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As humans, we believe in principles. Accounting, development, manufacturing, and many more have generally accepted principles, so why don’t we in marketing center on principles too?  

Things are always changing in organizations; people and processes, metrics, and goals, and in this article, I’ll explain why following core principles around positioning, process, and people can work to alleviate some of the consequences while gauging the progress and success of an organization.

I believe in principles. I think we as humans believe in principles, there's the golden rule, but why is it that marketing can't center on principles?

Accounting has generally accepted accounting principles, no matter what company you go to they're pretty much the same. Scrum and agile are built on principles, LEAN, manufacturing, all these people have deliverables that they give to a client or some other internal stakeholder.

In this article, I'll be discussing:

Accounting, development, and manufacturing are built on principles.

People change

We have a turnover of about every 14 months within product marketing within those stakeholders. So once you build your perfect 30-slide go-to-market plan, you've done all your planning over three years, you have the strategy, the general manager, CEO (depending on the size of the company), sales leader, marketing, CMOS, and product team's good to go.

Graphic showing how companies within a department chance.

But then your sales leader goes to the competitor.

Graphic showing what happens when a sales leader moves to a competitor.

Next, your CMO leaves, - this happened to me when I worked at IBM, the CMO made an off-color remark, HR had to get involved. Then they bring in a social guru.

Graphic showing the development of teams within an organisation.

They change out your vendors, this goes on and on.

Graphic showing how vendors change with a new CMO.

GM gets fired for four years, four months, four quarters of flat growth.

Graphic showing what happens when the GM his replaced after four quarters of flat growth.

Building a perfect plan and not really adapting to it based on tactics and a strategy that one sales leader had, but now a new sales leader doesn't have isn't sustainable.

Graphic showing that happens when product management is replaced and sales leaders leave their roles.

You can't really judge your marketing health, your program, or if you're actually delivering on the product lines.

The pattern continues, and the set-up changes.

Things change: why principles work

What I would say is we need to follow core principles and everything can roll into these. This can be as an individual contributor, this can be if you're a VP of product, product marketing, we can all start trending towards a sway.

The reason why is things change, I just highlighted people change within organizations, but processes change too.

GDPR, for example, you might have a new CMO or product person that says we need to be digital-first. There are processes that will change so our marketing strategies change. Metrics change, you start as a startup, as you start growing market share then maybe customer acquisition isn't an issue but it's about churn, so renewals.

Graphic showing why principles work.

How do you build upon principles that over the life of the product lines or the life of the company you can actually start gauging, are you a C grade marketing organization? Are you in A plus? And start understanding that.

I know no one's had this one - short term goal is chasing the quarter. I know no one has ever had a situation where the sales and GM are like, 'you know what, I don't have a job next month if we don't make our revenue goal so whatever we're doing, we're going to reallocate everything to that'. The idea is things change.

Does your marketing program resemble yo-yo dieting?

If we're not following this overarching we want to go up to the right, our marketing looks like yo-yo dieting. Do really good at the start of the year and then we plateau, maybe we had a vacation, my weddings no longer here, I'm going to go down. There's a lot of variabilities.

Graphic depicting 'yo-yo dieting' in a marketing context.

But when we follow principles, and every day, we just move a little bit closer towards the right direction, I think we all will align, we're doing the best for the growth of the company, revenue is our number one goal.

Unless we're following these principles, we're never going to truly unleash the growth for revenue.

Move a little bit of dirt every day

Essentially there's a big pile of dirt over there, and you want to move it over here. One day you get a spoon, another day you get a shovel, on the third day you're going to get a wheelbarrow.

When you progress gradually, every day, you'll be successful and your principles will pick up.

The idea is you've got to continually bring the dirt over to the left side.

Key principles to consider

I'm going to propose four principles but with the disclaimer that I'm very biased, I'm a B2B marketer, I'm a B2B SaaS marketer, I'm a B2B SaaS marketer in healthcare so my biases fit my perspective, my lens, my understanding of life and our sales cycle which is 18 months long. We're in eight and nine-figure deals.

So just understand that I'm biased, if you don't agree with someone, that's okay. I think the principles will relate to everything.

