What better way to learn how to build, expand, and structure your product marketing team than from those who have been there and done it?
In this article, we’ve taken insights from a Masters of Product Marketing panel, including legendary PMMs who have since moved on to become hugely successful in the Marketing industry:
- Michael Peach, Head of Product Marketing at tray.io (Now VP of Marketing at Rimsys Regulatory Management Software)
- Lindsey DiGiorgio, VP of Product Marketing at TripleLift
- Jon Rooney, SVP of Product and Solutions Marketing at New Relic (Now Group Vice President of Industry Marketing at Oracle)
- Elliott Rayner, Head of Product Marketing at Babbel (Now Chief Marketing Officer at ARION)
Within this chat, they discuss the most important aspects of leading and building your product marketing team, including:
- What hiring challenges they faced when building their teams,
- What skills they consider indispensable when building a team,
- How to identify those attributes in the interview process,
- The best ways to structure a large product marketing team,
- Assigning roles and responsibilities within a team, and
- What they think is better - a team of generalists, specialists, or both.
What hiring challenges did you face when building and structuring your product marketing teams?
Lindsey DiGiorgio: For me, the hiring challenge is vetting candidates based on the right characteristics.
It's tempting to try and find a candidate who has the trifecta of knowing product marketing, your industry, and your products, but what's really important is finding someone with the right kind of assertive personality, grit, and curiosity.
That kind of person can end up going a lot further than someone who just has deep product marketing knowledge, so we need to focus on the right characteristics.
Elliott Rayner: I would agree. Another thing you might struggle with is that product marketing changes a lot between organizations, so if someone's been in an organization for a long time, they may have to learn a new way of product marketing.
I think it's always good to have evidence of someone who can learn very quickly so that they can adapt no matter what size the organization is or what industry it’s in.
Michael Peach: One of the challenges that I see, at least out here in the Bay Area, is just that product marketing is a very in-demand role right now. We've got a good supply of product marketers, but they're in high demand, so just finding folks with the right skill set and convincing them that you've got an interesting company and an interesting role where they're going to grow is a real challenge.
Jon Rooney: The challenges can depend on where folks are coming from. Particularly in enterprise software, you have a computer science degree to engineering to product management to product marketing progression, which means people tend to think that there's a high requirement for deep technical knowledge. What that tends to ignore is what a large part comms plays in product marketing. At the end of the day, we're all comms people.
While having some degree of technical knowledge and empathy for the user is necessary, it's not sufficient, at the end of the day. You need to vet and find people that are great storytellers and can distill technical information and complexity down to a handful of nuggets of information that resonate with people. It's a hard mix of skills to find.
What other skills and attributes do you consider indispensable when building a team?
Jon Rooney: Certainly, there are other attributes, but at the end of the day the ability to take something and distill it down to ideas that a sales rep or a journalist can grasp, particularly in a difficult space, is super important.
The ability to work cross-functionally and drive influence when you don't really have authority are also great attributes in product marketers. It's like archery on horseback – usually, you find someone who's a good equestrian or a good archer, but in product marketing, you’ve got to do both.
Michael Peach: I would second Jon's point. I look for what I call messaging chops, but you could think of it as storytelling as well. People who have that skill set can take something technical and turn it into a compelling story.
The other thing I tend to look for in product marketing candidates is people who can develop credibility with sales teams. It’s about soft influence.
As a PMM, especially in enterprise organizations, you have to go into a room full of experienced and skeptical sellers and convince them that your positioning is going to work and they should use your materials in the field. That's not easy, so I look for folks who can command that attention and build credibility with teams.
How do you identify those attributes during the interview process?
Michael Peach: There are two things that I usually do. One is to go really deep into enablement initiatives that they've created and led before. I’ll get into the weeds and ask:
- What did you do?
- What did you build?
- How did you roll it out?
- How did it get adopted?
- What was the outcome?
I almost always have someone from sales leadership on the interview panel. I find that they’re generally good at digging into those sorts of capabilities.
The other thing I’ll do is on the messaging side. I usually ask them to bring in an example of work that they've done before and walk me through the whole project soup to nuts.
Again, I’ll ask them:
- What were you messaging?
- Who were you targeting and why?
- What did the story look like?
- How did you deploy it?
- What was the outcome?
That way, I get a sense of their messaging chops and how they think about building stories around products.
Lindsey DiGiorgio: To identify the attributes that I look for, I'm asking a lot of questions that dig into their emotional IQ because I think that's an important trait to test for. Being empathetic, having a high level of self-awareness, and being able to read the room is really important for product marketers.
They need to understand the motivations and concerns of internal stakeholders, and if they're going to understand what makes your customers tick, they need to be able to put themselves in someone else's shoes. I try to test their ability to do that.
On a more concrete level, I love it when I see candidates who have had multiple roles or promotions at the same company. That says something to me about their likability, their ability to get along with multiple stakeholders, their curiosity, and their perseverance.
The other concrete thing is when you can tell that a candidate has a diversity of interests, whether they're work-related or not. That really shows problem-solving aptitude, which is another great trait that transfers to product marketing.
