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36 min read

Product Marketing Life [podcast]: Harvey Lee


We were delighted to get the chance to chat with PMM veteran Harvey Lee, about his unique and remarkable career in the role, how the function has evolved throughout his 20+ year experience including the introduction of the internet and mobile, plus how things vary from a regional and global perspective, the importance of soft skills for a successful career, and tons more fascinating insights.

Full transcript:

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:02

Hi everyone, and welcome to the Product Marketing Life podcast, brought to you by Product Marketing Alliance. My name’s Bryony Pearce and I’m the Content Manager here at PMA.  

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Product Marketing Core...meta, we know. PMMC is our very own product marketing certification program, and it covers the A to Z of product marketing essentials. With 11 modules, 68 chapters, 87 exam questions, 10+ hours’ worth of learning and official PMA certification, it’s a course not to be missed. Head here for more info.

In today’s show, I’ll be speaking to Harvey Lee, a Global Product Marketing Leader and Consultant, about everything from how he got into the industry 20 or so years ago, his journey up the product marketing career ladder, the shifts he’s seen during his time in the industry, global versus regional product marketing, and a ton more.

Harvey's a seasoned product marketer and first entered the industry in 1997, and since then he's held senior-level positions at companies like Virgin, Microsoft, at Kaspersky Labs and Epson. I'll let Harvey dig into his journey in more detail shortly, but for now, welcome to the show, Harvey.

Harvey Lee  0:19

Thank you very much. Great to be here.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:21

Oh, it's our absolute pleasure. So I guess first off, we see day in day out that product marketers come from all sorts of backgrounds, from sales to customer success to product and so on. So I know from speaking to you off-air that your journey is particularly unique. So could you give us a bit of a walkthrough what your journey into product marketing looked like?

Harvey Lee  0:42

Yeah, sure. Well, I mean, I think the first thing to know is that there is no prescriptive way to get into product marketing and there doesn't really seem even these days, any formal entry, you know, into the discipline. There are some common traits and we'll talk about those a little bit later on. But in terms of my journey, I got into it completely by accident. And I don't think that's necessarily unusual for most people, product marketing isn't a function that people usually start out thinking, "I'm going to leave college and go into product marketing". There's always some form of navigation on route to getting there from some other area. And my story is no different in that respect.

So it happened totally by accident, but I started in the music industry when I was a teenager, a long, long time ago. And what I know now is that everything that led up to me getting into product marketing was really the pre-work for me getting into product marketing, even though it wasn't per se, quote-unquote, 'product marketing'. So I started in the music industry when I was in my teens, I went to college and studied music I studied sound recording, so my aspiration at the time was to be actually a recording studio engineer for bands analysis.

So that's actually the journey I set out on. And the background to that was you know, I played in bands, I did roadie-ing on the weekends and music was my passion. And over a shortish period of time, a handful of years, my focus moved to actually touring so when I left college, I went touring all around the world with bands. And I started off at the bottom of the ladder as you do with these things, especially when you're that young. So I started off roadie-ing, humping, and schlepping equipment and then worked my way up through the technical side of it through audio engineering. And then once I'd done that for a couple of years, I started to diversify into the business of music while still being on the road, so production management, stage management, and business management, dealing with promoters, contracts, logistics, because being on the road with a band or bands is a huge logistical operation.

I cut my teeth there really and even though I did love it, I decided that music was my passion, being on the road wasn't. And I ended up working for a record label in London when I moved to London, in my mid-20s. And being at the label actually gave me that grounding in business and it also gave me a grounding in management, and a grounding in marketing. Again, I didn't really know it at the time, I was just sort of on the hamster wheel and just getting on with the job but managing up and coming bands, dealing with record labels, contracts, lawyers, and doing the marketing, it was a small independent label, even though it was well known at the time and historically, I had to do everything I was dealing with the distributor every day.

We were, even though again we didn't know it, we were putting together a direct to fan model out of necessity more than anything, I was doing everything and then sort of the internet happened, Windows95 happened, I got a laptop, I discovered mail merge and databases and the IT side of me came out and when the music industry side of it started winding down, purely by accident, I answered a classified ad in Music Week, which is, you know, the UK equivalent to Billboard, basically, a music industry Bible, looking for product marketing managers, but it didn't say that it wasn't in the music industry. Anyhow, again, long story short, I answered the ad, did a number of interviews, and it was actually the interactive entertainment industry, the video games industry, looking to recruit product marketers from the music industry or any other creative industry, because at that time, you know, the video games industry or the interactive entertainment industry, as they often like to be referred to were at the very, very early stages of the massive commercial development as we know it now.

