As product marketers we’re all in the same boat, we often face many of the same challenges, and for me personally, it provides a lot of comfort to know I’m not on my own.
With that in mind, in this article, I’ll cover four common friction points PMMs face and share my experiences in navigating them and overcoming them throughout my career, in the hope that my experiences and key learnings will help empower your product marketing success.
I got inspired to write this article because we had a product marketing summit back in November in Chicago at Morningstar headquarters, where I work.
At Morningstar, our mission is to empower investor success - I will not be empowering your success as investors, but I'm hoping to pull from my experience as a product marketer to empower your product marketing success.
One of the things I noticed when sitting through presentations back in Chicago was, 'Oh, my gosh, we are all in this together and we all have so many common pain points'.
I felt better about that, because it wasn't about me, or my team, or my company, it's just the nature of this field that we're in. That made me feel good and it also made me want to share how I navigate through these challenges in my day to day life.
Four common areas of friction
I identified four key areas of friction which I'll go through.
- Building product knowledge can be a challenge, particularly if you're joining a new firm and a new industry that's unfamiliar to you.
- Clarifying roles and responsibilities and perceptions, challenging perceptions of what marketing and product marketing is.
- Navigating a highly collaborative environment, and then,
- Attributing business impact back to marketing.
Any of these resonate with you?
Product knowledge and technical skill
At Morningstar, I support investment analysis platforms for sophisticated financial professionals. I do not have my CFP, I don't have a financial background, and I had been at Morningstar for a couple of years before we re-org'd and formed a product marketing function.
I knew a little bit about the product, but not too much, and so it was a little bit intimidating for me, knowing this audience and how sophisticated and intelligent they were, and understanding that I was responsible for understanding their pain points.
There are a couple of things that I did to make myself feel more comfortable in this role.
Listen to a sales pitch
The first thing I did is I tried to befriend a few sellers. There is some tension with product marketing and sales, but you got to have a few friendlies. The first thing I did is I identified who those folks were that were more open to me asking questions and I asked them to do a sales pitch to me.
That meant I kind of understood the story that they were telling. That didn't mean "Okay, great. They just did my job for me. I know the story, I understand it". No, that was a starting point for me to see what the current status was.
Get the scoop from product
The next thing I did was talk to product. Previously the tagline for Morningstar director was, 'Everything Morningstar', and I wanted to understand:
- What does that actually mean?
- Why did we have that tagline?
- Why did we build this thing in the first place?
- How did it evolve?
- What's the vision for the future?
- And why?
- What feedback do the customers give us to lead us in this direction?
Seek out internal training opportunities
Then I kind of had enough of an idea to reach out to our internal training team and say, "Okay, this is roughly what I see come up in these conversations and this is really what I want to focus on, can you show me how to do XYZ?”
I know some of you might not have a well-oiled internal training team, that's fine. Ask whoever knows the product to help you out. There's a lot of self-service documents, you can also take a look at those, but start somewhere.
It's really important to understand what you need to know and what you don't need to know. There is a lot you can do in this tool that I'm a product marketing person for. However, there are methodologies behind all of these sophisticated analysis things that we can do - I don't have to know the methodology behind it.
If I wanted to know inside and out everything I would never be able to go home. Understand when it's enough and when you can move forward and then learn the tool as much as you need to know the tool.
Test your knowledge
The next thing is to test yourself. Offer to share your knowledge with other marketers. I remember when I thought that I completely understood everything and I was so excited, I went to the digital marketing team and I was like, 'Alright, let me tell you about our customers and our product'.
I started talking, and they started asking questions, and then we were both confused. I had to go back to the drawing board because I realized that I didn't truly understand.
I've seen this come up several times in presentations about simplicity and making sure that you can communicate something easily to folks.
Meet your customers
The last thing and this, of course, doesn't have to go in the order that I applied it, but meet your customers, know who these people are, understand them, talk to them.
Again, this was challenging for me, I'm not a finance person, I thought of these people as really very intelligent, and I was intimidated. But when I got the chance to go out and speak to them, it sort of humanized their pain points for me, and it made me connect to them more.
