The role of product marketing is built on a foundational layer of collaboration; the way you team up with and talk to those on the top floor can hugely impact the level of support you get and the level of success you breed.

Naturally, that means when you are engaging with C-suite, you want to be getting the most of your conversations. To help you do just that, Merill Corporation's VP of Product Marketing, Axel Kirstetter, took some time out to answer any questions on the topic.

Bad news folks, this AMA’s been and gone -- but there are plenty more in the pipeline. Head over to our AMA hub to see what topics and hosts are on the horizon.

Q: I've been in product marketing for several years but have recently joined a company where the role is brand new to them, and the piece I'm finding difficult is that initial "this is what I do and why I do it". Have you ever been in this situation? And what do you think is the best way to present that piece in a way that'll get everyone to understand and appreciate my role?

A: Yes, PMM has the challenge of sitting between the marketing and product pillars. I think you need to engage your stakeholders in a bi-directional discussion. "Here’s what I will do for you". Timeframes, measurement, resource allocation, audiences, etc. Here you need to get assurances that your items are relevant and impactful. This only comes via a sort of sign-off.

The bi-directional element comes in at the next step which is "and to accomplish these items here is what I need from you". To be successful you’ll need active support. Subject to who your stakeholder is, it’s reasonable to ask for participation in client meetings, customer discovery sessions, access to Sales for reviewing of assets, dedicated slots for product information in the communication and demand channels, etc.

Q: What do you think us product marketers can do on an individual level to get all people from the C-suite invested in our roles?

A: A lot of this comes down to your commitment to others and earning credibility over time. For example, a product will want to know what you’ll do for product adoption, sales for asset production, marketing for speaker availability, etc. I’m also a big believer in quarterly or semesterly business reviews that include revenue, against pipeline, campaigns that have been run quant./qual. input etc.

My simple definition of PMM is to be the expert in buyers. This isn’t the same as a customer or user. the buyer includes potential, past, and future buyers. Every department has an interest in understanding that.

Q: When you first entered product marketing, what were the biggest challenges you faced with the C-suite?

A: It’s always the same. Where should it sit (marketing, product) and what does it do. I find the reporting line secondary to the issue of measurement and impact. If the company needs PMM to sharpen the focus for demand gen and inside sales, then it makes sense to sit in marketing. If the challenge is more around positioning, competitive intel it makes sense to sit with the product.

As mentioned in responses to other blogs here, in establishing your charter:

- get sign off from execs on it

- ensure bi-directional relations are established

- keep focused on being the organization focal point for buyer expertise.

Q: I’m keen to know which execs you interact with most on a day-to-day/week-to-week basis? And what do your interactions typically look like? Are you given a seat at the table? What advice would you give to PMMs in an organization where there isn't a VP, Product Marketer fighting their corner higher up the ladder?

A: Day-to-day: sales, product, marketing. Weekly: service and legal. Monthly: finance and the CEO.

PMM needs to earn its seat at the table and the best way to do this is by being the focal point for buyer expertise, i.e. how the product is used, addressable market size, reasons for churn, sub-segments, segment profitability, etc. and this level of detail takes time to establish. Meanwhile, you need to be delivering on your charter and quarterly commitments, too.

Q: How would you manage a project where your key stakeholders dislike each other and won't cooperate with you or themselves? Or, perhaps they dislike you for whatever reason and are making your life hard?

A: Office politics is not an exclusive PMM domain. For project-specific collaboration, my recommendations are to make sure there is an agreed-upon charter in place including an exec sponsor. This charter should include goals, objectives, timeframes, etc. Report back on those, identify gaps and resource requirements, etc. If things get too heated, get back with the exec sponsor and check whether any of the goals have changed.

On a personal level, if it really is unbearable and you have explored the above option, maybe there are deeper cultural fit questions at play.

Q: I've been trying to figure out how to either initiate or influence a more market-driven process to product strategy, i.e. developing a good business case for products and/or significant features so the business is well-positioned to make decisions about what to develop based on revenue opportunity or ARR goals.

The organization is at a low level of maturity with respect to Product Marketing, as well as the idea of being market-led. Any insight and/or guidance on how to approach this? I'm focusing on creating alignment and developing a structure to decision rights but when it comes to getting the business case done, it has been like pulling teeth.

A: I have gone through this exercise a few times. From a PMM perspective, we have to reflect on how what we do provides value to buyers across their value chain. For example, email marketing, you have your list load phase, your template build and populate phase, send phase, result analysis phase, report out phase, CRM update phase, etc. Your tool needs to show value against all of these phases.

Ideally, these value chain phases include different audiences. Overlay that with good TAM, SAM, SOM, Penetrated definitions multiplied by a willingness to pay data and it becomes a really interesting discussion. I’d also add teaming up with Sales is a good exercise here. If multiple sellers mention a certain client cohort is interested in a certain type of functionality, there’s probably a market there making the business case easier.