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12 min read

Leading, building, and growing great product marketers

Leadership | Team | Growth

Managing a team of product marketers - or any team in general - is tough.

We hear ya, leaders. There’s no shame in admitting that.

People are complicated. We’re individuals, with different mindsets and opinions, so not everyone is going to agree all the time.

On top of that, it can be difficult to organize yourself when juggling a multitude of different tasks, deadlines, and challenges thrown at you.

Plus, as good ol’ Uncle Ben said, “with great power, comes great responsibility”, and that can be very daunting.

BUT we’ve got a little secret for you - it doesn’t have to be this way.

There are certain things you can do that can give you more structure in your role and responsibilities as a product marketing lead, and in this article, Aaron Brennan, former Director of Product Marketing at Airslate and current Product Marketer at Dropbox will be giving you some tips and tricks to do just that.

Questions he answers in this article include:

Why is it worth developing someone into a great product marketer?

It's worth developing somebody into a great product marketer for a few reasons.

Firstly, it puts less stress on you as a manager. As everyone knows, in product marketing, you get pulled in a lot of different directions, and a lot of those different directions come at the last minute: “Hey, we need something up and running,” or, “We have this campaign going, can you approve it?”

If you don't have your product marketers up and running and ready to go, they can't take on any of those tasks, so you end up taking them on yourself.

The second reason is that, as a manager, your job is to grow people and make them happy. Most people want to grow in their careers; they want to gain experience; they want to learn new things.

How To Structure A Product Marketing Team - Your Complete Guide
While we don’t have the magic formula for the perfect team structure, we do have an awesome community of product marketers who generously shared data on their team structure, average team size, and the stage of their organization.

If you don't offer them those opportunities to grow and expand, they'll leave, and you'll have a retention problem as people come in, get tired of doing the same job, and then leave because they feel there's no upward path for them.

Lastly, the better your product marketers get at their jobs, the better results you're going to see in the long run. If they’re working diligently and learning new tasks, they might even bring things to the table that you've never thought of before. You may be able to implement and roll out these ideas into areas that you never thought of and expand your users’ experience.

What core competencies do you need to be able to grow into the product marketer role?

Let me start by saying that I had no idea that I was going to grow up to be a product marketing manager. My college studies weren’t aligned with product marketing; I went to college for sports management with a bit of a focus on marketing, and then I just kind of fell into product marketing and loved it.

Nobody grows up thinking, “I want to be a product marketer!”. When you see videos of kids saying what they want to be when they grow up, product marketer doesn’t make it onto the list with a doctor, police officer, and firefighter. I was lucky enough to come in and figure out what product marketing was and really love it.

But when I look for a product marketer, one thing sticks out to me as the most crucial: the people I need most are problem solvers. I've worked with a lot of other managers and they'll become ingrained in looking for good writers, project managers, or content builders. But the most successful product marketers I've seen aren't the ones with skills in specific areas; the best product marketers are problem solvers.

23 key skills every product marketing manager needs
Product marketing is a notoriously difficult discipline to define. Product marketing is deeper than ensuring a new product launches successfully, and is all about being customer-obsessed.

Can they look at a problem, diagnose it, and then solve it without anybody else having to talk to them? That is crucial to product marketing. If they can be a good writer, that's good. If they can be a good project manager, that's good.

If they can work cross-functionally, that's fantastic, but ultimately, their main job is to solve problems on how to move the business needle forward and make sure that the customer experience is fantastic.

For the other pieces, you typically have frameworks within the organization that do that. You have content writers to do the content. It’s nice to have somebody who can write content, but it’s not a deal-breaker. I’m looking for a product marketer that can solve a gaping problem and make it scalable. That's the piece that’s most important to me.

How important is deep product knowledge?

Knowledge of the product is extremely important. A product manager, who's also a really good friend of mine, always used to yell at me if he felt like I was leaning more towards marketing.

He would say, “I'm a capital P, not a capital M.” Meaning I'm a capital Product marketing manager, so it's my job to understand the product, how it works, and how it solves problems.

Ultimately, you need to demo as well as anybody else. You need to know the product as well as a product manager. You need to be able to hop on phones when product managers aren't there. That's incredibly important.

How important is it to align your product marketing team with other departments, and which departments would you say it’s most important to get alignment with?

Every company and organization is built a little bit differently. If it's a large organization, the product is typically so big that you have product marketers focused on different pieces of it.

Google has six or seven product marketers focused on one product, but they're each focusing on one piece within the product. You might have one person focused on notifications and somebody else focused on pictures. They're focused on that one area and working cross-functionally to gain metrics in those areas and move forward.

Aligning your product marketing with the rest of your company
Achieving that holy grail of aligning your department with the rest of the company can feel like the impossible task sometimes, but the good news is it’s within reach.

When you're in a smaller company, product marketers tend to focus on a whole product but cross-functionally. A great example is that when I was at LogMeIn, I had four different products that rolled up to me, one of which was LastPass, and I had a product marketer for each one of those products.

We were product-focused but not big enough to get granular and say, “I want somebody focused on registration and then somebody else focused on core functionality.” Although if we did get that big, that's probably how I would roll it out.

Now, as for who they're aligned with within the company, I always give priority to product management. We're rolling back into being capital P, not capital M. It's your job to work with product managers and help them build a roadmap.

