Full transcript:

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  0:00

Hi everyone and welcome to the Product Marketing Insider podcast. My name's Lawrence Chapman and I'm a Copywriter here at PMA. I'm continuing my mission to speak to 50 plus PMMs to discover more about their role, which teams they interact with most, why they wanted to become a product marketer in the first place, and a whole lot more.

Today, I'm delighted to be joined by Erik Mansur, VP of Product Marketing at Crayon. Thanks so much for joining me, Erik.

Erik Mansur  0:25

Lawrence, it's a pleasure to be here. Thanks so much for having me.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  0:27

Oh, no, thank you for joining us. So just to start, please can you just explain what your current role at Crayon entails?

Erik Mansur  0:36

Lawrence, it's a big job. I'm a product marketer at a product marketing company, it's almost like if you went to culinary school, and you had a professor that couldn't make a decent plate of scrambled eggs.

It's a big task to be the product marketer at a product marketing company. I lead all of our product marketing efforts for Crayon, a competitive intelligence tool that allows customers mostly at the mid-market enterprise level to be able to track, analyze, and act upon competitive intelligence that we can gather for their competitors.

I work with customers, work with our sales team, work with our customer success team, work with my colleagues in the marketing team, in order to be able to best tell our user stories and best convey the value of Crayon, externally, and sometimes even internally to our existing customer base. It's an exciting role and it's one that I think is a bit of a challenge as I mentioned earlier, you've got to be good at this in order to be the PMM at a PMM firm.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  1:42

Sounds great. In terms of why you wanted to become a product marketer in the first place, can you talk us through that?

Erik Mansur  1:53

I think I've always been a storyteller my entire life. So when I left university, I became a radio disc jockey and I would talk about Britney Spears songs, or talk up the latest Bon Jovi track or what have you. I would have a very short amount of time to tell the listeners a story about that artist. I moved into working for a local newspaper and working for the concert industry and helping to sell tickets more in a way using online advertising.

But at some point, every stage in my career has all been about telling stories, whether I'm telling the story about our product, and the success that our customers have with it, or speaking to our customers and telling their stories in the form of case studies, blog posts, etc, etc. I'm trying to tell a story to a market writ large, that is much more focused on business outcomes.

That is what I think is the most exciting about being a product marketer and as I've gone through that evolution, when you're talking up Nsync songs, there's no business outcome there. I just don't want you to change the channel. But doing product marketing, particularly for a SaaS company like us, the stories that I'm telling are trying to compel people to have similar success in their own business using our tool.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  3:11

Okay, great. And what did your first role as a product marketer look like? And can you talk us through your career path from that initial exposure to product marketing to now?

Erik Mansur  3:21

I started in tech, I really started as a product marketer working at a company called Nanigans, which is in the ad tech space, one of Facebook's first five API partners. So our software was built on top of Facebook's API, and our customers used our tool to advertise on Facebook. Pretty early on, I discovered that as our product and engineering team were rolling out new products, new features at a pretty rapid pace our customers were left sort of in the dark.

They would log into the software and discover something new that they hadn't seen before that ultimately addressed one of their needs. But there wasn't a true line of communication from our product and engineering team into the customer base itself. We had a pretty large, pretty burgeoning sales and customer success team who also was sometimes left in the dark.  

I identified pretty quickly a need for something there and I didn't know what it was called. I started calling it product communications, that is to say, communicating what it is the product team is doing down into our sales and success teams, and then into the customer base itself. But then also positioning myself in such a way to listen to what our customers were telling our sales and success teams and trafficking that back up into product.

So when we hired an SVP of marketing this guy Ryan Hoppe, a mentor of mine came from Spotify, where he was a product marketing leader. He and I sat down, he took a look at what I was doing and listened to my list of tasks that I had assigned to myself. This was outside of my regular responsibilities. I just decided that I felt like we needed to do it.

And he said, "Well, Erik, you're doing product marketing, you're missing some of the other important pieces, pricing, packaging, positioning, some of those conversations, but you're doing a great deal of those tasks that are product marketing related. So I'd love to take you under my wing and bring you over to my team and make you a full-fledged product marketer".

It was there I got a... I wouldn't necessarily say a crash course because I learned a tonne from Ryan, added to my existing knowledge of dealing with customers, dealing with the product team, being able to understand go to market strategy, but then adding to that the other trappings of what makes a product marketer.

