In my product marketing career, the thing I’ve heard and experienced time and time again and the age-old issue within the role is that once PMMs have done all their amazing work, it doesn’t land and have the impact it could.
Conventional wisdom suggests this is a problem with content management, and to a degree it is, but in my opinion, it’s a tale of two halves and content management is only half the battle. Here I’ll explain what the second half involves, and how you can implement it to ensure your collateral is leveraged, and deliver a strategic advantage as a PMM.
I'm going to talk about how to take all of the great work that you're doing, and actually land it with your internal sales teams and your services team. I'll bet a lot of you have a hard time actually seeing all the work you do on campaigns land with the sales teams, with the services teams, with your partner sales, partner services team, and I want to talk about that.
Our pain is real
Before joining Highspot, I used to work at Microsoft and rather than have a team of one, we had a team of 400, and we had 100 product marketers. I would say it's fair to say that we took that job very passionately, very seriously. We understood our products, we understood our competitors, we understood all the different personas.
We thought long and hard about positioning, long and hard about messaging, we built lots of content, we actually built 10s of thousands of pieces of content to support the $20 billion business that I was in charge of in marketing.
We were a mature team so we knew not to just take all that wonderful work that we were doing and throw it over the wall. We had dedicated people in the team to land it by audience, so what you would now call enablement, we didn't call it enablement back then, but there were enablement people.
We ran the playbook - we put it on the portal, we did webinars, we did email blasts, we actually flew around the country, we flew around the world, and did expert sessions. One of the things that I did as part of that job is I flew hundreds of thousands of miles, I would land in a country, I would talk to the leadership team, I would go on a sales call, I would linger on phone calls, and for those of you who've been doing this for a while, you know, the end of the story.
They weren't using our content, they weren't using our messaging. They weren't using our positioning, and they were talking about the product in ways that weren't inspiring to us at all having worked so hard back at HQ.
This happens, starting from small companies all the way up to these very large institutions. The question is why?
I want to talk today about why and give you some new ideas and some new tools about how to actually solve this problem. When this was happening, we asked ourselves why, we asked our teams why, we asked the audiences, we started talking to lots of other companies, all different sizes.
As part of Highspot, I've talked to literally thousands of companies, different industries, different geos, different sizes, and the thing that's interesting is it's kind of a universal truth.
Every product marketer I talked to basically says they do a tonne of work and then if they ever get near a sales call or a services call or talk to a partner, they can't believe how much that work is not being leveraged.
You've heard all these stats, they're kind of tired and tripe, I'll mention them, but you've heard them 1000 times - 70% of product marketing content is never used by the intended audience sales and services.
So if I built 10,000 assets as part of my Microsoft team, literally 7000 assets were not being used. The ironic thing is that product marketing is frustrated but sales is frustrated too because they spend four to eight hours a week, so 20-25% of their time recreating content that already exists.
Product marketing is frustrated, sales is frustrated, services are frustrated, and the question is, what can we do about it? I'll talk about conventional wisdom but to give you a spoiler, conventional wisdom is half the answer. I'm going to hopefully give you an idea for the second half of the answer.
The first part of the answer is content management. Everyone tells you you're in product marketing, you have a content management problem, what they mean by that are things like find abilities or search recommendations, browsing, analytics, and governance.
The truth is, for most of you, you do have a content management problem. You do have to solve it and it's hard to solve. I'll talk a little bit about it.
The trick, though, what we learned is that if you solve the content management problem, the content that you produce, the positioning, and the messaging, it still won't land.
So I'm going to talk about content management and then what you need to do differently once you have content management under control.
The first part of content management is findability, so it's searching and browsing and recommendations. The first question I always asked is, why do I have to worry about that stuff? I did the webinar, I did the email blast, I did all these internal things.
The problem is for most of your customer-facing teams, when you did it, it didn't matter to them at all. Because it wasn't relevant at the time. Your launch was interesting maybe if they were selling that product the day you launched it, probably they weren't. When they became relevant, now they have to find it and they have to use search and recommendations and browsing.
The thing that I see the most problematic when you're thinking about this space is you should be loving your content and all the things that you produce as much as amazon.com loves their products. You should have an amazon.com like experience for your stuff.
If you don't have great search, you probably should fix that if you don't have great ways to browse your content, and you're making your poor sellers and your service people do files and folders and all sorts of old school stuff, you should probably go fix that. You need to get that under control, you need to have modern analytics, you need to know what problem you're trying to solve.
One problem might be that no one ever finds your content - that's that 70%. That's probably an awareness problem, maybe an education problem. It might be the case that people are definitely finding your content, they just don't like your content. They're not deciding to share it. That's a different kind of problem.
That's a quality problem, maybe also an education problem. Maybe they find your content, they love your content, they share it with the prospect, and the prospect doesn't care. It doesn't drive any revenue.
