Full transcript:

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  0:01

Hi everyone and welcome to the Product Marketing Insider podcast. My name's Lawrence Chapman and I'm a Copywriter here at PMA. Today, I'm delighted to be joined by Abdul Rastagar. Abdul is a product marketing and go-to-market leader, and he's been named as a top 50 Product Marketing mentor. Thanks so much for joining me, Abdul.

Abdul Rastagar  0:18

Lawrence, thanks for having me.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  0:20

Not at all, thanks for taking the time out to talk to us. So just to get started, can you just tell us what made you want to become a product marketer in the first place?

Abdul Rastagar  0:30

Yeah, I kind of evolved into it, I didn't really know what it was. When I first got into it, it wasn't that common actually, it's grown a lot since then. It was a bit of a suggestion from somebody, I was a marketing manager and they said, "You know what, you think differently, you might actually make a good product marketer". And I thought to myself, what on earth is a product marketer? What do those guys do?

And as I started to learn more about it, what really appealed to me was the idea of putting the customer at the center of everything, and the product marketer is probably the most strategic marketing position out there. So for me, it just started to appeal to me just very naturally between the focus on the customer, the strategic thinking, the long-term directional views that product marketing has.

It just became a natural area for me to play in and I've stuck with it for years now. I really enjoy it.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  1:23

Awesome. And obviously, the more experience you've gained, you've moved into go to market or you've forged almost a specialism in go to market, so much so that you've recently published your brand new book, Up Your Game, which is now available on Amazon. So congratulations, if you could tell us a little bit more about it that'd be fantastic.

Abdul Rastagar  1:46

Yeah, thank you for that. I'm super excited about that book. It's actually meant for more than just product marketers, it's marketing in general. The way I started was, last spring, everybody was losing their jobs, COVID was hitting the global economy. I was thinking to myself, what can I do to just help people?

I thought, I can't save everybody's job but I do know something about marketing and I know a handful of marketing leaders, CMOS, maybe if I do these four or five interviews, put them up on YouTube or whatever, LinkedIn, so that people can watch them and maybe this will help them get their next job or this will help them do better in their next interview.

I started with those, each video was about five minutes long, maybe less, and it took off. I mean, the reaction from the audience was just incredible. So I kept going, and now I'm like 90 something episodes into it and people continue to enjoy them and say they get a lot of value out of it. So eventually, the book is a summary of a lot of what I've learned plus my own product marketing thinking, putting that it into it.

It's really meant to help people prepare for job interviews because frankly, I do a lot of interviews, and I've seen a lot of candidates who really stumble, they don't do all that great in interviews. So that was the genesis of it and it's something that is just so fun. I've always wanted to write a book anyway.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  3:05

Yeah, it's quite interesting you say there are candidates who just don't interview well, have you found that there is almost a pool of really good prospective product marketers who could be really good but they just don't necessarily transfer well into the interviewing process. Why do you think that's the case?

Abdul Rastagar  3:29

Yeah, the why I haven't figured out yet, I'm still debating that with a lot of people and discussing that with a lot of people, because it's fairly common that you get people who are pretty good marketers and when it comes to the interview, they forget everything marketing. They forget all of the principles, they forget all the marketing, product marketing that they do, all of the value proposition, the messaging, all of that just goes out the window and they go in there and they talk for hours at the interviewer rather than having a conversation.

I think they're so concerned about trying to sell themselves that they forget how to do it. So that was actually another big driver behind the book is to teach people to really reposition how you approach that interview and talk less about yourself, but more about your achievements and how you help the company or your customers. Make the customer the hero.

So I don't have a good answer as to why it happens but it happens extremely frequently, probably 80-90% of the candidates just go down this wrong track. And these are people who have 5-10 years of work experience so you would think that it wouldn't be the case, but frankly, it is.

And I got a lot of this validation actually, this was one of the things I realized early on as I was doing all of these interview videos myself with all these CMOs and marketing leaders, and everybody was complaining about the same thing. Everybody was saying, 'hey, I've got all of these candidates that come in and they just ramble and they're not very good candidates and from their work history, they should know how to do this, but they can't articulate it'. That's a lot of why behind the book and the how.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  4:57

Either way, I'm sure it's going to be a great success and as you say at the minute, it is something that is prevalent in society. So it's something that's transferable to a lot of people so the very best of luck with it. We touched very briefly on how you got into product marketing, almost like stumbling into the area, if you will, what did your very first job look like in the area?

