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7 min read

Staying true to product marketing when management doesn't understand


The roots of product marketing can be tied decades back to Al Ries and Jack Trout's, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind - but that doesn't mean we understand it fully yet. Our current understanding of product marketing is still super limited in many areas.

The 2021 State of Product Marketing report revealed that 53% of PMMs believe 'some do, some don't' when asked how well they think their role is understood by their peers. Only 5% answered with 'Yes 100%', while 16% believe it to be a 'constant challenge'.  

What the PMA State of Product Marketing 2021 report says about how well PMMs are understood

And it's only fair - marketing is ever-evolving, to keep up with today's new growth strategies like PLG, growth marketing, and what-not. We're bound to miss a thing or two, right?

How is product marketing understood by management and other parts of an org?

Product marketing is also not as widely accepted as other areas like content marketing and demand generation, etc. Many PMMs get stuck doing just sales enablement under the garb of 'product marketing', or do product marketing without even really knowing they’re doing it.

Heck, even I was doing PMM work long before I realized I was!

It’s the same story for many others who are thriving in this role, and I don't blame anybody. Product marketing is complex, and the lack of education around it doesn’t help.

But thankfully, that's all changing.

It’s easier than ever to educate ourselves on what PMMs generally own, figure out the gaps, and find ways to name and implement strategies that suit your company's needs.

Narrative design, positioning, messaging, customer segmentation, sales enablement, go-to-market, and so much more are all fruits of this continuous knowledge exchange. And while B2B SaaS companies are more prone to add product marketing to their mainstream palette, they might be a tad bit off about its job description.

So here we are - paving a path to a better and more widespread understanding of core product marketing, instead of staying loyal to a broken PMM job description.

Before we begin, here are three mantras to follow so your conversations don't misconstrue as a 'war against management'.

Educate yourself 📚

I cannot emphasize this enough - educate yourself.

  • Stay on top of what's new in product marketing.
  • Follow (read: stalk) leaders in the role.
  • Slice-and-dice the work of other PMMs.
  • Rely on PMM communities for support and learning.

Store your PMM knowledge so you can spill the beans at the right time. Keep your sources handy; they can become your ammo to convince management about what real PMM work constitutes.

Start with empathy 🌞

It's easy to question everything and suggest blanket ideas from day one. But instead, try empathy. Understand why things run the way they do.

  • Don't get into your new role with a set idea of doing specific tasks in product marketing. If you do want to grow as an expert in something specific, clarify it during your interviews.
  • Don't misjudge your management for not knowing best.

I'm not recommending you go with the flow in the name of empathy. But don't attack. Know the real reason management isn't understanding the role and use it as an opportunity to plug yourself as the missing piece.

For instance, if nobody cared about the website because most deals come through G2, there's no point in blindly arguing about how wrecked the website is. Instead, understand how long it takes to close the deal, what kind of questions prospects ask, and show how the website can address those issues and reduce time to close the deal.

Lead with data 📊

It's great that you have tons of experience to lead successful PMM projects, but that shouldn't be the only reason people trust you. If you're steering mammoth projects out of their way to get your ideas across, make them bulletproof.

Leave the biases and excitement aside. Chalk up important data and metrics that your project can use to improve. Surprise your management by pulling out interesting insights from existing data.

Okay, we're all set with the mantras.

Now, it’s all about getting started and steering projects to real PMM work!

Task 1: Ask, "Who owns the customers' voice around here?"

There are three possible outcomes for this question. And here's how you can navigate through each one of them:

#1 "Talk to the ___________________ team!"

You're in luck! You don't have to go back to the whiteboard and explain why we should care about the customer's voice as a company. Just plug yourself within said team and try to catch all conversations, meetings, and customer interviews around the voice of the customer (VoC).

Observe before you jump to contribute.

After you've spent enough time, grasped how things work, contributed your two cents, you could go one of two ways:

  1. Ask if you could be a permanent part of all future conversations around VoC.
  2. Figure out how product marketing can own VoC.

In both cases, share how VoC contributes directly to all PMM work - positioning, launches, messaging, etc.

