We caught up with Lemax’s Product Marketing Lead, Igor Kranjcec, and in our fascinating conversation, he tells us why he decided to switch jobs to become the first product marketer at a travel company in the midst of a global pandemic, his advice for PMMs considering moving to a company as their first PMM, where he thinks the line should be drawn between PMMs and PMs, plus his top three skills that have propelled his career, visions for the future, and heaps more.

Full transcript:

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  0:01

Today I'm delighted to be joined by Igor Kranjcec, Product Marketing Lead at Lemax. The first Croatian ambassador for Product Marketing Alliance, Igor has over five years of experience in customer and product marketing, during which time he's specialized in SaaS products in both the B2B and B2C world. Igor uses his extensive knowledge of product analytics, external knowledge management, retention, cross-sell and upsell activities to build relationships and loyalty with fellow product marketers, teams within the company, as well as his customers. During the show, we'll be exploring his role in product marketing, as well as his route into the industry in more detail. But for now, a huge welcome to the show, Igor.

Igor Kranjcec  1:26

Thank you, Lawrence, thank you for having me, I'm happy to be here.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  1:29

The pleasure is all ours. So first and foremost, could you just tell us a little bit more about the product marketing role that you have at Lemax, please?

Igor Kranjcec  1:40

Sure. I joined Lemax about four months ago, and I'm product marketing lead. I am the first product marketing hire in Lemax, meaning right now I'm building not only the team from scratch but also all of the product marketing processes and everyday product marketing life inside Lemax, meaning everything you know from defining the positioning and messaging, the voice of the customer, product and sales enablement, content and so on. So building everything from scratch. Maybe just to give people a little insight on what else Lemax does at this point. We are a software company that specializes in products for tour operators and travel agencies. We are here to make their job easier. We are a group of about 100 people. And Fun fact when I was deciding to join Lemax at the beginning of this year, it was the peak of the pandemic, especially in Europe, tourism was down and everybody was saying you know, are you sure you're going to the tourism industry? But at that point, I saw that what was happening especially with the pandemic is that the need for digitalization in tourism is huge. And I saw a huge opportunity to contribute to, you know, changing the industry and how the industry works and it was an easy decision after that.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  3:12

It's definitely a bold move, certainly in the midst of the pandemic.

Igor Kranjcec  3:20

Yeah, it was a leap of faith and with every day I'm more sure that it was a good decision.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  3:25

Oh, fantastic. And so what was it that made you want to be a product marketer in the first place?

Igor Kranjcec  3:32

So I love software development a lot. But I'm also obsessed with the customer. So being a product manager I was lacking the customer side, the extensive customer side in that role. I love sales, but I don't love sales targets. So I enjoy more sales training and sales enablement. And I love marketing, but more of the bottom of the funnel marketing. So concrete stuff, not only the distribution, and when I saw the product marketing job description I was like, "Okay, this has everything that I like and this is the direction I should go into".

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  4:17

Yeah, when we were completing the recent state of product marketing report, we found that when we surveyed product marketers, we stumbled across people who almost entered product marketing accidentally. Would you say that you fall into that category?

Igor Kranjcec  4:38

Well, yeah, it was accidentally because I was in my previous company before I was doing legit product marketing. My job had a lot of things to do with product marketing. So I had a big customer base. It was the second-largest telecom in Croatia. I was a customer base manager. I did a lot of product development, I did a lot of communication with the customers, I did a lot of feature releases and so on, but it was not product marketing, per se. And when I was approached by the next company with this role, and when they sent me the job description I was like, "Yeah, that's what I want to do". And that's how I fell into the role. You could say, accidentally.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  5:24

Okay and in terms of your first job in product marketing, strictly in product marketing, how has that morphed from your initial exposure in product marketing to where you are now? How do you see your role or the evolution of your role so far?

Igor Kranjcec  5:46

Well, so my first concrete role of product marketing, real product marketing, everything I've experienced or had before was all worth a lot, was helpful. And my role since has evolved because I started with minor tasks and minor things and evolved quickly to bigger projects to bigger things. And I always wanted to be more strategic, I always wanted to have a lot more responsibilities on the strategic level. So going into the lead direction, and not only into an expert direction was something that I really wanted to. And finally, with switching to Lemax it's something that I have the opportunity to do.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  6:29

And in terms of building a product marketing team, at a well-established company, what advice would you give to product marketers who are aspiring to follow in your footsteps and set up their own internal team?