From then on forward, I became the VP of product marketing for the company, eventually went over to a company called Wordstream, which is more SMB SaaS focused, and trials and tribulations and different mergers and acquisitions later, I left that company and now I'm here at Crayon, a job I'm terribly excited about.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  6:00

That sounds awesome. I don't know why I'm going to ask this question, because I get the same answer from so many different guests but I'm going to ask it anyway. If there is such a thing, what does a standard day in your role look like?

Erik Mansur  6:14

I think it's a different answer, depending on the size of your company. We're a startup, for the lack of better terms, we just announced a round of funding, a $22 million Series B yesterday. That's a very exciting milestone, but that means that's usually an indicator that we were operating with a small, very scrappy team to begin with. So a day in my life now as the VP of product marketing for a growing startup is different from what it was when I was running a product marketing team back at Wordstream.

Or when I had the ear of the CEO I reported to directly back at a different smaller startup at Nanigans. So not having a team that I can delegate direct tasks to and stuff like that means I'm back to being a jack of all trades, I'm involved in those executive-level conversations, but also doing some of the work myself.

Back to doing some of the writing and some of the planning, some of the putting together a campaign brief for a design on what it is we want to do and how we want to go about doing it. Creating the cross-functional collaboration required in order to erect a particular program. So a day in my life is different every day but I think, just in response to the way you posed the question, working at a small-sized enterprise startup is a hell of a lot different than working at a larger company, where you've got a massive team underneath you.

Suddenly, not only do I become strategic, but at the same time tactical in what it is that I'm trying to do. It's gonna vary from day to day but ultimately, I've always been a person that likes getting my hands dirty. I'm comfortable with the level of writing that I'm actually doing, the level of content and collateral production that I'm doing. It's been pretty exhilarating thus far to sort of get back into hashtag startup life.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  8:06

That sounds exciting, and congratulations on the recent investment. So in terms of teams outside of marketing, like sales, product, operations, etc, which departments would you say you interact with most? And what's your relationship with them like?

Erik Mansur  8:22

Again, when you're working in a small company, you have the opportunity to have a direct line or almost immediate impact on those departments. Because it's not like I have to go through 2, 3, 4 different layers, multiple conversations, cross-functional meetings and email chains in order to get to the decision-maker.

I was literally invited to the sales leadership team meeting an hour before. The actual SVP of sales said, "Erik, I need you to jump in this meeting for us because we're going to be talking about things that relate specifically to your job function", I said great, perfect, I didn't need to invite myself, I was invited.

So my relationship with all of those departments, sales, product, customer success, operations, and otherwise, is made that much easier just due to the lack of bureaucracy that exists at a company of our size. I can drop a line to Brennan, who's our head of customer success right now and he can just jump on the phone with me and we can talk through something and things can get done. It's extremely exhilarating to know that you could do that.

And the fact that I was brought in in such a way where I was able to forge a relationship with each one of those leaders before I even signed on the dotted line to come to the company also helped me along. They knew me before I became a Crayon employee, they knew a little bit about what I was about. So that relationship, I think, for each department is really strong. But I think particularly strong with my direct manager, the CMO of the company, and with the SVP of sales, both of whom I've worked with in the past at different companies.

I would say the second most, firm or sort of solid relationship is with the head of customer success because when I was at Nanigans, I was a Crayon customer. I was a hands-on end-user of our competitive intelligence software and Brendan was part of my team. So I've known Brendan for longer than anybody in the company. Because as a customer success leader, he directly interfaced with a customer like I was back then so I had already built that rapport some 5, 6, 7 years ago.

That's a long-winded answer to your question to say that I wouldn't necessarily say I've got the deepest or the broadest relationship with any one department, as some product marketing leaders would, because of the size of our company, but the opportunity that I've had to sort of strike and forge a relationship with each department to the best that I could equally in order to drive impact in every way possible.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  10:53

Yeah, that sounds great. As you say, in many instances, it's almost a case of chucking all your eggs in one basket isn't it really, as opposed to it sounds like it's very much in your case, you've cast your net much further. And I imagine that makes your job so much easier.