Abdul Rastagar  5:25

In my first job in product marketing, actually, I was asked to define product marketing for a very large company. Our business unit didn't have product marketing, ironically I was asked to come in there and kind of establish it, which was interesting, because I knew kind of what I wanted to do but I really didn't have that specific guidance.

I didn't have a product marketing leader who came in and set out the vision for me, so I had to kind of discover it. I did that through a lot of talking to people and back then there was no Product Marketing Alliance, there was not a lot of publications out there. If you wanted to read something on product marketing, you'd have to hunt through pragmatic marketing somewhere and see if you could find an article among the dozens of product management articles.

So there wasn't a lot of that foundational knowledge available. I just had to kind of do it a little bit through trial and error and a lot through just talking to more experienced people. It was an interesting learning experience. I won’t claim that I did it perfectly but because I made some mistakes, those helped me really shape and sharpen my thinking around product marketing.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  6:30

I know it's a massive cliche, but it's almost like the more mistakes you make the greater practitioner you become because otherwise you just don't learn do you? It's such an essential part of self-development is just making those mistakes.

Abdul Rastagar  6:46

Absolutely. Yeah.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  6:49

So, again, as we mentioned very briefly previously, you are a go-to-market leader, but what would you consider to be the quintessential ingredients for a great go-to-market strategy?

Abdul Rastagar  7:06

Yeah, there are so many elements to that, that it's hard to define that. And I think it will vary whoever you talk to. For me, there are certain things that come up over and over again, in my mind, one is that customer-centricity. Being able to think about putting that customer first in your go-to-market strategy.

The second, which is very closely tied is being strategic about what you're trying to do, what are you trying to achieve? Just revenue is not good enough of an answer, what are you really trying to achieve? And once you put that together in the context of what is it that you're trying to help the customer do? Putting that together, that's when a strategy starts.

So to give a little more of a practical example, it may be launching a new product so that they can do certain activities better or faster, and the goal might be the adoption of certain functionality within a product. That's one thing that really needs to be articulated well and I don't think many times we do that very well, actually, in product marketing.

When we go through a product launch we have these kinds of pre-formed checklists, like templates - do this activity, do this activity, this activity, and everybody goes down that list of activities, does it, and then okay, we're done. But the reality of it is that half those activities may not need to be done because that varies depending on your strategy, and what your goals are, what you're trying to achieve.

The other thing that comes around with it is, once you've completed or done a lot of these activities, coming back and measuring, were you successful? What was the point in the first place? And were you successful in achieving that? And if not, what do you need to do to adjust, to fix it, and to make it better, so that you can actually achieve your goal?

So those are the things I mean when I say strategic, so it's customer-centricity and it's the strategic thinking. The third element I would add to it is being able to communicate around whatever it is you're trying to achieve internally within your stakeholders. So making sure there's alignment between your sales org, customer success, or whoever else is involved, product management because you can come up with the greatest strategy in the world, but if nobody's executing on it, what's the point?

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  9:15

Yeah, sure. That brings me quite nicely on to the next question, the whole alignment and collaborative approach. I just wanted to ask you about, in terms of the teams outside of marketing, such as sales, product, operations, etc. which departments would you say that you've interacted with most during your product marketing career, and what have your relationships been like with them?

Abdul Rastagar  9:43

I mean, naturally, sales and product management are going to be the most, of course, the rest of the marketing organization as well. Those are the ones that you interact with most frequently, but there are other groups, professional services, customers success, if your organization has a strategy department, then you're intricately connected.

Not everybody has a strategy group, in some cases, product marketing takes that role ownership. In other places, it's more strictly defined. I think what it comes down to is alignment because I've been in organizations where we're all part of the same team and we all have the same goal, but we're not aligned. So marketing is running off doing this thing and sales are running off doing this thing and product management is in this direction, going off and doing something else.