Modern analytics can tell you what is the problem you have with your content so you can begin to optimize it.
Finally governance, you need to version it, you need to make sure it's fresh, all of those things. This is hard. I don't want to diminish this, you can get a modern platform, we do this for a living, you have to go do this.
But the thing I'll say is, once you get this done, you're halfway there.
I'll talk about the next half now. Before I talk about what the next part of the solution is, we have to agree on what the goal is that you all do for a living with respect to the sales and services team.
Our real goal
Elevate conversations to win and keep customers
What I'm going to say is that your goal is to elevate the conversation that your customer-facing teams are having to win and keep customers. Now you might think that sounds pretty darn simplistic. Clearly winning and keeping customers is a lot more than about the conversation that the sales team and the services team is having.
That's true, you have an entire product strategy, you have an entire go to market strategy. But here's the thing to think about. If the entire product strategy that you're proud of and the entire go-to-market strategy that you're super proud of doesn't land in the conversation that your customer-facing teams are actually having with customers, then it totally dilutes your advantage. It totally dilutes your strategic advantage.
It has to land with them, if you want to gain strategic advantage, so that is actually your goal with sales and services, I contend. It's about elevating the conversation so it's the most effective it can be to win and keep customers.
Customers have high expectations, you win by exceeding them
I would also say that it's getting harder. We all know this - competition is moving faster than ever, prospects are coming in more educated than ever. I can't tell you how many times I talked to a product marketing team and they'll give me a story about the fact that they listened in on a call, a recorded call, and the prospect was more informed than their person.
Because they had done the research, they had gone on to things like G2 crowd, they looked at social media, they had gone to their network, they knew a lot about the product. So winning customers and keeping customers and exceeding their expectations is super hard.
So all the work that you do is super important, but you've got to get them to use it and that's what I want to talk about.
Elevating customer conversations
In a world where this is what you have to go do, I want to talk about very specifically what we mean by a customer conversation - that sounds pretty highfalutin, and kind of abstract.
What I mean by a customer conversation, is that every time, for every situation, for every persona, that customer-facing person, that salesperson, that services person, knows what to know, what to say, and what to show.
This is one of those weird things that is really easy to state and really hard to get right. If you think about it, if you step back and you think, what if all my customer-facing teams use all of my stuff, product messaging, positioning content, and for every situation, for every objection, for every event like this?
If they truly knew what to know, what to say, what to show, it would change your stars. You would literally increase your win rate. You would increase your deal velocity, you would increase retention, your stars would be changed.
The question is how do you land all the work that you do so that your customer-facing teams know what to know, what to say, and what to show?
That's what I'm going to talk about.
Content management is half the solution so the question is, what's the other half of the solution? Its guidance. You have to give the sales and services team an instruction manual on what you want them to do with your content. If you don't give them the instruction manual, they will absolutely make it up.
That's when you get on the call and you're like, "Oh, my God, how did you make it up? That's not what I intended at all", but you never wrote down what you wanted them to know and say and show. You have to go do that.
Let's talk about what that actually means.
Guidance is about action
Guidance is this really interesting thing - guidance is pivoted around action. It's things like an objection - I get an objection by a certain persona in a certain segment and what do you want me, the services person or the salesperson, to know and to say and to show or compete or cross-sell or upsell?
The other thing that's really interesting as marketers is, we tend to think in terms of content, and segmentation, and personas, and all those kinds of things. The sales and services team tends to think in action. They tend to think about things like sales motions, upsell motions, cross-sell motions.
They think in action and we think in content, and the guidance is the bridge between those.
Guidance takes your content and wraps it in action so that the sales and services people know what to do with it.
What is a piece of guidance?
Just very concretely, a great example of guidance would be a sales play.
We're talking about launch - here's a launch sales play. It literally says for the person what to know, what to say, and what to show. You have this bomb right now, this bill of materials, you have all your stuff laid out, and then you handed it very beautifully and nicely to the sales team.
But you never told them how to act in all the situations that they're going to be in. That's what guidance does, it really wraps it into action. If you think about it, guidance is the thing that turns content into action and I would contend guidance is a bridge between marketing and sales.
Because you have marketing, thinking in terms of content, not exclusively, of course, but mostly thinking in terms of content, and the bill of materials that we produce for the various things, and you have sales and services thinking about things in terms of the actions that they have to perform.
Guidance is a bridge and in fact, in teams that adopt this, what you'll see is they actually start talking differently. Sales don’t ask PMM for a piece of content, they say, "Hey, I need a play on the objection for North American for this competitor, what do I do?"
And then you say, "Here's the play and here's four pieces of content, the battle card, the complete tear down", all the things that you are already doing, but now it's wrapped in the context that I as a salesperson or a service person can actually use.
The good news is, this truly works. The bad news is it's actually a little bit hard.
Who builds the guidance?
