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7 min read

Blending technical mastery and interpersonal influence: How to become a PMM leader

Leadership

What does leadership mean?

The Oxford English dictionary defines being a leader as:

“The action of leading a group of people or an organization”

Fairly bland, right?

We happen to agree more with John Quincy Adams’ definition which goes like this: 

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”

Far more inspiring. But what does that mean for product marketing? How do we take great leadership qualities and apply them to this very specific and essential business function? 

Here’s what Div Manickam, Product Marketing Consultant and Director of Portfolio Messaging, thinks PMM leadership is all about: 

There are lots of different ways to succeed as a leader within PMM and I think that’s why we see people taking up the responsibility of a leader in one way or another before their title changes. My advice to anyone taking this course is not to take a cookie-cutter approach to it. Leadership is very nuanced and no two leaders will take the exact same approach to the challenges in their role.”

What are “hard” and “soft” skills for PMM leaders?

Most people have heard the terms “hard” and “soft” skills before, especially as they relate to leadership qualities. However, prefer to replace the term “hard” with “technical” and “soft” with “interpersonal” to more accurately illustrate what these skills mean.

Technical skills include strategic competencies like positioning, messaging, content development, launch readiness, and market analysis. Interpersonal skills involve abilities like communication, influence, collaboration, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence. 

How to be a leader in product marketing

One of the most important interpersonal skills you’ll cultivate as a great leader is how to make those in your team feel safe. 

Making your team feel safe as a PMM leader 

By “safe” we mean happy to express their opinions, are willing to contribute to projects or campaigns, and that their thoughts and feelings will be considered equally – rather than dismissed.

Imagine you’ve arranged a meeting to explore new content ideas. How would you want the people involved to behave in that meeting? Obviously, you’d want everyone in the room to be engaged and contributing their best ideas. 

If your team members don’t feel safe they won’t contribute – they simply won’t take the risk. If those within your team feel safe they’ll be more engaged, confident, helpful, and creatively inclined. 

But how do you make people feel safe? The feeling of safety is something that flows downwards from the CEO to the rest of the company leadership, down to middle management, then to individual contributors, and finally to the customer. 

In other words, you’ll find it a lot easier to make your team feel secure if you also feel safe talking and working with company leadership.

Here are some key points to remember: 

  • Your team members need to know you won’t simply let them go (or threaten to) if their performance drops. They need to know they're seen as people, not numbers, and if they run into problems, you’ll be there to coach and support them through it. 
  • When you hit or exceed a goal make a point of celebrating this so people know their work isn’t being taken for granted. 
  • If you fail, then fail as a team. Make sure your team knows you won’t sacrifice one of them to protect your own interests and security or abandon them when something goes wrong. 
  • Prioritize their well-being and understand that “working life” is not a one-size-fits-all situation. People might have specific needs if they’re a parent, a carer for a family member, if they belong to a certain cultural group, or are neurodivergent. Be flexible and understanding whenever you can. 
  • Avoid comparing team members to each other. Highlight and celebrate the diverse range of skills on your team and how they are all important. The aim should always be to foster cooperation and trust between you and your team as well as between team members. 

Think of it this way, your team members (like all of us) have a finite amount of emotional and mental energy. They can either spend that energy worrying about making mistakes and saying “the wrong thing” or they can spend that energy actually contributing to the success of the team – they can't do both. 

Being a great leader is all about empathy. Especially for a role like Product Marketing where you are working with so many different teams. At the end of the day, I’m reliant on other people to help me achieve my goals and there is value in all those different roles as it relates to my job. I have to be able to put myself in their shoes in order to understand how to motivate others to help me.”
Kavya Nath, Senior Director of Product Marketing, at Sprinklr 

Retaining and upskilling top talent

As a leader, you’re always going to be thinking in the long term. Getting the right people for your team is one challenge, keeping them is another. 

People want to know they're part of something bigger than themselves. To attract and keep great people you’ll need to sell a clear vision and how the PMM team will actively drive growth for the whole company. 

Do you have a strong voice within the product marketing community? Are you doing something different and innovative? How does your approach to team structures elevate the role of product marketing? Answering these questions will help you attract and retain top talent. 

Communication is key

Communication – when done right – is a two-way street. Great leaders don’t get far by going it alone, your team should be made up of competent, informed, and skilled people who’re more than capable of bringing great ideas to the table and enhancing any strategy you devise. 

Once you have this group of talented people, listen to them, take on their ideas, and facilitate collaboration.