So video games have always been there but been very much a sort of bedroom activity. And the industry was moving from the bedroom to the living room and exploding but there weren’t enough people with the right not skills, but the right experiences because it was a new industry. So they were recruiting from other creative industries, such as music and film, and so on and so forth. So I answered the call, I got a job and that was actually my first official product marketing role in '97. For that particular company I did it for a year and the one thing that became very evident was that actually moving industries wasn't such a wrench as I thought it would be. Because I'm still in the creative world, but the aspects of a product marketer, I came to realize quite quickly that I'd already been doing this job I just didn't have the title. I was doing it in a different industry.

And that's where I had that realization that wearing all these many hats, learning significant parts of other people's jobs or functions and how to do it was actually a great grounding for this role called product marketing. So, I stayed in that role for a year until a corporate buyout and that's when I ended up at Virgin and I stayed at Virgin for about 3-4 years or so. And at Virgin I joined as a product marketer, looking after the US portfolio, so again, I was learning, growing my skills, working with the US, managing their portfolio, through Virgin who licensed it and again, another long story short, I ended up managing the whole marketing department for one reason or another.

So I sort of grew out of but expanded out of just product marketing into more general marketing. So I had advertising and PR, and the team under my remit and that's really where team management was introduced. I was introduced to team management, it wasn't introduced to me, I had to build a team, nurture a team, and so on and so forth. And that again built extra muscle in the marketing discipline outside of product marketing. And then that was an incredible experience learning all the time and then I got the call from Microsoft. So again, Microsoft was launching this new shiny thing that we now know is Xbox, but at the time, it was still almost a prototype back in 2000-2001, and I joined Microsoft as the 12th employee in the European office, before it launched in Europe, as a product marketer, actually.

I was the only product marketer for Microsoft on Xbox in Europe. And we had, I think we had 12 launch markets. I joined three months before it was launched. We didn't even have a prototype in the office or an early release model. So it was all hands to the pump. It was very much a startup environment. You didn't even feel that you were at Microsoft or a huge corporate entity because we had our own agency it was very autonomous. And very, very fluid as we know startups are. And I didn't expect it but I stayed for 12 years and I saw everything from a hardware point of view, especially that happened. There isn't an Xbox out there that doesn't currently, soon to change, but currently doesn't have my hands on it in Europe, so I did the first Xbox. I did the Xbox360, I did the current Xbox as well, the Xbox One because I left Microsoft, actually as it was shipping to retail about seven years ago. So one of the great things about Microsoft and the Xbox journey was scalability.

So that was really for me personally in terms of growth in the function of product marketing, as the company was growing, as the category was growing, as the market was changing, I grew with it and you might say I rode the crest of the wave, but it was that scalability actually grew a lot of muscle as a professional. And that's probably one of the fundamental reasons I stayed so long is because there was always a challenge. There was always something to learn, something new to do, and it kept it exciting and interesting. But that came to an end and actually, I decided to bring that to an end when there wasn't anything new for me personally, to learn, and I wanted to carry on growing at that velocity. And, you know, when I joined that was a no brainer, but by the time I left, it was a stable, mature, cyclical business.

I just needed something different from a personal growth point of view. So I joined Kaspersky Lab as global product marketing director and I was very much looking for that step up at that time into a global role. So I've moved out of the EMEA role, European, Middle East, Africa role into a global role and moved into a different category. So I spent about 14 years in music 14 years or so, bit more in video games, I then moved into a different category so I moved into internet security, consumer-led internet security, and I was there for nearly five years, leading the team remotely. And that was, again an incredible challenge but again, an incredible opportunity to grow as well. And more recently, I've spent a couple of years at Seiko Epson on the consumer print side, but again, in a different region. So I've been working exclusively in emerging markets around the Middle East and Africa and Russia. And again, that added something as well in terms of muscle growth and insight.

So you know, if I look back I would say that the diversity has kept me grounded in product marketing, the variety, the depth and breadth has kept me engaged with the discipline of product marketing. And it keeps you really, really busy but I don't think it's for everyone you know, I mean, we see on the Slack channel people coming to product marketing and there's a sudden realization especially for newbies, entries to the function that there's so much to do, being at the intersection of just sales, product, and marketing doesn't really do it justice in terms of diversity, we're at the intersection of absolutely everything, especially in a global role. So for me, that worked out great because I love to wear many hats, right? And if you love to wear many hats, this could be a discipline that's suitable for you. If you don't, and if you like to specialize in one thing, maybe it's not but you know, each individual needs to take that into consideration for themselves.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  12:01

And then just to backpedal to those first few roles you had, it's another interesting conversation that I see quite often people saying that product marketing hasn't been around for too long. And I think it might have even been last week on the Slack channel, I saw a thread of people saying it's not been around for more than 5-10 years or something. But obviously you've had these roles back in the ‘90s, were they the job titles that we see today so you know, Product Marketing Manager, Senior Product Marketing Manager, or was it under another title?

