Full transcript:

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  0:03

Hi everyone and welcome to the Product Marketing Insider podcast, I'm Lawrence Chapman and I'm a Copywriter here at PMA. Today I'm thrilled to be joined by Sonduren Fanarredha, Director of Product Marketing at Airbase.

Sonduren is an experienced and recognized product marketing leader with experience working in the computer software industry, specifically in B2B SaaS product marketing and demand generation. He's skilled in business strategy and planning, the development and execution of go-to-market campaigns and product launches, with demonstrated cross-functional stakeholder management experience.

An experienced and recognized YouTube partner and digital content creator Sonduren's built a following of over 25,000 active subscribers with 7 million unique video views and 25 million minutes of content watched.

Welcome to the show, Sonduren.

Sonduren Fanarredha  1:02

Thanks for having me, Lawrence, it's great speaking with you again and joining one of the PMA events.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  1:07

Thanks so much for taking part. Just to start, could you please give the listeners a brief insight into the current role you have at Airbase?

Sonduren Fanarredha  1:16

Sure, yeah so I'm the Director of Product Marketing at Airbase today, I'm really responsible for our go-to-market strategy, product launches, but along with every startup, also wearing multiple hats, competitive intelligence, customer marketing, customer reviews, and advocacy.

So a lot of things going on but really responsible around our core messaging and positioning of our product launches.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  1:36

Fantastic. How did you get into product marketing? Can you take us through that initial role you had in the area to where you are now at Airbase?

Sonduren Fanarredha  1:48

Yeah, so I kind of stumbled into it. The great thing about product marketers I've realized everyone comes from different backgrounds and experiences. So I was previously a corporate accountant, which works out well since Airbase is selling software solutions to accounting and finance teams. So ended up working out great.

But I was a corporate accountant, I started up a YouTube channel, I started realizing I really love marketing more, started my own small business and I ended up getting an opportunity at Microsoft Canada, under their marketing and operations umbrella.

And I really started seeing product marketers work there and as soon as I saw what they were doing there, I'm like, this is very exciting, interesting, this is what I want to be doing.

So forth from there at Microsoft went over to some other B2B SaaS companies in Toronto, leading product marketing there and building out those teams and now doing that at Airbase.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  2:36

Awesome. I've heard the term 'accidental marketer' used so many times, would you consider yourself to be an accidental product marketer? Would you say that's a term fair for yourself?

Sonduren Fanarredha  2:49

I say yes, I think that's fair because I didn't realize or know too much about product marketing until I stepped into Microsoft and I started talking to the product marketers there, understood the function of what they do.

So yeah, definitely accidental. But also,  the right connections, the right people to give you those opportunities. So one of my mentors and coaches today, Michael Thibodeau, he's still at Microsoft leading their Azure SMB business. He's been someone that's very important that gave me that opportunity in the first place.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  3:17

Okay, sounds great. Could you tell us a little bit more about your direct team in terms of numbers and the roles of the people who form the team itself?

Sonduren Fanarredha  3:25

Sure. Today, our product marketing team has a domain for sales enablement, I'm focused on the go-to-market function. We do have technical writing and product operations under product marketing at Airbase today.

But the one thing I will say Lawrence is that product marketing and the hierarchy and the structure can look very different from company to company. So my pre two previous organizations, one was about 220 headcount the other one was 500 headcount, is more traditional product marketers reporting into the Director of Product Marketing.

Here today, our product operations, our technical writing team that reports up to me as long as with sales enablement as well.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  4:04

Okay. Of course, cross-collaboration in a product marketing role is absolutely fundamental to success. In terms of teams outside of marketing, like sales, product, operations, etc, which departments would you say that you interact with most as a product marketer? And what can product marketers do to communicate with internal teams to greater effect?

Sonduren Fanarredha  4:26

That's a great question. Lawrence, I think between product, customer success, sales, marketing, the animation that you guys have with product marketing dead square in the center of them, I think reflects the amount of time I spend with each one of those groups. Really working with them quite equally.

I'd say maybe a little bit more in the beginning on the product side, as somebody who's coming into the role really looking to deeply understand the product. I think maybe I scope more on the product side there.

But in terms of communication, especially in a completely remote world, in my previous roles, we were remote, but we have an office, you'd go in and talk to the teams in person through other project management solutions. But especially now in a fully remote environment, really leveraging asynchronous communication.

