A product marketing career is fast becoming one of the most sought-after professions. As revealed in the State of Product Marketing Report 2020, just 5% of PMMs want to enter a completely new field, and many are making the transition from other areas into the product marketing sphere.
A product marketer can have every essential skill, but if they don’t hit the ground running when they join a new team, their hard and soft skills can pale into insignificance. Newbies need to prove their worth and show how they’re going to add value to the product marketing team.
Aneri Shah, Product Marketing Manager at Whatsapp Inc., explained how to add value in your first 30 days on the team.
How to impress when starting a new job
Q: I've just started a new role and I'm keen to demonstrate my worth to my colleagues and hit the ground running. Do you have any suggestions for how I can prove myself and my credentials to the team?
A: “Congrats on the new role! I believe your credentials should have come through during the interview process - after all, they hired you for a reason.
“Rather than focusing on proving your credentials, I'd think through how to prove your value and what you can bring to the team. Focus on spending your first few weeks listening and understanding what the team and organization need from you, and then start to propose areas where you believe you're uniquely positioned to help, and solicit feedback to ensure you're really pitching in where the team needs you to.
“That's the best way to demonstrate your worth - identifying a gap where you can help, developing and socializing a proposal for what you can do, and then doing the work.”
Q: When joining a new company with two new direct reports in product marketing, what's your steer on how to plot your vision for the team and get buy-in?
A: “I'd put together a 30-60-90 day plan to get input on and commit to what you plan to achieve within your first few months in the role.
“Especially when you're leading a team and supporting team members who may have been at the company longer than you have, it's important to hear from them what they'd like from a PMM leader and where they think you can best provide support and help address gaps in the organization. After spending time with your team and understanding their needs, spend time with key cross-functional partners and see what they want from a PMM.
“After completing your listening tour, put together your 30-60-90-day plan and get feedback on the most important areas to immediately tackle from the team and cross-functional partners. Structure the plan in a way that allows you to get in 1-2 small early wins to prove your value and build trust with partners.
“Don't rush into the team vision too fast - it's an important exercise, and ensuring that you understand the organization and have committed to some initial priorities and gotten a sense of what works well will help you get buy-in and make sure your vision and planning is rooted in the right strategic priorities.”
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Advice for a product marketing intern
Q: I’ll be joining one of my dream organizations as a PMM Intern soon, and I want to know what things I should focus on and how to prioritize during those initial 30 days to make the most impact and bring some value to the team?
A: “As an intern, the goals of your time with the company are to learn about the role and company and see if this work would be interesting to you long-term, prove that you would be an asset to the team in the long run.
“The key to success is making sure you understand the organization and their work as much as possible - do external reading on the landscape, devour all the internal resources you can get your hands on, and ask thoughtful questions. As an intern, you aren't expected to immediately demonstrate value, but your thoughtfulness and ability to go deep on the problems the organization is trying to solve will be your currency that will set you up for long-term success.
“Tactically, here are some things I would recommend doing:
“First, set up 1:1s/coffee chats with your immediate team/organization and cross-functional partners, and then later, more senior leaders - as an intern, you have a unique ability to have these conversations and you can learn a lot about the value you're expected to bring through them.
“Also, take a lot of notes and have a list of questions for each meeting - be diligent and thoughtful about who is best positioned to answer which questions and the answers you get.
“Align with your manager on what success looks like; you can rely on your manager a little more heavily as an intern, and they should help you define what would make for a good internship. What are your key deliverables? At what junctures are you getting feedback? Who should be your main partners? What's the right communication structure with your manager?
“At my first internship, my manager and I had a daily 15 min standup to chat through updates. Figure out the right working model for you, as your manager will be your biggest advocate and key to success in the role.”
Be tactful with your internal communication plan
Communication’s a soft skill every product marketer needs to be successful; 80% of PMMs surveyed for the State of Product Marketing Report 2020 identified strong communication as the skill they valued the most, while 90% of product marketers surveyed for the State of Product Marketing Leadership report 2021 said they look for strong communication skills when recruiting PMMs, with 89% saying they value the ability to drive good cross-functional relationships internally.
When joining a new team, you need to be mindful of the fact existing plans will be in place, and you don’t want to ruffle feathers. Instead, be strategic and resist the urge to go all guns blazing if you see a procedure in place you’re not happy with.
Q: I’ve recently transitioned into product marketing and joined a team brimming with experience. It’s early days, but I’ve spotted what I’d consider to be potential areas of improvement and would love to bring my fresh ideas to the table.
However, given the status of my peers, I’m a little reluctant to speak up. How can I convey my value to the team, despite being in the formative years of my PMM career? Admittedly, I'm a little worried my input will be cast aside.
A: “The biggest mistake I've seen someone make in their first few weeks is coming in strong with too many suggestions, ideas of criticism, without taking time to understand why things are the way they are. Ideas are easy to come by, but when you're new to an organization, you may not understand why they haven't already been implemented (e.g. lack of resources, organizational priorities, no budget, shifting strategy, execution difficulty).