Erik Mansur  11:11

Well, Lawrence, I think you know that product marketing means different things to different companies. There are some companies that treat product marketing really as product marketing in name only. They're a sales enablement team and what they're really responsible for is boosting win rates, they're really responsible for driving sales collateral into the sales team. And that's all they do and they don't have a direct relationship with product. There are plenty of other companies that have product marketing aligned directly with product.

Facebook, for example, I've never had a meeting with a Facebook Product Manager without a product marketing manager sitting right next to them, they finish each other's sentences. There's a great deal of alignment there and there's very minimal alignment on the Facebook side, with PMM and sales and success, it's much closer to product.

The way I've always been treated in my career and the way I work at Crayon is product marketing becomes a pivot point for every part of the organization to come through. Working with finance, working with business operations, working with customer success, sales, marketing, I sort of am able to be in a lot of those meetings and be able to have some measure of influence, or at the very least be a fly on the wall and be able to capture information and redirect it and move it someplace else.

So that's the type of PMM I'd like to be is that pivot point PMM. And the way I've been afforded the opportunity to do so throughout my career.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  12:29

Okay, sounds great. We kind of touched very briefly on your skills as a storyteller, but what would you say the top three skills are that have helped you to get to where you are today, in your current role at Crayon?

Erik Mansur  12:46

I think, probably a lack of ego. I think there was a time in my life, probably my younger days, aged 20, to 30. where everything that I put on paper was perfect, how dare you offer feedback, right? As I've gotten older, and as I've had a large amount of exposure to different companies, different people, different stakeholders, different decision-makers, you sort of pull back on that ego a little bit.

Now I'm very open to feedback, I would much rather have someone who has never read the thing that I wrote, read it for the first time and give me their honesty... even down to a letter or down to sentence structure, what they think. Because that actually helps make you a more humble and more informed product marketer, when you have others who are weighing in based on their own lived experience.

One of the things that I think has made me more successful as a senior product marketing leader, is a willingness to listen, and a willingness to say that my way isn't always perfect, whether it be a process you create, or even a piece of content that you write, wanting to get somebody’s honest opinion on something before you move forward.

You mentioned the storytelling thing that I mentioned earlier, I enjoy being able to convey things in such a way that it has a beginning, middle, and end and has a structure for which people feel like they're being set up and then they listen to the poignant moments, and then it sort of ends and you move on to the next thing. I like telling stories in that way. I think people are more used to reading and hearing and listening and watching stories that way. I like having a structure to the way I go about conveying a message and conveying an idea.

And the process is another thing, adherence to the process. When you come into a startup you want to be able to say "Okay, what is my process for going about doing this?" And if there isn't one, then it's imperative for me to create it. I went to a startup, my previous job, and they had no real go-to-market process. It was very loosely held together.

There was very little of tying certain stakeholders together, whether it be the training team, whether it be the customer success team, sales, and otherwise. And it comes to a point where you sort of have to get all those stakeholders in the room or get them to look at the same big product rollout document, and make sure everybody knows that they have certain tasks that they need to achieve. There's a waterfall effect that has to happen first before this thing happens.

I think the process is another thing that I think has helped make me into a better product marketer is that not only adherence to it but a willingness to fill a process hole with a good process that can be repeatable and scalable, moving forward.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  15:39

Okay. And in terms of your role that you've got at Crayon, would you say that there's any crossover at all between what you do and what a product manager does?

Erik Mansur  15:51

I don't know. I think so. And I think only in so far as customer research. So as I said before, I think there's a certain amount of feedback that comes into play with what I do and what we do in product marketing.

When you think about it, a product manager will go to a customer and pitch them a user story, they'll say, "As a user, like yourself, you want to be able to do this x, to be able to solve for y, in order to achieve outcomes z", it's a standard product manager tell a user story thing.

If the customer agrees to that, then the UX manager comes in and the UX manager says, "Well, we've designed it like this, instantly, can you see where we would have put that behind this button, or underneath this hamburger menu or whatever", the user experience becomes another portion of feedback that goes into the creation of the product itself.

That's when product marketing comes in to say, "Okay, now that you know what the user story is, what the thing is supposed to do on your behalf. And now you know, the way it looks the way it feels within the software itself, I want to be able to tell the story, what's the best name for this feature? What's the best way to position this feature, both within our existing feature set and against perhaps competitive solutions or other SaaS solutions in the market?"