I recently interviewed someone who was both a motorcycle enthusiast and a chess master. It’s interesting that they had these two extremely different hobbies, and with both things, there's a high degree of strategy and analytics. There's being hands-on, there's communication, there's interpreting other people's emotions, and there's a technical aspect, too.
There are benefits that can be found in any hobby, but I just love candidates with a couple of different hobbies. That spectrum shows me this person has a lot of range.
What’s the best way to structure a large product marketing team?
Jon Rooney: I've run a couple of pretty large product marketing teams, and this could be a bit of a bias from the space I've worked in, but no matter how big the product marketing team, we're always gonna be wildly outnumbered by product.
In fact, at New Relic, the ratio of PMs to PMMs is somewhere between four to one and seven to one – maybe even more, depending on who's doing PM work
When I’ve had either a large product portfolio or, in New Relic’s case, a very large surface area of platform capabilities, I've structured teams by buying centers and personas and then aggregated use cases and capabilities, and in some cases, individual SKUs and products underneath that.
Invariably, in my space, there's also a platform team, which has more horizontal capabilities and isn’t necessarily as tied to the buyer, but there is a lot of specific and differentiated work being done there. That’s the easiest way to group it when you have solutions marketing or industry marketing.
How do you attribute roles and responsibilities amongst product marketers within your team?
Elliott Rayner: I've come from the physical product marketing world, working for Adidas and ASICS, and there it’s a little clearer because you can easily divide by category, say men's tennis apparel or women's training equipment.
In digital with Babbel, it's a little different because we split teams by how our user experiences our product. That can be a little more wishy-washy, but as long as you set clear ownership over certain areas, it can work really well. I also think product marketers prefer it because it allows them a little bit more development and freedom in their role.
It can be done in a number of ways, but it all comes down to the product’s complexity. You could be a product marketer for a huge revenue business, but it's not really that complicated if the product isn't.
When leading a team, you need to know how complex the product is and how much education and communication the user will need. That will give you a clearer idea of how much to give to each member of your team and, ultimately, how big you need your team to be.
Lindsey DiGiorgio: Generally speaking, how I assign roles has to do with company maturity and the maturity of the product marketing function itself. The less mature the function, the more I tend to structure PMM teams around products or product lines.
Once fundamental coverage by product is achieved, you can start shifting the structure of the team to be more aligned with your customer base. That can be by buying centers, personas, verticals, or regions, but in my experience, moving to customer-centric PMM teams only works if you have basic product coverage first.
We're in an interesting position because it can go both ways. The product team is generally going to be aligned by product or by features, and the revenue teams that you serve are probably going to be aligned by buying center or vertical or something like that. It's always going to be our role to bridge the gap.
It's just a matter of which end you’re closer to and, for me, that starts with the product side of things, so I always structure teams starting with the product. Then, once we have a year or two under our belt, we have all the roles filled, and we have all the basic product documentation and go-to-market things covered, then we can shift to being more buyer-centric.
Which is better – a product marketing team of generalists, specialists, or a mix of both?
Lindsey DiGiorgio: I lean towards generalists because it can help futureproof the org from downturns if you have folks ready to jump in on cross-functional things. It can help protect product marketing against attrition and planned leaves of absence like maternity leave. It just helps with cross-functionality, so I personally lean toward generalists over specialists.
Michael Peach: I generally encourage generalists over specialists, too. You're obviously going to have people on the team who have a stronger aptitude for certain things, but I think as a leader, you have to avoid the pitfall of only deploying people in the things they’re strong at.
You have to make sure that you're challenging people and building their skills. At the end of the day, it's also incumbent upon us to develop that generalism, and that means stretching people and putting them in situations where they can build skills in areas where they're maybe not so strong.
Jon Rooney: From a functional PMM standpoint, I’m 100% for generalists. It builds resiliency in the team. I've worked pretty hard to have as much parity and interchangeability among the team as possible.
However, as you move up in an organization, having domain specialists becomes really important. A really practical example is if somebody has done analyst relations before but not in this space, and thus doesn’t know the analysts or the competitors, they’re going to struggle to do that work or there's going to be a big ramp if they have to step in and cover for the person who usually does it.
We should be continuously honing and ensuring that there's a steady state of generalism and interchangeability at the functional level, but, especially if you want to go deep on a customer engagement or go deep with a product, that domain expertise does help. And then, as you move up in your career, it's hard to overstate how important that can be.
Build your next team with ease…
Whether you’re the Head of Marketing, Product, or the company itself - building a dedicated product marketing team is both challenging and rewarding.
But one thing you must keep in mind is that it’s also unavoidable. In order to drive organizational growth and success, you must build a solid foundation to work with and from.
The Building a PMM Team Certified: Masters course will teach you how to build and lead a high-performing product marketing team that accelerates growth and delivers greater alignment across your product, marketing, sales, and customer success teams.
By the end of this course, you’ll be able to:
💪 Successfully and effectively secure executive sponsorship for a product marketing team.
📈 Prove to stakeholders how product marketing enables faster growth.
💰 Justify budget and organizational change for a new team.
⏰ Set goals and define what success looks like for your specific department.
🗺 Build a roadmap that’ll give you a clear path toward a strong, happy, successful product marketing team.Get Enrolled
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