Whether you're looking to transition into product marketing this year or hoping to upskill in 2021, researching the kind of skills you’ll need to put you in good stead can be super time intensive, not to mention confusing!
Which is why we drafted in an expert.
Francisco Bram, Head of Global Product Marketing at Uber shared the essential hard and soft skills PMMs need to make a splash in the industry, level up, or transition in from outside roles.
Q: What are the top three soft skills to have to be able to consistently get buy-ins from your executive stakeholders?
A: “From my experience, the top three soft skills that can help you influence decision makers are: Executive Presence, Cross-functional Leadership and Customer Empathy.
“Let’s start with executive presence. Executive presence is multi-faceted; it combines how you are seen, understood and experienced by peers and senior leadership. You may have a lot of experience as a PMM and even as a leader, but without executive presence, your chances of getting things done in a very collaborative environment are low. A PMM that has executive presence is able to read the room, be prepared to answer the non-obvious questions, predict potential areas of discussion and anticipate conflict. They deliver their message with confidence, clarity, are very succinct, don't read from slides and most importantly connect with their audience. Executive presence also means PMMs know how best to leverage an executive's priorities and time and use it strategically to take them along their GTM journey and get early buy-in.
“The second soft skill is cross-functional leadership. Even as individual contributors, PMMs have the opportunity to lead people. PMMs are known for creating strong relationships across the company, with researchers, marketing managers, product managers, engineers, sales managers and even customer support. Without any official authority, they need to be able to command the GTM that involves multiple workstream leaders and rally them behind the same set of goals and objectives. Executive leaders are aware of this because their direct reports have commented on the respect and credibility that the PMM has demonstrated.
“Last, but certainly not least, is customer empathy. Customer-centric PMMs have a relentless pursuit for customer truth. They represent the customer internally and translate research and product features and technical language into tangible benefits that meet customers' needs. It's this passion that drives them to push back product teams, sales teams and even executives when their goals don't align with customer needs and wants.
Q: Before I (accidentally!) stumbled into product marketing, I’d never considered myself to be a numbers person, but as I’m becoming exposed to the PMM role, I need to brush up on my analytical skills when checking out data. Do you have any advice on how product marketers can make data-driven decisions?
A: “In my experience, great PMMs understand how to leverage research and market data to uncover user insights, discover new use cases, and help drive product roadmap decisions. Great PMMs work tirelessly to earn customers' trust and business by solving their problems. They embrace data to understand them, communicate and delight them. Data is a PMM's best friend. Bad PMMs think this responsibility falls on R&D or Product Management. They think Google Stats or internal user data is good enough.
“Take advantage of all data sources available to you. Great PMMs will work with data science to understand their own user's behaviors. Work with strategy or purchase reports to understand industry trends. Work with user experience research (UXR) to learn how users may use their products. Work with research and insights to validate marketing assumptions, test narratives and even product names. Work with marketing analytics to do A/B testing of content and learn what sticks. Work with customer support and sales teams to have a secondary source of customer feedback. Great PMMs will look at all data sources and triangulate all insights to ultimately build out a customer journey map with different buyer personas.
“Do this, and you will have gained tremendous credibility internally with cross-functional team leaders.”
Q: As you’ll know, GTM strategy is a core hard skill for product marketers. How can I create a unique, cross-channel GTM plan that’ll help this product, and upcoming products hit their launch goals?
A: “You can identify great PMMs for their desire to drive the GTM process, plan and execution. They understand all parts of the business and are respected cross-functionally to lead the GTM process. Bad PMMs think project managers should manage the GTM process. They think they only own the plan but wait for someone to step up and take the lead in executing it.
“Get into the mindset of owning the GTM plan by developing or upgrading an existing GTM template. If your organization already has a GTM template, look at how you can improve it. If it does not, be the first to develop one and establish credibility early on. By going through this exercise you will be training yourself to think in GTM terms and phases and you will organically find yourself leading GTM discussions with critical thought and credibility.
“Ultimately, a great GTM plan starts with a deep understanding of your target audience, the market segments and the different market forces (competitors and strategic partners). Once you have this understanding, you can build out a solid GTM by following the 7 Ps of marketing:
Positioning: What are we trying to solve? Why is this a problem? Do we have quantitative evidence of the problem? What are the implications of this problem if unsolved? Who is being affected? What are their pain points? How is your company best positioned to solve this problem?
Product: What's your product narrative and value proposition? What makes your product unique and differentiated? What are the benefits of your product? What's your product name?