I didn't feel like these people are a lot smarter than me, I just felt like these people have a job to do and I can be a part of making that easier for them.
I think these things helped me ramp up but again, you can go through them in any order that you want. I included the Tesla demo in the image because things can go kind of wonky when you're doing demos and presentations, that's totally fine.
Don't be intimidated by that, that has nothing to do with your product knowledge, those things happen. Just learn to prepare as much as possible, and not panic when those things happen.
Responsibilities and roles
Aren't we on the same team? During the women's World Cup, they won it together, but there was still some individuality there. People had a specific role: goalie, defence, forward, etc. and all of that makes for a win.
I mentioned product marketing as a well-oiled function was somewhat new to our company. There was a lot of change. I started in a generalist capacity, I was doing a little bit of social, I was doing a little bit of writing, I was working in our marketing automation platform doing email campaigns, everything.
That all changed, then we had a digital team, we had an email marketing team that was specifically focused on that and I was no longer doing that.
Initially, it felt like 'you're taking something away from me'. I had a mentor at Morningstar telling me 'no, this is just your opportunity to learn something new and add value in different areas of the business'.
Write out your responsibilities and objectives
Of course, writing that out really helps. Not just communicating about it, but actually physically writing it is super, super important.
Product marketing is so different across different companies and industries, just figure out what it means to your organization. Then understand what others are responsible for as well.
Understand what others are responsible for
If Jenna is always on Facebook, and you're like how is she still here? Maybe Jenna's role is social media and that's totally fine.
Maybe you have a Jenna but maybe there's a Tim out there who's literally never in the office, and you're like, "Oh, my God, what is he doing all day? And how does he get away with it? I want to be in his team", well, maybe he's customer-facing, maybe his role has changed and he's out there meeting customers.
Don't prejudge the situation, understand what people are good at, and how they can add value, and then develop a team charter.
Develop a team charter
I know, ew, I thought the same thing. I came back from a vacation and my team was talking about making a team charter and I was like, "Oh, come on, this is so fluffy". But once I got involved in the process, it really worked.
It's essentially a rules of engagement or a code of conduct. You list out what people are responsible for, how they work together to complete it, and then what your shared goals are. Just coming into a room together and actually talking about this makes a huge difference.
Because then you can openly say 'yes, this has been a challenge for us, and handing off at this point doesn't really make sense'. It's actually super, super helpful to get everyone on the same page.
Share your work
For me, product marketing was new, and so all of a sudden, we were meeting with product and we were meeting with sales, and we were in the room with customer service, in the executive meetings, and we were super involved and pushing our way through.
People were really confused, like, 'are you guys gonna make a fact sheet, or why are you here?' We had to showcase, if we're responsible for telling a story, then tell that story really, really well and show what that means.
Showcase your work, no one's gonna do it for you, but that'll help get the message across.
Collaborating with multiple stakeholders
I absolutely love working with people, I knew that I was going to do marketing because I know that was inherent to marketing. I love meeting new people, I love sharing ideas, so that's necessary for my professional life.
But it can be challenging, even for me, which is someone who really loves working with people.
The number one thing is to anticipate conflict, don't find a team where it doesn't exist, or a company that it doesn't exist, or a relationship where it doesn't exist - it's gonna exist.
Become comfortable with that, and use it as an opportunity to develop poise and diplomacy. It can prepare you really for a career in politics. Figure out how to manage situations in a way that is gonna make people respect you and trust you with sensitive situations and projects. Use it as practice for life.
The next thing is to have empathy. My manager loves to talk about empathy in product marketing, empathy for our customers, and empathy for our internal customers as well, which is the people that we collaborate with.
If someone is not responding to your email, or you have a deliverable that's running late because of someone or they're not calling you back or not emailing you back, whatever is happening, maybe someone sent you a nasty email. We've all been there.
Have empathy, recognize that people have things going on in their personal lives, recognize that there are other priorities that people are responsible for, and take a step back.
Trust me, I've gotten a passive-aggressive email and I've written a masterpiece comeback, I've spent way too much time being like, 'this is just subtle enough, but it'll get the point across' and I'm so proud. Don't send it.
