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19 min read

Product Marketing Insider [podcast]: Ali Hanyaloglu

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Full transcript:

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  0:03

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Product Marketing Insider podcast. I'm Lawrence Chapman and I'm a Copywriter here at PMA. I'm continuing my mission to speak with 50+ PMMs about their route to the role, tips for aspiring product marketers, and a whole lot more.

This week, I'm delighted to be joined by Ali Hanyaloglu, Head of Global Product Marketing at Akeneo. Ali specializes in best practices for innovation and success in product marketing, competitive intelligence, sales and customer enablement, and with leading global technology companies.

Welcome to the show, Ali. To start, could you just give the listeners a brief insight into your current role at Akeneo?

Ali Hanyaloglu  0:42

Happy to. I am Product Marketing Director at Akeneo. That means I lead the entire product marketing team as part of the marketing organization overall. For me and the team, we're responsible for all manner of things when it comes to product marketing.

That's everything from defining go to market strategy for new product launches, and, the planning and execution of those launches, to sales enablement, competitive intelligence, even some thought leadership, the list goes on there.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  1:13

Okay, sweet. What is it that made you want to become a product marketer in the first place?

Ali Hanyaloglu  1:19

For me, it was that I love communicating in all forms. In my previous roles, actually, even going back to university and school days, I was the one who was up on stage no problem. Really, when it came to my career, the thing I loved about communicating was understanding the customer and the language they use to be able to articulate their challenges and what they were trying to achieve.

Then taking that language and mapping it to the products that we were offering, which in many cases is spoken in a completely different language than what the customer is talking about. That challenge I loved handling, being able to let those customers understand how this particular product or technology or solution was most relevant and applicable to them.

Thing is, I wanted to do that at scale, it was getting to a point in my career before I got into product marketing, where I was being pulled left, right, and center in so many ways that it was affecting me personally.

Product marketing gave me an opportunity to be able to scale that communication so that I could enable others to be able to use it whether they were in a sales role or a customer role, or they were customers themselves. That's what got me into product marketing.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  2:40

Fantastic. Can you talk us through your career path in the industry from your initial exposure in product marketing to where you are now?

Ali Hanyaloglu  2:50

Yeah, sure, absolutely. So before I was in product marketing, I was at Adobe at that time, I was there for many years. For most of that time, I was in, shall we call it a technical pre-sales role. I've had many different titles but that's essentially what it was. I'd also done some field marketing before that, as well, some business development.

But most of the time, I was in that technical pre-sales role as the product specialist in a particular area, going out and meeting with prospects and customers to demonstrate this, but also to explain to them how it was relevant to them and understand how we could address their challenges.

That's when, as I mentioned before, I wanted to be able to scale my work. And so an opportunity in product marketing came up in a particular product area and solution area that I was most interested in.

That opportunity came up, it kind of gave me an advantage because I understood the product and technology really well but I also had experience with customers too. That's how I moved into product marketing.

But my background had nothing to do with sales or marketing. My education was actually in chemical engineering of all things. But I do still say that what I learned in chemical engineering, I'm still applying today actually.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  4:09

It's quite interesting hearing all these different routes in different amounts. It's one of the things that when I'm doing this podcast, I love hearing all these different elements of how people stumble into the role. You say with chemical engineering, and there have been all sorts of different routes and people saying that they're almost the accidental product marketer. I just find it pretty intriguing, to be honest.

So now at Akeneo, can you give us a little bit of insight into what your direct team looks like in terms of numbers and roles?

Ali Hanyaloglu  4:46

Yeah, happy to. There are five people reporting to me right now. A mixture of backgrounds and experience, some of them have been in product marketing, some of them are brand new to product marketing. I've got members of the team who are aligned to the segments that we sell our offering, which by the way is in the product information management space.

So it's a key component of a lot of eCommerce technology stacks. We're aligned to different segments, I've got enterprise and mid-market, I also have someone who is focused on sales enablement, as a focus area, somebody else who is much more on, shall we say the industry thought leadership side of things, and how we position ourselves from a vision perspective.

