This article was adapted from Collette’s inspiring interview on the Product Marketing Life. Listen to it in its full glory here!
It’s time for an inside look at the ever-evolving world of product marketing. I've spent years navigating the dynamic landscape of this field, experiencing a spectrum of highs and lows, triumphs and setbacks, all of which have shaped my understanding and perspective.
Whether you're a fellow veteran in product marketing or a budding enthusiast, this article has something for everyone. From the importance of nurturing relationships within your organization to the value of staying customer-focused, the stories and lessons shared here paint a vivid picture of the realities of being a product marketer.
So, pull up a chair and get comfortable as I take you on a journey through my adventures in product marketing. I hope my experiences provide valuable food for thought as you chart your own course in this exciting field, and perhaps even give you a few good laughs along the way. Enjoy the ride!
The biggest mistakes companies make when hiring product marketers
It's really interesting to see how companies go about hiring product marketers. Product marketing is such a three-dimensional role, with all kinds of skills in play. You're working hand in hand with product teams, bringing to the table your sales smarts, and also channelling your marketing expertise. So, the experience we're talking about is pretty broad and rich.
But here's the thing I've noticed – a lot of companies trip up by trying to hunt down this mythical "complete" product marketer. Between you and me, I don't think that person exists. We all have our favorite parts of the job.
Personally, I get a kick out of positioning and strategy, and I love enabling sales teams and getting them excited about the products. Meanwhile, there are some areas that I haven't delved as deeply into or that I’m just not as interested in. For instance, I do a bunch of competitive intelligence (CI) work, but when you take into account the plethora of tasks I handle, it’s fair to say that CI is not my biggest interest.
What's important for companies to get is that as long as someone's got the enthusiasm and the hunger for the role, you can teach them the skills they need. But no matter how skilled or experienced someone might be, you can't inject that passion and excitement for the role.
It's a tough, hands-on job where no two days are the same. So, it’s a mistake to chase after the “complete” PMM. Honestly, I don't believe anyone can say they're 100% competent in every aspect of the job.
What we need to realize in this industry is that people have strengths in different areas. So, it's all about figuring out what strengths we want to bring into the role. And then, once we've got this person onboard, shaping them into the marketer that's just right for our organization.
I think the industry's starting to catch on to this idea, but we still have some ways to go, especially in encouraging fresh talent. When we're looking at newbies with a couple of years under their belt, we need to be more open to nurturing them in this industry.
How to carve out a space for yourself as a product marketer in a new company
Let's talk about product marketers and how they fit within a company. This role can look very different depending on where you are.
In some places I've worked, product marketers were heavily involved with sales enablement and marketing.
But in others, they were deeply embedded within the product team – I've even been in companies where product marketing was part of the product team, not the marketing team.
So, when you step into a product marketing role, you’ve got to ask yourself questions like, "Where do I want to fit in? How do I want to prove my worth? How can I make this product a hit in the market?"
Do you need to work with the sales team for a few months to get things rolling? Or dive deep with the product team to really get how the product and its development works?
One piece of advice for folks just stepping into product marketing: don't try to be everything to everyone. Figure out where your quick wins are, and keep an eye on those long-term goals.
Whenever I walk into a new company, I always take a good hard look at the product and my role, and I think, "Okay, what's my game plan for success here, both short-term and long-term?"
But don't fool yourself into thinking you can nail the perfect marketing mix in just six months – You’ll only set yourself up for disappointment. Instead, focus on where you can make the biggest impact right now as a product marketer, how you can drive your product forward, and what you need to do in the long term. That's key.
What product marketers in startups can learn from their counterparts in enterprises – and vice versa
Working in a startup as a product marketer, you're busy on all fronts – looking at the product brand, figuring out positioning, doing the sales enablement, and even lending a hand to the tech sales teams. It's exciting, but it can also get pretty overwhelming when you're the lone product marketer doing all the things.
And here's a thought – as these startups grow, they could learn a thing or two from the big companies about bringing in specialists. Timing is everything – getting those extra skill sets on board when you need them can be a real game-changer.
And let's be honest, we product marketers can be a bit wary of new faces taking over parts of our job. But that's not how we should see it. It's actually proof that our skills are valued. So, instead of being defensive, we should be welcoming new people with open arms.
Our profession is in a major growth phase right now, and people are starting to see the value we bring. We shouldn't be clinging to our tasks, but instead, we should be encouraging more folks to join us and continue showing our value.
So, startups can learn from enterprises, but this isn't a one-way street; big companies could pick up a few tricks from startups too. Seeing product marketers spin so many plates is inspiring. They can bring a ton of value to a business, no matter what they need at that moment
Even if they're focusing on just one product line, they could be a real asset for digital marketing campaigns, or for understanding user personas. Basically, these folks are like mini startups within a larger organization.
Now, I'm not saying big companies should become startups – they've got big revenues to bring in – but they can get a lot more out of their product marketers than what's traditional product marketing.
If big companies learn from startups how to get the most out of their marketers, this not only helps marketers grow, but also gives them a challenge and makes them want to stick around.
The biggest mistakes product marketers make (yes, even experienced PMMs!)
Common mistakes in product marketing? Oh boy, we've all made them.
I'll be the first to admit that I still trip up sometimes. A big one that comes to mind? Rushing into a new organization with all guns blazing. We're all guilty of it.
You know the drill – you join a new organization, someone asks you to take a look at a go-to-market strategy, and before you can even take a breath, you're running at 110 miles an hour.
This doesn’t sound so bad, but while you’re caught up in this whirlwind, you’re forgetting the importance of building an internal network and getting to grips with the business and the product.