Igor Kranjcec  6:43

Well, to be honest, besides only deciding do I really want a switch job amidst a pandemic one of the things that I was considering was, do I want to come to a company that was on the market for years now and to establish a new team and in some way, disrupt the way they're working right now. And definitely, when I thought about it, the answer was yes, it is something that I would like to do. So it's definitely challenging. It's a lot of work because you're changing current processes, you're changing, sometimes even well-established processes that work, but with product marketing, they can be better. So my advice to the PMMs that are coming to teams that are well established, but they do not have product marketing and they're building it is to be persistent, to have quick wins because you need to get buy-in from the stakeholders. And you need sponsorship from the senior management, from other people in the company. And the best way to do it is to very fast, show them the value of product marketing, and how product marketing can elevate the company and how it can help internally and externally in scaling the company further.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  8:06

Yeah, absolutely. Because ultimately, if you're trying to implement a new change in something in a huge company that is seemingly flawless in the eyes of the stakeholders, there needs to be an instantaneous reaction in terms of the value of product marketing, so I can totally see where you're coming from with that. And so moving on to your almost like a standard day in the life of a product marketer, from your perspective, what does that look like in your role exactly?

Igor Kranjcec  8:42

What's a standard day? I don't think that right now, that exists. First and foremost,  I'm currently working on operational tasks, such as setting the release management, such as doing customer interviews and everything. And I'm also on the more strategic part like planning the roadmap, how will we communicate the roadmap? And on the other hand, I'm also building the team, which means I'm extensively having interviews, people in the interviews, and it's never the same day. So it's fun. It's the fun of it, to be honest. Sometimes you have to stop and just see the results because you're having a feeling that you're doing a lot of stuff simultaneously and you have zero results, but then you have to stop and look at the stuff that you did. And that's something that propels you further so there's not a standard day at the moment. I'm not even sure that I want it, but for now, it's fun to have each and every day different and you plan your week on Monday, what you're going to do and on Tuesday you're like "Yeah that plan was, it was not feasible". So, right now, it's fun, but as the team will grow, it will become more of a standard thing.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  10:12

Yeah. And I imagine for people who are transitioning into product marketing, and again, not to harp on about the state of marketing report, but it is relevant to what you're saying. We found people are coming in from all sorts of walks of life, we had people in aviation, we had people from teaching, coming into product marketing, and I suppose, going back to what you were saying that element of not being able to predict what is coming your way every single day, I imagine that's something that does appeal about the role. I've found already, I've been with PMA myself since March, and I found in my short time here that every day is different, so I totally, totally understand where you're coming from. So in terms of the team that you work with directly, can you tell the listeners a little bit about the direct team in terms of numbers and the roles of your colleagues?

Igor Kranjcec  11:16

Right now we are a small team of two, I am happy to say that the other person onboarded is also a PMA ambassador. So we are a strong, strong team at the beginning. The plan is to have also another one or two colleagues up until the end of the year. Plus, I'm also inside the product marketing team, the digital marketing managers, because I think that those two should work closely together. And I think it's a good thing for both of the sides to have them together to have them learning about the product, learning about sales strategies and everything else. So right now as I said, it's a team of two which aim to be at least a team of four by the end of the year. Since we are a small team right now it's mostly we can do our tasks on a daily basis and there's no need for doing the task a week ahead and so on. So right now we are who has time for what and what's highest on the list of the priorities will be done. But the future plan kinda is to play off people's strengths, to play off what people like about product marketing because the role is so wide that you can do some stuff and never touch something else inside the role. So, what will playoff is what people like, what are their strengths and give them that as their responsibilities or even if something is not in their strong suit and they want to work more on it, they will get those tasks but for now, we are, day to day basis, week to week basis, working on priorities and what comes first.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  13:05

Okay. And in terms of teams outside of the product marketing team such as sales, product, operations, etc, which departments would you say you interact with the most? And what's your relationship with them like?