I also have someone who's focusing on content strategy, not necessarily just content that we produce, like presentations and things, but she works very closely with our product management and engineering team to ensure that our product offering reflects our message, our brand, our values, our style, as well. That's a key channel that we interact with individuals in order to be able to upsell and cross-sell.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  6:04

Sounds great and in terms of the teams outside of product marketing - sales, product, operations, and so on, which departments would you say that you interact with most as a product marketer? And what can product marketers do to communicate with internal teams to greater effect?

Ali Hanyaloglu  6:21

Good question. So for the listeners, some of you may have seen that the PMA has got this great little diagram that shows product marketing in the middle, and then the different teams that they work with; product, marketing, sales, customer teams, and then everybody wrapped in the customer. That is spot on. Is there one particular team that I work with the most? I'd say, no, there isn't.

I work with each one of those groups in that particular diagram, pretty much equally. A lot of my time as the leader for a product marketing team is talking to others to understand what are their challenges? What are they working on? What are their priorities? What are their needs? What can we do next? What can we do better?

So there's not one team that I work with the most, it is all of the above. I encourage everybody to do this as well. Don't forget, the most important one is the customers themselves. So spend time with them.

The second question you had was around communicating with these different internal teams to better effect. One thing we have as product marketers is an understanding of how to make what we do relevant to the audience. We tend to think about that from the customer perspective. You've got to think about that for your internal audiences as well.

The first thing you need to do in order to be effective is to make sure that what you're communicating with them on whether that's a phone call, or an email update, or a Slack message, or a particular deliverable, has to be relevant to them. Use their language, use the things that they're caring about.

If you're talking to product management and engineering, there's probably less need to be talking about what you're doing in order to convert SALs to SQLs or into opportunities in the pipeline. They might be interested, but it's less relevant to them, they're more interested in saying,  how are you going to position this new capability or this new offering we've got?

So keep it relevant to the audience that you're talking to is probably the most effective thing they can do. The other thing is you often hear, "Oh, you need to be communicating early and often". I agree on the often part, as often as is necessary. Communicating early, that does depend on the audience.

The reason I say that is because you don't want to be put into a situation whereby you are communicating something that is coming up and you want to give a status update, but you don't have everything aligned yet, you're going to be actually opening up more questions than you expected. Instead, keep it focused on actionable things that each one of those audiences can do in order to minimize the number of open questions that you get.

You don't want your audience feeling like "You know what, that product marketing team, they're just talking, I'm not really seeing anything actionable happening from them that I can leverage". You don't want to go there. So as early as you can, but not so early where you're going to be put in a situation that will be difficult for you and you need to read and react.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  9:45

Okay, and we touched very briefly on communication and that's one of the core skills that's often associated with product marketing, but what would you say the top three skills are that have helped you to get to where you are today?

Ali Hanyaloglu  10:02

I assume you mean these are sort of soft skills, even though I don't like that expression. There's nothing soft about them and in many cases, they're actually difficult to build up and master. Communication is one of them and then maybe more specifically, is being a storyteller.

If I was to summarise product marketing in one word, one word I use is that we are storytellers at the end of the day. And so having the skill to be able to tell a compelling story no matter the audience that you're talking to, is something that product marketing can uniquely bring to the organization.

There are frameworks and methodologies and skills that you can find, and learn from, and use in your day to day and they could be the ability to be able to tell a technical story. It's even actually a skill, you leverage the skills that are used for stories in the movie industry, they are out there, leverage them, they are great skills to have. And you'll find you can apply them in so many different ways.

But at the end of the day, that story needs to be something that is relevant, it needs to be empathetic, and it needs to be valuable to the audience as well in that they can take something from that story and retell it themselves to others or be able to do something with it.

That's another skill that I would say people will need to have. Although we don't want to be seen as project managers, and there are people who are project managers who are very good at project management, we do need to be able to organize and prioritize and deliver on multiple things that are happening at one time.