So I think that there's a bit of overlap with both product management, but also user experience design, in that we want to be able to gather feedback, oftentimes from the same customer, but ask them three different questions.

Does this actually solve the need? Is it easy for you to use in order to solve your need? And if I were to be marketing to somebody who is just like you, but not you, because you're already aware of it, would I be able to use this language in order to speak to the need that this feature solves? Does that make sense?

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  17:45

Yeah, absolutely. What does the process of introducing new products and features look like at Crayon? And how does this compare to the previous places where you worked?

Erik Mansur  17:57

So our product team is incredibly well immersed within our customer base. I think more so than any company that I've ever worked at. Crayon has instilled a sense of advocacy, a sense of passion amongst our customer base around the concept of competitive intelligence.

15 years ago, there wasn't a job title for the Salesforce administrator, that wasn't a thing you could hire somebody to do. It was only because Salesforce reinvigorated people's understanding of what CRM tools could be, you then now have whole certification processes around the use of Salesforce back-end tools.

A lot of our customers think about competitive intelligence the same way, in that they probably had a product marketing team that was broadly responsible for competitive intelligence but they didn't really have set up a competitive intelligence program, or a team that was entirely in charge of competitive intelligence as a discipline until they got Crayon.

Crayon was sort of their gateway drug into having a true competitive intelligence program very similar to the way you wouldn't have a Salesforce admin without Salesforce, now you've got entire companies that have a competitive intelligence team as a result of having installed Crayon and making it part of their company's DNA. As a result, our product team is very, very focused on the customer experience, and what features and functionality they're looking for.

When our product team does come out with a new feature, whether it be a large one, like updated battle cards, or a new way to track and understand customer information, customer data, it's already been very well vetted amongst our existing customer base. So it isn't really imperative for us to do a broadcast email out to our customers because a great deal of those customers have already seen this messaging, has already been able to see the Figma or the InDesign mocks of what it looks like.

What it's really important for me to do is to get this into the sales team's hands, and making sure they understand that as they're now going to market, as they're having demos and discovery calls, they're able to speak to this new feature and speak to the challenges for which we're trying to solve with this feature to a prospect. Because our customers, once they see it, they understand it, they very readily grasp it, because that's their feedback being heard, understood, accepted, and then delivered upon.

In answer to your question, another long-winded one, Lawrence, I apologize, the go-to-market process for us at Crayon really means making sure the sales team is aware and making sure our customer success team, who is already generally aware, and then adjusting the sales collateral, the website, a number of different things that are required, in order to make sure that the audience more broadly is aware of what it is we're doing and why it is we're doing it.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  20:54

Okay, and just speaking with you throughout the podcast, and before we hit record, it's really clear you are so passionate about product marketing. But obviously, as is the case with anything, there's invariably, nine times out of 10, space for improvement. In your opinion, what would you change about product marketing to make it even better than it is?

Erik Mansur  21:21

That's a good question. And the reason why I think it is, is because I think back to Thanksgiving dinner, pre-COVID, the vast majority of the time I would spend time with family and friends, I would have to explain what it is that I do. My in-laws, my wife's cousin's husband is a firefighter, and my brother-in-law’s an engineer. They say what they do and people are like, "Oh, no, I get it".

I say, I'm a product marketing executive and they're like, "what's product marketing?" So I think the thing I would love to see change about product marketing is it to become a term to art, something that is more ubiquitous in the business world, people understand what accounting is, people understand what software engineering is, people understand what customer success is, I'd like people to have a better understanding of what product marketing does.

Because not only is it just anecdotal understanding about what the job function is but also the knock-on effect of this is people understanding the impact that product marketing can have on the bottom line of the business.

I think that's really, as a community of product marketers, I think that's something we should be trying to do as a group, as a collective, to be able to raise the profile of product marketing as a job function, as a discipline and make it top of mind for not just growing companies but high growth or medium growth companies.

But also the biggest enterprises in the world to make sure that they can put their product marketers to the forefront and say, this team, while there's a litany of intangibles that product marketing does have as part of the job, it's also making a sizable impact and they are sometimes just as important as the brand marketers or the demand Gen people or the content marketers that exist within the organization.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  23:08

Okay, and you mentioned product marketing is a job function, if there are any new or aspiring product marketers listening to the podcast, what would your advice be to them to help them get the most out of their product marketing journey?

