from working closely with the product and knowledge departments to having informational interviews with account executives (AEs) and customer success managers (CSMs).
These people are at the front lines of your organization and have a deep working knowledge of users’ needs. They’re the key to understanding your user and how the product releases you're putting out are beneficial to them. Don't just talk to them when you need to update your information; set a cadence for when you're going to meet and discuss new use cases.
#4: Competitor awareness
The fourth aspect of success in your product marketing plans is competitor awareness. As I’m sure you’ve already realized, product marketing roles tend to vary a lot from organization to organization.
In some companies, competitive research and information won't fall under product marketing, but in others – like FormAssembly – it will.
It might not be the main focus of your product marketing strategy, but any marketer will tell you that competitive intel is essential when it comes to conversations with customers and prospects. You need to understand the other companies in your space and how they compare to you.
Product Marketing Alliance, with the help of Alex McDonnell, Market Intelligence Lead at Airbase, has created a Competitive Intelligence Certified: Masters course, designed to go even deeper into equipping you with essential CI skills.
Mine the collective knowledge of your company
AEs and CS team members likely have a lot of information – much more than you may have right off the bat – about how your company stacks up against competitors; they're having those conversations daily.
My best tip here is to mine the collective knowledge of your company to find those all-important competitive insights, starting with your AEs and CSMs.
I want to talk about a softer skill now: accountability. As a product marketer, whether you like it or not, you're the glue that holds multiple teams together. One of your biggest responsibilities is to hold accountability not just for yourself, but for the teams you work with daily and the projects you're working on.
We’re each team's gateway to the other and it's our job to make sure that everyone upholds their commitments and remains transparent about what's going on. This is especially crucial when you’re developing a new solution since multiple teams have to remain aligned for sales and marketing to promote and sell that new solution effectively.
Embrace project management
I will say that sometimes being a product marketer can feel like being a project manager, but if you embrace that fact, you can bring a lot of value to your company. Whenever I can, I try to fill that role of coordinator and communication link between teams.
Not only is this necessary, but as a product marketer, I’m best positioned to play that cross-departmental role.
Because remembering to schedule meetings and making sure important tasks are completed is a job in itself, I rely heavily on predefined processes, templates, and project management tools. This means no one else has to remind me to do my job, and it keeps me from dropping the ball.
If you don't have these processes in place, I would highly recommend getting a project management tool, learning how to use it inside and out, and creating some reusable templates for the things you need to do regularly, like go-to-market strategies.
In product marketing, change is the only constant, and being flexible is crucial. Whether something's changing with a product, there's a new aspect you didn't hear about, or the timeline is changing, you always have to be ready to pivot at a moment's notice.
This might sound like a cliche, but it’s true. Unforeseen circumstances can cause your projects to be delayed, so your product marketing plans need to be flexible.
This is also where relationship building comes in. If you've already done the work to form connections with the key people on your team, you will be the first one they reach out to when plans need to change. That means you're never going to get left out of the loop on unimportant product developments.
That just about wraps up our crash course in product marketing. I hope it’s been helpful and thought-provoking for those of you who are kicking off new milestones in your product marketing career or who are just looking to bring a fresh perspective to your work.