Harvey Lee  12:28

No, it was still using the same titles, but it has changed. And I think with that change, the perception of it has changed to some degree as well. So, when I got into product marketing back in the ‘90s, it was quite binary, in that it was largely consumer-led, so my background is consumer. It was pre-internet, which I know for most people will be a very abstract concept to try to consider, let's not go to detail yet, and so I think it was quite clear, and I won't say fully defined, but it did exist, but the scope of it, and the penetration of it was quite light and it was very much more on the consumer side.

I think with the advent of the internet and the cloud and all the tools that people have now and the change in business models, you know, especially from if we look really high level from ownership to access, you know, from products to services, that the market landscape has completely changed in that product marketing now, especially if we look at our own community, for example, as one example, through the PMA, is predominantly B2B. And that changes a lot, it changes the prism of what you look through as a product marketer quite a bit. And of course, the empowerment, and this is the key part, the empowerment that product marketers have now compared to, at their fingertips, literally at their fingertips, compared to what a product marketer, like myself or someone who's been around for a while, used to have to go about doing things is completely different.

So I think that the internet changed it and obviously the internet in the way that we use it, and we know it isn't that old. Mobile, isn't that old, it's 10-11 years old really if you think about it in mass adoption terms I consider mobile started with the iPhone and went from there. So in some regards, yes, it is only 10 years old, but it's through a certain prism. It's 10 years old if you're looking at the cloud-based B2B mobile-first or mobile native view, but it did exist before, but it might not have been that visible.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  14:52

And then out of curiosity so like you mentioned, it's obviously changed a lot now we have the internet. How did other like for example, if you were gathering customer feedback and going out speaking with customers, how much more difficult would that have been like, pre-internet, and all that? Like, how did you go about tasks like that?

Harvey Lee  15:09

Well, the world was manual. I mean, again, it's another abstract concept, right? You used to have to pick up the phone, you know, "Oh my god I've got to speak to a human being". But yeah, I mean, that's how it was and in a way, and I know this might sound quite profound, everything has changed, but nothing has changed from a product marketers point of view. Why has everything changed? For reasons we understand, the internet, the tools, etc, etc. And you know, that empowerment through data. But at the same time, human beings haven't changed.

I saw a great quote, and I can't paraphrase it perfectly, but I'll credit ReD Associates in Copenhagen with this, a research company that I used a number of years ago and basically you can measure things in numbers, in quantity, and quantitative research is fantastic for that. But humanity and human beings are qualitative. And if you're going to talk to a customer, you can't do it through these tools, you actually have to talk to a human being. So, in the old days, back to your question, in the old days, we spoke to customers and nothing's changed today. We still speak to customers today, we pick up the phone, we have meetings, we do research, we do focus groups, etc, all the different touchpoints that we have to name but just a couple, so that way hasn't changed.

The challenge is, how do you scale it? So if you want to apply a quantitative measure to those conversations, that's where it starts getting a little bit trickier. So if you're having a conversation with 10 customers, obviously it's not a robust data set, but if you've got an international network, and at some point in my career I did have, especially at Microsoft, we'd have 27 offices talking to X amount of customers and I would literally, I or my assistant at the time would have to coordinate all the manual feedback back and it would end up in a spreadsheet. And that would take possibly two to four weeks. Whereas now that'll be done in less than a week, you click a button, and there it is in a dashboard, online, in the cloud for everyone to see and share.

So I think that really the scalability of it and the ability to share it is one of the key aspects of the difference, it was a lot more manual, it took a lot longer, so that empowerment wasn't there. But again, like I say, in a way, nothing's changed. You still have to talk to your customers. And I think that one of the things that people forget, not just product marketers, but just in general in business, is that all businesses are people led.

So you can have quantities of things, but at the end of the day, and you can have a product but people don't buy products per se, and you're communicating to a person. And using old fashioned communication tools like numbers, and words and psychology, all of these kind of human-based attributes to do your job, as well as all the other great stuff that's available as well. So, measuring the difference between qualitative and quantitative, between data and human is one of the finest balancing acts a product marketer will have to do to build that holistic view of the customer, or the consumer or the user, whatever you want to call it. So in a way that never changed, it's not the what it's the how.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  18:45

Yeah, that's a good point. And then I guess going back we mentioned a little bit earlier, there's no set path to get into product marketing, so what would your advice be to someone who wants to get into product marketing, but has absolutely no experience in product marketing?

Harvey Lee  19:02

Well, I think the first question I would ask someone who's thinking about it is why do you want to get into product marketing? What is it about product marketing that interests you? Because as we spoke about earlier, it's not necessarily for everybody. So I'll give you an example. When I was at Microsoft I interviewed a number of people for a role, a particular role, it was a product marketing role in the Xbox Live team, the online gaming service, and I met with people on paper, who you would think, would be quite an easy fit on paper, people from TelCo, ISP backgrounds, they had the right sort of online, technical know-how and profile of the company that they work for.

