We celebrated the 15th episode of the Insider series with CARTO's Senior Product Marketing Manager, Virginia Diego, and spoke about everything from her journey into the industry, the transition from a financial services company to a tech start-up, the art of saying no, what she's measured on, and a ton more.

Full transcript:

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:00

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Product Marketing Insider podcast which is brought to you by Product Marketing Alliance. My name’s Bryony Pearce and I’m the Content Manager here at PMA. This week’s pod’s sponsored by the Product Marketing Festival. For those of you who haven’t heard about it yet, it’ll be coming to a screen near you between June 8th and June 14th, and will featuring headline acts from companies like Amazon, Uber, Adobe and Facebook, talking about everything from research all the way through to optimisation. To get your ticket, just head over to the site, festival.productmarketingalliance.com. To help establish and elevate the role of product marketing we’re on a mission to speak to 50 PMMs and pick their brains on everything from their journey into the industry, which teams they interact with most, what skills they believe are critical for the role, and a whole load more. To do just that, with me today is Virginia Diego, a Senior Product marketing manager over at CARTO. So let’s get stuck right in. Welcome to show Virginia, could I get you to kick off by giving everyone a bit of an intro into you, your role, and CARTO.

Virginia Diego  0:09

Yeah, sure. Hi, everyone, my name is Virginia Diego. I'm currently leading product marketing at CARTO. We are a SaaS startup with main offices in New York City and Madrid, and I'm based in Madrid. And basically we enable companies to use location data by bringing that into modern data science so that they can make smarter decisions.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:33

And how long have you been there for?

Virginia Diego  0:36

So I joined this year, so it's been less than a year and I made the shift from a big corporate financial services environment to a tech startup.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:47

And how did you find that shift? Are you enjoying it more on this side of the fence or?

Virginia Diego  0:52

I mean, I'm really enjoying it but definitely the pace is very different. I feel product marketing roles in general are, you know, quite fast-paced in general. But the change from that to a tech startup is definitely, speed is definitely the thing that wowed me a little bit more.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  1:18

And then when you came into the role that you're currently in now, was there already quite an established product marketing team set up, or was that quite a new function in the business?

Virginia Diego  1:26

No, so there was product marketing in the past, but it had been a while without anyone doing product marketing. So lots of gaps to fill in. And I started over as a one-person PMM team for now. So that has been also quite an interesting challenge.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  1:50

Yeah I can imagine. And then kind of going back to the start of your product marketing career, what made you want to get into product marketing, and how did you first get into the role?

Virginia Diego  2:02

That's a good question because I feel like in product marketing, you don't necessarily have a set career path. So I didn't start in product marketing, my first job was actually in sales, I wasn't doing direct sales, but I was doing lots of sales enablement and some marketing as well. And I soon realized that wasn't for me. But I quite like the client-facing aspect of it and really being able to directly see the impact of your work in terms of business results. And not that I knew that product marketing existed at that point, but then I moved to a kind of client marketing type of role, and I was within a product team and to be honest with you at that point, we were not saying it was product marketing, but I was doing product marketing functions overall. So I just started from there and started to grow into product marketing and to do more things. But it really started as not really knowing what I was getting into.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  3:19

I think that's the same for a lot of people, that's the impression I get from these podcasts. And do you think as well, so you say you've been in sales, client and marketing type roles, would you say that's helped you now that you're in the product marketing role, having known what it's like to be in these other departments that you now work so closely with?

Virginia Diego  3:38

Absolutely 100% because one of the key things as a product marketing person that you need to be able to do is to understand and to really be empathetic to the people that you work with. So understanding the pain, the pressure to hit quota, for example, from a sales point of view. I also did some sort of product for a while so I kind of took a little bit of each one of the main areas. And I feel that really, really helps to just work better with teams and to understand where they're coming from and to understand what the pain points are, what they're measured against. To me, that has made a huge difference.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  4:25

Yeah, for sure. And how long have you been in product marketing for now?

Virginia Diego  4:29

In product marketing about four years.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  4:32

Okay, cool. And then you mentioned you're at a financial services company, for the tech startup you're at now. And prior to that, what did your career path look like in terms of companies?

Virginia Diego  4:43

Always in big financial services companies, which made this move a little bit more drastic. Yeah, I mean, I always worked with SaaS products, with data products in the financial investment industry. Then now I'm in the kind of spatial analysis, big data space. So there's part of it that kind of makes sense because working with SaaS business models and data and there is some relationship there. But obviously it's very different spaces.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  5:23

Yep. Is that something you kind of fell into? You said previously you were consistently at these financial services company, is that something you wanted to get into? Or did you just kind of fall into that path?