So having some of those project management skills is also key to ensure that you're not only spending time on strategy, but you need to deliver, and so you're able to execute accordingly.

But in many cases, because you are dealing with all those multiple departments within the organization, I sometimes call product marketing like cat herding, in many ways, so you need to have those project management skills too. I could probably go on, but I would say those are the top three that come to mind.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  12:23

Previously, within your product marketing career, you've got experience scaling product marketing teams, what would be the key piece of advice that you'd have for anybody who would be in a position whereby they're looking to scale themselves?

Ali Hanyaloglu  12:40

Yeah, this is one of the challenges that I've had when speaking with colleagues or people on my team, or just peers that I happen to meet, which is that feeling of being overwhelmed. We do a lot as product marketers, and so that feeling of being overwhelmed is just going to be detrimental to your ability to scale and be effective.

The advice I give to them is to well, yes, first of all, pause for a moment, breath. But then reorient yourself around the priorities that your organization has. Those could be priorities that are coming from the very top at the business level.

But you know what, it could also be your favorite VP of sales, sit down with them and just say, "Hey, you know what, for the next quarter, what are your top priorities here?", and ground yourself, orient yourself and ground yourself around those. If it means a pivot in what you're doing, work with your management to reassign work accordingly, it's okay, bring that up, and be benevolent about the need to do that.

But by orienting yourself around those key business priorities, you'll find you'll be able to scale yourself better simply because you're now working on things that truly matter. That's the best way to be able to scale a product marketing organization, it's not possible to do everything, you can not. You're going to get a lot of requests come your way, saying yes to everything is essentially the same as saying no to everything.

So, prioritize accordingly, focus on what matters to the business and if something falls out of that scope it's okay to say, "Yeah, that's a great idea, but not really something we can prioritize right now. Let's put it on the list".

Or dig deeper, "Yeah, that's a great idea. But tell me more about why you want that" because you may be able to reorient that particular project, task, deliverable into something that does matter.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  14:43

Turning our attention to checking out what other companies may be doing, what would you consider to be the so-called secret sauce for insightful and effective competitive intelligence?

Ali Hanyaloglu  14:57

This is how I got started in product marketing actually. My first job in product marketing was full-time in competitive intelligence and positioning. And I still have a soft spot for it for sure. So the secret sauce, I think you said for insightful, there was a word you used there?

Gathering competitive intelligence, you could do that until the cows come home and it's more important as a product marketer to not just gather that intelligence and share it, but turn the intelligence, the what of the intelligence as I call it, into the so what? That to me is the secret sauce. Or if you like the secret sauce that product marketing can add to the recipe.

That's when you're turning straight-up intelligence about what does the competitor offer? How are they positioning things? Who are they going after? What are their customer wins? What are their customer losses? That's all really good data.

But it's a case of turning that into true insight that creates that action, the so what of the competition. Once you get the data, dig into it, you may be able to find specific reasons why that is happening, for example, you may have to make some, frankly, intelligent guesses on why that is happening.

But from that, you can then determine truly what to do about it. One of the things that I had done last year with the PMA, for one of the previous summits was a presentation on what I call the competitive intelligence continuum. So it's one thing to get the what but treat it like a cycle.

You do the what, you do the analysis, you gain insight, but then you ask questions that come from it and repeat the intelligence-gathering process from that way. Check out the recording, I think it's still available, I think it's still up there somewhere in the archives.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  16:57

It is in the archives.

Ali Hanyaloglu  16:58

Excellent. Glad to hear that. You'll see more about what else can product marketing do to be able to bring that secret sauce to the entire world of competitive intelligence.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  17:12

Fantastic. Turning our hand again to yet another one of your skills, Ali, sales enablement. What sales enablement measures do you put in place to ensure that your sales teams can perform to their optimum potential? And how often should PMMs update their sales enablement assets?

