In this week’s episode of Product Marketing Insider, we were joined by Greg Davis, an experienced product marketer and Gusto’s former PMM. We discussed his career spanning PMM, PM, start-ups, and more and how product marketing has played a role in each, how the teams he worked with changed based on the org and his views on the perfect PMM scope, his passion for product, his top tips for PMMs planning to go solo, advice for aspiring PMMs and heaps more.

Full transcript:

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  0:03

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 thrilled to be joined by Greg Davis, formerly Product Marketing Manager at Gusto. Greg has experience in product marketing, product management, business development, sales and strategy with many of the roles he's taken, mostly taking place at startups. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me, Greg.

Greg Davis  0:29

Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  0:32

Oh, no, it's our pleasure. First of all, to kick off, can I just ask what it was in the first place that made you want to become a product marketer?

Greg Davis  0:43

Yeah, let's see. Well, I set out to become a tech co-founder. I started a company that had no business [inaudible], the only reason I did it is that I was too eager to know how hard it would be to actually have a successful company, raise money, hire and train people, and actually sell a product. But while I was there, initially I was leading our business development and customer developer work and trying to figure out what it is we need to build.

Then I tried to sell it before it was a real product, and then during the second half of the almost four years I was there, I actually was the product manager too. And obviously, we were first time entrepreneurs, made a tonne of mistakes, ran into the ground, had to let everything go, wind down the company.

I was like, well, crap, I've been living off my credit card for the past year, I need to make actual money because I'm terribly in debt at the moment. I was like, what am I actually even qualified to do at a company, a real company? Where they have real roles? I was looking around, and was sort of like, well, I'm kind of good at selling things but there are definitely better people. I'm okay at building product, but I'm sure there are better people, where do I still get to do all these things, which I'm really interested in? Is there a role for me?

I kind of stumbled upon product marketing, because you got to sit in the middle of this triangle between customers, the product team, and the sales team. You have to kind of be second best at all of those things in order to be an effective product marketer. Just by process of elimination of what I was qualified and interested to do, I found product marketing.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  2:49

Would you consider yourself, I've spoken to other people on the show, and they've kind of just said, 'Oh, I classify myself as almost like an accidental product marketer', would you say it'd be fair to put yourself into that category as well?

Greg Davis  3:07

Yeah, I'd say that's pretty fair. Yeah.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  3:10

Okay. In terms of once you did fall into the industry, can you explain what your first job in product marketing looked like?

Greg Davis  3:20

[Inaudible] a big data analytics, without a clue what I was doing. Also, we sold more enterprise type deals. I found product marketing, when you're selling to the enterprise is much more sales enablement driven. Because if you think about what's the highest value activity? Well, it's probably to close a $5 million sale. So a lot of time and effort goes into various positioning, but it didn't manifest so much on like a website, or in emails, it was more about deal support.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  4:13

Okay, and how about from that initial role in product marketing, to now in your position at Gusto, can you just talk us through what your career path looked like from then to where we are here in 2020?

Greg Davis  4:38

Well, it kind of started off as just sort of like your standard IC product marketer kind of learning the trade and getting jobs. From there, I went to a company called Intercom, which had a really strong product marketing culture. I joined as a senior PMM. Initially, I just was leading a product or two, eventually got promoted, and then started to expand scope to multiple products, and then also started managing a few people.

Then from there made the change over to Gusto to actually largely a similar role. Still managing a few folks and owning several different products at a time and probably weighing more on not just product strategy, but also company product strategy as well. So a natural progression from individual products to management to broadening scope in terms of what you need to think about.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  6:05

Okay, awesome. And in terms of, maybe in your last role, or if we could maybe focus on how this varied, what did your direct team look like in terms of numbers and roles in the product marketing function?

Greg Davis  6:24

Yeah, I think you'll find this in most places, it's always pretty small teams. So, at Intercom, I managed up to three people, and then at Gusto, it was two. In terms of like levels of seniority at Intercom, it was everywhere from junior almost new grad, or like second job type of folks all the way up to very senior IC level folks on the cusp of management. And then at Gusto, it was two fairly senior members of the team as well.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  7:02

Okay. And in terms of teams outside of marketing, such as sales, product, operations, etc. Which departments would you say that you have interacted with the most in your role as a product marketer? And what's your relationship with these teams look like?

Greg Davis  7:24

Where I've always invested most of my time and also, just because I'm also most interested in is the product team. I think there are definitely different types of product marketers, but what I always thought we should be doing is being two sides of kind of the same coin with our product counterparts.

