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15 min read

Product Marketing Insider [podcast]: Ajit Ghuman


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 Ajit Ghuman, Head of Product Marketing at Narvar. An experienced product marketer, Ajit is a specialist in pricing and is releasing his book Price to Scale, Practical Pricing for your High Growth Software Startup. Thanks so much for joining me, Ajit.

Ajit Ghuman  0:22

Thanks for having me, Lawrence.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  0:24

No problem at all. Thanks for joining us. So first and foremost, congratulations on the upcoming release of your brand new book. It's really exciting news, could you tell us the audience a little bit more about what the readers can expect when diving into it? And what prompted you to write it as well?

Ajit Ghuman  0:43

Yeah, totally, at Narvar we've kind of had the saying now, that you know #it takes pandemic that some of the companies that we work with use this phrase. For me, it's really about going deeper into a topic and this pandemic let me do that. I've been owning pricing at Narvar for a year and a half and as I started to get into this topic, one thing that I realized was there wasn't really a guide on how to do pricing step by step.

There were nice resources, there were like seven top strategies, the nine best ways to do X and Y. But I had to synthesise a lot of information and talk to a lot of industry experts even before I could get my arms around how to best structure a project. So having done that, I realized that I basically am writing this book for myself two years back in time, how should a product marketer or a product manager or even a CEO, for that matter, go about looking at their pricing step by step?

It does uniquely benefit product marketers because they have the most strategic view on things.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  1:52

Okay, awesome. And what was it at the start of your product marketing career that made you want to become a product marketer in the first place?

Ajit Ghuman  2:00

Yeah, that's a question that takes me back in time a little bit. I think what I really enjoyed when I started to do some projects that were related to product marketing back in the day, was about the ability to talk to customer value and go beyond just the products or features. So I got into product marketing in 2013, when I was at Medallia, and the company was growing really fast. I used to be originally in the implementation team, so I was mostly focused on technically deploying the implementation.

And as I started working on new demos, for our fast-growing sales team, what I realized was the communication, it was really not about the features, it was really about understanding the market, understanding the buyer, their problems, and then communicating the value of the product. So I really enjoyed that piece and I felt that was really what the business was about, at least, that was what go-to-market and value propositions were about.

So that's what got me interested, and what's kept me inside the profession and doing it all these years is really the... it's kind of more fun for me, maybe it depends, some people it may be less are more fun for but just the ability to be strategic one day and be very tactically creative the next day, and wear so many multiple hats, that has been the most enjoyable facet of the profession.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  3:31

Okay, brilliant. So, can you talk us through a little bit about your career path from your initial roles in product marketing to where you are now?

Ajit Ghuman  3:39

Yeah. So, as I mentioned, I started my product marketing career at Medallia where the company was growing really fast. I started off being more of the technical product marketer working in building all of the demos that the sales team needed, and then became more of a generalist. Did some amount of solutions marketing, did some amount of strategy work when I was at Medallia, and then have since then jumped around quite a few smaller startups and have seen a lot of different smaller environments, got punched in the teeth so to speak, when businesses have been... some work very different and volatile in nature.

How I think my career really has evolved as a product marketer is really going beyond the so-called prescriptions or the way things are done on paper. So, there is like the theory of product marketing and the theory of marketing, but then going beyond that, and now going to any company, and being able to almost as a doctor, diagnose where they are in their lifecycle, what their product-market fit looks like and improve upon that and improve upon their differentiation and communication into the market.

So the growth really has been based on a bunch of experiences, the ability to understand the state of product-market fit in any one company, and then understand what is needed to take them to a higher growth phase. That's how I will kind of summarise it, but I'm happy to dive into any one specific area.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  5:23

So you had your first product marketing role in 2013? So you're going into your eighth year now?

Ajit Ghuman  5:33


Lawrence Chapman - PMA  5:34

During that time, you've gained extensive experience in the pricing principles that can be associated with product marketing. So, in your mind, what are the essential fundamentals, if you like, for any successful pricing strategy?