Because the question is who builds this wonderful guidance? What to know, what to say, what to show? You might think it's you, you build the guidance, you're the experts, you built all the content? Well, it turns out, you guys aren't on the phones every day with customers, and with prospective customers, you don't know all of those selling situations intimately with all the nuance that you need.
Actually, you're the content expert, you're the topic expert, you're the persona expert, but you're not actually the action sales situation expert. You might think, "Okay, PMM can't write it, we'll have sales and service write it". By the way, they're writing it right now, because you didn't write it, that's who's writing it and that's when you visit them and you're like, "Oh, my God, stop writing that".
So they'll write it but they're not experts, as you know, in your content and in your positioning and in your messaging, and all the things that you do. They actually aren't really equipped to write it, but they have really critical information.
You might think, well, the new world of enablement, and we're an enablement vendor, so of course, I'm gonna say enablement writes it, but they're not a topic expert, a content expert, and they're not an audience expert. They can't write it either.
The question is, how do you write it? It turns out, all three of those functions have to come together to write it, which means that you literally if you adopt this have to work differently.
You're going to have meetings that you didn't have before. All of a sudden, you're gonna be thinking to yourself, I have a great bill of materials I have, I have a launch, I'm so excited about it, I have 19 things part of that, now I've got to go build the guidance?
Which means I'm going to call meetings with my various audience subject matter experts and my various enablement people to build the guidance, to land my bill of materials, it's a new way to work.
In fact, when you think about all that analytics, ‘know, say, show’ is a really good way to think about how you analyze the performance of your campaigns, with respect to sales and services, obviously, during campaigns outside of that, but this is about sales and services.
You're gonna have to use modern analytics, we talked about that. But now, if you think about ‘know, say, show’, and you really want to get a view on how your stuff is landing, you have to bring in analytics from everywhere.
- You have to bring in analytics from your training systems.
- You have to bring in analytics from your call recordings.
- You have to bring in analytics from your content system.
And bring all those things together to give you a good 360 of what's happening.
The other thing I'll say is that if you really want to do this right, you actually have to apply AI to these analytics, because you have all the raw data, but the insights come from inferred data.
Let me give you an example - let's say you have a product marketing deck or presentation deck that you want your salespeople to present. In most B2B companies PMM is moving to a more modular approach and they say, "Hey, build up the deck that's personalized for that particular company".
So you have your main master deck and then you have say 1000 salespeople, and they pitch that deck one time each, to each customer and now you want to do the most obvious PMM thing in the world. I want to do attribution of influence revenue to my main master deck to prove it so I get not one person but maybe three people for my 800 person company.
What's the influence revenue of your master deck in the data? It's zero, it never saw the light of day, no one ever pitched that deck. They changed it, they added agenda, they added a logo to each of those thousand. What's the influence revenue on each of those 1000? It's just some little slice, because by definition it was one customer.
The business influence revenue is that first deck, and the thousand variations, and that family of decks, that is the real influence revenue, and it's not in the data per se, it has to be inferred from the data using AI inferencing.
In this case, I'm talking about a technique called content genomics, which maps out the variations of content. There's lots and lots of examples if you want to get analytics to be done right in this world, but the key thing to take away is you want to look at your metrics, not just how your content is performing, but how its landing and how it’s landing through the lens of ‘know, say, and show’.
Guidance delivers strategic advantage
Back to the beginning, product marketing, content messaging, positioning, product - I'm not saying to do anything differently here. I am saying, in the new world, you don't just think about content as your main deliverable, you actually now have two main deliverables - content and guidance.
Guidance is something you have to do as joint work with your audience SMEs and with your enablement SMEs. But that is another first-class deliverable in your world.
If you do that, I think you'll see an increase in the particular metrics that you care about. It's not because guidance is some magic fairy dust, it's because guidance actually delivered the stuff that you did originally and the stuff you did originally - content, messaging, positioning, and product, you did that, hopefully, to increase win rates, renewal rates, deal velocity, buyer satisfaction.
Now that it lands, you'll actually see those metrics improve.
This article is asking you to actually think differently, and in particular, you have two main deliverables. You have your bill of materials, the bomb that you know and love, for a launch, for an event, for all the things that you do as product marketers, but now you have to put guidance around it.
You really do think differently about your core job. What you're going to find is you have to work differently, you're going to have meetings you didn't have before because you're going to have to collaborate in a different way for most companies.
Not everyone, maybe you already do some of this, but with your audience SMEs and with these audience SMEs it's not a play for sales, for your launch, it's a play for North America AEs and the enterprise segment. Because for most companies, the SMB segment and EMEA might be a very different play.
Before you had this notion, you built one piece of content and then let them figure out for themselves how they would apply it to SMB and how they would apply it to the enterprise.
Now you're going to help them through this guidance. The difference about thinking differently and working differently is that guidance, this notion of guidance in your system as a first-class deliverable.