Price: What's your product price? What pricing models should you consider? How will you test pricing? Will you offer bundles? What's your promos & incentives strategy? What's your product target margins?
Promotion: How will you raise awareness about your product? What campaigns will you consider? What's your content strategy? How will you develop persona-based messaging?
Placement: What channels will you use to communicate the value of your product? What media will you prioritize? What is your strategy to leverage your own channels (email, app, blog, social media, webinars)? What's your strategy to leverage earned media (PR, media briefings, keynotes)? What's your strategy to leverage paid channels (Influencers, search ads, social ads, out of home, TV, video, print, radio, trade shows)?
[Mostly B2B] Proof Points: What evidence-based marketing will you develop? How much effort will you place on case study development, customer testimonials, peer-reviewed articles?
[Mostly B2B] People: How will you enable sales to successfully position your product and win deals? What is your product demo strategy? How will you educate customers? What's your strategy to educate and acquire thought leaders and product advocates?”
Q: Market, competitor, and product expertise is an essential hard skill for any PMM and it’s something I’m continually telling my team. As a team leader, how can I help those around me cultivate their knowledge of these particular areas? I'm keen to do the best I can to help them progress.
A: “I agree 100% that those are critical domain knowledge areas that Great PMMs must cultivate. Let’s start with the Market. There are two components for understanding the market:
- Sizing the market. Product marketers are responsible for supporting the organization in identifying what segments or verticals the business should consider allocating resources to. There are 3 ways to size a market: top-down, bottom-up or value-based. Top-down extrapolates the size of the TAM from industry research. Top-down total addressable market calculations are often based on existing work by market-research firms, such as Gartner and Forrester. The bottom-up approach uses data from your company's early sales to estimate the market. PMMs can calculate this number by extrapolating information from internal data based on current pricing and usage. PMMs can take that number and apply it to the larger customer base of the total potential target market. Lastly, the value-based approach relies on an estimate of the value provided to customers by the product or service and how much of that value can be reflected in the product pricing. Value-based TAM is mostly used for companies pioneering new markets where there is no innovation or market precedence.
- Researching the market. Great PMMs will seek out data (qualitative and quantitative) to determine all the different customer segments and help inform product development, product narrative and channel strategy. Therefore, it is important to understand the different types of teams PMMs can collaborate with and the different methods each team is potentially capable of deploying to uncover those insights. PMMs can work with Data Science, UXR or Marketing Insights teams to understand these different market dynamics.
“With regards to competitors, the previously mentioned methods will apply here also. In fact, researching the market often involves researching competitors also. But PMMs can also develop their own deep understanding of competitors by doing benchmarking. Compare their website with your website, compare their products with your products (looking at specs, features and use cases), in some cases, PMMs can even try competitors’ products, this will help develop a good understanding for the customer experience.
“Finally, product knowledge. For me, it is important that my team is able to understand our products just as a Product Manager would. In fact, during the first 60 days of onboarding, one of the milestones I like to set is the ability to demo the products to internal and external stakeholders. At the end of the 60 day mark, I ask my new PMM to demo the product in 30 minutes to our PMM team and will keep providing them with opportunities to do so over the next months via webinars, customer demos, etc. Another great way for PMMs to learn how to become product experts is by having them shadow sales representatives if this is a B2B product.”
Q: I’m considering taking the plunge and transitioning into product marketing. From an employer’s perspective, which hard and soft skills are considered valuable for a prospective member of their team?
“From my perspective, these are the 5 hard skills PMMs should own:
- Market sizing - Total Addressable Market (TAM). Product marketers are responsible for supporting the organization in identifying what segments or verticals the business should consider allocating resources to. There are 3 ways to size a market: top-down, bottom-up or value-based.
- Market segmentation - Intimately understanding customers is core to effective product marketing. Great PMMs will seek out data (qualitative and quantitative) to determine all the different customer segments and help inform product development, product narrative and channel strategy.
- Narrative design - with user/customer research in mind, PMMs need to be able to understand how a product works, what makes it unique, what powers it and distill all that information into a compelling, memorable and reproducible narrative. There are three main elements to orchestrating a compelling narrative: The WHY? Why should anyone care? Why should I listen to your brand or message? The HOW? How are you solving customer problems? What is your value proposition? The WHAT? What are the benefits you will provide customers?
- GTM strategy - you can identify great PMMs for their desire to drive the GTM process, plan and execution. They understand all parts of the business and are respected cross-functionally to lead the GTM process. Bad PMMs think project managers should manage the GTM process. They think they only own the plan but wait for someone to step up and take the lead in executing it..
