This presentation was delivered at the 2022 Product Marketing MisUnderstood event. Catch up with a variety of talks with our OnDemand service.
We all know that structure matters. Think about how much time we as product marketers spend laboring over the structure of storylines, narratives, and pitch decks, or how we'll structure a sales training session to ensure reps understand how to sell a new product in the market.
It's only natural that you begin to wonder, Is my team structured for success? Are we aligned with the right needs of the business? What could make us more efficient and effective?
In the latest State of Product Marketing Report, Product Marketing Alliance found that the majority of PMM teams (65%) report to marketing. Far fewer report to product, the CEO, or other business functions. But within those departments, what exactly are the product marketing teams orienting around?
Lindsay Bayuk, Pluralsight’s CMO and my longtime product marketing mentor, offers her expertise on the most common product marketing team structures. They’re generally shaped around feature, function, line of business, buying segment, or objective. Let's dig a little bit deeper into each of these.
I’ll specifically be taking a look at structuring your PMM teams around:
- Lines of business or segments,
- Objectives, and
- Also, be looking at which structure will be right for you.
Structuring your PMM teams around features
Organizing a product marketing team around features is a simple and traditional approach, and it can make the most sense for product marketing teams that are just getting started. Often, these product marketers are paired with anywhere from one to four product managers to focus on messaging, positioning, launch strategy, and enablement for that feature set.
The biggest benefit here is that there's close alignment between the PMM and the PM. The PMM is more likely to be brought into the product development process earlier so they have enough time to effectively shape the messaging for product betas and launches.
The biggest drawback to this approach is that it puts blinders on your messaging and go-to-market.
PMMs become entirely too feature-focused and try to message those features to the customer, so the messaging likely doesn't speak to the holistic value of the product. That makes it incredibly difficult for marketing and sales teams to drive demand.
Structuring your PMM teams around functions
When I talk about functions, I mean the sub-focuses of product marketing – market intelligence, messaging and positioning, launch and go-to-market strategy, and sales enablement.
Our next approach involves each PMM focusing on one of these specific functions. The benefit here is the focus. You've got specialists with deep expertise in each specific area.
The drawback is fragmentation. As Lindsay puts it, you're separating the “what” (sales enablement) from the “why” (the buyer and user research).
However, what makes product marketing such a strategic field is the integration of research, storytelling, and go-to-market strategy. Additionally, you may find that your PMMs don't want to specialize. This approach can pigeonhole them when they may want to be doing something a little bit broader.
Structuring your PMM teams around lines of business or segments
Another way to structure your team is by the buyers’ lines of business – marketing, sales, finance, legal, and so on. This approach is most advantageous if you sell different products to different buyers within the same organization. A drawback is you'll be very inefficient if you only have one or two lines of business.
You can also orient around the buying segment, meaning the PMMs are aligned with the sales teams around segments – for instance, size of business, vertical, industry, and geography. For this to work, the segments need to be distinct.
This approach can help strengthen relationships with sales teams. The problem with structuring around buyer segments is that it can be difficult to pinpoint who is responsible for what. For example, who owns competitive intelligence for the entire product portfolio?
Structuring your PMM teams around objectives
Finally, you can orient your teams by objectives. These objectives are tied to metrics impacting revenue, brand awareness, and more. If you have product marketers focused on retention of customers and decreasing churn, they'll be working on driving product adoption and engagement.
Your product marketers focused on brand awareness will be working on thought leadership messages and top-of-funnel campaigns.
This optimal model provides the most agility. Product marketing teams can reorder based on the biggest business need. These teams tend to be more project focused so they can prioritize based on the customer need of the moment. That means you need generalist product marketers who can jump in on any project.
A drawback to this approach is that it can create ambiguity. It can also make it difficult for product marketing teams to evangelize exactly what their work is across the business because it's always changing.
Which structure is right for me?
To recap, most teams decide to orient by feature, function, line of business or buying segment, or objective. So, you must be wondering, how should you decide which structure is right for your team?
The first consideration is the structure of your business. For instance, does your business have a general manager (GM) model where marketing says within specific business units? Organizations with a GM model are more likely to have multiple product marketing teams working closely with a BU-specific demand generation team.
The second consideration is the stage of growth of your business. Product Marketing Alliance’s State of Product Marketing Leadership report found that 8% of PMM teams are in early pre-product market fit companies, 17% are early post-product market fit, 33% are at mid-growth with an established go-to-market team, 27% are at the late growth or scale up stage, while just 15% are at the enterprise stage.