Virginia Diego  5:34

I think it was a bit by accident. It's not that I said, "Oh, I want to do financial services and only financial services". But my academic background was mainly marketing, but then I had this strange mix of marketing and finance. So I did my master's degree in customer-based corporate valuation which basically means you take a marketing metric which is lifetime value, and you put that into financial models. So I was seeing both worlds, the financial aspects, and then the marketing aspects. So it just made sense for me to go into that type of role in the financial services space. But my main interest was always, even if it was in financial services, it was still a tech product but for that industry. I was also very interested in data and you know, the whole tech scene. So it happened a little bit by accident and then I enjoyed it a lot so I was there for a while.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  6:47

It sounds like just by chance, as well as you're talking through your education and then your previous roles, just kind of accidentally all your previous history seems to have just amalgamated to be, I know there's no such thing as a perfect path but it seems to have added up to nicely lead you into product marketing.

Virginia Diego  7:06

And you know and I feel that's the way, right? Because there isn't, it's not the type of role that you know exactly what you need to do, I guess it's a very custom type of journey but definitely for me that mix of marketing and finance and business and then sales and marketing and a bit of product, that's definitely made sense for me personally.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  7:34

I guess as well product marketing is so different at every company as well, isn't it? So from your financial services company to the tech startup you're at now, how different were the roles?

Virginia Diego  7:47

It is. That's very true, definition can be very different. And I mean, I feel sometimes the field of product marketing is not really defined. So maybe in some cases, you're actually doing product marketing but it's not being called product marketing. And I feel the same thing kind of happens with product management as well. But the main difference is that for example, in my previous product marketing role at a financial services company, I reported into product and now I report into marketing. So that's the first change there.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  8:24

Do you have a preference between the two?

Virginia Diego  8:28

I don't have a very strong preference, I think it really depends on the type of company you're working for, it really depends on the type of product team you have. So, if you have a product team that is very business focused and that has p&l type of objectives, then why not? I think it makes sense to have product marketing with product. But if you have a product team, more of an engineering-led type of organization, it probably makes more sense to sit with marketing. I think the product marketer should go where the business goals are.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  9:10

Yeah that makes sense. And then in terms of a standard day in your role, I know no two days are sort of the same. But is there anything that does replicate day to day, like, for example, in the mornings, are you always looking at certain numbers or do you have certain meetings, is there any similarities between any given day for you?

Virginia Diego  9:30

I guess there isn't a standard day and I quite like it. I have a very mixed set of things. But I would say meetings definitely they take up a lot of time when you need to coordinate with multiple teams and with multiple stakeholders. They just need to happen so I guess that would be something in common. And then lots of talking to people as well to understand different perspectives and insights, I think that would be another one. But then it can be very different and that's one of the good things about this role from my perspective is that you get to wear very different hats and to use different skill sets throughout the same week. And that's something that's really cool.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  10:30

Yeah, for sure. And then in terms of teams outside of directly product marketing, for example, sales operations, that kind of thing, which teams would you say you have most contact with on a day to day basis and what are your relationships with those teams like?

Virginia Diego  10:46

So I talk to product a lot, spend a lot of time with product, then, I mean, definitely, not only sales, but depending on what the organization looks like but for example, I have a customer success team I track a lot with as well. Then there are people that are doing pre-sales and for some projects more technical people, stakeholders, development teams, but I would say top one for me right now is product.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  11:21

Okay, cool. And then in terms of your direct setup, so you said you're a product marketing team of one? So can you lean on product and marketing quite a lot? For example, if you've got so many meetings in a day and every meeting has an output, how do you get around to getting everything done?

Virginia Diego  11:39

That's the question, right? Prioritizing is really, really key and the good thing when you're a team of one and you have a very active product because it's not like if you're in a larger company and you're in a more mature stage. But in a startup where you're constantly shifting on your functionality, prioritizing is absolutely essential. So you just cut off everything that isn't essential, you focus on those things and you try to move. I always ask myself two questions. One is, is this going to provide value for my customers and is this going to provide value for my business? And if I don't have two yes's then I don't do it. That's the rule.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  12:35

And is that something, I know sometimes it takes... I'd say a skill but I don't know if skill's the right word, but saying no sometimes can be hard, isn't it? Is that something you have to work on as you get into the role? Is that something you find quite easy to do? Or?

Virginia Diego  12:50

Oh, no, it's absolutely not easy, especially when you're new to a company, it's really hard, you want to start with a good foot so it's just quite hard to say no. But it's also important, I think, not only for prioritization but also to because at the end of the day you need to build trust and you know, your people you work with need to understand what you're doing and why you're doing it. To kind of sell the vision of why isn't this important? Why we shouldn't be doing it? I think that goes a long way. And it's important to do it from the beginning to establish that trust and position yourself also as someone who like okay, I know what I'm doing. This is why this is a yes. This is why this is a no.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  13:41

Okay sounds good. And then in terms of KPIs, what do they look like for you and what are you measured on?