So Asana, keeping track of our product launches and our product strategy and execution through Asana boards, tracking all of that, and then also using Slack. Go to market channels for all of our Slack communications, making sure every cross-functional member of the team is a part of the conversations. Over-communication.

I felt like previously in my roles, I would do a good job of communicating all the time and you'd always hear from me. But it's even more important in a fully remote world where you're working with many people in different time zones, and you can't necessarily go to someone's desks or just have an organic conversation beside them. Communication - really important.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  5:46

Yeah, absolutely. So you've earmarked communication as being one of the core attributes for you personally. In addition to that, what would you say the top three skills are that have helped you to get where you are today at Airbase?

Sonduren Fanarredha  6:04

Yeah, top three skills. I think communication, obviously, is number one. Being able to go ahead and not only understand the product and market and be able to write great messaging and copy from that. That's how you communicate internally and transfer that to your prospects and customers, internal communication, working with various stakeholders, understanding their needs, making sure that everyone is aligned to your goal.

Because launching a product to market is more than just one person's job. It's across many teams, it's many people involved, and making sure that everyone's aligned is important as well.

The next skill I think that is really important is determination and the willingness to learn and become a sponge. Any successful product marketer needs to deeply understand the product, deeply understand the market and their customers.

So becoming a sponge, especially early on is so important, you need to go ahead and learn, in my example, I like learning by doing things by myself, by jumping in the water headfirst. But also having some of that structured learning and capability is also important.

So PMA acts as one way as to how I structurally learn in my domain today but also doing things that are maybe those multiple hats that aren't necessarily in my job description, doing those as well helps with my learning. So I say, number two is probably becoming a sponge and just wanting to learn. Then I think skill number three is allowing yourself and finding ways for you to scale yourself.

One big challenge that I face all the time in this role today, in my previous roles, is effectively scaling myself. Learning how to find the right ways to do that with your team internally, what stakeholders you can go ahead and leverage to scale yourself, but also externally, maybe through contractors or other means to go ahead.

Because the reality is, you're never going to have enough resources in a small high-growth scale startup, that's never going to be the case. So you always need to find a way to scale yourself in as many ways as you can possible.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  8:00

Okay. Switching our attention to the content creation element of the product marketing role, of course, you're a huge advocate of video content. What role do you see video playing in the product marketing world? Can you explain that to the product marketing audience we have who may be listening to the podcast and not be exactly familiar with that?

Sonduren Fanarredha  8:27

Yeah, so I think video is going to continue to be a big heavy medium that people focus on. I think we saw that 85% of the traffic number two to Google was through YouTube and video content. I think you're seeing lots of B2B tech companies using video in a variety of different ways, for demand gen purposes, for adoption and consumption into the customer group that you have and your customer base.

I think in a startup environment, it's nice to have the ability to scrappily create those videos when you need to. Something that I think a lot of people overlook is that the ability to do that very quickly in a startup is so important.

But when you get to the point where you have structured ways of creating different types of mediums of video content, you need a scale that. So getting somebody either inside of your organization or outside that can help you scale is extremely important.

What we do at Airbase today, we send out a product newsletter that's an email, but also with a video. So people can consume it in both ways. When we look at how we show the value of our product? We're not just talking about it through text, we're using video content, we're using gifs, we're doing a lot of things that make the consumption of our information more dynamic.

It's the same kind of thing when you watch a video, I love video, you're interested in consuming the video if it's dynamic, you don't want to just see a talking head all the time just talking about a subject. You want to see the product in action.

You want to see, how does the actual workflow look? You want to see all these things so dynamic, engaging video content is here to stay. I think we've seen the stats that prove that video content’s being consumed more and more, especially by B2B buyers. So if you're selling on a B2B side, video content is extremely important.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  10:13

Some of the listeners may not be aware that you were a finalist in the rising star category in the 2020 PMA awards, which is almost like an accolade in itself, given the fierce competition that was out there. In your mind, what does an influential product marketer look like, from your perspective?

Sonduren Fanarredha  10:36

I think it's got to be somebody that loves what you do. So I was an accountant before, right? I completely changed my career. I spent six years in accounting, I was working in corporate accounting, I was an auditor and I found product marketing, and I just loved not only what product marketers do, but the strategic element of what they provide to an organization in terms of the growth of what that looks like.

So I think somebody to actually be successful and really be an advocate for the domain and the role of product marketing needs to love it. And I'm happy to say I'm one of those guys that had fallen in love with this role and I couldn't be happier doing what I'm doing today.