Igor Kranjcec  13:21

When we talk about the team's outside product marketing, and let's even say outside product development, because with marketing and product development it's a standard communication, a standard cooperation. What I'm happy to say is that we have a very good collaboration with sales teams. That's not always the case when I speak even to other product marketers. Those relationships can sometimes be challenging. But I'm really happy to say that here we have, it's very refreshing to see the good relationship we have. Learning from previous experiences, I've learned that you have to get on board with salespeople, you have to speak their language, you have to understand that you have common goals. And if you work together to achieve those common goals, you will also achieve your individual ones, and you're not a competition, you're a part of the same company and you need to work together. One of the teams that I've never collaborated before and it's the first time since I joined Lemax is the implementation team. We have a big implementation team that works with the client, in the maybe most vulnerable period of the client lifecycle, which is onboarding and collaboration with them for me was eye-opening. Because usually, you don't get a lot of insights if you don't work directly with the customer during the onboarding phase and having someone internally that is working so closely with the onboarding, because we are a high touch product, so the onboarding is always person to person. Having those insights is phenomenal, to see what the customers need, what problems are we solving, what is their reaction to the product? It was so, so cool for me to see something like this. And as I said, it's my first time having a department like this as a partner inside the company, and I think it's phenomenal.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  15:39

That's great to hear. I mean, it ties in massively with what we've been told when we spoke with other product marketers, as far as collaboration is concerned. And it's quite interesting to hear you bring up that word several times within that answer. It seems to be a recurring theme the collaboration, a product marketer who is unwilling to collaborate, they're only going to be swimming against the tide almost. So it's really interesting that you bring that up. And so in an absolute dream world, is there anything about those aforementioned relationships between product marketers and other teams that you'd like to see changed? Or is there anything, in particular, that isn't in place now that you wish were in place? Is there anything that you would like to see change at all?

Igor Kranjcec  16:39

I think the dream world is close as far as my current experience goes. When I think about it, what I'm trying to work on really hard, and I think it's very important is to establish an internal partnership between departments and between people where we are not fighting for the customer’s attention, or customer credit, but we are working together to provide that customer with the best possible product or the best possible experience with the best possible learnings you know, to help them, to guide them, and provide them to give them what they actually bought, and to be not only a transactional company where you just charge your customers for the service you give them but to be really a partner and for that, I think product marketing is quite important. But it's something product marketing cannot do themselves. They need help from all of the departments and all of the people they're collaborating with. So, in a dream world, those collaborations would be seamless, and it would be a means to make a really good experience towards customers.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  17:53

Sure, and in addition to this collaboration, the skill of collaboration that does seem to be rearing its head the more I speak to product marketers, what would you say the top three skills are, or three additional skills that have helped you along the way to get to where you are at this point in time.

Igor Kranjcec  18:19

If I continue with collaboration, and if we switch to skills, what I was thinking about this is cross-functional leadership, I needed to find a word or a phrase how to describe the skill. So Google helped me to be honest because I know that it was not only about the teamwork because it's one thing to have the teamwork but it's the other thing to lead people without authority if we call it that way, and it's there to guide the people and to push everyone in the same direction. And being able to do this cross-functional leadership to influence people without being their boss is something that in product marketing is extremely important and it's something that I'm happy to have as a skill and I think it helped me a lot. Then coming from a lot of customer background, I worked in the call center I worked in retention departments in customer marketing, customer empathy for a product marketer, if you ask me is extremely important. So when you talk to the customer when you having that customer interview, it's again not only a transactional thing where you get information, but you need to understand what's behind those words, what's behind the needs that the customer told you. What are the true pains? Because we often think we know what problems are we solving, we often think we are a hundred percent sure what pains our customers have. And then if you really listen to the interviews, if you really listen to the customers and you do have the customer empathy, then you can find out a lot of new things that can help you grow your product and grow your business. That's definitely. And the third thing that I think that helped me the most, to not only in product marketing when I was beginning, but also it helped me to move to my role where I am now, it's the possibility of strategic thinking. So moving away from one feature, moving away from one part of the product and moving away from the product in general, and looking at the company strategically looking to align with everybody strategically, is something that I think especially if someone wants to go into the leadership part of product marketing is definitely something that's crucial. And it has helped me a lot to get me where I am now.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  20:52

Okay, that's really interesting. Thanks so much. So would you say at your current company, Igor, would you say that there's much of a crossover between what you do as a PMM and what a PM does, at Lemax?