Virginia Diego  13:48

Since I'm in marketing, I share goals with the broader marketing team which I think is positive because it really ensures that alignment. And especially because as a product marketer, very often the work you're doing it's feeding through other marketing areas. So for example, positioning is going to affect demand generation, for example. So it's MQLs, overall revenue contribution. I think it's a good way of thinking about it, because it really helps you again do that exercise of, "How is my work impacting this?".

Bryony Pearce - PMA  14:38

Yeah. And then how do these KPIs compare to the KPIs you had in your previous role when you reported to product?

Virginia Diego  14:46

They're actually similar because it was a very business-focused product organization. So that's why I was mentioning if you have p&l in product, then you know, it surely makes sense. But if you don't, as a PMM you can't be measured against, I don't know, changing the infrastructure from one place to another or something that is very technical

Bryony Pearce - PMA  15:12

That makes sense. And then next up, what would you say the top three skills are that have helped you as a product marketer?

Virginia Diego  15:23

Stakeholder management, definitely a key one and that's kind of a mix of both communication and leadership. As a product marketer, you spend a lot of time influencing other people without having formal authority over them. So to be able to succeed being at the intersection of so many different functions, you need to be able to lead, to inspire people, and to get everyone pushing in the same direction. And it also means speaking their language so really understanding where they're coming from, what they're measured against, and having that empathy. Then I would say, the second one, having a mix of experiences, I think there's this type of career path where you start, you know, I started in kind of sales, moved to marketing, product marketing, that has helped me a lot because I had direct exposure to sales, to product, and that's made a huge difference for me, because I can be more authentic and just overall more effective when working with different groups. Because again, if you feel your colleague's pain, and what they're trying to do it's just that much easier. And I think a third one is also being quite numerate and analytical. So understanding the financial aspects of the business, especially what when you're doing pricing, for example, is one of the functions of product marketing, and really being able to see how those different things that you do as a company will impact those numbers, being able to understand that and to adapt, thinking about financial results. And the other side being analytical in the sense of being able to work with data and to be able to use data to help you build a story. Because, you know, sometimes we do customer validation, and people will tell you one thing, but to have the whole picture, you actually need to see what they do, for example, with the product, so you need to complete that with data. And I feel being able to feel very comfortable working with numbers and with data has also helped me a lot.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  17:41

Okay, awesome. Thank you. And then in terms of the analytics and data side of things, do you have any go-to tools that you use that you'd recommend to others?

Virginia Diego  17:52

I mean, I think Google Analytics is a basic that you just need to be fairly fluent on, or other similar tools, I'm trying to think if there is another? There are all sorts of product analytics tools as well as I've used lots of in house stuff as well. I think no matter the tool you use, it's more of having the habit and having the process to really embed that into your decision making. So if you're planning to launch your product feature, think about doing it looking at the usage data, for example, and adapting and having different streams depending on how people adopt a feature. So more than the tool to me is also the mindset of always factoring that in and always working around it and always bringing it to your decision making.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  18:58

Okay. Next up, would you say there's a lot of crossover between what you do and what a product manager does at your current company?

Virginia Diego  19:09

Yeah, I think so, it can be. I think product management now has a bit more definition. But you know, nothing is set in stone. So especially depending on if you look at different companies, different cultures, you're probably going to find... I've seen product managers that have product marketing functions in the role and vice versa. I think, in my current job that there isn't that much overlap, mainly because you need to define those things in a company but overall yeah, for sure. And again, I've seen several, I've seen product marketers doing part-time product management and the other way around.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  20:02

Okay, cool. And then in terms of the process of introducing and influencing new products or features, what does that look like at your company?

Virginia Diego  20:11

So one of the things that I really wanted to get right when I joined was process. It's not the, I guess not the most interesting thing as a product marketer, but you really need to get something going. So I'm constantly as I was mentioning, I constantly talk to product, I spend a lot of time with product managers. So I know about what's coming before it goes into the roadmap, which is, I guess a separate conversation, but then once something is in the roadmap, and we start to work together and say, okay, what's this going to look like? And start to plan. I personally don't like the idea of product marketing just getting in at the very end when you're about to go out but actually feeding into the product feature definition and into the roadmap from very, very, very early on and for that process is really important just to know that so that they know 'Oh, I'm coming up with a new feature, I need to make sure that I involve product marketing' and usually actually that should be you kind of work together in that step so you also avoid surprises of having features that are not marketable and things like that.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  21:37

So you mentioned, you have oversight into new products and features before they get onto the roadmap. Is that something you've had at previous companies as well or is that very specific to your current setup?