If you have that love for something, you typically try your hardest to go ahead and just continue to learn because it's fun. I don't think of what I do today as work, I think of it as fun and it's a learning journey that I'm on today and I love doing it.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  11:29

Fantastic. Of course, go-to-market is a major part of the product marketing role and you yourself have planned and executed a series of product launches throughout your career. What are your tips on how to execute a great product launch? If you can perhaps pinpoint a product launch that you're particularly proud of?

Sonduren Fanarredha  11:54

That's a great question. I think there's a table stakes aspect that's sometimes overlooked is the project management of it all. You have many pieces going on in a product launch from the customer marketing aspect, prospect marketing, your demand generation, your sales enablement, partner enablement, there are so many pieces as part of a major product launch.

You need a number one, table stakes, be able to make sure that you have a full view of the land and that you're executing appropriately. I think another thing around the product launch process that people really need to focus on is getting in early and deeply understanding what's happening and getting that customer feedback.

So as part of what we're doing with Airbase, before we go to a product launch, we have a beta program. Before any product goes out to market, are we getting that feedback back from our customers around, is this product solving for the problems that we originally hypothesized it would do?

Making sure that before it actually goes to market, before we put all of this money and effort into putting it out externally, is it going to stick? Is it going to truly land with our prospects and customers? Otherwise, you've done all this work for nothing. So I think those two things are also very important that may be sometimes overlooked by some that I think people really need to focus on.

The third thing that I've already discussed is, it's not just the marketing team, everybody needs to be aligned with this. Something that I highly recommend is you have to make sure you get that alignment with leadership.

Sales leadership, marketing leadership, all the other leaders that may have a place or a hand in this product launch, you need to get that alignment that the bright people focus their resources and time to make it successful. Then what is success? Tracking that. From the beginning, what does success look like?

What is your top-of-funnel lead volume that you hope to drive? What is the pipeline build that you hope to drive from your prospects and your customers on upsell? All of this stuff and this thinking all require time.

So working back that plan, that project plan, all of that is very important to keep organized, especially for a company like Airbase where we're essentially selling four different point solutions in one spend management platform. Lots going on. Otherwise, if you don't have good project management, you're just going to drown, and you're going to get lost.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  14:07

Okay. That brings me quite nicely to my next question. In some instances, product marketers can struggle with the relationship with stakeholders at their company. As someone who is experienced in cross-functional stakeholder management, what's your advice for creating a cohesive relationship between product marketers and senior figures?

Sonduren Fanarredha  14:29

That's a great question. The number one thing that I always go into work with is being very service-oriented. My job and the way I look at this is I don't report to just my VP of Marketing, I don't report to just sales, I report to everybody. My goal is to make sure that the needs of everybody are aligned together and that they accomplish their goal.

So I think number one coming in as a stakeholder and that the leadership team knows that this is your priority. You're looking for the best for the company as a whole and for all the business groups as a whole, and maybe distilling any of those concerns and working through them as a team to make sure that everyone has and gets what they need.

Being very collaborative, building the right relationships with the people, maybe going above and beyond to build that rapport and to build that trust with them, especially in the beginning, goes a long way. I know that the first six months of any company I joined, I considered myself almost like a yes man. In a good way, it's good, it can bite you back if you go for too long for that.

But the purpose of doing that is to build that rapport and trust so that when you do have those conversations with those senior leaders, they all understand it's coming from a place of trust, it's coming from a place of wanting success from every business group, and not just one group or another.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  15:49

We've touched upon two essential elements of product marketing in go-to-market and product launches. Moving the focus to messaging, what should product marketers ask themselves, or do to proactively create compelling messaging that resonates with their audience?

Sonduren Fanarredha  16:12

Great question. Messaging frameworks, there are lots of different versions of them but I think as you go through the process, you have to understand that it's an iterative process. I think every product marketer should understand that from the very beginning so there's no kind of illusion.

When I build out a messaging framework, for example, I bring in other key stakeholders to help number one, provide feedback on this. Number two, who else from the customer angle and this should be yourself being the voice of the customer, you've got to take a step back and also look at this and look at the messaging and positioning - does it resonate with you?