Ajit Ghuman  5:51

Pricing is interesting. The one thing I quickly realised, once I was focusing on this area, is almost that the price point that we set for any given product is almost the least important thing. Really, the most important things when it comes to packaging and pricing really starts from positioning.

Do you understand the positioning correctly? And is your company aligned on the positioning properly? Because that has downstream effects on pricing. After that comes the packaging, are your packages well designed for your target market and the customer segments that you're trying to sell to? Do they offer their needs properly? Then comes key decisions around pricing metrics. Do you charge by per seat, per API call, per event?

That's a really critical and pivotal metric and has a lot of effect on the sales dynamics as well as your revenue. Finally, there is the pricing structure, which is do you have a linear model? Assuming consumption-based pricing, do you have a linear, two-part, three-part tariff? There's a lot of structural components that go into pricing before the price point itself is set, $50 a seat or what have you.

So that's basically the fundamental realization and what I communicate with folks when we start talking about pricing because many times I'll get the question, "Hey, I'm in this deal and somebody is comparing my product to Slack and Slack sells it for a dollar seven a user but I can't compete with that", I'm like, well, then what you think is a pricing problem may not be your pricing problem, because it starts from your understanding of the positioning, creating the right packages, offers, and eventually down to that conversation. That's my broad spiel on pricing.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  7:42

Okay, and pricing for any company is pivotal, they get it right but obviously, there are instances where people make mistakes and they get it slightly wrong, much to their detriment. In your experience, where have you seen teams potentially make mistakes? And what advice would you give a product marketer to help them steer clear of making similar errors that could be avoided?

Ajit Ghuman  9:04

More than any other function, product marketers really are in the best position not to make pivotal pricing mistakes. The pricing mistake isn't mispricing it at the end, let's say then you're competing against Zendesk and they sell their product for $100 per seat, and you price yours at $80 per seat or $120. That's not the pivotal pricing mistake, that can be changed. What's hard to change is your core set of value propositions which are baked into your packages.

What's hardest to change is even making the decision of saying we're going to sell my product on a per-seat basis. When I wrote my book, I spoke to a lot of people, I spoke to people in companies like Gainsight, older heads of revenue at Helpshift, I spoke with people in companies like Mixpanel and the number one thing that kept coming back is how crucial the decision was for the base pricing metric.

Whether you chose your pricing based on a per-seat model or MAU model in a customer service example, or for Mixpanel case's, they did a per event model for a long time, and they just moved to a monthly traffic users model - that has the biggest consequences on pricing, actually. Those decisions last for a long time, and they have long-term implications on sales efficiency and your revenue. That's the thing, I think PMMs have a great opportunity to get right and that's often the thing that if it's not gotten right can lead to a lot of pain.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  10:47

Okay, and from your personal perspective, what's your go-to approach when conducting pricing strategies? Has your personal preference evolved or changed during your career? Have you encountered different ways of pricing that you think are obviously better than it was previously? What's your favored way of doing things?

Ajit Ghuman  11:16

I would almost say that there is no one way to do it. It's not a great answer, but it's always an ‘it depends’ question. But what I have been able to crystallize is really, what decisions are most important, and everything else for me then becomes noise. So the most important decisions are three key decisions, what is your set of packaging? What is your pricing metric? And what is your pricing structure? Every other decision can be changed easily enough. These three are the most pivotal decisions.

When I look at it, my approach basically says let me form an educated hypothesis on where the company stands, is this an SMB mid-market enterprise, which type of market is it? How is the company positioned in that market?

And then I will come up with a hypothesis around the packaging, based on customer segments, there will be different packages pertaining to each segment that solve their distinct needs. Then I will assign a pricing metric that is related to customer value, but it is also something that we can implement in the product, we can measure and track, and it's justifiable. And it's a little bit more art than science, but I would come up with a hypothesis for the metric. And then finally, select the most appropriate pricing structure.

So an example of structure is you can have a linear model that says, hey, pay as you go, you can keep using us or pay only when you get let's say a sale - let's say you had like an e-commerce checkout kind of product. But the problem is, that's a very volatile impact on your revenue, you only make money on some days, you don't make money on other days. The pricing structure has to then go with where the business is in its lifecycle.

