This article is based on a presentation given by Jim Payne at the Product Marketing Summit in Denver. Catch up on this presentation, and others, using our OnDemand service. For more exclusive content, visit your membership dashboard.
Product marketing can be very complicated. We do a lot. Does this long list of tasks look familiar to you?
- Building buyer personas
- Taking charge of product launches
- Running campaigns
- Doing competitive intelligence
- Handling all the messaging
- Enabling the sales team
- Running ROI analyses
- Managing pricing
That's a lot, right? While product marketing looks different at every company, you’re likely responsible for at least a chunk of those tasks. It's a ton of stuff and it can be hard to manage.
It begs a question: Is this strategy? Is doing all of this stuff strategic?
The answer is absolutely not.
All those tasks and responsibilities we’re grappling with day to day are merely tactical. It’s time to change that.
Strategy vs. tactics
Let me tell you a little story. A while back, we had our sales kickoff with 500+ salespeople all in one place. A new sales trainer was running a big enablement session, rolling out some new sales methodology. He brought up some sales reps and said, "Hey, tell me about this top competitor. What are you going to say to your prospect?"
I'll never forget the blank look on the sales reps' faces. They couldn't say anything – not a word! This was really insulting to me because I had spent so much time building competitive enablement for the team.
At first, I felt like it was the reps' fault for not taking advantage of all the materials I’d provided. But that was an immature reaction. It was my fault. My job wasn't just to create battlecards; it was to ensure our sellers could effectively communicate what differentiated us from competitors.
Building tools doesn’t matter if reps can’t use them. Those are just tactics. Strategically ensuring initiatives are impactful – that's what matters.
Let’s take an even simpler example – laying turf. If you pay someone to lay turf, are you paying them just to lay it down? No, that's only step one. It has to take root and grow into grass. I bought some turf recently and the packaging showed 14 steps to create lasting grass. Similarly, I was just building battlecards – I didn’t create anything lasting or effective. Just doing tasks isn’t enough.
I’ve worked at companies that tie bonuses to “management by objective” or MBO – do X task, get 1% of your bonus. Frankly, I think that's stupid.
I'll never forget a guy I used to work with named Steve. There were three of us, Steve, Eric, and I, in a meeting with the VP who was talking about moving the department over to MBOs. Erik was nodding along, but Steve looked at him, looked at the VP, and said, “Don’t give me MBOs. Give me a number – a big f’ing number. I'm not a coward like your boy Eric!”
It was pretty intense, but Steve had the right attitude – have a clear target and do whatever it takes to get there. Just checking boxes doesn’t cut it. That killer instinct is what strategy over tactics is about. When managing a team, I'm constantly thinking about not just what we do, but why and what comes next.
A scorecard for everything
If, as has often been the case in my career, you’re joining a company without an existing product marketing team, foundational elements like buyer personas, messaging, and pricing won’t be in place yet. You have to build the groundwork and get those fundamentals set up.
Then you have your tactics – launches, campaigns, sales tools, and more. The key question is, what happens after these tactical elements? What’s the end game?
You have to consider lagging indicators and how you'll evaluate success. How will you communicate these tactics in a scalable way that moves the needle so your turf takes root? You want a lush lawn, not something that gets kicked up whenever anyone goes out into the yard.
This means you need a scorecard for everything. Now, this is often easier said than done. Every company I’ve seen has data access issues, no matter how good their tech supposedly is. But you have to push for those metrics.
I once worked for a company that sold a whole bunch of products, but I was in charge of just one of them. I needed the numbers on that product specifically, but the revenue ops team was like, “We just throw all the revenue in one bucket.” It was frustrating, to say the least, but this happens all the time.
If that sounds familiar, keep pushing for the data you need. That’s the only way you’ll be able to drive truly strategic initiatives.
I have scorecards for everything. I keep an overall scorecard plus product-specific ones. These scorecards provide insights to guide our strategy. When something is off-target, we can pinpoint issues and respond.
Once we have a tactical plan, it needs its own scorecard – rolling out some competitive training? Cool. Let’s define success indicators and track results.
From there, it’s time to communicate those insights, ideally without meetings – I hate meetings!
Bill Gates famously used “walking decks” at Microsoft, simple slide decks emailed as PDFs recapping activities and next steps. That’s a great way to communicate at scale.
Example product scorecard
Here’s a product scorecard I use daily to keep track of how we’re doing. It contains all the metrics I need to pay attention to.