But what became very clear was that they might have had the technical know-how, but they didn't have the passion. They didn't have the ability to spin all the plates at the same time, not just spin the plates, but actually, bring it all together as well, and actually didn't have any interest in the subject matter. So you know, in this case, it's online and it's video games. And the standout candidate for that particular role was in complete contradiction to who you might have chosen on paper, and I'll tell you why.

So this young fellow came in, he worked at a supermarket ironically, and I remember seeing his resume, his CV and thinking this guy works at a supermarket why am I even reading your CV? But the main thing that hooked me on his background was what he did outside of work and he ran an online fanzine for video games, PC games, but Microsoft branded PC games, and he was really a Microsoft fanboy. And he was basically, long story short, he was basically doing the job in his own time. So what he got paid for became irrelevant, what he was actually doing, in his own time, with his own drive and motivation became more important.

So I thought, you know, this is a contractor role, there's no harm in seeing him so I brought him in. And once we walked through what he did outside of his day job, it became very clear that actually he's doing product marketing anyway, he's just paid for it or recognized for it. And he had the passion, the drive, he was very analytical, he ran his own database, he knew how to do marketing automation, before marketing automation became a thing, he coded a bit, and he was a great communicator, and he had a great energy about him.

So I brought him in, I knew he had all the key attributes of a great product marketer, data-driven, he was focused on the customer, he could spin all the plates, wear all the hats, consolidate it, bring it all together and communicate effectively. That's not all the attributes, but that's some of the key ones in this particular role. And I just thought he was worth giving a chance to, and I knew that he was a jewel in the rough, and I would need to be hands-on as his manager to help coach him and that will take six to 12 months to sort of shape him into coming into a big organization because at that time, we're not talking about the early days of Xbox we're talking about halfway through the cycle, about six years in and he managed the data great.

He became a very, very popular member of the team and in his first year, he won Microsoft contractor of the year, two years in a row. And now he's a senior product evangelist based out in head office in Seattle, he's been there ever since, I think he's been there longer than I was. So yeah, I look beyond the CV sometimes and I look at the attributes and the traits and think is this person a great fit? Because I know that what's on paper only tells half the story if that sometimes.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  23:22

That's a great case study for it though because I always find and it's not even just product marketing, in all jobs, you find you'll see the job descriptions, you know, 'must have 50 years experience in this', how do you get that experience if no one gives you a job? Well, that's a great example of why.

Harvey Lee  23:37

Yeah. I mean at the end of the day, we all suffer from this. So when we're all looking for a new role or a new challenge, we all go through this process. And unfortunately, it's still very pervasive today in that what's written is not everything and you need to, from both sides of the equation, either as somebody applying for the role or as a hiring manager posting it, you need to see outside the box to coin a cheesy phrase. And unfortunately, often that doesn't happen for lots of reasons, because HR now is so machine automated. So you can't apply that context or a human eye over something you might be interested in, because it'll just be rejected by the system. And so yeah, automation does make things a little bit tougher for candidates but that's why I think the power of the network and communities is really strong and you can still breakthrough.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  24:44

No, I totally agree. And for someone who's brand new to product marketing, you touched on some of the skills that you were looking for then in this new hire, but what would you say the essentials are that people need to be able to grasp right off the bat, and then how if someone's never held a product marketing role, how would someone go about learning those kinds of skills or traits?

Harvey Lee  25:07

Yeah, so I think that at the high level, there's two ways to look at it, you've got hard skills and soft skills. So if you're thinking about getting into this game, start off with in my mind, I've literally got a column down the middle of my mind, one side is hard skills, one side is soft skills. First of all, if you're coming completely green and completely fresh into product marketing, obviously focus on the hard skills, get great at data, get greater understanding of what it means to be not just the product champion, but the customer champion as well.

Everybody in an organization claims that they are the voice of the customer and in reality you all are, there shouldn't be one single owner who is the voice of the customer, but yours should be the loudest. And in order to do that, not only do you need to take into consideration other people's views of what the customer looks like, but you need to have extremely strong data and views yourself and amalgamate it so that people see you as the oracle of the customer.

So I think learning those hard skills around data and numbers as well and so focus on the quantitative, learn the tools, literally like the back of your hand, because the bit that I'll get onto in a minute kicks on from that. Learn what it means to do insight work around the customer, qualitative and quantitatively, so spend time with the business or the market insights department, go on field trips, sit in focus groups, learn and understand how all the different types of quantitative surveys are put together. Understand and get that grounding in the 'how' all these things get put together.