Igor Kranjcec  21:14

When I was switching companies, that was also one of my concerns, I'm coming there as first PMM I need to establish some processes, what are the PMs doing now? What do they think is their job? What do they do not want to give up? And so on. But I must say that there's not a lot of crossovers, especially because when I arrived at the company, they started working and we were working on updating the product development process and immediately we found the parts where product marketing is accountable, where they're responsible and so on. And we are happy to have regular alignment meetings. So we are sure we're not working on the same stuff. We are working closely together and we distribute the work in general, you know, I can say that we are in good sync. So right now, there's not a lot of crossovers, quite the opposite. It's a good handover of the jobs and I think it's working quite well right now.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  22:25

Again, it all comes back almost in a loop really and comes back to that theme of collaboration as you were saying before. So from your perspective, in a purely idealistic world, where does the role of a PM and a PMM begin and end? Do you think that there should be lines in terms of responsibilities?

Igor Kranjcec  22:52

Well, if we're talking about a perfect world and utopia, then I would say that they work together without any hard cutoffs, without any lines. But what I see because it's a different set of skills that they're doing separately is that on the more tactical part, on more tactical tasks, they do have different responsibilities. I actually was in a conversation with PMA on LinkedIn where I said, I think that product managers are turned more towards engineering and product marketers are turned more over to the customer. And that's what they do on their tactical part, but on the strategic parts, such as roadmaps such as translating features into benefits and so on, that is something they should work on together and there shouldn't be a hard cut off. So, "You will do the roadmap and I'll do the strategy", it's not possible, it's the same thing. Both sides need to work on it together. So in a perfect world, those tactical parts would stay as it is, more engineering more customers, but they definitely need to start working more on everything that is strategically related to the product and the company.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  24:17

Okay, so in terms of a broader change within product marketing, in your view, from your perspective, is there anything, it may be the case you don't think much has to change at all, but, if so, what do you think needs to change about product marketing?

Igor Kranjcec  24:40

If you asked me this question a year ago, I would shoot immediately and say PMMs need more recognition. As the year has passed, where does it come from? I often see that the PMM, so when I talk to my colleagues, when I'm now talking to the people on the Slack community in Product Marketing Alliance, when I'm talking to people on LinkedIn when they reach out, what I see is that PMMs are often being held as secretaries. Meaning, can you do this presentation? Can you do this for me? And just being there for minor tasks. But what I see with the efforts that also the PMA does, but in general product marketers are becoming louder and louder, which I really, really like. With all those efforts, I think that the visibility of the role, in general, is much bigger. I see improvements, but we are still not there yet. Sometimes I think there are situations where I see that we are still not equal if I can say that. So what needs still to change but we are getting there is visibility and seeing the importance of what product marketing brings to the company and to the industry.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  26:05

Okay, fantastic. So, before we started recording, am I right in thinking the role of product marketing in Croatia is pretty small?

Igor Kranjcec  26:20

Yeah, we are about 44 and a half million people in Croatia and if you go on LinkedIn and try to find product marketing managers, I think you will find 10 of us maybe 15. So it's a very small community, for now.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  26:38

I was gonna say, for now, fingers crossed there'll be more people transitioning into product marketing, particularly from Croatia as well. Which brings me on to the next question, for any new or aspiring product marketers who are listening to the podcast, what would be your advice to them to get the most out of their career within the field?

Igor Kranjcec  27:02

My advice would be to run away. No, just kidding. Quite the opposite. Don't give up. Product marketers often wear a lot of hats, a lot of different hats. They're often juggling between different responsibilities. And especially in smaller teams, there's a lot of things that they do. There's not a lot of being specialists in one field, it's more being the generalist. And especially in smaller teams and in the early days of the teams, I think that if you're a newcomer to product marketing, you need to be persistent. You need to be sometimes loud and you know, have your say, in the whole thing and show everyone the value of your work because if you show them the value of product marketing, it will be easier from there on. And the most important thing and the thing that really even I could say scared me in the state of product marketing report is talk to your customers. I'm not so happy to see that there's still a lot of product marketers not talking to their customers. Talk to the customers, when you think you're talking enough to them, double the amount of the interviews you have and then you can maybe say it's enough. Because the things you find out, the things that the customer is willing to share with you, that's something priceless. And it's something that you need to work hard on and make it an integral part of your product marketing business.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  28:41

Okay. Well, thank you so much for your time, Igor. It's been an absolute pleasure talking to you and getting your views on all things product marketing. So thank you so much.

Igor Kranjcec  28:52

Thank you for having me. It was really fun to talk to you and I hope to talk to you again soon.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  28:59

Yeah. Likewise. Thanks very much.

Igor Kranjcec  29:01

Thank you. Bye.