After that, it's usually marketing, because a lot of what product marketing does needs marketing help. For example, when I was at LastPass, we had a product marketing manager that dealt with registrations, which meant they were much more heavily focused on the marketing side of things. They worked closely with emails and with product management in that onboarding structure.

We also ended up hiring somebody who was part of what we called the core team. Once a user was onboarded, this core team member had to engage them with the product because we didn't want them churning. That person worked closely with product management, UX, and UI.

They also worked with marketing to send emails to people that had stopped using the product to say, “We have this new function or feature – why don’t you come back and try it out?”.

Other than that, support is a big one because we need to be able to talk to them about the main features that people engage with. We need sales, too. We focus a lot on building sales enablement, making sure they understand how the product works. Getting on sales calls and helping them talk through some of the higher-level sales is another part of what we do on a day-to-day basis.

The cross-functional nature of the position means that product marketers need to work with all those teams and be ready to work with operations, engineering, and anybody else as projects come up.

Product marketing is about solving problems, and when a problem arises any number of different parts of the organization may need to be brought in to help solve it.

How do you know when it’s time to grow your PMM team?

If I start to see churn happening, that's a big indicator that it’s time to grow the team. If people are coming in, registering, but then falling out the other side, that means that we're not getting projects done and we're not communicating with the right cadence to make sure that they're being taken care of. This means that my product marketers are being spread too thin.

It's when I see metrics moving in the wrong direction that I start to ask what’s going on. Is the product marketer who's doing this stretched too thin, or are they not doing their job?

I typically run weekly meetings with my product marketers so I know what they're working on, and I can see what’s getting done, what’s moving forward, and if we need to grow the team.

Not getting projects done in a timely manner is always a big one, too. Even in my current organization, projects don't always get done at the speed that we need them to, and sometimes they don't get done at all because other teams are larger than us and they have the resources to move much more quickly, so we’ll be scaling up our team soon.

What KPIs do you look at to measure your product marketers’ performance?

At the beginning of my management career – and this has changed drastically since – I would give my team metrics they needed to hit. But I noticed that people were not engaging as well as I had hoped. They weren’t excited, so I ended up changing that.

Now, I give my team the overarching departmental goals, and I sit them all down and say, “These are the metrics we need to move. We need to increase registrations by [this much]. We need to increase our core capability by [this much]. We need to increase power users by 20%.”

How to measure a product marketing strategy - 10 KPIs to track
Wondering how to identify what works and what doesn’t in your product marketing strategy? In this guide, we look at the main focal points in product marketing as well as a few metrics that can help demonstrate effectiveness. Learn more here.

Then, I tell them to go away and figure out what metrics they need to move to hit those overarching metrics. Typically, they'll come back to me and say, “I want to increase second-week retention. I want to increase registrations coming through the funnel. I want to increase the usage of this feature because we know that this feature has a direct correlation to becoming a power user.”

My product marketers are the ones spending 40 hours a week in their specific areas. They’re the experts, not me. It's my job to make sure that they're the expert and that I'm giving them the resources they need.

By giving them individual metrics when I first started, I was saying, “You guys don't know what you're doing.” But really, they did know what they were doing. I was the one who didn't know what they were doing, and I didn't know the metrics because I wasn't spending 40 or 50 hours a week doing what they were doing.

My goal now is to empower my product marketers to create their own metrics. After they create them, we sit down and make sure those metrics align with the overarching company goals. Then I ask them how they plan to accomplish those metrics.

It's about empowering team members to be their own managers. The people that I try to hire are problem solvers who want to be able to say, “I did the research; this is the problem, and I'm gonna go solve it.”

I had a manager at Google who used to tell me this, and I have the same mentality. He said, “I will consider myself a great manager the day that somebody who reports to me finally jumps me and I report to them.”

I'm hoping it happens to me one day, where somebody I'm managing will become a great manager themselves. The only way I can make that happen is by giving my team the freedom to experiment, learn and build the metrics that they want to build.

Are there any other management techniques you’ve seen work well, or on the flip-side, any that you try to avoid?

For me, the biggest one to avoid is micromanagement. That's hard for most people; they want to be micromanaged or told what to do, but that doesn't work for me, and it typically doesn't work for the team or anybody else.

Across the senior leadership team, we have what we call bi-weekly syncs. Every department sits down, and we go over every metric. Even if a certain metric isn’t aligned to a certain department, they need to know what's going on, and sometimes they can come up with ideas.

I encourage my product marketers to do the same exact thing. They sit down with every cross-functional team and share updates and ideas. In those meetings, when a team member is asked a question, they need to have the confidence to answer it, and it gets frustrating if they can’t.

I had a product marketer that had this problem. Every time he was asked a question, he was like, “I don't know. Let me go check with my manager.” and he would run to me, then he'd go back and answer. Instead of one meeting to solve a problem, they were having four.

They had the original meeting, they had a meeting with me, then they had another meeting to answer the question, then another meeting to tell me what happened.

This is not the way to do things. I need my product marketers to be able to say, “I don't know. Let's try this and find out,” and bring that problem-solving piece into it because they're being looked at to solve that problem.

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.

Sign me up!

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Written by:

Charley Gale

Charley Gale

Charley is the Content Lead at Product Marketing Alliance. She has a passion for creating new content for the community. She's always open to new ideas, so would love to hear from you!

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Leading, building, and growing great product marketers