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13 min read

Product Marketing Insider [Podcast]: Liza Collin

Podcasts | Messaging & Positioning | Presentations | Product Marketing Insider

We caught up with  Liza Collin, Market Readiness Director at Visma, a couple of weeks before Liza presents at the Product Marketing Summit in London to chat about her journey into the world of product marketing.

Enough from us, over to Bryony the editor at PMA and Liza.

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Full transcript below:

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:00
Okay then, well if we could just kick things off with a little bit of an introduction about yourself, please.

Liza Collin  0:06
Alright, so my name is Lisa Collin and I work at a company called Visma. Visma is a leading European software provider. Our headquarters are here in Oslo, Norway. The group consists of about 200 companies in 16 countries and yeah, we're everywhere in, you know, the entire Nordic Region, Benelux, Central and Eastern Europe, and Latin America.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:34
And how long have you been at Visma for?

Liza Collin  0:36
Three years.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:37
Okay, cool. And then you said you have you got offices all over all over the world. In terms of product marketing, is that all based where you are or do you have that dotted around as well?

Liza Collin  0:50
No, they are within the different companies. So we always try to keep the PMM as close to the product as possible and the actual operations.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  1:01
Okay, and in terms of your team directly, what does that sort of look like in terms of numbers and roles?

Liza Collin  1:07
Right now I'm working with two different parts of the organisation. So I have the whole PD or the product development part, which we're trying to work to commercialise and make them you know, to ensure that we always develop features and products that are interesting for our customers. So there I work with the whole product management team. And then we have about 30 or so PMMs that I work with directly or indirectly, you know, depending on on the project that I'm involved in.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  1:44
Okay, great. And so your role's all centred around market readiness, what is market readiness to start and how does it differentiate from product marketing management?

Liza Collin  1:53
So, market readiness is something that we started when we saw this gap between the product development side and actually getting it out into the market with our business units. So we take a more holistic approach, we obviously look at the go to market and the product marketing side, but we also look at the rest, how is the training? Do we have everything that needs to be in place in order for this product to not be experienced as halfway delivered? So when our customers get this product, will everything work? We don't want the customer to have a bad customer experience when they get onboarded, so we take a bit of a wider approach to go to market processes in general.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  2:42
Okay, great. And PMA's event in London you're going to be taking to the stage, what is it that you're going to be talking about at the event?

Liza Collin  2:49
What I'm going to be talking about is having that holistic approach to the go to market process, sort of widening your horizons and taking that role, taking that stage that you need to do as a PMM, in my opinion. And I'm also going to be talking specifically on the tool that we have developed the market readiness checklist, and I'll share it with everybody who's there.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  3:12
Sounds great. And then if we just go to kind of pre-Visma, what did your product marketing journey look like? And what made you want to get into the role in the first place?

Liza Collin  3:20
I just started this department about a year and a half ago. So I have 10 years of product management. So I've been working within digital media, broadband, you know, we were unbundling broadband and TV before I went into software, and about a year and a half ago I was asked to start this department to bridge sort of the gap that comes between product development and operations. And I thought that was really, really interesting. So I jumped at it.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  3:56
And would you say you prefer being in this kind of role to the strictly PM kind of role?

Liza Collin  4:00
Um, you know, I've always been very commercial in my way of working. So I would say that what I'm doing now I get the best of both worlds. I really like to develop products that are, you know, helping our users to actually make the world a better place, which is what we're focusing on. But I also want to be able to communicate that to our customers. And as a PM, you're a bit more involved in the actual product development, obviously, and you don't get to work as much with the communication part. So for me, I think this is the perfect fit.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  4:37
Okay, and are you still involved now then very early doors in terms of new product lifecycles?

Liza Collin  4:43
Yeah, I get involved when we have a new idea. I'm trying to make sure that we have a commercial mindset from the start, both working with the process and making sure that we have the right team in place.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  4:56
Okay, cool. And then I kind of get the impression from these podcats that there's no such thing as a set answer for this question. But if there was such a thing, what would a standard sort of day for you look like? And and are there any kind of tasks that you kind of routinely do every single day or?

Liza Collin  5:11
No, not at all. It depends on where we are and if we have, you know, we do acquire some companies every year. So I would say that a day at work is extremely different. I will have some meetings with different PMMs and discuss, you know, different products that we're working on. I'll probably have a session on storytelling, which is one of my specialties, trying to work with different business units and creating their strategic narrative. I'll probably have a sync with one of our PD directors to see how their go to market processes are going and you know, which processes that we have in line. Yeah, it's a mix.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  5:57
Yeah, and is that something you'd say you quite like about the role, the variety?