#2 "Nobody."

Here's where you'll have to do a little bit more than listen. Start by preparing a proposal to run a customer interview exercise.

  • Avoid sending the proposal without adding the questions you'd ask the customers. Remove any confusion around the details of the exercise early on. Let the interview questions speak for the depth of this exercise.
  • Mention what business goals the customer interviews will help. Are the answers going to help us better understand buyer journeys? Are we going to shed internal biases? Do we learn more about how our customers think about our product? Prioritize the goals and try to show the extensive impact of this exercise. Even better if you can add how it helps every team within the company.

    Something like this:
  1. Bring the customer's voice to the forefront in all our marketing communications - The more they resonate with what they see, the faster they'll convert. Form a story for future prospects based on the stories our existing customers created.
  2. Understand their decision-making process while buying [Product] - Replicate their decision-making journey on the website.
  3. Get to know what kind of customers convert faster and why - Since [Product] caters to multiple personas, it’s important to understand the difference in value.

Depending on your business, you'd want to talk to different kinds of customers. Call them out. Cover all the dimensions, including customers who churned, prospects who turned us down to get holistic, unbiased opinions. If possible, figure out the exact number of conversations you want to have in the beginning.

Here’s an example of how I did it:

Our customers, their problems and their market is always evolving. We can interview X customers to kickstart the exercise but we should aim to keep this exercise continuous.

Customer segments to interview:

  1. Customers with the fastest conversion cycle
  2. Customers with the longest conversion cycle
  3. Customers who churned
  4. Prospects who signed for a trial or demo but didn’t convert

#3 "Everybody!"

I won't lie, it's rare to find companies where everybody is responsible for VoC.

So if you find yourself in one, jot down all the operational problems of being on top of your VoC when you're scaling - collecting insights from all interviews in one place, talking to the same customer over and over again, mismatch in expectations across multiple stakeholders.

It's a recipe for disaster, and it won't be long before product marketing owns it.

Owning VoC is a great way to initiate PMM projects. The insights from your exercise can open a can of requirements that require PMMs to step in.

Task 2: Move the needle on a business goal/challenge

The best way to make PMM a core function at your company? Stay close to business and attach yourself to an important business goal or challenge.

Here’s a handy list of goals and challenges and how product marketing can help!

Ways in which product marketers can help businesses grow through PMM contribution

(Thank me later 😌)

Once you accomplish these, don’t forget to share the impact in detail. This is bound to get management’s attention; if you can demonstrate how the role of the PMM can impact revenue and success.

And on that topic...

Task 3: Educate, educate, and then educate some more

Product marketing is highly cross-functional. From launches and GTM to positioning and messaging, be ready to stretch in all directions. And as the business scales, you won't have eyes on every single project that needs product marketing.

  • Leverage your company culture and internal relationships.
  • Constantly educate about what product marketing means, how you contribute and what you have achieved so far.
  • Share examples of how other more successful product marketing teams are doing it and show how you can emulate them.

The burning question for every project should move from "Can Product Marketing help here?" to "How do we get Product Marketing to help here?"

The best PMMs eventually win a seat at the management table

One of my biggest career flexes is being an integral part of a repositioning exercise at my previous company.

The concerned party included only senior management, except me. I was just a mere PMM with a few badges on my sleeve. Call it an epiphany, but it truly hit me the kind of impact product marketing can have when done right.

Reverse engineer any company growth story in the last decade, and find how product marketing became a differentiating factor in their success. Many high-growth companies understand this today and are investing in product marketing much earlier on.

Great PMM work dictates the strategy instead of following it. You get to sit at the helm of mission-critical business decisions and directly contribute to revenue. So, go through the trouble and do core PMM work. It's okay if your company doesn't get it yet. When lightning hits, your management will thank you.

Written by:

Harshita Kumbhar

Harshita Kumbhar

Harshita Kumbhar is a self-employed PMM expert consulting on all things positioning, go-to-market and product marketing for B2B SaaS startups. Formerly Senior PMM at Fyle.

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Staying true to product marketing when management doesn't understand