So more established companies may want to implement something like a three-part tariff, which is like a cell phone plan, and you get more assured commitment from customers upfront. These three are for me the pivotal decisions that I make a hypothesis on, then I will go do customer research, internal stakeholder reviews, and then finally, come up with something that I will say, "Okay, this is my proposal now let's try to implement it".

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  13:38

Okay, sounds great. So moving away from pricing momentarily, could you just tell us a little bit more about your direct team at Narvar in terms of numbers and roles?

Ajit Ghuman  13:49

Let me give you some context on the company. We are a post-purchase customer engagement company, we just came up again, in the Fast Company top ten logistics providers list. But what we do really is, if you've bought anything from a company like Patagonia, for example, you will get delivery notifications once your order is coming to your door. And then maybe when you want to return, you want to go back to a location near your home, you maybe want to return the printer less, you don't want to print any labels and you just want to go to a carrier or network location and return the item.

So we've built a lot of network partners that let you do that. Everything that happens post the point of purchase is what Narvar does so it's a B2B2C e-commerce retail company. Product marketing here is really about making sure. It's like any other company making sure that the products are successful, launched properly. Right now our team is very small, it's actually just me and a content writer. The earlier part of 2020 was a little bit of a drawdown, we had a little bit of impact again, but luckily, now we've gotten over it, we're hiring again.

We have four or five openings in marketing currently, we have a team of four people total, a couple of people in India, a couple of people here, but we will be going to 10 plus by the end of the year. That's where marketing stands. That's also I would say, not too counterintuitive for more of like sales-led B2B companies. So that's kind of where we are but we're also moving now a little bit more mid-market so we will expand our marketing team to meet those needs.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  15:42

Okay. And in terms of the top three skills that you've accumulated during your product marketing career, what would you say are those that have helped you to get to where you are today?

Ajit Ghuman  15:52

Yeah, that's a good question. Initially, when I became a product marketer, I focused a lot on the core skills of positioning, messaging, being able to communicate ideas better to salespeople internally, and sales enablement. I would say I built the base on positioning/messaging, one, sales enablement, second. But I think overall, and unrelated to any other scale, I think the number one skill that has helped me actually be successful in any given role has been cross-functional soft skills.

The problem with product marketing really is not the problem of knowing how positioning or messaging is done, which is easy to learn. The problem really happens when you have a company that's growing let's say 50-60%, year over year, you have new people joining every other day, you hardly have anybody really reporting to you but you have to move the business in terms of go to market metrics, or sales metrics.

It's really about influence without authority, and the art of building consensus, the art of moving people in alliances that are loose, informal, and yet benefit the self-interest of different stakeholders in a company. Once that is mastered, product marketing becomes like an orchestra conductor type of role. So that's why I have invested a lot of my energy learning the last few years. And as I become better at it, that's what's led me to be more successful in the role as well.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  17:32

Okay, and in a perfect world, where do you think the role of a product marketing manager and a product manager begins and ends? And do you think there should be lines almost in terms of the responsibilities between the two roles?

Ajit Ghuman  17:48

It depends. Originally, if you look at how these roles evolved in Silicon Valley, product managers were really more of the product marketers. They were like these technical program managers who were responsible for more things at the feature development level. What's happened, and there may be different perspectives on why it has happened or moved this way, as companies like Google came into the ecosystem, product managers became very technical.

That's where the role of product marketing actually took off, that's at least my observation. Product managers started to need to delve more deeply into the features exactly, and focus on shipping products more intently, and became less of the business managers. So the whole role of outbound product management essentially morphed into product marketing and working more on marketing campaigns as well.

The product marketer became more of the business side of the product and responsible for understanding the market, understanding positioning, understanding how the product will actually win. Of course, both roles intersect in one company, one person may be doing expanded roles much beyond their scope.

But roughly I would say the PMM role is really the person more in tune with the business requirements of the product, where the product managers nowadays tend to be more responsible for the technical features and shipping the features on time.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  19:29

And in terms of the process of introducing new products and features, what does that look like at Narvar, and how does that compare to the previous places where you've worked?

