This presentation was delivered at 2022’s Product Marketing Summit in Austin. Catch up with a variety of talks with our OnDemand service.

With more companies recognizing the value of product marketing, we asked a panel of experts for their advice on how to build a team from scratch, gaining perspectives from:

  • Dylan Hoeffler, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Hologram
  • Erin Koops, Director of Product Marketing, Consumer GTM at
  • Nisha Goklaney of Director of Product Marketing at Hubspot

In their discussion, they focused on:

Nisha Goklaney: Hi, everyone. I'm happy to be here. My name is Nisha Goklaney. I've had about 16 years of global experience with product marketing across North America, Asia, and India. Most recently, I’ve worked in product marketing orgs for the Asian market at Intuit and Sage. I currently work at HubSpot, driving product marketing for a $1.5 billion business across one of our newest and biggest hubs.

Dylan Hoeffler: My name is Dylan Hoeffler, and I've been working in B2B SaaS for a little over 10 years now. I was lucky to work for Bazaarvoice for a while. After Bazaarvoice I helped build out the product marketing team at Dialpad and post their Series E, and I’m at Hologram right now. We had our series B last summer, which helped us build out a new product marketing function.

In case you’re not familiar with Hologram, we help connect things to the internet. For example, a lot of e-scooters and e-bikes have hologram SIMs inside them.

Erin Koops: I’m Erin Koops, and I’m 10 years into my B2B go-to-market career. I relocated to Austin about five years ago and joined a series B SaaS startup that had already embraced product marketing, which I think is pretty unusual that early. That was fun.

When we were acquired by – a much larger tech entity focused on a lot of verticals, including buyers, sellers, and renters – we realized we had a deep B2B organization, but we needed to scale out our B2C.

And so two years ago, I became the PMM for consumer number one with a dual mandate: first, to roll out a customized go-to-market framework for B2C, and second, to scope and scale a team out of that.

Compared to my fellow panelists, I'm quite early in my arc. I think if I’d had the opportunity to learn from their experience two years ago, it would have prevented a lot of missteps and extra work on my part. Hopefully, you’ll feel the same when we're done.

With that said, let’s kick it off by looking into the signals that tell you it's time to start scoping and scaling your PMM team.

Knowing when it’s time to start building or scaling your PMM team

Nisha Goklaney: There are a few signs that it's time to look at building or expanding your PMM function.

Perhaps you're launching a product but you don't have a good marketing plan – you don't know what the price is, and you don't have a clear understanding of why your prospect should care for the product launch or want to buy. That's a clear sign that you need a product marketer.

If you’re thinking about launching a product, but you're not clear on who the market is, the total addressable size of the market, or what segments of customers your product could apply to, you probably also need a product marketer to come in and help you scope that out too.

The third indication that it’s time to bring in a PMM function is that you don't have a good handle on the customer voice. If you don't know what your customers are saying about your product, how they're using it every day, or what value they're getting out of it, you need a product marketer to help you with that.

If your sales wins are inconsistent, it might also be time to call in product marketing. Maybe sales are going about selling the product but selling it in very different ways so some teams are successful while others are not. You need a scalable, more repeatable way to sell, and product marketing can certainly help you with that.

Dylan Hoeffler: To add to that, people in an organization might be asking some specific questions that are good signals that we need someone to come in and help. The questions are a good bridge to knowing which functions we need to build out and which specialties to start hiring for.

Questions like, “How do we talk about x?” “How do we compete?” or “How are we launching this product or feature?” show that there's a lack of specificity in your organization and product marketing can begin to add value.

Advocating for a product marketing team

Erin Koops: I want to share my experience at We were working across three verticals with 15 to 20 product squads.

Now, a lot of times you aim to get a certain PM to PMM ratio, but we weren't going to get the go-ahead to grow that fast. Instead, we started looking at applying a tiered framework to identify how many high-impact launches we were doing in a given quarter and how many launches a PMM could feasibly manage.

I was the testing ground for that framework. We quickly figured out the limit to the number of launches, and then realized we had to pull back a little bit to give our PMMs breathing room to work at a strategic level to bring competitive insights and ensure alignment.

Dylan Hoeffler: I only recently started working at Hologram, and we were trying to figure out what kind of roles we wanted to hire and the jobs to be done. The first thing that we did was map out the different phases of growth and think about what kind of product marketing team we’d need at each of those phases. Once you’ve mapped all that out, you can shop it around and get buy-in from your stakeholders.

From there, you can begin to build a back end, thinking about the seeds of that team you’ll need for your next phases of growth. This strategy helped to shape, not only for me but for our executives and CEO, the idea of what product marketing is and the value it can provide to the organization.

More than that, it allowed us to hone in on the team we were building, the roles we needed to hire for right away, and what our 30, 60, and 90-day plans would look like.

Nisha Goklaney: My simple rule is to follow the most money. As the product marketing head, you need to make sure you understand the business goals and the levers that are going to help you achieve them. You want to work backward to what that means in terms of initiatives or projects, and then hire off the back of that.

I like what you said, Erin, about making sure that your product marketers are not hitting their limits. A good way to do that is to set two to three OKRs for each product marketer to take on so you can make sure that your team’s work is impactful and that those documents, to Dylan's earlier point, dive into the details and answer key questions.

That's the secret sauce to advocating for your team and getting to go-ahead to grow –  you have to make sure you’re aligned with hard, tangible goals.

Make sure that you're aligning to the annual recurring revenue, product launches, the amount of e-commerce that the website drives, etc. Be upfront with aligning to those hard metrics; soft metrics only get you so far; you need to tie your metrics to revenue.

Hiring the right product marketing talent

Erin Koops: We're gonna switch gears from getting started to the implementation. Nisha, how do you go about hiring and building? You're doing this globally; can you talk us through that?