Simple and long-term measurable metrics

But before that, I'm going to talk about metrics. I propose simple grading, we've all done this for about 20 years of our life, from kindergarten to advanced education.

ABCDEF, that's really all it is. You can see the principles here; product, process, people.

Short and long-term measurable metrics.

At the end of the day, once you grade it and score it and get it all together, you get your overall performance. This allows you to - wherever you're at, whether you're just starting out for customer acquisition, or into that renewal - place importance, credit hours, on how important that is to you.

I'm in a start-up, we have two marketers, trying to get really good processes right now with the perfect marketing automation stack. We're still training our salesforce so CRM integration has really no importance to us right now. It shouldn't, we're still working through the sales process but it's very important that we get the product, the messaging, the positioning, very sound.

*These aren't the grades I'm giving my company, but just hypothetically.

Whatever level you're at whether you're an analyst, a manager, VP, CMO, or CEO, you can establish these credits. The other thing that allows you to do long term is as your marketing organization grows, your credit grows, your capacity, so you just basically get more applications.

This is really what it comes down to, it's not just about having the plan, it's actually delivering on the plan. I'm going to talk about the practice of the principles, I think we can all agree that those principles are normal.


The first one is positioning. If we all agree that positioning is table stakes, then why don't we do it? I did a quick glance at a proposal software industry…

Why do we not all complete positioning for our companies?

I love one and two of my competitors; proposals in minutes, and branded proposals in minutes.

Close deals faster, close sales faster. Their number one competitor is DocuSign. They spend half a billion dollars on marketing, 147 marketers, and you're going position as a brand new.

The benefits of positioning are clear, and we should all do it.

If we all are so agreed that positioning and messaging and branding are so important, then why aren't we doing it with the number one tag line on these people's websites? We say it's important, but we don't do it.

How do we start applying it?

It's not the 30 slide deck presentation, it's not saying 'The US has 50% market share and Europe's 30%, these demographics, blah, blah, blah'. It's more about getting into how do we apply this?

We don't apply it by listening to Abraham Lincoln who said he wanted a technology solution that reduces implementation and his TCO by 50%.

But this is how we market - we market because this is how we build our methodology. We build it as an NBA use case, we build it as a market sizing program.

Well, really no one said that ever, what they really want is you to emphasize the story.

What’s the number one principle?

I think everybody knows Seth Godin is very reputable in the space, I don't know him personally but I found his email address and said, "Hey, I'm speaking on principles. What do you think is the number one principle?"

His reply, "Tell true stories that resonate with the smallest viable audience."

Seth Godin said we should tell stories that resonate with the smallest viable audience.

I then texted 25 of my old colleagues, what's the number one principle? They all said positioning, but if you ask the same 25 people, their definition of positioning is different.

Some say branding, some say essence, customer engagement, whatever it might be. But if you think about his 10 words here:

  • ‘Tells true stories' - messaging, that's the story.
  • 'Smallest viable audience' -segmentation, targeting.

All the academic work that you do to go through the process and working with sales, doesn't really matter if you can't actually apply it and measure that you're delivering on this.

What I'd say is, the principle is product. This is the thing that product marketers are responsible for.

If a manufacturer has to deliver a widget, we have to deliver positioning. That is our deliverable. Just like finance gives an income statement, product teams deliver a SaaS solution, our product to our organization is positioning.

Comparison chart for customer acquisition, customer retention, thought leadership, etc.

This is just my opinion right now based on where we're at in my life cycle but your company might be different, your department might be different. But how I would apply that is customer segmentation and then do you have the appropriate content for that segment?

We all know the segmentations, we can go into Tableau or Click View, slice and dice it, 'here are the 50 cohorts' but it really doesn't help if you don't have content to move them along in the buying process.

It doesn't really help to have that knowledge and doesn't matter what stage if you want to do the three-stage process or a follow-on nurture, if you don't have the appropriate content, then you're not really practicing that principle.

You know it, we know it academically, I'm guilty of this too, I think it's something we can all just relate to as product marketers.


The next thing is process. I like to use working out as an example because we probably all tried to work out once in our life and failed miserably without good coaching.