Virginia Diego  21:49

I guess to a different extent, mainly because of scale because of size. In bigger companies, you tend to work on smaller pieces of the product. While in smaller startups you oversee a much, much broader, like the entire product suite. So I definitely can see everything, I have to know what's going on everywhere, that's a key difference but I think a healthy relationship between product marketing and product. Obviously there will always be something, some features will come from very specific customer feedback or from some other places, but product marketing should be one of the sources that product managers look at to come up with those features.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  22:45

Yeah, no, I completely agree. And I think that's probably every product marketers dream. I think everyone would like to be brought in at this stage, but unfortunately, I get the impression some people just don't have that luxury.

Virginia Diego  22:58

You have to try and get there. There's no perfect way of doing it. But having the right processes and making sure that the right conversations happen from the beginning is just really, really important.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  23:18

So if possible, could you give any sort of insight into these conversations that you had to solidify these kinds of processes? Like, what did you say to kind of get that buy-in and get people to understand the necessity to have product marketing in at that stage?

Virginia Diego  23:35

I don't have the perfect answer. I'm definitely still working on that, but I feel first you have to insist, if you say something once and nothing happens, you just try again with a slightly different approach, but I think beyond what you say, first it's important to get the right support in the company. When going into a role you really need to assess like who's supporting this role? Do they see the value product marketing can bring? To me, that's a basic because if you don't have that, it doesn't matter what you say it's just you're not going to have that type of impact. If you have that, then good. But I feel you also need to show some of that value. So we need to show what you can bring to the process. So from product marketing, what can you do? So you can bring competitive intelligence, you can bring if you have an engineering-led product organization, you can bring some of that business focus and understanding what it means for the business overall, helping them get there. In terms of pricing, you can also bring that from the beginning and start to think about that too. As well as the customer perspective so there's a lot I believe that as product marketers we can bring to the table, so you just need to be very good at communicating that. It's almost like positioning your own role in a way that people like the CEO say okay, I need to get product marketing involved because of all of this. And good relationships as well. Not only with your product team, but sitting at the intersection between so many different teams with client-facing teams, product, that's a very powerful position to also bring insights into product development process, and you need to be able to articulate that.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  25:42

Yeah. Okay, that's awesome. That's really interesting. Thanks. Okay, penultimate question. In your opinion, what if anything needs to change about product marketing?

Virginia Diego  26:01

I think product marketing needs to get taken more seriously. Lots of companies and depending on who you talk to a lot of people see product marketing as that communication end, that 'oh yeah, let's ship this product and product marketing will make it look pretty'. And that's it. I think it needs to be seen more as a strategic function. And, you know, good product marketers have a very unique set of skills, being able to aggregate all of those different groups and having that it's a very interesting skill set. So I think companies should get smarter about using that and just given it this strategic way it has and that would also mean in terms of investment in product marketers, all product marketers I know are extremely overworked, the ratio sometimes with product managers can be, you know, 1:4 or 1:5. And that's crazy. You're not using the full power of product marketing, you're not using it to the fullest if you have one product marketer, for four product managers and for five or six or something like that. So also investment in building those teams, and really reinforcing different functions within product marketing, because it's not just one single role but they can have product marketers that are more focused on market research, you can have product marketers more focused on onboarding, it really depends on the needs of your business, but you need to have headcount in the first place. Because if not it's just really hard to make all that happen.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  27:45

And then finally, if there were any new or aspiring product marketers listening to this podcast right now, what would your advice to them be?

Virginia Diego  27:55

My advice would be not to worry too much about career paths and about having product marketing in your job title very early on, but more to build the skills that are going to make you a strong product marketer. Even if that's not called product marketing in the beginning, you need to see what's the space you want to be in. And there are several ways of getting there. So I wouldn't worry about that. Just building that foundation and getting the right experiences. And another thing would be not to obsess over perfection, especially, you know, it's a type of role that if you try to go for 100% be it in a product launch, messaging and positioning, there's only so much you can do sitting in your company's building, that you just need to get it out there soon. So as soon as you have 80% of what you want to deliver just deliver it. And then you can iterate and have that approach and try and validate that with real life, real people that will give you actionable feedback.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  29:13

Okay, awesome. And then I did say last question, but you just sparked another so this is the last question promise, in terms of getting that real-life feedback and speaking to customers, how often do you try and do that and how do you kind of broach that contact?

Virginia Diego  29:29

Well, I think it's never enough. To be honest, I try to do it frequently. It obviously it changes from company to company, but I think as a product marketer, you should try at least a couple of times a month, like every couple of weeks, you should try and get some time with customers. It also depends on if you're in B2B or B2C, in B2B that's easier, not extremely easy but it's easier than in B2C you can tag along to existing sales meetings and things like that. But it's just really important that you have that contact and really, you know, understand firsthand what the pain points are. Because otherwise you're just doing your thing and you're doing everything for the customer but without the customer, which doesn't really make sense.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  30:23

Yeah, totally. Okay, awesome. Well, that was the last question. Thank you so much for your time today. It's been really interesting speaking to you.

Virginia Diego  30:32

Thank you.