Liza Collin  6:00
Yeah, I love it. If you don't like change I don't think working as a PMM is the right thing.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  6:09
And in terms of planning new launches and that kind of thing, how far do you typically try to plan in advance?

Liza Collin  6:16
Oh, well, we have, so I work with the enterprise market and quite, you know, large customers, and our sales cycles can be very long, several years. We also have those that work with the SMB market, which is obviously a lot quicker, so I cannot give you a straight answer. If we're talking about a new feature, we might start talking about it in the media many months in advance, and then about 10 weeks to the actual launch you'll get, you know, the actual smaller details in place, but I would say six months for a normal go to market process.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  6:57
Okay, cool. And then in terms of teams outside of product marketing, product, operations, marketing and that kind of thing, which teams would you say you kind of talk with most on a day to day basis? And what are your relationships with those teams like?

Liza Collin  7:13
So that would also be a very good mix. So I should probably say that our PMMs don't report to marketing, most of them actually report to business area directors. But that also varies a lot from, we have small business units and we have really large business units, snd so I spend a lot of time speaking with the management and seeing on, you know, the larger strategies and where we're going. So I'm not as operational as our PMMs are. As a Market Readiness Director I try to get the holistic perspective on what we're doing, so I will spend a lot of time with everybody who is involved in a go to market process to make sure that we've actually covered everything. So I don't just work with Product Marketing, I cover a broader perspective.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  8:04
And then what would you say, if you had to narrow it down to three things, are the top three skills that have helped you get where you are today?

Liza Collin  8:12
Um, I'm really curious, I'm really interested in, you know, what's going on and what the customer actually experiences. So that will probably be my first skill. Second would be I'm a storyteller. I like to tell the story and explain it in a way that the actual persona that we're talking to gets it, that doesn't mean that everybody else is going to get it, but I can tell the story in a language and in a way that, you know, affects the right people. And then I'm sort of a control freak. I like to keep track of things. Together with my team I've developed different tools and checklists and so forth, in order to create a bit more harmony and organisation within the group.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  8:59
Okay, cool. And then in terms of tools, do you have any go-to ones that you kind of use day in, day out that you'd recommend other people to use?

Liza Collin  9:08
Well, we've developed our own. I would say that that's something that is lacking today, I wish there was more data to be found within Product Marketing. So what we've done and what we use in every single product that we have is a go to market checklist. And that checklist covers everything from legal training, you know, sales and pricing, the whole product readiness, but also marketing readiness, the sales readiness, ensuring that our consultants are in place and trained, and so forth. That checklist, I use that every single day.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  9:43
And is that something, is that quite a similar setup to what you've had in other companies or is that something you just brought to Visma?

Liza Collin  9:49
No this is something we created in Visma.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  9:52
In terms of product managers, what's your relationship with those like? And do you have, would you say there's a lot of crossover between your role and their role?

Liza Collin  10:13
So again, I'm not working as an operational PMM. So I'm more of a, you know, strategy and holistic perspective and helping all our PMMs work. So I do not work with our PMs directly that much, that would be the relationship between are PMs and PMMs, and they work very closely together. I always say that they're like the connection between the two different organisations. So you have the Product Development Organisation, which the PM is sort of the face of, and then you have the PMM that is the face of the operational side or the business unit for us. So that's where you have sales and marketing and operations. And those two work, yeah, they work together a lot. And that's key for our commercialization process to work.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  11:04
Okay, cool. And in terms of their relationship, so is it a case of like per product, there's a product manager and a product marketing manager, and each will have their own?

Liza Collin  11:14
Not for all products. So we have PMMs that cover many products as well and we also have PMs that cover more than one product.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  11:23
And then in terms of introducing new products or features, how does that look like at Visma?

Liza Collin  11:31
Oh, well, that would be, it depends a lot. You know, we have products for welfare, for school for, you know, FMS and HRM systems. So it's very different. But I would say that we communicate in many different channels with our customers. We have very good training facilities and have webinars with our customers introducing new things. So it all depends on which product and the size of the release how we're going to do it.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  12:04
Okay. And then in terms of your role, so in terms of going down to things like the the launch of new webinars, how involved, if at all, would you be in that aspect of things?

Liza Collin  12:14
Well, if we work with International Club products, I will have some involvement. But again, we have dedicated PMMs for each product.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  12:23
Okay, cool. And then in your opinion, what, if anything, do you think needs to change about product marketing?