Communicate rationally through thorny decisions and provide space for healthy debate, but stand firmly behind your rationale once a decision has been made. Two heads are better than one, as the saying goes, so be sure to take the time to hear out your team. But remember, you still need to have the courage to make unpopular calls to avoid inaction. 

Use your data

Along with cross-functional collaboration, data is your trusty friend, too. Data can help inform your instincts – back up that tough decision you need to make or allow you to pivot. 

Through data, you can see not only what you’re doing, but what’s working and what isn’t. Remember those tough calls? Lean on the information at hand to aid your decision-making process, whether it’s changing up your strategy if something’s not working or carrying on an upward trajectory if things are going smoothly.

Leadership means accountability

Technical constraints and market shifts happen – there’s no way around it. So accepting accountability for outcomes over factors outside your control is essential. Avoid finger-pointing elsewhere when things go poorly; learn quickly and course correct. This’ll help you demonstrate commitment to authentic transparency and responsible risk-taking at senior levels.

Making frequent difficult decisions and dealing effectively with resultant pushback ultimately earns enormous respect from executives and teams alike. It signals commitment to customers and builds on the company’s over personal profile. 

This integrity propels the greatest product marketing leaders in any organization.

Direct strategy and vision

Great leaders rally their teams around a shared vision and strategies for achieving it. But your team shouldn’t just follow aimlessly. You need to put across your priorities – ensuring they’re informed by market data, share company goals, and delve into ever-changing customer needs. 

Paint a motivating picture of future success so that your team can move forward with aligned and well-defined objectives, KPIs, and roles. Unify your teams with a clear direction and goal to accomplish.

Advocate for customers

We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: The customer is king. Keep the end user at the center of all you do. You can do this by: 

  • Representing target personas in discussions using concrete data and examples
  • Pushing for more customer conversations and feedback to guide decisions
  • Ensuring teams understand real needs vs. assumed ones
  • Tieing requests back to user value
  • Removing obstacles and distractions pulling focus away from customer experience

Doing this will drive organic growth and ensure you attain loyalty and customer advocacy. As with your internal teams, customers will rally behind the person/company that rallies behind them first. 

Refreshing your skills as a leader

Good leadership is a balance of keeping up-to-date with best practices so you know who will do the best job when it comes to hiring. 

For example, if a member of your team is about to embark on a repositioning exercise and you haven’t done positioning in a few years, you need to make sure you’re familiar with best practices and new ways of working – take into account that what may have worked in the past may not necessarily work now. 

Ultimately, you want to be able to fill your team with people who you can trust to take important jobs off your plate and execute them well. And when you decide to offer the job to someone you need to have a clear understanding of their area of expertise to confidently manage and support them. 

What are the benefits of being a product marketing leader?

Taking an empowering leadership role in product marketing offers many rewards:

  • You shape positioning and messaging that differentiates products and sways purchase decisions. 
  • You identify market opportunities to pursue through rigorous analysis. 
  • Your strategies directly influence business growth trajectories. 
  • Leading cross-functional teams unlocks more innovative solutions. 
  • Coaching teammates advances careers and strengthens talent pipelines. 

Product marketing is a complex field requiring strong guidance and leadership. From shaping strategy to managing launches, the decisions you make directly impact product and company success. 

An empowering product marketing leader has a diverse, ever-evolving set of technical and interpersonal abilities and ensures the customer is always front and center.

Every great PMM team needs a great leader

Becoming an amazing product marketing leader doesn’t happen by chance. It happens by habit. 

The importance of leadership simply cannot be disputed. Product Marketing Certified: Leadership has been built alongside the world’s best-known brands with one goal in mind: To deliver leadership training that’ll transform you into the best leader you can be.

What will you achieve from this course? 

🔥 Define what it takes to be a great PMM leader. 

🧱 Help you build and scale your team.

👉 Help you successfully manage an existing team.

📊 Clarify how you should leverage data.

🗣 Help you become the voice of the customer. 

🙌 Increase your influence and standing within your organization.

🎉 Outline how cross-functional teams should work together. 

🔋 Bolster and refine your strategic thinking. 

Whether you’re an experienced leader or a budding PMM figurehead, this course has everything but the kitchen sink to help you fulfill your ambitions. 

Psst. Prefer learning with a cohort of fellow leaders?

Check out the Leadership Accelerator Program. Same great curriculum. Same raving reviews, but with live components and your very own cohort of leadership peers.

Written by:

Stevie Langford

Stevie Langford

As a Senior Copywriter here at Product Marketing Alliance, Stevie loves to create content that's captivating, compelling, and informative. She's always open to new ideas, so feel free to get in touch!

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Blending technical mastery and interpersonal influence: How to become a PMM leader