I don't know Lawrence, if you've ever seen any of those ads where they come up and you're like, "Wow, that really spoke to me, this person really understands me". That's the goal that I looked for, for any kind of framework around a product launch that I do. Do I feel that? Do I feel that sense of wow, this really talks to me, from the customer perspective? Luckily, at Airbase, I was a corporate accountant so it helps with that a little easier.

But I would highly recommend it for any product marketer, when you're going through that acid test, do you really know the problems of your customer? Because that's the only way you'll actually know if your messaging is actually going to be resonating with your prospect and your customer base. But it's an iterative process, Lawrence, it could take weeks, for example, for you to go through that.

You should just expect that. So part of my project planning, when I say I'm going to build a messaging framework, I have another three weeks on top of that through feedback rounds, taking a step back, looking at it again from a different perspective, before I finalize on.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  17:44

In terms of challenges for you as a product marketer, Sonduren, because things aren't always just plain sailing, we do hit bumps in the road sometimes, what challenges have you encountered during your product marketing journey? And more importantly, how did you overcome them?

Sonduren Fanarredha  18:08

I would say there are probably more bumps in the road than there are blue skies, which makes it actually fun. Because all of these bumps in the road are just learning opportunities. If you take it from that perspective, this is all great.

As part of any type of startup and growth, you're going to come across these challenges all the time. To really answer the question, I think about every challenge as a learning opportunity. I think that as long as the organization has the core values around how you work around those, it's not actually a problem, it's an opportunity for you to learn.

I think Airbase has done that really well. I make sure that's clear with everybody that I work with. I de-escalate any type of obstacles that may come up that's a fire so to say, and I really just try to put a perspective on learning and adjusting. So if something happens, okay, great, we've learned something, and it's not going to happen next time because we've gone ahead and adjusted.

That's going to happen all the time. So my theory on this, on the fires, the fires are expected, they shouldn't come as a surprise, but you should always be looking to learn and adjust and learn from them so that the same fires won't happen again.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  19:21

In terms of looking at product marketing as a whole, not necessarily just from your perspective at Airbase but product marketing in general, what would you like to see change that could make it even better than it is already?

Sonduren Fanarredha  19:41

I think right now, product marketing and PMA have done a great job with putting the domain of product marketing out there and understanding what product marketing is. I still think there’s work to be done there.

I know when I joined Airbase, for example, I did some of that road trip of education and what product marketing is in an organization. I think that will continue and the strategic element and focus of product marketers will continue to be a highlight, and something I'd like to see going forward. But also, software solutions and tools potentially to help us scale. If you look at demand Gen, for example, there's a plethora of software and tools to go ahead and help them scale.

Product marketing, we are seeing that, we are seeing tools for competitive intelligence, for example, and some other tools to help us on this front. Sales enablement - there are lots of tools coming out. Sales enablement can be separate sometimes but sometimes it's put into product marketing.

So I'd love to see the advent of some more of these tools to help us scale, especially for those product marketers in small, mid-size, high-growth companies. I think it'll be extremely important.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  20:51

If there are any new or aspiring product marketers who are listening to this particular episode, what would your advice be to them to help them get the most out of their product marketing journey?

Sonduren Fanarredha  21:03

Number one, I would say to continuously educate yourself. So if that's through an association like PMA, going through the resources, the certifications, the training, that's kind of like table stakes number one.

Number two, I'd say is to reach out to the community members, start learning from them. I know I've reached out to many community members just to talk for 30 minutes about what problems they're facing and learning. I like this because I learn from their situation, and they're learning from my experience and my background. It's both ways.

So I'd say, have an open eye to communicating with people within an organization that you're in, learning from that. Also for those product marketers, or for those people that are maybe looking to break into product marketing, product marketing has various transferable skills.

Look at the things that you're doing today in your role, and how those actually apply to what product marketers do to help you or at least when you're applying for a job for product marketing, you want to go in that domain, show that you've done those things that product marketers do.

Show that you have an understanding of the context, even if it's different from your current role, the context of what product marketers do today, in any role that you're applying for.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  22:16

Sonduren, it's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for joining me, have you enjoyed yourself?

Sonduren Fanarredha  22:21

Yeah, I really appreciate the time again, I love talking to you and I love also talking to other product marketers in the domain. I just want to say thanks to PMA for continuing to educate those in the industry about product marketing, and I'd be happy to answer any questions to anyone that watches this.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  22:40

Thanks so much. You take it easy, thank you, Sonduren.

Sonduren Fanarredha  22:42

Thank you, Lawrence. Talk to you soon.