- Measurement - the best way for product marketing to gain credibility across the organization is by demonstrating the impact of their work. To do this, PMMs need to know what are the most important metrics and how to measure them. Below are some of the most important (but not exclusive) metrics PMMs should know:
- Conversion rate: This metric shows how many prospective customers convert to paying customers.
- Customer lifetime value (LTV): This metric shows the total dollar amount you're likely to receive from an individual customer over the life of your product or services.
- Churn rate: Calculates the number of customers who leave a product over a certain period of time.
- Customer acquisition cost (CAC): How much money it costs to acquire a new customer.
- [Mostly B2B] Marketing qualified leads (MQLs): This metric evaluates how many leads did Marketing generate for sales that resulted in a product demonstration or discussion.
- [Mostly B2B] Win rate: This metric measures how many MQLs were converted to sales a deal or contract won.
In terms of Soft Skills, I would say the most important are:
- Customer empathy - customer-centric with deep understanding of customers' pain points.
- Adaptability - there are very few medium-to-long term plans that end up being executed the same way they were planned. As the owner of product GTM plans, PMMs need to be aware of this truth and be able to quickly and easily adapt to change. Change isn't always obvious and PMM's ability to quickly adapt to new business priorities can help them navigate an uncertain environment and thrive.
- Cross-functional leadership - even as individual contributors, PMMs have the opportunity to lead people. Great PMMs are able to take others along with them, rather than telling cross-functional teams exactly what they want them to do.
- Prioritization - like most functions, PMMs are very often tasked with multiple projects and initiatives that they must prioritize according to the company's and customer needs. In most companies, the ratio of PMs to PMMs is off balance, tipping in favor of PMs. This means PMMs will be asked to support multiple product launches that are likely to have conflicting timelines. PMMs must ruthlessly push back, prioritize and know when and where to focus their efforts and which of those efforts is most time-sensitive.
- Executive presence - a PMM that has executive presence is able to read the room, be prepared to answer the non-obvious questions, predict potential areas of discussion and anticipate conflict.
Q: I’m keen to enroll in career development courses to develop my skill sets and aid my progress in my PMM role. What role should I expect key stakeholders to play in helping me kickstart the process and which areas should I prioritize to meet the demands of the market?
A: “I believe that great leaders want to empower their talent to best succeed in the organization. A while back, in my previous role at Siemens, prior to joining Uber, I was also looking for support to up-level my PMM, specifically my GTM skill set. The first thing you need to do is identify the areas of professional development that would benefit most from a development program. Then align those with the company’s business objectives. For example, at that time, I was planning on launching four new products for Siemens and one of the areas that I had agreed with my manager that I needed to up-level was aligning my GTM expertise with modern marketing tactics and channels. So I first started by researching what development classes or courses were available internally in this area.
“While Siemens had a tremendous amount of development courses, none was around GTM. This helped me make the case for an external development class. I then researched programs that closely aligned with my objectives. I finally found an executive program at Stanford University that closely aligned with my objectives. The program was called Strategic Marketing Management. With the program syllabus and the total costs and time, I positioned this to my manager at the time and was able to get his buy in. I then helped him put together a business justification to get executive and HR approval to finance the program.
“In summary, work with your manager to identify the key priorities for the next year for you. Then identify the key areas that could benefit from up-leveling. Then work with internal HR or People Operations to learn if internal programs are available to help you up-level these skills. If not, do your own research and put together a business case justification for an external program.
“The key areas that PMMs should definitely keep fresh is GTM tactics, customer insights tools and measurement, new marketing channels, new marketing analytics.”
Q: I’m in the process of preparing for an interview for my first product marketing role. For newbies like me, what would you say are some of the common processes used by companies when screening a candidate’s skills? Any pointers to help demonstrate these would be awesome, too!
A: “I actually just wrote an article about how to get prepared for PMM job interviews. In general, you should be prepared for 4 types of interviews:
- Core concepts - in these interviews, the interviewer will usually ask foundational questions to probe your domain knowledge of the role and responsibilities expected of PMMs.
- Industry knowledge - these questions are designed to measure two areas, your real interest in the role and your understanding of industry.
- Behavioral - the goal of these questions is to get a better understanding of how your previous work experience (PMM or not) makes you a suitable candidate for the role you are applying to. Some companies like Amazon and Uber will often ask candidates questions focused on learning information on your past behavior and performance in earlier positions and how it aligns, or not, to their cultural norms or principles.
- Case studies - these interviews are structured and focused on a specific challenge or case study that the recruiter will normally share up-front and give you 2-5 business days to complete.”