Really thinking about the same problems, being involved early on in product decisions, even the design sprint phase for a new thing before a line of code is written. And really being a partner to them, and even bringing different perspectives and a healthy tension to what it is we're doing and why. But for me, by far and away, the most important team is the product team.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  8:16

Okay, and in an absolute dream world, I know we don't live in a dream world even more so in 2020, what does the ideal relationship between product marketing and other areas or departments look like within a company? What do you think is needed for a really conducive working relationship?

Greg Davis  8:49

Well, to be honest, it's probably focus. Because product marketing suffers similar problems to copywriting, product design, brand design, in that we're sort of shared services across the organization. So any PMM can cover one to nine product teams and when you're supporting more than two or three... well, I guess the ideal is support about one or two product teams so you can actually go deep on what the topic is, become a real expert on the space, form opinions about where you need to be going and why.

Really earn the respect of the product team to show that you are really on board with what they're doing, you understand the strategy, you understand the constraints, and you can be a really deeply embedded strategic member of that team. But because we're kind of usually split across many different product teams and product areas, it's hard to do that. But I think ideally, that's what I'd like to see is a PMM supporting one or two PMs instead of like five or eight. I think that allows you to go deep and have much more value and impact on the org.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  10:05

Yeah, sure. It's interesting that you say product marketers are almost in the same boat as say a graphic designer or a copywriter or something. I mean, would you say or have you experienced instances whereby yourself as a product marketer it's almost like being overly stretched? Have you experienced instances whereby it's almost like the role's underappreciated or undervalued?

Greg Davis  10:39

I mean, yeah. I've been in situations where, obviously, you can't actively support all these, but we've been tasked with supporting eight or nine different product managers. I don't think that, honestly... I mean it's undervalued in terms of the company did not allocate the resources to add headcount to support the product teams in a ratio that's viable. But I don't think that any of the teams ever underappreciated product marketing's impact and help with what they're doing.

I think that almost everyone has seen the value that product marketing can bring in the difference of perspective. But no, yeah, I mean, on many occasions, supported way too many people, and then it just becomes a ruthless prioritization exercise where, even in the best of times, not 2020, you can't devote equal time and effort to all the things you're doing. You have to pick what is the highest value to the business, to the strategy, and focus on that.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  11:54

It does seem to be a recurring skill, if you like, that's been identified by more product marketers that I've spoken to. It's just all about, as you say, prioritization - making sure that you're picking the most important parts and rolling with it. On that note, what would you say the top three skills are that have helped you get to where you are today?

Greg Davis  12:22

Yeah, I mean, I think that prioritization has to be on that list, I don't think they're stack ranked, but prioritization is really key. I think that that's really what separates more junior product marketers from more senior ones, is being able to figure out what I need to say no to and what I need to spend time on. So that would definitely be one.

I think the other one is being really at heart, maybe you're not the greatest, but you are a true product person. You care about interactions in the app, you care about the design, you know how the product works. Someone that can have a conversation with their PM and say smart, intelligent, insightful things. I think that really having product, interest, enthusiasm, and some ability to really play in the product strategy space is incredibly important.

Lastly, I think it's kind of like customer obsession, you really have to deeply understand the pains, the jobs to be done, whatever it might be of your customers. And hold that very dear to you and make sure that you're always thinking about whatever it is we're doing, whether it be the strategy, whether it be the next feature, whether it be the marketing, from that customer-centric perspective.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  13:59

Okay, and as we mentioned in the intro, you've also worked with startups as well, and with the current COVID or Coronavirus pandemic that's going on at the minute, we're seeing more product marketers set up shop on their own, and just go with and go with their own venture.

What would be your tip or your golden nugget of information that you'd like to give people who maybe are launching their own product marketing enterprise, if you like, at the moment and rolling with it alone? Is there almost something that you would want to communicate to those people who are setting off on their own adventure?

Greg Davis  14:48

I mean, it's tough. I think at that point, you're actually becoming probably more sales. So it's about relationships, it's about being able to position yourself. It's about using those people you've worked with in the past to get the opportunities. I think at that point, as much as it's like the work you do as a product marketer, it's about your ability to win business. And so you have to think about it more from a sales perspective.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  15:27

Yeah, sure, and that almost brings home again that diverse nature of the product marketing function, doesn't it? I totally see where you're coming from. In the previous roles that you've held yourself, would you say that there's been a cross over at all between what you've had to do and what a PM has done at your company?