Everybody is incentivized differently, some people are incentivized to close the sale right away, no matter what, other people are incentivized for a long-term strategy, which may mean either passing up on an opportunity or a deal, or just less focus on that segment. And that's what I mean when I say sometimes there's no alignment.

As a product marketer, really, it's your responsibility to make sure that it is aligned, that sales are executing on the strategy that you develop, that product management has buy-in as well. It's a very complex, I think, aspect of product marketing, it's probably the most difficult part and also the one I personally enjoyed the most.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  11:14

Okay. And in terms of improving those relationships, in an ideal world, how would you go about making any potential changes between product marketing and internal teams?

Abdul Rastagar  11:28

I suppose it depends a lot on what the issue is. Sometimes it's just a personality thing. In other cases, it's the misalignment of incentives. If the sales team is incentivized differently than your strategy is, you've got a problem.

In order to address those things, it really comes down from the top, you have to be able to influence the executives from each of those groups as product marketing, and have to be able to influence the head of sales and head of marketing, the head of product management to make sure that they're aligned to have the common goals.

Then the rest of the org underneath that falls behind that. In many cases, you see that doesn't happen. They're loosely aligned, but not really. So sales are focused on closing business this month, or this quarter as it should be. Whereas product management is much more focused on what happens six months down the line, they're not really thinking about what happens this quarter.

I think, to answer your question, it really comes down to you as the product marketer being able to influence those decision-makers at the very top to make sure that they're all aligned.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  12:35

This might be a question that's too big to answer in the space of two or three minutes but what steps can a product marketer potentially put into place to almost communicate or convey the importance of product marketing to key stakeholders who may be a little bit unsure of what product marketing brings to the table?

Abdul Rastagar  13:00

Oh, we do a terrible job with that as product marketers, we're just awful at it. PMA did a survey a few months ago when you asked what percentage of the organization understands what part of marketing does and only 5% of product marketers said that their organization understands it. That's embarrassingly low.

Imagine a product manager, if you ask them that question, you would have the exact opposite, they'd say 95% of the organization understands what product management does. So I think foundationally we have a lot of work to do in terms of education. One of the things that we do is we often go up there, and we position ourselves as the datasheet people, here's a datasheet, here's what we need to do and that's how everybody looks at us, the people who write datasheets.

And part of it comes back to when we go through these checklists of activities for product launch and then we interact with certain departments to say, 'Hey, we need to do this, this and this'. And then they do that with us and then they never hear back from us again. What have we told them in the back of their minds, they're like, 'Oh, those are the people that come and bother me about a specific activity I need to do at a certain point in time'.

I think in order to change this, and really get people to understand who we are, is we need to have a much more strategic high-level conversation about what is the goal, what are the strategies, product marketing needs to learn the language of revenue and the language of finance, we do a terrible job at that as well. So that the executive teams give us a place at the table. We're gonna have to earn it, we won’t just get it if we continue to be project managers and that's what a lot of us act like.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  14:43

A huge part of it boils down to effective communication, not just communicating for the sake of it. It's a skill that I've spoken with previous guests and I keep on hearing the same thing, to be a good product marketer you need to communicate. But what would you say the top three skills are that have helped you to get where you are today in your career?

Abdul Rastagar  15:10

Yeah, I mean, there's no ifs ands or buts about it, it's the communication. But there are other things. For me, I always think that product marketers have to have empathy, customer empathy, stakeholder empathy, and that's one of those soft wishy-washy terms that people throw around but I actually think it's critical. Because if you're not able to develop empathy for your customers, you're not able to do a good job, really a truly good job in positioning your products.

You're not able to overcome hurdles internally, because it's so easy for executives from other departments to say no. And all you've seen as a barrier, a block, you don't know why they said no, but if you start to think about it from much more of an empathetic point of view as to why they said no, are they truly saying no? Or are they saying there's something else in the way?

And once you start to think about that, and come up with ideas for how to address that, in fact, I actually wrote an article for the PMA on this one, it's the only way to turn a hard no into a soft yes or soft maybe, is through empathy. And that means understanding why they said no in the first place. So yeah, absolutely communication is critical. That ability to see another person's point of view is also what helped me get to where I am today.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  16:25

Okay. And in terms of any crossover between what you do and what PM does, would you say there's any crossover there at all?