Nisha Goklaney: You want to get your hiring right, so take your time to hire. In every role that I've gone through, I've spent a lot of time on hiring, and the reason is that I think of a product marketer as the GM of the business.

This person needs to be analytically minded, they need to know and align themselves to the revenue numbers, and they need to be able to speak to analytics. This is a person that needs to build relationships throughout the organization and be very cross-functional, so you also somebody with those soft skills.

You also want your new PMM to evangelize your product, so you need somebody that can talk about the product in terms that the customer will understand, somebody that you're comfortable putting out there in the market to be the evangelist for your product and your brand.

My best advice here is to take your time because you're looking for someone who is both right- and left-brained, has that owner’s mindset, and is ready to be a GM in the org.

The process I normally follow after individual interviews is putting the candidate in front of sales, marketing, and product folks. It helps get early buy-in when they can meet with their cross-functional partners, and it makes for a very good experience.

The other part is to test your potential recruits with case studies. Make sure you're giving them the opportunity to share how they problem solve and how they make decisions through real-life situations. Then make sure you ask them to present that so you get a chance to see how they present as well.

Erin Koops: Speaking tactically, I’d echo what Nisha shared. I put at least two of my strongest product managers in the interview cycle. I also bring my product analyst into the cycle to pressure test people around analytics – do they understand the numbers? Can they use data to influence people? We've started including our integrated marketing director as well.

I'm on the B2C side, and for me, that was a switch. I had to learn all of those marketing channels, and I'm looking for a candidate who, although they may not have come from a B2C background, has at least spent some time understanding the channels; otherwise, that’s going to be an uphill battle when they come on board.

I think the challenge right now is that there is a ton of demand and not enough supply, and there's a lot of pressure to shorten your hiring cycle. We’ve intentionally not done that because we get people through to the case, which I cannot recommend highly enough.

We will still find people that wow us at every step and do not perform on our case. That’s a true measure of how you perform in our company, so we're trying to evaluate how to front-load some of those case questions and filter candidates out earlier for their sake and ours.

It’s a delicate balance to strike because we need to learn more about them and have them learn more about us, so we haven't shortened that cycle and we probably lose candidates because of it.

Dylan Hoeffler: One of the things Hologram does for every role is to create a hiring workshop, laying out the job expectations. All the stakeholders for that role can vote and comment; that way each position that we open is clearly defined and everybody’s on the same page.

Talent can come from anywhere, so look for nontraditional backgrounds. Think about how you're looking at their experience, and reflect on your own experience and where you came from. None of us got a master's in product marketing because it didn’t exist.

One thing to add is that candidates are also interviewing us, so creating the right environment, in the interview process and even in the job description is crucial. One time, an executive told me “Look, we're trying to make good jobs for people. We have goals for the team, we have goals for the company, but if you lead a team, your job is to make good jobs for people.”

Make it come across in the job description and the interview that you're giving this person ownership, responsibility, and autonomy. Giving them a peek into the culture and how they're going to be able to run themselves and their team is important.

Erin Koops: You're right. One of the best things we did for one of my new candidates was set up post-interview meet and greets. She hadn't accepted an offer – we hadn't even extended an offer yet – but we knew that we wanted her, and we wanted her to get to know the team and figure out for herself that this was the team she wanted to work with.

It was a big deciding factor for her as to whether to take our offer because she didn't think she'd get the real truth about the company from us. She wanted to talk to people who weren't part of the interview and have a chance to ask questions in a low-stakes setting.

Realistic expectations for the recruitment process

Erin Koops: Let’s move on to realistic expectations. I’m going to share some of my learnings from the past year and a half. I don't think this was solely because of the great resignation but took me twice as long to hire as I anticipated it would.

We were using outside recruiters, and I learned the hard way that outside recruiters introduce each candidate to 10 companies, so they may be well into the recruitment process with another company by the time you reach them. That shortens your window. We had a far better experience sourcing candidates ourselves. Finding people who weren't interviewing yet gave us more lead time.

The other thing we learned was to be more flexible. We originally thought we wanted two managers and one senior, but when we looked at the pool of resources that were available to us, we realized that it would be more practical to have two seniors instead. I think if you can go into this process with a little bit more flexibility, that will help.

Nisha Goklaney: The other thing I would say on flexibility is that while you’re hiring and expectations are still high, maybe there's an opportunity to get contractors or short-term staff to give you some air cover.

Finally, remember to take care of yourself as well. It's a marathon, not a sprint, and burnout is a thing. We were having this conversation at HubSpot, just this morning.

You need to take care of yourself to take care of others. Take your time, and don't rush the process; otherwise, you’ll find yourself winning the sprint but not the marathon.

Dylan Hoeffler: Thank you for calling out the need for contractors and other resources. I think that that's something that often gets overlooked. There are other resources out there, especially for super high-visibility actions like producing content.

Other teams might look to us like ”Where's the content?” And there are contractors, product marketing agencies, and content agencies that you can bring in to accelerate getting that content out the door and take some weight off your team’s shoulders.

We did an exercise once to quantify all of the pieces of content that were outstanding or had been asked of product marketing, and it was a spreadsheet with hundreds of rows in it.

We were never going to be able to produce that. There’s a need to set expectations and accelerate that work to remove the burden from the team so they can do their best work and show value to other parts of the organization.

Nisha Goklaney: Absolutely. There are a lot of contractors in Asia specifically, and globally too. I utilize them quite a bit. There are also a lot of opportunities for internships, where students are happy to come in and do some work for a finite period.

The other place I found success is customer success. Some people are potentially looking to switch roles. If you can give them a project, that gives them a good opportunity to see if they’d be a good fit for the role. So just be creative in where you look for help.