Because once you've got that, you've got it and you just need to keep it topped up, then you need to focus on your soft skills. It's the soft skills that will make you a success, not the hard skills. And I don't know whether that's controversial or not, it's only my opinion, but when you go for an interview, let's say you go to your first or your second product marketing interview, one of the things that they won't focus on is your hard skills. Because they will just assume, as long as your CV is reasonably well put together, they will assume that you can do numbers, that you can operate XY&Z tool online and, yeah, you might be asked for some demonstrable examples, but they'll move on pretty quickly, the conversation will move on to soft skills, influence and competency-based.

So once you've got that grounding, that foundation, you need to constantly go into a permanent cycle of learning and growth around soft skills and competency-based, because that's where most recruiters will focus their time with you. So they'll ask for, how did you do this? They'll have a tick list - yeah, they can do this. Yeah, they can do that. And especially if you've got some demonstrable experience, even if it's not in product marketing, but doing something else, where you can demonstrate you've got those hard skills, they'll want to know how you apply it, how you go about it. In the real world as much as possible, they'll want to understand scenarios.

So again, you'll have to start getting into storytelling about how you met certain challenges, etc, etc. and the things that you did, so focus on the soft skills. So again, I know I've used this phrase already, but it's not the what you know, it's how you apply it, and that's where you need to focus on and I think soft skills is really where the growth will come from, hard skills might open the door slightly. And the soft skills part is a nonstop hamster wheel of learning. For all the years I've been doing this, I'm still developing that side of things. You can learn a new tool in a day, potentially but the soft skills things is about life and working with people. So I would say that's the area to focus on and that's what will get you on the ladder. That's what will get you noticed.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  29:34

I completely agree, and as well with the kind of soft versus hard skill thing I think that's quite, I wouldn't say it's controversial, a lot of people when we do this product marketer insider podcast, we ask people, you know, what are the top skills you think are needed for the role and communication and collaboration are without doubt the first ones that come up, and as well, the influencer report I did last year, we were asking people from Amazon, Google, etc. what do you think the main skills are? And without doubt, again, it's communication and collaboration.

Harvey Lee  30:00

Yeah, absolutely, I completely agree. In a way, if you've got incredibly strong soft skills, but your hard skills are average, you can still do fine. Because it will pull you through. But the reverse isn't necessarily true. So you know, if you're the best data analyst, or you're the best numbers person in your team, but you can't communicate effectively, or meet a personal challenge that might be affecting the team, even let's say linked to morale, morale has taken a hit for XY&Z reason, then it's not gonna help you. And at the end of the day, we're all people, we work together as a team. So that's the way I see it anyway and I've always approached my teams from that point of view, too.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  30:53

Okay, cool. Well, this kind of ties into the next question as well. So I guess once people are actually in the industry, and they wanting to move up the ranks, and I know you've obviously done this over your time. I guess these kinds of soft skills will play a large part in that. But what would your advice be for people looking to make that next move? So for example, from a Product Marketing Manager to a Senior Product Marketing Manager, to a Director and so on, like, how do people go about making that next step?

Harvey Lee  31:17

Yeah. I mean, it's something that you need to think about. So, and again, it's difficult to qualify or quantify, it's one of those things is very much a grey area, but there are some common traits, right, so drawing on my experience. Well, I think that the first thing to think about is that if you feel that you're ready, and this is key, if you think that you are ready for that next step at whatever level that next step is, so let me talk in sort of general terms, not specific terms. Then ask yourself the hard questions.

Why am I ready for that next step? What empowers me to go to that next level? One of the traits that really I don't like, I don't think anybody would like is somebody who feels entitled to a promotion. If they feel like I've got all the hard skills, I've got the soft skills, look at my achievements record, look at the value that I've added, give me the promotion. But it doesn't really work like that. And, you know, I've been in these situations myself where if you've been in a job for a while in the same company, and you might have experienced getting passed over for promotion, that's not the worst thing that can happen to you because depending on how you react to it, it's not what happens to you, it's how you react to it. Because it's about what you're going to learn out of it.

Why did you get passed over for it? What can I do to make sure that the next time an opportunity comes up that I'm right there at the front of the queue and I'm a serious candidate and I don't get passed over for it? And I think, you know, Richard Branson has this great quote, don't do the job that you have, do the job that you want. And I think that's a phenomenal quote. And there's so much to that in that, before you get passed over, you can live to that mantra or adopt some of that mantra in your day to day now, you can do it now. Don't wait for the promotional opportunity to come. Just believe that one day it will come but do it now.

So when it does come, not only do you already feel that you're ready, but the people who are the decision-makers already see that you are ready, because you've been getting yourself ready in the interim, and you're actually showing some kind of leadership in your own self-development, getting ready for it. So you're demonstrating it already before you get to the finishing line, so to speak. So I think do the job that you want. What does that actually mean? Well, obviously, it's scalable. So if you'll go from a PM to a senior, a senior to a head or a head to a director, or whatever, evaluate the gap. So what is the grey area in between and try to think objectively what is it in that role that's not in my current role? Be objective about it.