Greg Davis  15:51

There is, I mean, I think that it's different, though. I think that a PMM, or a PM for that matter, should be able to if someone said, 'oh, your partner is gone', you should be able to step into that role and perform functionally at that. But there are definitely differences in terms of what it is a PM does, they have to think about all the constraints, the time to market, the legacy architecture that needs to be changed in order to do this, or why we can and can't do it. So they are thinking about a very different problem set a lot of the time.

But I think that a PMM should, if someone said, 'Hey, you got to PM this new feature build' you should be able to do that. That should be something that you feel comfortable with and you know the role well enough from having those strong relationships to be able to do that.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  16:55

Could you clarify as to what your stance is on where you think the role of a PM and a PMM begins and ends? And do you think there should be lines in terms of their responsibilities?

Greg Davis  17:12

PMM is definitely more focused on the go-to-market, is taking whatever it is that we're building, and putting the best face on it humanly possible to get the most people to adopt, appreciate or, want to spend money on your product. Obviously, that's the part we own. The PM definitely owns the build phase, where we're actually trying to bring this concept to life.

But I think that there's a tremendous amount of overlap in the very early stages of the process about what it is we should build, who we should build it for, is this worth building because it will help differentiate us in the marketplace? I think that's where the lines are the most blurry between PM and PMM is what we should build and why at the earliest phase before we necessarily actually set out to build it.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  18:13

Okay, and in terms of product launches, and introducing new features, what does that look like in different phases of your career? The actual process of introducing new products and features at different companies, and how does that compare or has there been much difference in the techniques that have been implemented from the very first company you were at to where you've just been now?

Greg Davis  18:49

Early in my career, the first time I probably did product marketing was at the startup that I founded, I didn't have an effing clue about how to do it. I was like, 'Oh, let's send some emails, let's get a booth' there was no strategy to it. It was just a series of tactics that we read about in other places, and just trying to do them haphazardly in a way that's probably not very performant or measured. Then the next roll, we had a little bit of an idea of how we go-to-market or at least a better idea of the customer and how they bought.

But it's still because it was more of an enterprise shop, big launches really don't matter if you're a Series A startup trying to sell to fortune 500 companies because they're not really paying attention to what you're doing anyway. Then we got to Intercom and at Intercom, it was interesting because there was a real following, we did a lot of content that the startup community really appreciated and really followed. And there was a lot of enthusiasm amongst the customer base about the new things we did.

There was your classic launch rubric, we had certain activities s for different tiers of launch, and it was a real professional organization and really had an understanding of how we took things to market, and why, and who they're for. At Gusto it was the same, I think that Gusto is even a little bit more concerned with the measurement of different tactics than Intercom was, but once again, had your classic four-tier launch rubric, sets of activities associated with that, and working with different teams to activate different channels.

I think that as I become more seasoned, I have a better idea of the different things you need to do and why would they be performant? And measure them effectively because sometimes your assumptions don't actually turn out to be true. But yeah, it definitely with kind of more mature organizations and more mature thinking about the launch, it's become more sophisticated.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  21:18

And in terms of product marketing itself, at the end of the day, it's your vocation, it's what you do, you're going to be passionate about it and love it, but there are always areas that some people would say could be changed, some things could be improved. Is this a viewpoint that you share? And in your opinion, what would you say could be done to make product marketing even better than it is already?

Greg Davis  21:57

I think what we touched on earlier, where it's about the right-sizing teams, and giving people the ability to actually focus and go deep, I think would be a major improvement, because I think that in many organizations, product marketing probably isn't funded to a scale that say product management is. I think if you're hiring really quality folks that have good product instincts that really understand the market if they had more time to be able to devote to a specific problem or a specific product, you're going to see more impact.

If you spread those organizations really thin, you'll get that sporadically, or the PMM won't have time to actually go deep on the 'who is this for?' 'how is this different?' doing all of the analysis needed to really make sure that the positioning and the tactics are spot on. Because frankly, they only heard about it two weeks ago, and they're working on three other projects, and they don't have the time to devote to actually do that. So I think right-sizing PMM to the realities of your org and investing in it in a way that needs to be done, will lead to much better results.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  23:17

It's quite interesting as well that you say there's not as much or doesn't seem to be as much investment in product marketing as there is in product management, what do you think can be done by product marketers to prompt greater buy-in from key stakeholders?

Because we have spoken with product marketers who highlighted that as being a particular challenge, securing buy-in for the product marketing function can be quite tough at times, is this something that you've encountered yourself at all? And as I say, what can be done to improve that situation?