Abdul Rastagar  16:35

I think it really depends on the organization, I've been at a number of organizations now doing product marketing, and it's never been identical, it's never been the same. There are some places where product management just keeps you at arm's length, whatever, we're gonna do what we're going to do and when it's time for launch we'll let you know and you can go set up a new website. That's like literally that.

At other places where they're really working close together, I've been actually in one organization where I worked where, when I first arrived, it became apparent to me that there was like a product marketing function and a product management function who never talked together. My goal was for that product management leader to see me as part of his team, even though I was in marketing. And so I made a point to attend every one of his meetings, to listen, to take notes, to ask follow-up questions so that I could learn to show that I'm listening and learning.

Then over time, also start to bring in value by bringing in customer insights and information from 'hey, here's what we're hearing from the market'. Probably a one and a half year effort for them to really start to trust me, and stop seeing me as that person on the other side that just launches a product. So the answer, I think, is it depends on the organization and the culture within that organization.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  17:51

Okay, and you've been in print marketing for a long time, you've held product marketing roles at numerous companies and obviously, with the publication of this book, it's clear that you've got a passion for product marketing, it's your vocation. However, in your opinion, do you think there's any area of product marketing that needs to change to make it even better than it is already?

Abdul Rastagar  18:20

Yeah, absolutely. I think it needs to continue to evolve, it's changed a lot. It's grown a lot in the last decade. Product marketing has really moved forward, the number of product marketers out there, the number of skill sets, and the specialization of product marketing have really changed. But it needs to continue, especially as you go forward and you think about the massive volume of data that's being generated.

That data leads to new products and new technologies and new capabilities, and new customer pain points. So as a product marketer, you have to be able to evolve along with that and be able to not only just articulate what you do with it, but also continue... I think what we're gonna see is the continuing specialization of product marketing functions. That five years down the line, we're gonna have product marketing people who are experts in areas that we never thought product marketing would do.

And also today everything's about product-led, I think in the future, it's going to be experience-led growth, helping people do what it is that they're doing better, not through the product, but just through a comprehensive experience. You see some of the larger companies and other more innovative companies moving that way. For me, it's only natural to see product marketing, follow that road.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  19:38

Okay, and in terms of any new or aspiring product marketers who may be making a step into the industry, a year, two years, five years from now, what would your advice to them be?

Abdul Rastagar  19:54

Two things. One is shut up and listen. That's comes back to what we were saying earlier, the ability to have empathy. You can't have empathy if you're talking. You've got to listen. Two ears, one mouth, so just listen to what people are saying.

That's not to say be quiet and let them run over you, it's just listen to what they're saying and why they're saying no. Because in product marketing you encounter the word no, all the time. Every other department says no to you because it's your job to do these things. They're going to do whatever they're doing. It's your job to kind of bring everybody together moving forward in one direction.

It's very easy for any one department to say no. So it's really understanding why they're saying no, and you can't do that if you're constantly talking.

The second thing, I would say, written and oral communication, it's just critical. You're not going to be a product marketer if you can't communicate well. That's through writing effectively, writing emails effectively, writing articles and blogs effectively, content, presentations, giving presentations effectively. That's, I think, critical.

So if you're really want to develop your skills, I would put a lot of emphasis on business communication courses. That's where you're going to get a lot of value right off the bat.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  21:03

Invest in yourself.

Abdul Rastagar  21:05


Lawrence Chapman - PMA  21:08

Well, thank you so much, Abdul, it's been awesome talking to you. It's been an absolute pleasure meeting you. I've really enjoyed listening to your insights, I'm sure that the listeners would have enjoyed it as well. So thank you so much for joining me.

Abdul Rastagar  21:22

Thank you, Lawrence. I'm glad I was able to show up here and hopefully, I was able to give some good advice. Thank you for having me here.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  21:30

Not a problem at all, thanks very much Abdul, cheers.

Abdul Rastagar  21:33

Take care.