Erik Mansur  23:21

I would say read, read, read, read, read. The thing is, there are some four-year universities that do offer degrees now in product marketing so that the education system around the globe is slowly catching up to this being an industry in and of itself. But I would say most people leave college, leave university not necessarily wanting to be a product marketer, they come to discover it on their own.

So I would say read a lot of the books that are out there about product marketing, obviously awesome, things like Crossing the Chasm. These legendary business books speak to some of the aspects of product marketing that people just "oh my finance team will handle pricing", well actually no pricing should involve product marketing in some way.

Or positioning and packaging, "Oh, well the brand team will handle that or the marketing team will handle that", well, no product marketing, you should be involved in those conversations. Being able to be someone who could speak to those things cogently requires you to have some of that advanced knowledge, understanding product-market fit versus solution market fit, these are types of concepts that again, the vast majority of four-year institutions aren't necessarily teaching, it's not a PMM 101 course.

I think it's imperative for people who want to break into the product marketing industry, to start doing some of that research and sort of putting themselves through 101 and 201 and 301 courses on their own, to be able to have those conversations and be able to speak fervently about the role that them as a new and young, as an up and coming product marketer should have within the company that they're currently a part of.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  25:04

On the back of that, to be honest, I'm going to throw in a shameless plug there because we have a product marketing reading list on the PMA website that you can check out. If you are thinking about jumping into product marketing or if you want to develop your existing product marketing skills, head over, check it out.

Erik Mansur  25:21

I like that, throwing in shameless plugs. Do I get to do that, too? Am I allowed to do a shameless plug?

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  25:27

Erik, I have no shame whatsoever. I'm known for it. I'll chuck it in. It's been an awesome chat. I've really enjoyed it. Just to round off, obviously, this year has gone super quick. We're already almost at the halfway point but what do you think the rest of 2021 has in store for the product marketing community?

Erik Mansur  25:54

It's a good question. What I think is actually going to happen is product marketers are going to continue to be the repository for tasks and projects within a company that they don't know the right place to put it. I think product marketers should anticipate that, particularly as new technologies are emerging. I've mentioned this before and obviously, one of the reasons why I'm here is that I work for a company that does competitive intelligence software.

I think people are now really waking up to this notion of competitive intelligence being a valuable tool, something that you have to have as part of your company's DNA in order to be successful. It doesn't just affect sales enablement, it affects every other part of the organization, whether it be helping customer success fend off competitors, going after sharks in the water, going after your existing customers.

Whether it be your finance team, understanding what other companies out there in your space are taking on funding or who are hiring in certain executive roles. Whether it be executive management, wanting to make more strategic decisions, or even your product team, wanting to be able to have a better understanding of what the product roadmap should be.

So I think product marketers need to be ready to receive those types of requests, those types of tasks, "Hey, at a glance, can you tell me what x y z competitor is doing? How much funding they've taken on, where they are hiring, and what their last three big product releases are?" If a product marketer is not able to answer that question early on, and quickly, then some other department in the org is going to end up taking that on.

I think it's important for product marketers to be anticipatory of the type of tasks they're going to get thrown at them, and perhaps immerse themselves in the type of tasks that perhaps were once tangential, but now really could fall directly on the PMMs plate. Namely, something like competitive intelligence, which is something I work directly in, it's part of my DNA now.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  27:52

Awesome. Erik, it has been an absolute pleasure, thank you so much for your time, and all the very best for the rest of 2021. And again, congratulations on the investment.

Erik Mansur  28:04

Well, Lawrence, I would be remiss if I didn't throw in a shameless plug. We are offering listeners of the Product Marketing Insider podcast a free competitive landscape report, all you do is type in your email address and your list of competitors and we get back to you with a comprehensive competitive analysis across your entire competitive landscape.

Whether it be website rank and social reach, revenue and funding history, an in-depth history of messaging shifts, you can get all of that for free for listeners of this podcast. You've just got to go to crayon.co/PMM-Insider , email address, list of competitors, and boom, you've got a competitive landscape report sitting in your email box a few hours later.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  28:59

Sounds great. There we go, head over there and grab your free slice of the pie.

Erik Mansur  29:06

I love it. Lawrence, it has been a pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  29:09

Thank you very much, Erik. Cheers mate. Thank you.