Ajit Ghuman  19:42

Yeah, good question. In any company which is growing really fast, its product launches are very interesting because ideally, what you want is perfect coordination with your product team. You want to know which features are coming out, you want storyboards developed much in advance, you want to know the positioning. If the company is really high growth, and I would say we are definitely in that bucket, sometimes there will be some features that we have a lot of planning for, and we've done in advance.

And sometimes we'll be very opportunistic in releasing new partnerships or new features when we realize something has changed. So we are working on some, I will just call them stealth features right now just given that they're not released but those have been opportunistically done in the time of COVID, which can help the company a lot. Then there are others that we have planned much more thoroughly. So that's roughly how I would say the product launch process works here.

Part of the process is to define, okay, what is the positioning for a product? Why are we building this? Who is it for? And then assigning some sort of value to it. We are still a sales-driven company so any product that we release, the easiest way for us to assess market feedback is to go to our sales reps, who have been with the company for even more than six, seven years, and easily be able to test out ideas and beta launch them into the market and see what the feedback is.

So those are the ones that we have more planning around. And there's still definitely other products that, like I was saying, we're being more opportunistic, where we will actually scram and do the work, let's say in a couple of weeks, and then launch it. Because it is a substantial new partnership, or it's a feature that we didn't want to publicize too much. So there are definitely some of those as well.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  21:38

Okay, and product marketing is an area where we're getting a lot of people coming in is, newbies, a lot of people are transitioning into the role, more people are staying in product marketing as we found in our State of Product Marketing report in 2020. Nonetheless, as this is the case with anything, everything is subject to improvements. In your opinion, what do you think needs to change about product marketing to make it even better than it already is?

Ajit Ghuman  22:12

Yeah, there has been a lot of interest and I will say props to Product Marketing Alliance for being one of the companies that have really shepherded the role and are providing a lot of resources for up-and-coming product marketers. That's great to see and credit to you for doing that. I feel what I'm going to say could be controversial.

But my opinion after having done this role for a long time is that the more we identify ourselves as a product marketer, the less we sometimes identify ourselves just as a CMO, or just as a CEO, or what have you. By just defining ourselves it can lead to silos and it can lead to a lack of complete clarity on why we exist in a company. And sometimes why we exist isn't just for the function that we're fulfilling, it's really in the context of the company that we are in.

And the company can have some challenges that are given... if you think of yourself less as a product marketer and just a very capable all-rounder, like a midfielder in football, for example, then you can find opportunities that will be on your function and be greater than just the identity of the PMM. So that's the only take I have. I think, yes, it's good that the function is growing and people recognize and coalesce around PMM as a set of skill sets and jobs to do.

At the same time, I am always cautious about my own thought process and figuring out whether I am identifying with being a PMM too much.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  24:07

Okay. Last but by no means least, because it's been a brilliant chat, I wanted to ask you, if there are any new or aspiring product marketers listening to this episode of the podcast, what would be your advice to them to help them get the most out of their product marketing journey?

Ajit Ghuman  24:27

It's a fun journey. I would say there is no one path to success. There is no one prescription that I can provide. The only thing that has consistently helped me in my journey has been just a very simple principle of being customer-focused at all times. Many times in product marketing what tends to happen is we start focusing on the product a lot.

We are product marketing, after all, and there have been times when I've also been so in-depth in the product that I realize it's been quite a while since, even in any given company, that I've spoken to the end customers myself, or I've done a tour and really empathized with the customers.

At the end of the day, this job boils down to customer and market empathy. So as long as this is something that you like, it comes intuitively to you, I think one can succeed in the role,

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  25:30

Fantastic, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me, Ajit.

Ajit Ghuman  25:34

Thank you so much for having me, Lawrence.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  25:36

No problem at all. You take it easy. Thank you very much.

Written by:

Lawrence Chapman

Lawrence Chapman

Lawrence is our Copywriter here at PMA who loves crafting content to keep readers informed, entertained, and enthralled. He's always open to feedback and would be thrilled to hear from you!

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