And if you're not sure, ask people, it's absolutely okay to ask people, you can ask your line manager or even maybe your department head or you know, someone even more senior than that, you know, any good nurturing company will absolutely make time for employees that want to show personal growth. And if you've got questions, there's no reason why any manager even if it's not your own manager wouldn't help you. So if somebody came knocking on my door, my doors open, no problem at all.

And I've done it myself so I'm speaking from when it happened to me, I spoke with, it was at Microsoft actually, the general manager for the whole of the NBA. And I had 45 minutes of his time, he gave me the most insightful, personal, grounded feedback that I truly valued. And he spoke to me as Harvey the person not Harvey the product lead or the product marketing lead, and that was incredibly insightful. And it was something that I could action so he gave me an insight into how he views that more senior role, and then what he's looking for. So he explicitly told me, I'm looking for this, this, this and this, and I left the room and I go, "Okay, I need to develop those four things", and I just set about doing it.

What does that look like in real terms? Well, asking for that feedback is key so review time when you're doing your MBOs ask for 360 feedback from peers, but most importantly superiors. Because if you ask your peer group, you're going to get people largely agreeing with you. So if you need to grow, you need to ask people above you what they think of you because they are the decision-makers and they're the ones who determine what's going to happen in the future. And not just engaging your manager and other managers as I mentioned, but engage HR so if you've got a proactive HR department, who truly are active around employee growth and learning, then they may have tools that you can use, which might help build your emotional intelligence, there might be self-development programs such as insights discovery, go on this journey of self-learning and self-awareness, it's really, really important.

And then the second part is to demonstrate as much as you can in your current role. I'll give you an example. So there was a time when I was frustrated, a little bit bored, the business had become very cyclical, an exciting job had become quite nine to five. And I'd been passed over too, more than once for a particular

Harvey Lee  37:17

role. And I made these changes and what came out of it was I ended up diversifying out of my current role with approval from my manager, diversifying into an area that put me in front of the leadership team. So I ran a side project for the leadership team that was connected to what I was doing so it wasn't completely out there. It didn’t take up too much time, but it was high visibility and highly strategic and it helped portray me in a different light and it actually got coveted in my end of year review.

And there was another project the same year or a year after I can't remember, it was an enormous event that we were running and I volunteered to be the project lead on it. And you know, we had 200 partners from all over Europe flying into a central destination, we didn't have an events department and the wearing of many hats aspect of it came into practice. But also my grounding in logistics in the music industry also helped as well. And it was an example of something that happened 20 years earlier I was able to draw on.

So there's no such thing as a wasted experience, whether it's positive or negative. So there are two key steps, do the learning, ask for feedback, take it on board, and then demonstrate outside of your current role in a different light, so don't do more of the same, do something different that helps you break out. So if you do more of the same people just go, "He's really or she's really great at that", but they won't see you in a different light. But if you do it in a different field, people will take notice. So I think that's largely the key to it and I've seen that kind of approach work really, really well.

Of course, nothing's definitive. So whether it's in the role that you have in the company that you are, maybe it does or doesn't work out for you. But if you apply the same principles, it will at some point in the future work out for you, maybe not in this company, maybe in the next. And that's actually what happened to me. It didn't necessarily work out in this company, but it did get me a promotion in a different company and it got me to where I wanted to be. So you do have to be a little bit patient.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  39:42

Yep, cliche saying I know but everything happens for a reason. Okay, cool. So kind of looking back, I guess on your career to date, what would you say your biggest learnings or takeaways have been while progressing through the product marketing field?

Harvey Lee  40:00

To a certain level, it still puzzles me that there's no uniform definition of product marketing, but in the same way, in the same breath, I'm not surprised either. Because obviously product marketing means different things in different organizations and actually in different countries as well sometimes. So what do I think my biggest learnings are? Well, I think it still differs from company to company and region to region, you know, even after the fact I've been doing it for 25 years under the title of product marketing, but longer before in a way that part of it hasn't really changed. And if you think about it, traditional product marketing can lean across the scale of things, if you think of it as a pendulum, so differently.

So from traditional product marketing, you can lean for very heavily towards the product team and almost be a product person. And then it can lean towards category management, it can lean towards operations management or full-stack marketing, broad marketing. And I've been in product marketing roles where each one of those actually applied. And I was questioning myself what is product marketing? Because I don't see any uniform definition from it, but actually, in a way, it's one of the traits of product marketing that it does differ from company to company or region to region.