Here's a hot tip: sit back and take about four weeks just to get to grips with the business. Once you've got that understanding under your belt and you've won over the stakeholders, you'll be set up for success.
It’s a mistake to race off trying to prove yourself from day one. I mean, sure, you're on probation and you've got targets, but that can distract you from forming the key relationships that'll make a real difference in the long run.
And this is where organizations have a role to play too – they need to give new product marketers the time and space to build these relationships. That's what sets apart a good marketer from a great one.
Another mistake we see time and time again is people losing sight of what’s important – the customer. As you move up the ranks and your role becomes more strategic, you have to keep those conversations going.
Chat with your users, understand their insights, catch up with your sales team to see how the enablement material is working, and stay in touch with your developers to see what tickets are coming in so you stay on top of any tech hiccups.
User insights, customer feedback, and internal conversations are easy to overlook when you're distracted by the broader strategy, but they’re critical for elevating your product. So, keep those lines of communication open.
Whether it's handling objections, figuring out problematic product features, or simply understanding your customers better, it all boils down to talking – and more importantly, listening.
The misconceptions holding product marketers back
Oh, the misconceptions people have about product marketers! I think that's where a lot of mistakes outside our industry come from. Most people just see us as an add-on to the marketing team – which isn't entirely wrong, but it's just one facet of what we do. The real meat of our job is so much more!
Take sales for instance – I see myself almost as an extension of that team. A big chunk of my time goes into helping them sell the product. I give them all the support they need – making sure they understand the product inside out, providing them with the right materials, and basically setting them up to knock it out of the park. After all, if they win, my product wins.
It's the same with the product team. I dive deep into understanding the product features, the customer research they're doing, and the feedback they're getting – all so I can position our product in the strongest possible light.
People can't always wrap their heads around the fact that we do all this. I've even had mentees in product marketing struggling to explain their roles to others.
So, we've got a job on our hands to educate people about what we do. And I invite folks outside of product marketing to ask us what we do. No offense taken – in fact, I love the chance to clarify our role in the industry.
It's not just about internal stakeholders, though. Even clients and customers need to understand what we do. We can support them by creating case studies, helping them see the value of our product, and even assisting them in getting buy-in within their own organization.
Long story short, people need to grasp the complexity of our role – how we juggle multiple skills and go beyond just producing content and crafting positioning statements. We're really in the thick of things, involved in every part of the organization. And that's what makes a product marketer not just good, but great.
How to build a learning culture in your product marketing team
Here's a confession: there's one colossal mistake I made early in my career that I swear I'll never repeat. If any of my friends and colleagues are reading, no need to mock me for this, alright?
It was way back when I was helping a company launch a pharmaceutical product in Asia. We had everything in place – the launch date, the name, and comprehensive user research. The press was in on it and we were all set for what we believed was going to be a groundbreaking launch.
However, once the product went live, things went south. The digital numbers were off, and the sales team couldn't get traction in Japan, which was supposed to be our main market. Turns out we’d launched during the emperor's celebration in Japan. The entire country had shut down for a week, and I'd completely overlooked this!
I laugh about it now, but back then, I was devastated. I was still new in the industry and had to face the daunting task of presenting these disappointing numbers to my boss. The error was glaring, and it was all on me.
But instead of getting chewed out, I received tremendous support from my superiors. They sat with me, we brainstormed, and together, we pivoted the launch to success. That moment was a career-defining one for me. It taught me the power of good leadership and how it could turn even the most dire of situations around.
Ever since I've made it a point to offer the same support to those I mentor. Many reach out to me, panicked about a mistake they've made and fearing it'll cost them their jobs. I walk them through the problem, help them find evidence to understand what went wrong and guide them to possible solutions.
I firmly believe that good leadership is about standing by your team, even when mistakes happen. Because let's face it – they will. The trick is to face them head-on, with confidence, and figure out a way to come out stronger on the other side. And for that, you need the right team and the right leadership.
We all stumble and fall at some point – it's part and parcel of work and life in general. The key is to pick ourselves up and learn from those blunders. Frankly, I've learned more from my mistakes than my successes. They've forged me into a better, more resilient marketer.
It’s so important to be able to discuss your mistakes openly. One of my big drives these days is fostering candid conversations about the errors we've made. Because as we discuss our mistakes, we get better at handling them, taking ownership of them, and ultimately, learning from them.
Whenever I attend events, I love hearing success stories – who doesn't? But let's be honest, for every successful sales enablement program, there's one that didn't go so well. So let's discuss those as well. Sharing these experiences can be so enlightening.
In my previous company, we had a unique agenda item in our monthly team meetings: "Mistakes I've Made this Month". We would lay our errors bare, dissect them, and figure out ways to avoid them in the future. This kind of transparency can create a healthy and constructive culture, which is essential for great product marketing.
Let’s wrap up with some key takeaways:
- Building relationships: Relationship building, both internally with stakeholders and externally with customers, is a pivotal part of being a successful product marketer. Understanding the business, product, and most importantly, the people around it lays the foundation for success.
- Customer centricity: Never lose sight of the customer. Whether you're just starting your career or diving into strategic planning, maintaining an ongoing conversation with your customers provides invaluable insights.
- Understanding the role: People often underestimate the complexity and diversity of a product marketer's role. Open conversations can help challenge and change these misconceptions.
- Learning from mistakes: Every mistake is an opportunity to learn and grow. Fostering a culture where mistakes are openly discussed and learned from strengthens the team and the individual. It's not about perfection, but the ability to pivot and grow from these experiences.