Running more doesn’t help you run faster

But one thing people think, is if you want to run faster, you just got to run harder, you got to run more, but maybe there's a technique issue, maybe you're not running fast enough initially, or whatever it might be.

If a weakness exists, it must be addressed.

If a weakness exists, it must be addressed

Just ignoring a problem, ignoring a weakness, isn't really going to help the overall program, it's not going to help your fitness. But we do this all the time:

  • Sales are down, let's hire more salespeople.
  • We're not getting the impressions we want, let's fire up more money into the media spend.
  • We're not converting, we need to build the red button blue now in the product, whatever it might be.

Diagnose major gaps in bringing products to market

I believe our job as product marketers is diagnosing just like a doctor does with your disease.

You can pick whatever framework here, I've worked for four different organizations in the past five years and everybody had a different pipeline, it changes about every year anyway when there's a new sales leader or new finance person.

Product marketers need to diagnose major gaps in bringing products to market.

Pick whichever framework you want, but our job is to start getting the synergies between all the internal organizations, if marketing is not pulling their weight, then there's nothing that product and sales can really do and vice versa. It's our job to diagnose and help do that.

How that looks

  • Hitting the field,
  • Going on sales calls,
  • Going with customers,
  • Following along with the product manager.

What this sounds like

This is the stuff you'll hear...

Grap showing what diagnosing gaps in the market looks like.

No one's wrong in this aspect and no one's right, either. But it's our job to try and get to the truth of things. It's our job to understand the process, diagnose and start working through cross functions and cross-collaboration with our stakeholders.

Example: vendor optimization

I'll use an example of the process, we'll talk about vendor optimization and other industries outside of marketing that are more tangible. They call this supply chain.

I have a friend who works for GE, if a supplier doesn't deliver metal at a certain time, they fire that supplier. We don't do that in marketing, we just keep letting our agencies and our vendors get away with murder all the time.

Example, showing how vendor optimisation works.

Let's assume that we deliver the AI blockchain-augmented reality and that is truly the reason why the salesperson didn't close it. Maybe there are other reasons, such as the product's still in research, finance wants them to focus on a core positioning versus selling the future and then upselling.

But let's say the strategy was to sell this, but they didn't have the one brochure at the one conference to get this deal.

Slow creative process & multiple revisions

Maybe the agency has a slow creative process, multiple revisions, even though they've worked with you for two years and understand your customer and your branding, they still can't get it right.

Pricey $$$

They're super expensive, so you don't really want to waste them on a one-pager.

We live in an era where you can go to an event where there are 1000s of agencies wanting your business. If you're not in the process of always optimizing your vendors and getting the most out of them, it's pretty much table stakes as a product marketer.

Maybe that's more of a marketing automation or operations person in your business but the idea is don't take vendor optimization as the be-all and end-all, take it as analyzing the process - we didn't get something out for sales, and there's a root cause to it.

In this instance, process is a principal - gap analysis, operations, diagnosis of the overall ecosystem.

The way I would apply it, (again, you pick your own application, which you think is most appropriate for your sales cycle, product, customer segment), time to lead qualification - remember, I said sales didn't follow up for 20 days - and then vendor optimization.

At the end of the day, you just put a grade there, you don't have to have a rubric and A+ is this and a B's that and C's that. I think we know conceptually where we stand in the quality of our output and maybe being a C person isn't a bad thing.

We all have different HR policies where some companies are okay hiring C-level marketers or salespeople but they want to pay A+ developers. You know what your talent pool is, you know your industry, and where you spend money. You don't have to nuke out the right side of the grading, it's more about are we overall trending towards that direction?


The last thing is people - process and product don’t happen without people. I want to relate this to how marketing is and one of the problems I've seen through a lot of different organizations.

I'll first start with Elon Musk, I love Elon Musk. I don't agree with his maybe leadership style, just as some people don't agree with Bezos, but you can't discredit his success.

He had an employee say no to him, he said, "Fine. I'll run SpaceX and Tesla and do your project and I'll still deliver", and he still did.

Quote from Bam Brogan.

