In the first Product Marketing Life podcast of 2021, we got together with Jena Donlin, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Snowflake, and discussed onboarding as a new product marketer. Jena shares how she prepared for her move to Snowflake, what she thinks helped her secure the role, expectation versus reality, personal KPIs, tips for nailing working from home, and more.

Full transcript:

Emma Bilardi - PMA  0:01

Hi everyone, and welcome to the Product Marketing Life podcast brought to you by Product Marketing Alliance. My name is Emma Bilardi, and I'm a Content Marketer here at PMA. This week, we're joined by Jena Donlin and we'll be discussing onboarding as a new product marketer. Jena is the Senior Product Marketing Manager at Snowflake. Welcome to the show, Jena.

Jena Donlin  0:20

Hi thanks, Emma, thanks for having me.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  0:21

No problem so could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your role at Snowflake?

Jena Donlin  0:27

Yeah, so I'm originally from Michigan, I've worked in both New York and now in the Bay Area. I recently joined Snowflake this summer in July, as a Senior Product Marketing Manager. I'm focusing on the data warehouse workload so I get to explore topics around migration, performance, analytics, I work with a lot of our partners and most directly with our product management team on product launches.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  0:54

Excellent. So clearly, you have a tonne of experience in the product marketing industry but could you talk us through how you prepared for the interview for this role? And what you think sealed the deal?

Jena Donlin  1:06

Yeah, I think for me, the first thing I did that was really important and crucial was really thinking about what I wanted in my next role. So I think I had been responding and kind of looking at the market and looking what was available and I'd been talking with recruiters, and I think based off of my last role, I was kind of on the consideration list for a lot of director roles.

So managing a team, building out from early seed stage opportunities, I really liked that, I thought that sounded really exciting and interesting, you kind of get this mix of management and green space to go and explore. So I was like, okay, that sounds really cool but as I was going through interviews and having those conversations, I was realizing that I wasn't as excited about the management portion.

Not that I don't like working with people, but laying that structural foundation, thinking about hiring and growing teams, it's really exciting and awesome, but it takes you a little bit away from some of the interesting work in product marketing for me right now at this moment in my career. I think the first thing I did that was really helpful was I created a list of what really got me excited.

I had worked with a number of companies while I was at my last company, Braze, which is a customer engagement platform. And one of them was actually Snowflake, but what I was trying to find were companies that their product really excited me, that I thought was really interesting, and that I'd be like, man, I'd be so lucky to work on this, this seems really exciting.

And so I think the first step was one identifying what was exciting to me, and then the second was really going and looking at my strengths and weaknesses. One of the things that I've learned from talking with people is that product marketers kind of run the gamut of a lot of different backgrounds. They have a lot of different focuses or strengths.

So one of the things that I was trying to figure out was like, how do I articulate what I'm really good at? And then where I'm trying to grow. And so that was another thing where I was like, okay, I'm really excited about operations so how do you kind of get things done? How do you get things out into the market that have high quality, but that are also fast and responsive, and you're kind of testing and iterating?

Then also my weaknesses, and I'd put management as a weakness right now, I'm probably going to come back there at some point, but I was also realizing it's not something that super energizes me. And it's also not necessarily something that I have this innate gift at.

I think that I would really benefit from actually going into an individual contribution role, seeing how other really successful managers navigate and build-out programs, so I kind of copy that in the long term. That's kind of how I approached the interview process and I think ultimately being able to articulate that and also just show that excitement in the interview process is what really helped me stand out from the crowd.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  4:37

Absolutely, and being super honest about your capabilities and what you're comfortable with must've gone a long way as well.

Jena Donlin  4:43

I think so, I think people, I think we often feel this pressure to put on this act, that we're perfect at everything. I think one of the things that I really appreciate in colleagues and I'm trying to live is showing that vulnerability and being really open and honest about 'here's what I think I bring to the table and here's where I'm leaning in on you to be the excellent professional that you are'.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  5:07

So did you have a 30-day plan in place prior to joining the team? And if so, could you walk us through that?

