This article was adapted from Jony’s talk at the Product Marketing Summit in Toronto. Catch up on this talk, and others, using our exclusive OnDemand service.

Hi, my name is Jony Tabuteau, and I'm the Senior Product Marketing Manager for Xero. I have the privilege of leading a team of product marketing managers across the US and Canada.

My team is essentially responsible for helping to accelerate Xero’s growth in North America, and that's what I'm excited to talk to you about today: the role that product marketing plays in growth.

I'll be focusing on a variety of topics, including:

  • The complexities of growth
  • Regional product marketing: How product marketers can lean in
  • Three ways product marketing shapes new markets
  • How a customer-first approach will enable you to succeed

Now, product marketing varies a lot depending on the company you work for and the stage of growth you're in.

I believe that it can add the most value when it sits at the intersection of three worlds: strategy, product, and go-to-market. What I love about product marketing is it allows you to use all the skill sets from those three areas.

Product marketers do a lot of different things, from product launches to positioning to adoption, but one area I think we can play an even more important role is expanding into new markets. That’s because sitting at the intersection of a lot of key teams gives us a unique perspective.

I hope that as your business grows and looks to expand into new regions, you can, as a product marketer, lean in and say, “We not only deserve a seat at the table; we should be the ones leading these initiatives.”

What is Xero?

Before we get into it, I want to set the stage and tell you about Xero. The first thing you need to know is we are not Xerox – I’ve got nothing against them, they make a fantastic product, but that’s a different company.

We all have different targets for success. Some people want to hit a certain revenue goal; some people want to achieve a certain run rate; I would just love to tell people where I work and not have them start complaining about their printers jamming all the time.

(I’m kind of joking, but it happens more than you would think.)

With that out of the way, Xero is a SaaS platform that provides accounting solutions to small businesses, accountants, and bookkeepers. While we started off as a core accounting solution, we've evolved over time and layered in additional products like payroll and tax solutions.

We've also grown regionally. We were founded in New Zealand, we then grew into Australia, Singapore, Europe, the US, and Canada. Today, I’m going to share my learnings from that experience of expanding into new markets.

The complexities of growth

Although growth stories are exciting, it's not always sunshine and rainbows. It can be significantly harder for some tech companies to grow into new markets, depending on the product they have and the space they’re in.

Let's unpack that a bit.

New markets introduce a ton of new variables. That can either present a huge opportunity for you to benefit from, or it can hinder your growth. The variables show up in each of the three areas I talked about earlier: strategy, product, and go-to-market.

Let’s start with strategy. Because of things like the competitive landscape, market maturity, and the regulations that you have to comply with, your positioning may need to change completely when you expand into a new market.

From a regulation standpoint, what your product can do may also be limited by the regulations in a different province or country. That means if you work in health tech, fintech, proptech, or any other highly regulated industry, your product will vary quite a bit when you go from your home market into another one.

Your product’s capabilities may also be limited by what that market is ready for. I'll give you an example from Xero. Open banking in Canada is significantly behind the rest of the world, as is cloud adoption by SMBs.

The market’s just not there yet. We’re a cloud-based platform whose bread and butter is connecting data from financial institutions so that made things pretty tricky for us as we began to size up the Canadian market.

Localization needs to be considered as well. For instance, if you're launching in Canada and you don't have a French-language product, your total addressable market shrinks dramatically. You also have to think about how your app ecosystem and your partnerships are going to work in new regions.

Product requirements can be a minefield too. I'll give you another example. We built a tax product for the UK – one tax product to cover the whole country. For Canada, we've got 13 because of all the different provinces and territories. Meanwhile, the US has 14,000 different tax rates that we had to try and combine. I don't know what they're doing down there!

All these factors and more can impact your products, which means that when you grow, your product-market fit can be severely impacted.

Finally, there’s the go-to-market side. This one might be the most straightforward one to tackle, but your approach is still going to be quite different. The customer makeup in your new market may not be the same.

Perhaps there’s a strong enterprise presence or more of a mid-market presence. The unmet needs of customers can vary quite a bit too from market to market.

All that is to say that your product-market fit, and therefore how you position and go to market can vary massively from region to region. You can't just take what you've done in one place and copy-paste it elsewhere.

All these variables in your strategy, your product, and your go-to-market motions come together. That means if you try to replicate your approach from one market to another, you can find yourself facing any number of the following problems:

  • Uncompetitive product-market fit
  • Ineffective product positioning
  • Lack of clarity around the target customer
  • Messaging that doesn't resonate
  • Sales team is not set up for success
  • Misaligned product priorities

This leads to costly and inefficient growth. You’ll find yourself doing a lot and not getting much back in return.

Regional product marketing: How product marketers can lean in

These challenges are hard to overcome, but as product marketers, we can try to mitigate them. But first, we have to shift our mindset from “What can't we do?” to “What can we do?”