Liza Collin  12:31
Well, when it comes from what needs to be changed from within the PMMs I think taking responsibility for the whole go to market process. I think that when we talk about product marketing, we tend to talk about the marketing side, but for me going with a new product to market, somebody has to take the ownership of the commercialization part. The PM works with developing the product and obviously is along for the whole ride but somebody who is closer to the customer has to take the full responsibility to make sure that everything is in place. I say that the marketing side is one part of it, but you also need to make sure that the whole package is delivered.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  13:13
Okay, cool. In your opinion, how do you think we can elevate the role of product marketing management?

Liza Collin  13:18
This is something that I've been working a lot with in the past year or so. First of all, you need to define the role more, make it clear which deliveries and what ownership, which mandate the PMM has, and define that up against sales, marketing and product management. I think that's extremely important to have that in place. Without the clear ownership it's hard to have the mandate in a group. You also need to have very clear KPIs. This is something that we've seen as a challenge, that what the PMMs are being measured on is very different, and aligning those KPIs with marketing, with sales and with product development. That also makes everybody work towards the same goal. And all of this, together, will elevate the role of the PMM I'm sure.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  14:09
Okay, great. And then penultimate question, if there were any new or aspiring product marketers listening to this podcast right now, what advice to them be?

Liza Collin  14:20
Um, well, I would say that they have to be curious, they have to know the product and they have to have a very diverse sort of knowledge. You have to understand the product, but you also have to understand the customers. You need to understand how marketing works. And you have to seriously like to work with other people and being able to, you know, win together as a team. You as a PMM might not be the one that gets all the, you know, the success or the awards because you're not at the front line as much as the actual sales person, for example, and that's something that could be a bit challenging. Going back, you asked what needs to be changed when it comes to product marketing, I think from the outside that is the challenge that we aren't always understood by those that don't work as PMM themselves, they see it as, you know, a group of people that works with something that isn't sales and isn't marketing, but they don't see it as its own sort of subject yet. That's something that we need to work on. And yeah, they need to see the fuel that the PMM provides for sales and marketing, I'd say.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  15:43
Yeah, I've seen that as a bit of a trend kind of through this podcast as well. A lot of people think it's a bit of a frustration within product marketing that people feel they need to kind of explain the value of their role whereas there are some roles, for example your sales departments, it's kind of a given that, you know, they can monitor these sales and you can monitor the revenue whereas you don't necessarily have that with Product Marketing, I guess, do you?

Liza Collin  16:02
Yeah. Well, I've been working for the past year, I've been working a lot with just defining the PMM role. I mean, the PMMs, they are the ones that are boosting the company's bottom line, basically, because they're providing the customers with what they really want and need. And they're providing product with the, you know, material to be able to create that. And they're providing lots of info and insights for sales and marketing for them to be able to do their job. So it's a really important role, because nowadays, it is so complicated to work with marketing and sales as well, that you need to have somebody who provides that background and that knows the details.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  16:47
Yeah 100%. I totally agree. And then in terms of keeping abreast of kind of customer kind of feedback and needs, how often would you or your product marketing managers touch base with customers and what does that kind of contact look like?

Liza Collin  17:06
So we have customer success that is really integrated in Visma and they obviously have a closer dialogue with the customers after they've become customers with us. But we also have our communities where we can have dialogue with our customers there. And then we have the webinars and we have regular gatherings for our customers when we meet them as well.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  17:32
Okay, awesome. And I realised I said penultimate question about three questions ago, now you actually have your last one. In terms of kind of industry reading and just kind of keeping on top of the industry in general, do you have any go-to resources that you head to?

Liza Collin  17:46
Yeah. So I'm really fond of a book by Lucas Weber. It's called being a PMM in a technical company and it's a really easy read book, about 120 pages, but it sort of covers very well what being a PMM is if you work in SaaS companies like most of the PMMs here I think do. Yeah, that's a good book. I'm a big fan of reading articles on Medium. But I haven't found that many other books that, you know, have intrigued me as much. I think finding information on Product Marketing Alliance webpage, for example, that's great. Yeah, and being able to ask questions and get answers from there.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  18:38
Okay, awesome. Well, thank you very much for your time today it's been really interesting speaking to you.

Liza Collin  18:43
Great, thank you.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  18:44
And good luck with your speech in London!

Written by:

Richard King

Richard King

Founder, Product Marketing Alliance

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Product Marketing Insider [Podcast]: Liza Collin