So I think that you have to take the ownership on yourself to think if you want to get into product marketing, what is the definition that works for you? What aspects of product marketing is it that you want to get into? And when you look at an opportunity at a particular company, you need to think okay, what are the aspects of this job that really interest me? And sometimes on face value, it could seem like one thing, but in reality, it's actually something else.

And if you're coming from product, I'm digressing a little bit here, but if you're coming from a product team, but you want to get in product marketing, it might not be the best idea to take a role that's very heavily orientated towards go-to-market, because the gap will be so huge. So take it in tiny increments. And the same might be true coming from the opposite side. So from a regional point of view, if you're going from a region to a global role, there's considerations there and vice versa. And I think that people need to, we all need to be very cognizant of those kinds of dynamics because the dynamic is massively different.

So, unfortunately, I don't see the change massively, like I said, over the 25 years, but I think that the biggest thing that has changed is the global regional view and the B2C versus B2B view, as we spoke about earlier about empowerment and how everything is, product marketing has almost become a completely B2B endeavor. It didn't set out as but, you know, for me well, that just is what it is but if we take a look at global and regional levels of product marketing, I think that's one of the key areas where things really do differ. I'll give you an example. So if you're in a global role, more or less, your role is largely strategic. And the reason for that is you're close to the center of decision making, you're in the nebulous of absolutely everything that happens around the company, the mission, and the product. And more than likely, you're going to be very close to the product team, if not actually sitting in the product team, potentially.

But when you're in a region, and again, this hasn't changed over those years, when you're in a region, you're largely tactical and the focus is more around, go-to-market and sales enablement. And the key aspect of this is converse to the global view. So in the global view, you're close to the center of decision making, whereas in the region, actually, the decisions are made elsewhere, there is a degree or sometimes multiple degrees of separation between you and the decisions that are being made that might actually affect you. And more than likely, instead of being close to the product team, and the management team, in the global role, you're going to be closer to the sales team. Which is just a reflection of the fact that it's more of a tactical role of a go-to-market role.

But I've seen people move between those two roles before with varying degrees of success let's say. I've done both and I won't comment about myself. I've done both. I like both. So you know, I'm somewhat agnostic.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  45:24

Do you have a preference to either?

Harvey Lee  45:27

I do have a preference. Yeah, I do have a preference for global because I'm generally more strategic. Quite a thoughtful person. That's not to say that being tactical isn't a thoughtful endeavor. But it's the scope of work that goes with that, that I particularly enjoy. But the irony of it is I've probably spent most of my career in regional, so it ebbs and flows, and actually I'll touch upon this actually as well.

So if you want to move between the twos there's a couple of key considerations that product marketers need to have. So if you're in a region, and when I say region I don't necessarily mean a country, but a region. So in my latest role, I was working in emerging markets for the whole of Africa, the whole of the Middle East and Russia, the Russian territories. How can you have more influence in headquarters? How can you stop decisions being made on your behalf without your involvement? Because you're going to have to deliver against the impact of those decisions, right, for better or for worse. So you need to have more influence in HQ and HQ if they're, reasonably halfway decent, they'll be reaching out to you on a reasonably regular basis.

But that doesn't necessarily mean you have influence that just means you're passing over information over the fence. So, from drawing on my experience, one of the things from my time at Microsoft, my whole time at Microsoft was in the EMEA role, Europe, Middle East, and Africa. And in the early days, there wasn't a global department, there were two international product managers in Seattle, for the whole world. And that was it. So for the most part, in the early days, a lot of the decision making was regional because it had to be, it was just horses for courses, so to speak.

But over time, after a few years, actually, the global team was actually formed and built and with that, obviously, the decision making largely moved. Not about everything, because some of it was already in Seattle but largely moved, making us more regional and more sales and tactical focused. But as the only product marketer on first-party hardware, that's the console and the accessories, I still needed to exercise quite a lot of influence with the global team.

So the way that I went about doing that was repositioning myself or my role, not me personally, but repositioning my role to them in their eyes, so that they perceive me as part of their team. So what did that mean? So I took the initiative to go over to Seattle often, there was a time where I was going every six weeks. And I would sit in the global team, as often as I could in the monthly review meetings, and be seen to be a part of their team, but also as a key contributor. So not just to sit there and listen, but to be an active participant and a contributor.

So I would go with regional insights, research studies, numbers, data projections, the whole thing, and actually lift the lid, so to speak, on the region, so that they felt and saw the value. And I explicitly said to them, I am part of your global team I just happen to sit somewhere else. And a combination of all those things over time enabled me to have an extremely close, as close as possible relationship with the global team that enabled me to either get decisions for our region made that might not have been possible to make, or decisions that were going to be made on our behalf to get them not made, to say learn to say no, is often as important to saying yes because you can't do everything.