Jena Donlin  5:14

Sure. Yeah. Actually, as part of my interview process, they had me do a project. The project included some messaging but the second part of it was building out a 180-day plan. I broke that down into three sections - a 30 day, a 90 day, and 180-day plan.

This is again, I think where I kind of focused on my strength, which is this operational approach. So I was like, okay, in the first 30 days, I'm going to try to build a strong foundation, the next 90 days, I'm going to try to get on the board, get things done, roll up my sleeves, and then at 180 days, I want to take on a big bet, I want to try to work on more of a strategic bigger project.

So one of the things that I learned, actually, from my last manager at Braze was a really effective way to talk at an executive level, about this kind of work. So I laid it down into objectives, measurement of success, and then the actions and deliverables that I would have in each of those sections.

For 30 days, and 90 days, I was really starting to say like, okay, what do I need to be successful? How do I access data? How do I understand the product roadmap? And what's coming up? How do I work with the marketing team and the sales functions? Can I get access to customers directly by shadowing sales calls? And then how do I translate that into things that are valuable for the business? Can I create marketing maps, review messaging, and make updates? Think about what my reporting dashboards look like.

Then because I was at my last company for more than four years, I realized that when a new person starts, you often have this fresh perspective that you quickly lose, but extremely valuable.

So I was like, okay, what if I did like a new girl report? So after that time, these are the things that I noticed, these are the things that I found amazing, these are the areas that I think we can dig in as a company a little bit more. This kind of work got me really excited too, about the role, where I was like, man, I can really get in there, and both have room to grow personally and professionally but also, I think I can make an impact pretty quickly.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  7:49

Excellent, so in terms of expectations, did your first 30 days meet them? Or were there curveballs that you didn't plan for?

Jena Donlin  7:58

Yes, to both of those, I think that one thing is my timelines are always really ambitious. So some things took longer than I expected. I think it was great to have that overall objective to just be like, okay, I'm still working towards that goal.

If things take a little longer, understanding why, making sure that I'm really honest and open, so I ended up joining in July, which our fiscal year starts in February so it ends in January. So our end of quarter is actually the end of July. So getting customer ride alongs for sales calls didn't really kick off until... there's a lot of pressure on sales, I definitely was like, 'oh man, I don't want to be another bother'.

But then what ended up being amazing was because that was actually hard and I was trying to figure out how to do it, I got an opportunity to sit in on QBRs. So I got this really great 30,000-foot view of the business really, really early. And it gave me a lot of ideas, a good understanding of where the sales team was killing it, and also where I could support maybe some areas.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  9:29

Yeah. So as a new product marketer to the company how important was it for you to seek clarification of what was and wasn't in your wheelhouse?

Jena Donlin  9:45

Yeah, I think what was really cool about Snowflake is that product marketing was pretty well established. We had a team of product marketers, so we had a core product marketing team as well as a solutions product marketing team. The difference is, the core team works really closely on the product launches directly with the product managers. Whereas the solutions team is coming from a vertical standpoint.

And so, as these teams are growing, you can take on more, or you can take on different things. I think, too, because the company was also in this really exciting transition - we IPO'd in September - the product marketing can and should evolve with that.

The product marketing team has been growing over time, so one of the things that we're thinking a lot about is how we start to structure and weave together all of the different product marketing disciplines. It's a very elegant puzzle. One of my colleagues on the solutions team, he's really good at seeing, 'okay, here is the structure of the message, here's how we think about business outcomes, solutions, sales plays, here's how all of these things will start to integrate if we all follow these types of templates'.

And so the company has been really encouraging of all of us as product marketers to just kind of be like, okay, well, what is a sales play? You guys go figure out exactly what that looks like for us and come back with solutions. So it's really cool to kind of be working with a team of other product marketers to do that.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  11:58

So is there anything that you wish you'd done differently?

Jena Donlin  12:03

I think I was really eager to get on the board and just start doing projects. And I was glad that I did that. But I think that, as a new person, you're always in that... you want to kind of be in the thick of things, but you're also still wrapping up. So I think that I wish I would have spent more time... I think I spent too much time trying to understand our messaging and not enough in the product itself.