“For now, note down all your ideas, and spend time understanding how the product got to where it is, some of the key tensions or difficulties for the team, and what they think you can bring to the table. Based on that context, you can then reevaluate your ideas or see them through a new lens, and evaluate what to pitch to the team.
“This sets you up for greater success as your ideas are now not just fresh/new, but more carefully thought-through, and therefore more likely to be implemented. Being able to demonstrate this kind of emotional intelligence and show that you understand the nuance will convey a deeper value to the team, and hopefully help you manage some of your doubts around being earlier in your career!”
Teamwork makes the dream work - or does it?
Q: It could be construed that it’s purely the responsibility of the newcomer to demonstrate the value they can bring to their new team.
This does, however, directly contradict the 'teamwork makes the dream work' motif promoted by so many orgs.
In your opinion, what role should peers play in assisting with the transition period of their new colleagues? Or is it really a case of 'every man and woman for themselves’?'
A: “I don't believe it's purely the responsibility of the newcomer to demonstrate value. The organization was looking for someone to fill the role for a reason, and it's important to understand what those reasons were.
“Peers and managers are the most helpful resource during an initial transition, and without their help, it's difficult to understand how you can best contribute. I'd ask the following questions:
To your manager:
- What are the key traits and behaviors for someone to be successful in this role?
- Why was this a key hire for the organization? What gaps existed before this role was filled?
- What are the key deliverables in this role?
- What's a good first project for me to tackle?
- What does growth look like in this role?
To your peers and cross-functional partners:
- What does PMM mean to you? What role does PMM play within the team?
- Where are areas you see gaps in the team? How can I help?
- What are your top priorities?
- What do you not yet understand about the project/space we're in that you would like to?”
What product marketing skills are valued most by employers?
Q: Are there particular traits/characteristics to look out for in a new team member when evaluating what they can bring to a team?
A: “It will vary based on the specifics of the role you're looking to fill, but there are a few general traits I'd look at.
“Firstly, the ability to be a team player and work well with the functions they'll be engaging with most closely.
“I also look for initiative and being a self-starter - can they identify opportunities to drive impact and do so independently?
“Also, consider the gaps the team has e.g. if you have a PMM team that is strong on inbound, but nobody has strong outbound experience, bringing on a hire with more outbound experience will help round out the team and can help teach others those skills.”
Why is team value important?
Q: An ex-colleague once said to me it's impossible to unlock value within a team if the team doesn't value each other - words that've stuck with me ever since.
Is this a philosophy that's promoted at WhatsApp? What measures are in place to support newcomers to deliver as much value as possible?
A: “I completely agree with that! I think it's especially important in a cross-functional team where everyone brings such different skills and experience - each individual team member unlocks another part of the puzzle.
“This philosophy is definitely promoted at WhatsApp - we work very closely with our cross-functional teams. We have a new hire onboarding to understand WhatsApp's history and values, presentations/casual chats with leadership, and 1:1s with all relevant team members within your first few weeks.
“I probably did 1:1s with twenty different people within my first month at the company, and each person provided a different angle on what they needed from me and how I could be successful (e.g. an engineering manager has different needs to a data scientist). This helped me get a solid understanding of where the gaps were so I could identify the right first few projects to deliver value and build credibility with the team.”
Identifying valued product marketing skills
Q: How can I identify and relate to what others truly value, to ensure I’m not barking up the wrong tree?
A: “Ask questions! The best way to understand what others value is to let them tell you directly. Make sure your questions are deep and consider 'The Five Whys' - once someone tells you something they'd like to see, ask why, and keep going until you've truly gotten to the crux of why they value that work.”
How to stand out at work
Q: I’m an ambitious PMM and have been in my role for almost a month. I’ve worked so hard trying to prove my worth, but it seems no matter what I do, my efforts seem to slip under the radar.
I’m not struggling, and I do enjoy my position, but at the moment I’m merely fitting in when I want to stand out.
Do you have any advice on how I can differentiate myself from the others on my team? After all, we only get one shot at this, right?
A: “I'm sorry to hear that. I disagree that you only get one shot and have to stand out immediately. Sometimes, fitting in early is the key - and even that is a major accomplishment. I'd think of it this way - early on, your goal is to understand the position, learn about the role/team/product, and get context.
“Once you've done that, you can start delivering small wins and work your way up to larger wins. It's at that stage that you can really stand out, and your work will be better with that easy camaraderie/collaboration with the rest of the organization. Standing out should be a goal in the long-run rather than the short-run as you're better positioned to do better work once you've been in the role for at least a few months.
“I'd stop putting too much pressure on yourself right now, focus on continuing to enjoy your position and drive value, and then continue to understand what would help you stand out in the 6-12 month range, where it will become a lot more important.”