Greg Davis  24:07

Yeah, I don't know. It's kind of like fundamental changes in the way that business is measured, right? Because R&D gets a cut of company budget and it's like, that's it. And then product marketing usually counts against CAC. And so you're kind of incentivized from business metrics to run really lean on your marketing team. So I don't know what could be done with that. For example, potentially marketing could be org-ed similar to a product team where you have a product manager, a designer, and engineers, or some combination of a self-contained team for every product.

There's no necessary reason why you have to org it the way we do where there's brand design, product marketing to some extent, performance marketing, all shared resources that have to touch on everything. You could make them all self-contained teams, but then the headcount would go up. So I don't exactly know what the actual solve is, but to some extent the way in which almost all companies org maybe needs to be rethought.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  25:20

Yeah. Given the role of product marketing though, that it can play in the success of a company, in that it can be such a fundamental role of not only short term goals, but also the facilitation of long term goals, as well, are you somewhat surprised by sometimes key stakeholders or C-suiters turning around and almost - I wouldn't say dismissing product marketers, I don't think that's the right phrase - almost not attributing, or perhaps not attributing the importance to the function as perhaps it deserves?

Greg Davis  26:00

This statement is becoming less true but it's still kind of a new thing, right? New as in 10 years or so, before that you didn't really see them. So I'm wondering if it's a case where some leaders grew up before it was a thing. Or they basically as they were coming up the ladder, they just didn't interact or experience it, so they don't really understand the value it can provide. That's a wild ass guess.

I don't really know because it makes sense that you really care about it, because you invest all this effort in trying to build this thing, these things or these products and product marketing is the stewards that are making sure that when you actually bring that to life, someone actually gives a shit. It seems like something you'd really want to invest in because you've invested all that time and resource into actually building it and staffing teams to do it. When you talk through it, it makes sense why this is a really important role. But yeah, I think that overall, teams are usually run pretty lean.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  27:27

Yeah, the analogy that I always think of, that I would apply to it, it's almost like investing in a soccer team and refusing to buy any good players. It just doesn't make sense, but anyway, we get a lot of aspiring or new product marketers who tune into the show, as somebody who's been in product marketing, you're not a newbie by any means now, what would your advice to them be as they start their own journey in product marketing?

Greg Davis  28:04

Let's see. I mean, I think once again, it all starts with the product. Get curious, if there's a company that you're trying to... this is hard, because some are behind firewalls, they're not necessarily consumer products and so you can't actually go and experience every product or every company that you're trying to apply for, but really go as deep as you can in understanding how it works, who their customers are, because there's usually subtle differences.

Usually, the people are trying to exploit to get certain markets, like Gusto was very focused on the SMB market and so really understanding what that small customer looks like, needs, wants from the product is really, really important and is going to serve you well in an interview. But it's really going deep on the product, going deep on the customer, who they are, how that's different than somebody else, or some other kind of competitor.

Then also the last part is forming an opinion about it. It's one thing to know it but then it's the next step I always look for an interview is someone who can connect the dots. If I know this about the customer and I think this about the product that equals what? Or what new thing or what insight? So I think it's kind of like using that understanding to develop some insight or some opinion that hopefully is slightly different. So always looking at the problems from that perspective.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  29:44

Okay, awesome. Obviously, we're at the end of a pretty wretched year...

Greg Davis  29:52

Total shit actually.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  29:55

To say the very least, but with 2021 on the horizon hopefully, we've got an exciting new year where we can start from scratch and can kick on. For product marketing itself, what do you see around the corner? If you were to whip out your crystal ball and make a prediction for next year, what would that be?

Greg Davis  30:21

I think it's going to be continuing to wrestle with what are the metrics that product marketing truly owns? I think that potentially getting more clarity on that or more standardization across the board, will enable product marketing to elevate the impact it has on an organization. That might be one of the things that hold us back today is just the fact that almost every metric that a product marketer says they own whether it's like CSAT or NPS or anything, it's all shared. It's really hard to claim in total that metric or their impact on the world.

You can do that with launches to some extent. But I think it's just getting more of a standard set of metrics that product marketing owns at every single place that we can really show impact and fight for budget and it's easier for teams to understand what is the value we bring to the org.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  31:31

Well, thank you so much for joining me, Greg. It's been an absolute pleasure talking to you and I hope that 2021 brings great success. As I say, thank you so much for joining me on Product Marketing Insider.

Greg Davis  31:48

Thanks so much for having me and hopefully this is somewhat interesting to someone.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  31:55

I'm sure it will be. Thank you very much.