And it was a very, very successful relationship from that point of view, but if we look at it from the other side, if you're a global and you're coming to regional, the first thing you've got to ask yourself is, am I going to be happy being a number of degrees of separation away from where the decisions are made? Because the energy is completely different, you're going from a strategic management organization and product lead organization to a sales lead, tactical, sell it now, get to our targets this month, this quarter, type of organization. So the first question you've got to ask yourself as you're going from global to regional is do I want that to be my life? Do I want to be that hands-on with sales enablement, customers, partners, and be held accountable for sales results?

So that's not to say that we're not all, in global as well. But it's a softer view, and it's a more global view. So the nuance is completely different. One is sharper than the other, so to speak. But anybody who wants to make that move, my advice to you would be to get into the regions as much as possible. So, think about those lovely air miles you're gonna rack up in the future. Get out of the building is the best advice I can give you, get out of the ivory tower, get out of the head office, the bubble that you may or may not be in, go and talk to customers, go and talk to your users, if it's the same or different, and be visible in the regions and be the region's best partner.

And not from a hypothetical point of view, but actually from a real point of view, make sure you're talking to your key product marketers weekly scheduled calls be organized about it and not when you just need something. So they're a stakeholder for you, be your partner's best partner. And last year, I live this mantra massively for myself, I traveled over 90,000 miles last year, visiting regions because I was responsible for a region, I was sitting in London which is where I am now but responsible for markets that were six, eight and 12 hours, 14 in some regards flight away and I would be there once or twice a quarter in person But the insight that you get from doing that is enormous whether you're regional or global. So I think they're the main differences and that hasn't changed over time. But it's something that if you're moving from one side of the equation to the other you need to be really cognizant of.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  52:21

And then final question from me, we touched on it a little earlier kind of the variations from company to company, product to product, market to market. This is another thing that we see a lot of conversations about, kind of defining product marketing and how difficult it is to define it because it is so different from company to company. Do you think there's a need for more of a standardization? Or do you think that will ever happen like in the future or?

Harvey Lee  52:46

It's a bit like how long's a piece of string? It's a great question, but it's a very tough question to answer and I think that in reality, if we're being realistic about it that if the evidence of my past 25 years is anything to go by, nothing's going to change from an organizational point of view. So even though the market landscape changes, the tools that we have, before or after internet, mobile-first or otherwise, actually, in reality, organizationally, a lot of companies haven't changed in terms of their view, in that it's all so different, as I spoke about earlier, and I don't see that necessarily changing.

But I think that the responsibility, even though we'd love it to be clearly defined and all let's say the Forbes 100 adopt a unified set of standards for what product marketing means this, that and the other, but it's just not realistic. It's not gonna happen. Every business has its own needs, and they cater to their own needs. So I think with that in mind, the responsibility lies with product marketers themselves. Which is why I think PMA is such a great forum and a great basis in which to make that happen. When you slice it and dice it obviously product marketing meaning different things to different product marketers as well. So it's not just the companies, B2C, B2B, I mean, you name it.

And so whether the team sits in marketing, whether the team sits in product, on our side it's already so diverse, but what I think that one thing that we can do is that we can focus on the commonality of the traits in certain circumstances, put them on a quadrant for want of a better phrase, put them on a quadrant and think okay, for this type of product marketing role, it means this, this and this. For this type, it means this, this, and this. It's not really a framework but it's just a general set of principles of what product marketing looks like in those different scenarios. And then I'm not sure that we can go much beyond that.

But the responsibility I think has to lie with us not the companies. I think that's the key point. So if you're thinking about getting into product marketing, or you're thinking about what's next, if you're already in product marketing, think about that quadrant. Think about what those common traits are in different scenarios, B2B, B2C, physical goods, software goods or services, etc, etc. Regional versus global. So slice and dice it and then when you're looking at your opportunity think where in this grid or this quadrant or whatever it looks like, does this role sit? What attributes do I need and what are common? That's the way I've come to sort of look at it.

Harvey Lee  55:47

And it gets a little more tricky for me because most of my background is consumer so I operate in a tiny little corner on the right-hand side of that chart. But that's just a natural evolution. That's the way I would look at it. I don't think it's possible but we have to take our own responsibility.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  56:09

I think you've just inspired our next framework with that quadrant idea, watch this space.

Harvey Lee  56:17

Sometimes the best ideas are the ones that just come to you on the spot.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  56:21

Okay, well, amazing. Thank you so much for your time, Harvey, that's been all my questions for me, but it's been great speaking with you.

Harvey Lee  56:27

Absolute pleasure. Thanks very much.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  56:28

You're welcome.

Written by:

Bryony Pearce

Bryony Pearce

Bryony's the CMO for Product Marketing Alliance. She's been with the company since day dot and leads our marketing, courses, content, community, and customer success teams

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Product Marketing Life [podcast]: Harvey Lee