Anytime I've sent something like this, I've regretted it. Over time, I don't send these things anymore. I try to diffuse situations and align people back on track.
Focus on facts and data
The way you can do this is to focus on facts and data. You have someone who's telling you, 'we got to do this event' and someone else says 'no, I want to do a webinar'. Well:
- Who can tell me what's the return on investment with a webinar versus a physical event?
- How much budget is used for a physical event versus a webinar?
- How much time does it take?
- How many resources does it take?
Use data to guide your decision, not just opinions. The other thing is to focus on facts to orient yourself. So if you're going to do this physical event, and you need to complete your speaking submission by this date, use that date to guide you.
Not like 'hey, arbitrarily, I need this because I like to get things done two months in advance'. No, this is the date you need it done, and just focus on that.
Align to a common goal
The other thing is to align to a common goal, again, try to focus on what you're all responsible for, and diffuse some of the interpersonal conflicts because you're all on the same team, even if there are too many cooks in the kitchen.
This is one of my favorite things to talk about, attribution. Marketing attribution is super challenging. I mentioned I spent two years in more of a generalist capacity and then about two and a half years in product marketing.
Leverage benchmarks and set goals
I was there with the Excel spreadsheets and I was there having to do multiple projects, and not even having time to go back and see how those things performed. I know it's tough, and we don't all have the tools to help us, or we don't have headcount to help us with that stuff.
But you have to do it and you have to measure yourself in some way. If it's new and you don't have a tonne of data - start somewhere. You can Google benchmarks, Gartner has benchmarks for all sorts of things across different industries.
Start somewhere, and then once you start doing running campaigns, testing, and learning, then you'll have some of your own data to make it a little bit more applicable to whatever you're doing.
Invest in a foundation
The other thing is, I know there are points where we don't have all those tools, and we're having to piecemeal things together. That's fine to a point. But as much as you can invest in a foundation, invest in the tools and the technology, invest in the people and the teams.
We use Tableau now and so we connect our Salesforce data, and our Eloqua (which is our marketing, automation platform) data and it all comes up through Tableau and we have beautiful reports.
We know our conversion rates, we know how many marketing qualified leads we have, we know how many wins we can attribute back to marketing in which specific campaigns. It is such a game-changer, it's so so important.
We also have the people, we have a sort of Centre of Excellence, which is our marketing operations team and we have marketing analysts, those people are so incredibly helpful, they really change things for us.
Because having access to that data, and being able to tell our story through numbers - of course, Morningstar is a data numbers-driven organization - is super, super important.
But I have to say, go through this process slowly, don't just listen to a sales pitch and then purchase something because you know you need it. Think about whether or not it makes sense.
When you're building these things up, even if it's a team, a technology, whatever - do it right. Build that foundation, because if you try to put things together in a haste, you're gonna have a lot of problems later. It's garbage data in and garbage data out. Really take your time and to do this.
Share your wins
The ability to have a way to measure and to attribute your success as a business back to some of the marketing tactics is super important, but you have to share it out, you have to get it to the highest levels of your organization.
It has to be shared with the CEO, it has to be shared with the CRO, Chief Product Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, let everybody know that your team is killing it. Because you'll get a lot of doors opening for you if you can make sure that the right people know the value that you're adding.
In our organization, once we were able to ramp up, have clear goals, measure against our goals, prove that we've exceeded our goals, we made a big deal about that.
This year, we have a lot more budget, and we have a lot more headcount. We're gonna be able to do a lot more and continue to add value and let every layer of the organization know what we could do.
I remember when I started, when I went to college, and I told my parents I'm going to do marketing, they were really concerned because they were like, "Okay, well, you're gonna get laid off at some point, because marketing is the first to go".
Yeah, they're kind of right, but at the same time, not so right anymore, because we have the tools now that we can actually share success and we can show what the business impact would be if we were to not be in the organization anymore. It's super, super important.
That wraps up my article.
I talked about:
- Challenges and getting product expertise,
- Understanding and clarifying roles and responsibilities,
- Navigating a highly complex environment, and
- Attributing business impact back to marketing.