Ali Hanyaloglu  17:36

Again, another passionate area for me, during my career, I actually took a break from pure product marketing and went into sales enablement full time before then going back into product marketing full time. But it's still a key part of what we do. Analytics and insights are key here. And all of that analytics is not about things like downloads, consumption metrics basically. Get those but that's not where you end.

Really what you want to be looking at analytics for is, how is the work that you and your teams are doing as product marketers impacting the business? What's the impact on the sales process? Is it moving deals through the stages that you have? What's the impact on the funnel that you have in conjunction with both your marketing and sales team? What about the opportunities that it's generating?

You're looking at closed won and closed lost and seeing what was used not just from the external-facing presentations of web pages, what have you, but what about battle cards, sales guides, and sales plays? Those are internal facing, but they impact your business as well. You need to be looking at those things.

Because that way, a) you're actually able to demonstrate value to the organization and business impact, which is what we're all trying to achieve as product marketers but also being able to make sure you are prioritizing on the right things to do. And therefore to your previous point about scaling as well. That's the most important part of sales enablement.

Yeah, sure, you know what, come up with great sales training, 100%. Get those battle cards done, and get them complete and up to date and current - yeah, totally do that. But at the end of the day, you've got to show that they were worth it and that's why sales enablement to me is really about measuring the impact on business.

Now, in order to do that, I can see the questions coming now from your listeners, which is okay, how do we do that? You can try Google Analytics and what have you but really, the best way is to take a look at a sales enablement platform.

The good ones out there don't just provide a content management system, but they also give you that analytics and insights and how it integrates into the other tools that you're using within the organization. CRM, LMS, the list goes on. That's really I've found the best way to be able to do it. Are they expensive? They vary in pricing from what I've seen, but the investment is worth it.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  20:13

Okay. We caught up earlier in the year when you helped us out with an AMA in which you outlined how product marketers can build a marchitecture. Can you define what a marchitecture is for our listeners who may be unfamiliar with the concept? And why is this important for anybody in the realm of product marketing?

Ali Hanyaloglu  20:40

Yeah, great. This is one of my new favorite topics. And the AMA was fantastic, by the way. I was also happy to present on this as part of the product marketing fest just recently as well, which was great fun. A marchitecture for those of you who have not heard of this before is a portmanteau of marketing and architecture.

I'll start by saying what it is not, it is not a pretty version of the technical architecture that your product or engineering team has come up with. That's not what this is and you shouldn't be doing that by the way. That's not worth a product marketer’s time. Get a designer to do that; they're great at that.

Marchitecture is a storytelling tool, a storytelling device. Essentially, it's a means to be able to represent not just what you do, or how you do it, but more importantly, why you do this. And to be able to use this as a means of facilitating intelligent, relevant discussions with your key stakeholders. That's why it's a little bit different than a tarchitecture, which is a technical architecture, that just pretty much explains what do you do? And how does it work?

This goes into a little bit more about why you're doing this, what are the business impacts of your particular technology, who else is involved in this, the list goes on about what you can make as part of your story to be able to visualize it. It needs to be easy to understand and explain.

That's the key thing, if it's overly complicated, it's defeating the purpose, you might as well either go back to a regular technical architecture or do something else. It also should sworn other conversations and deeper analysis. So if you are going through a marchitecture and you're talking about it, whether that's in a presentation or a whiteboard, it should actually create well tell me more about this particular part over here, that sounded really interesting.

That's the kind of reaction that you want from a marchitecture. Again, it should be something that's easy to use as well. So in our case at Akeneo, when we built a marchitecture and launched it, it was used in everything from the sales presentation to the website, it is up on our website, as a simplified version, to be able to very quickly have a visual for everything that we do.

It's a great tool, I recommend everyone if you have one great one and look at ways you can improve it, but everyone should try and attempt to build one. You may get some pushback, I've seen this myself when sometimes it's maybe from product and engineering or other teams who are like "Well, why do we need this? We have an architecture diagram, why do we need a marchitecture diagram?"