So one of the things I'm still - and actually next quarter, I kinda want to make it a personal goal - is becoming more demo proficient. I want to be able to just do a basic demo, where I'm comfortable, but I think that I want to get really confident and crisp on that.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  12:51

So what was the biggest challenge you faced in the first 30 days of your new role?

Jena Donlin  12:57

Yeah, I think one of the things that I kind of knew going in, but then was very obvious when I got in was that, having been in my previous role for more than four years, I was really... and that company had grown, I think from less than 100 to more than 500 people while I was there. So I felt really dialed into how the organization operated, who to go to for what things, the ways to navigate or motivate teams of people.

So I think for me, at Snowflake, the first 30 days was just trying to understand like, okay, what does each team do? How do I interface with them? What are the expectations of me with those relationships? But then also, what are the interpersonal relationships? How does each person get motivated or excited? Or my priorities fit into their priorities?

Emma Bilardi - PMA  13:58

Did you set any personal goals? And if so, what were your personal KPIs?

Jena Donlin  14:05

Yeah, I think this is going back to talking about vulnerabilities and just all of us as humans, I think one of the things in starting a new role that I was really excited about was wanting to perform really well at work, but also setting really healthy boundaries. So COVID has been quite a hit in a lot of different ways, working from home it's so easy to just get up, start working, maybe feed yourself a little bit and then go to sleep and start all over again.

So I was really conscious about trying to be like, okay, by taking care of myself, I will actually help myself perform better. Because I'll be more alert. I'll be more energized. I'll be more excited. If I'm willing to really watch my energy levels, really think about that, what things I'm taking on.

And also, one of the things I've learned about myself is I have this afternoon energy slump. But if I take a lunch break, an hour where I just look away from the computer, that's less of an issue for me. So I was like, okay, it's not a big deal to put an hour lunch break every day, most people are really respectful, if they do want to schedule over it, they're like, "Can I do it?" And I'm like, "Yeah, yeah, like, I can just move that around, or I can shorten it".

But it's great to have that and to just know that it does help me, make me more productive in the afternoon. And then there are some other things that I've learned that I feel less pressure if I know that one day a week, I can work really late. I can just be like, okay, that deep work, I can just add on to the end of this workday.

And then also just kind of getting to know colleagues as humans can also make the day feel a little more real. So just making time and being open when people are like, 'Hey, my life is happening right now. Can we talk about my uncle or my kids, etc?" And I'm like, this is great, this is really exciting, I actually value this time a lot.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  16:21

So these are some really good remote working tips as well, I think.

Jena Donlin  16:26

Yeah, I mean, we're all bumbling through it. So I'd be curious to see what other people are doing. And one of the things too, is I feel like we often forget to talk about this, we're always so focused on tips about how to be the most productive at work. So I try to be really open and honest that sometimes me being productive at work is actually me being more productive and kind to myself in personal lives.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  16:51

Absolutely. So is it going well? Are you meeting them?

Jena Donlin  16:56

You know, day by day, but I think on the whole yes, I think I am in some ways, the lunch thing seems to be this big revelation. I was just talking with a colleague about how work can really go in kind of pushes. Like when you have a big conference coming up, it's just like, you kind of lean into that and you're like, this is a busy period, and then there'll be these nice little lulls. So really trying to kind of flow with that energy a little bit more than trying to constantly be 100% all the time.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  17:40

Sure, so on this show, we kind of like to wrap things up with some tips or some words of wisdom. Do you have any tips or best practices you could share about starting a new position as a product marketer?

Jena Donlin  17:54

Yeah, don't be afraid to get on the board pretty early. So trying to find smaller projects. I think the time that I felt like I was really ramping up was when I was starting to work with different parts of the marketing organization, working directly to respond to different sales requests. So trying to find those opportunities to work on those projects.

And then just leaning on your colleagues, a lot of times they're very excited to have you on the team, but they can also review your work and just make you more confident that you're not introducing any problematic responses to those requests.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  18:38

Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Jena.

Jena Donlin  18:44

Awesome. Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure talking with you.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  18:47

Yes, absolute pleasure talking to you, too. Take care.

Jena Donlin  18:50

Thank you.