My thought here is, why is it that in marketing, the more senior you get the farther you get away from the customer, product, and sales team?

  • Engineers still understand Bernoulli's principle,
  • Developers still code they're still architecting real solutions,
  • Sales execs, I don't know a single one that's still not closing deals, or doesn't have a personal relationship with major accounts.
If engineers do engineering, developers still code, sales execs close deals, why do marketers not do marketing?

But we don't do this. So how do we integrate it? It's into ABC.

3 ways to apply and grade the ‘people’ principle

Can they pitch /demo your product?

  • Can everybody in your marketing, sales, product organizations pitch the product?
  • Can they demo it?
  • If you have a team of product marketers can they all train sales?
  • If you're a VP or director, and you've got some junior folks does a sales leader come to you and say, don't let them talk to my sales team again?

I'm sure we all had those conversations.

Could they run the roadmap?

  • How do you understand that your people are actually doing it?
  • Could they run the roadmap?
  • Do they know the roadmap?
  • Are they responsible for the roadmap?

I like the third one…

Build and run a campaign

Build and run a campaign because all these things force you to do all the little things that are preambles to that. If you can pitch your product, that means you know your customer, so it forces you to do the customer segmentation, understand the messaging, branding, and positioning.

The third one is more aimed at senior leadership. Everybody picks fruit from the fruit of the good idea tree, where they're like, 'we need to do digital, and you need to go do this' but they don't even know how the marketing automation stack is, they don't realize you don't have SDRs to do follow up calls.

So until you actually continue to do marketing in your organization, you really don't have contexts.

Leadership by example

This is all code in a different way to say leadership by example, cross-training, going out and seeing, going into the field, knowing and having contexts.

There's a thing out there called t-shape now, so you're an inch wide - you have an understanding of other functions, but you're a mile deep in your own specialty. Really, you need to have this context, it's super important to have this context.

It reminds me of a consultant who came to my business and before he even understood the product, platform, customer segment, or anything internal, he said, 'do you know what you need?' I just lost interest. How can you recommend something and tell me what I need if you don't even understand what I have?

This is the people aspect.

Graph outlining the people aspect of the process.

Everyone does marketing

If everybody in your marketing and product marketing organization can't do these things, then they're not actually fully taking all that positioning and all the go-to-market strategy and delivering it to the customer.

It doesn't have to be all three, pick what's important to you. At the end of the day, again, just grade yourself, and then when you add up all the grades and the credits, you're gonna get a score.

For example, we're a B company, then you take that, so quarter one we're B, quarter three - B, next year - B. Is it bad to be a B all the time and not show growth? No, because it's quite okay if you added 10 marketers because now your capabilities have tripled in that aspect.

So you're still maintaining B quality, but your output has increased tenfold. Or if you just keep the same team and you're not adding people, then you should start seeing your grade creep up. It's a simplistic approach.

I think we all need to be responsible for the impressions and lead and a whole bunch of other metrics. But it really doesn't give you an understanding and a handoff in the times we live with uncertainty. Because when your product moves out of that maturity phase, leads aren't going to be as important, it's about the customer acquisition.

How do you measure a program holistically?

I would argue it's focusing on principles that are applicable to your business.

Policies change, but principles never do.

I used to be in the military, it used to be about push-ups, sit-ups, running a mile and a half, but it didn't really teach you strength training. If someone got me at 18 years of age and said, "Hey, all you've got to do is gain 10 pounds on the squat", and I'd have been squatting 800 pounds today.

It's a bad analogy but the idea is don't think of just what your business needs today, or what you need for your next promotion.

I truly think of marketing as a profession and the reason why some of the pain points we have are like, "Hey, can you build me another slide deck? I need another LinkedIn campaign", is because we do it to ourselves, we don't treat it as a profession.

Think about long term where you want to be - it might be blending over to sales and blending over to product but what are the one or two principles that apply to you and your industry?

That's the thing that you need to start trending towards as an individual. Or if you're a VP that your company needs to start trending towards too.

Principles are a constant in life.

It's hard to say and do because we all have fire drills and we're all chasing the quarter. But that's my two cents on principle-based marketing.

Thank you.

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