But if you check out the presentation that I did for the product marketing fest, you'll see that one of the ways is that you need something that can explain it as a story. Because that visual reinforcement is going to help your stakeholders whether they are customers or internal executives, be able to better remember the point that you were trying to make, and when they refer back to it, they will remember that.

So try and make it visually stand out as well. That's one of the key reasons why you need this. There are lots of other ways, especially when you start to see how it gets used. That's going to be a key thing.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  24:02

Okay, great. Just from talking to you, you've clearly got such a diverse and extensive background in product marketing, what would you like to see change in product marketing to make it even better than it is already?

Ali Hanyaloglu  24:25

Really good question. I think about it a lot and I haven't come to a definitive answer yet. I'll approach it by bringing this up, this is somewhat controversial, but I know amongst the product marketing community, it's not the first time it's been asked which is, is product marketing even the right title for us? Are we holding ourselves back by being called product marketers?

I say that because some people take product marketing and if they don't know what it is, many people still don't know what this is, and say, "Oh, it's all about marketing your products, you create the presentation for the product, right?" "Oh, it's the datasheet you guys do the datasheets? That's what you do. Right?"

This is something that I face. So I've been wondering, how do we make it better? Maybe one thing we need to think about is, is our label wrong? And what I'd love to see more of in product marketing to make it better is more impact on strategy.

We are seen as champions of the ecosystem, I won't even say customers, it goes broader than that. It's the entire ecosystem of people that we work with. From the community to the customers, to partners, the list goes on, and employees too, we are their champions.

So how can we better leverage the skills and tools that we have in order to inform strategy that defines how we reach those audiences, in order to be able to achieve the objectives we have around us growing as organizations, however you define growth? I know that sounds kind of lofty and vague. But I feel like we're being held back, in many ways, is my personal feeling. And it's up to us to make ourselves even better.

And the way we can do that is by finding those ways where we can bring unique value to the organization, and helping define strategy - not defining strategy necessarily - but helping define it, with the leadership team with each one of those groups that we talked about earlier on. That, to me is how we can get better as a function.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  26:50

What an answer. Fantastic. Wrapping things up, Ali, it's been such a fantastic chat, I've really enjoyed it. If there are any new or aspiring product marketers listening to this episode, what would your advice be to them to help them get the most out of their product marketing journey?

Ali Hanyaloglu  27:13

That's a good question. I have been blessed in that I've had a chance to work with and lead both experienced and as I mentioned before, people who are brand new to product marketing. And one of the things I strongly encourage all product marketers to do right away is really get to know your product. It's the first thing.

I've come across many people in product marketing roles over the years, not necessarily people I've worked with, in case you're listening, other people who know very little to nothing about the product and what it does. That's a missed opportunity.

So take the time, spend time with your product managers, they will be happy to share with you the inside, get to know the product. You will never know the product probably as well as any product manager or others do, that's okay. But you need to be deep enough with it. The second thing is to spend time with your customers.

If you do that directly, or actually preferably, if you're starting out with your sales team, sit down with them. Know what it's like for them to be able to cold-call someone, know what it's like for a current client manager to be able to convince a customer that they should be doing more with the products that you have.

Sit down with them, understand from their perspective in that internal role but more importantly, understand your customers too, and what they're thinking about. That's going to heavily influence so much of the core work you do as a product marketer from positioning, messaging, planning for launches, the list goes on.

Start with those two things. Take the time to do that. You know what? All the great skills and frameworks and tools that come from the PMA, they'll be there, you'll get to them. Don't worry about it. Do those other two things first.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  29:09

Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for your time, Ali, as I say, I've really enjoyed it. It's been great getting your insights and all the very best for what can only get better in 2021. Thank you so much.

Ali Hanyaloglu  29:24

That was great, Lawrence. Thanks so much. It was great chatting with you as well. I hope we can do it again soon.


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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Product Marketing Insider [podcast]: Ali Hanyaloglu