The company’s stage of growth relates very closely to the third consideration, which is the size of your PMM team. Product Marketing Alliance found that 40% of PMM teams surveyed consist of one or two people, 31% have three to five product marketers, 19% work in teams of five to 10 PMMs, and less than 10% are on teams of 10 or more.
It's common for early pre-product and post-product market fit PMM teams of one to three PMMs to serve as generalists. They tend to cover all angles of product marketing and likely even areas outside of core product marketing responsibilities, like content marketing, for instance.
The whole goal is to fine-tune the messaging, positioning, and product direction to solidify product market fit.
These smaller teams can often be found in product-led growth organizations – organizations that use their product, rather than a sales team, as the main source of new customer acquisition.
These companies need PMMs right away to influence the go-to-market on digital channels and how the product drives leads, onboards new customers, expands their product usage, converts them to paid customers, and keeps getting them to buy more.
Teams that have four or more PMMs are likely starting to orient more around features or functional specializations. Those that are creeping into double-digit numbers are likely to orient around lines of business, buying segments, and objectives, as the organization, is likely to have more products and buyers.
The fourth consideration is your business performance. This is where a team structured around objectives is very beneficial. Again, this model allows the team to pivot and reorient for the needs of the business.
If lead conversion suffers when handed off from marketing to sales, a PMM team can focus on sales enablement. Later, when that problem is solved, the team can focus on something else.
How we do it at Pluralsight
I know there's a lot to think about when you’re looking at how to structure your team, so I'd love to share my own experience to provide a little more color and clarity.
When I joined my organization, I was the first PMM under three directors and a VP of Product Marketing. We reported to marketing and supported one product with product market fit.
At the time, we were all generalists focused on helping the business reposition and re-message to the enterprise segment and a new buyer persona.
As the team grew, we continued to be generalists. All team members needed to be full-stack PMMs so we could jump in on any project and anytime.
Over time, clear strengths emerged from the various teams within product marketing. One team was very adept at product launches and PM relationships, another one was diving deep into market research and helping drive demand and events, and the final team was closely focused on sales enablement.
So we made it official and we were oriented by what we called ‘squads.’ The product squad focused on the four functions of a PMM for their specific feature set. They worked closely with the product team and prepared the GTM launch story.
This launch story was then turned over to the sales squad who built all the sales enablement. And finally, that launch story enablement was turned over to the marketing squad, who infused it into events in our go-to-market.
This approach worked for a bit. Product marketers were able to hone their specific skills, and we built strong relationships with different departments. Yet as we scaled, we were seeing signals that we needed to evolve.
These signals included the fact that I didn't want to be pigeonholed into a specialized career path. Also, product teams were lamenting that they didn't have enough support from product marketers.
We had reached an unwieldy ratio of one PMM to five PMs, so we couldn't do our jobs. No one was thinking about how all these individual feature messages roll up into a full product narrative – we simply didn't have the bandwidth.
Another signal was that our marketing teams were having issues driving demand with the messaging; it was too future-focused and a lack of top-of-funnel messaging was hurting them.
That extended to the sales team, who had trouble articulating the full value of the product and not just the features. The final nail in this structure’s coffin was an acquisition of new companies and the building out of our service line, which turned us into a multi-product portfolio company.
According to Product Marketing Alliance, 32% of product marketers support five-plus products, and that's increased incrementally since being benchmarked in 2019.
We’ve seen that same trend in the growing number of products in our portfolio. To adapt to this change, our product marketing teams have moved out of marketing and into the product units.
To help with the need for overall holistic messaging, I moved out of product marketing and back into marketing. My team is responsible for portfolio and solutions marketing, and our go-to-market crew is focused on integrated marketing campaigns.
What that means is my team works closely with the product marketing teams to build a cohesive and comprehensive portfolio and solutions messaging that informs our thought leadership, our solutions go-to-market, and our campaign strategy.
The go-to-market crew builds and manages campaigns based on the messaging to drive demand for the full value of the portfolio, while product marketing works with marketing to build out plays that help our revenue team sell specific products or solutions throughout the portfolio.
We're still evolving. This continual iteration speaks to the continual evolution of the product marketing discipline; there are signs of a bright strategic future for product marketing teams and how we’re structured.
Take the team at Unbounce. Tamara Grominsky, their former Chief Strategy Officer, shares that they have a central product marketing team that sits outside of both product and marketing in a new department called strategic growth.
While that may not be realistic for your organization today, what matters above all is your team's agility, its ability to reorient around new needs and problems, quickly capitalize on opportunities, and close any gaps that arise. All this’ll help you make the most of your business for your customers and team members.