This article originates from a presentation at the Product Marketing Summit in San Francisco, 2022. Catch up on this presentation, and others, using our OnDemand service. For more exclusive content, visit your membership dashboard.

I’m Daniel Waas, the VP of Product Marketing for AppFolio, a property management company. I’m here to share how you can make yourself indispensable at the product strategy table. That's a high bar, so let me tell you why I’m totally competent and qualified to talk about this (honestly!).

A slide that says "Why I'm like really honestly totally competent to talk about this" with a list of Daniel's credentials. First is a logo of WEB.DE that says "managed go-to-market of an awful product that failed quickly. Left.", then a debitel logo "led development of an eCommerce storefront. got bought." then netviewer "managed product-led growth of freemium SaaS product. got bought." then GoToWebinar "got an actual PMM Director job. Co-led product strategy. Got let go." then Daniel Waas "Started my own consulting business. Did everything. Quit" and finally AppFolio "VP of PMM. Focus on insight, strategy, and positioning. Alive and kicking."

I've worked in companies of all sorts and sizes. In 2003, I started out in a company called WEB.DE – the German equivalent of Yahoo. It was an awful product, and the customers hated it. We had 230 users and 215 of those users were people within the company that were mandated to use it.

I didn't know this was product marketing back then, but I was brought in to manage the product and I ended up doing a lot of go-to-market stuff and messaging, which was kind of fun. Nonetheless, I left pretty quickly.

Then I went to debitel, which is sort of like Sprint in the US. I was on the product side of things, leading the development of their eCommerce storefront. After that, I went to Netviewer, which was an early freemium SaaS product, and I did product-led growth. Both Netviewer and debitel got bought.

My next role was at GoToWebinar, and this was my first actual PMM job, so I was really excited. That's why I moved to the US eight years ago. I co-led the product strategy, and it was super fun. Then I got let go.

After that, I started my own consulting business. I landed one giant client, and then I signed on with AppFolio – I had to do these two jobs, so I quit the consultancy. Now I'm the VP of Product Marketing for AppFolio, and everything's going great!

The merry and mighty product marketing framework

Let’s take a look at my merry and mighty PMM framework and I’ll show you what I mean. There’s a lot of talk in product marketing circles about all the skills you need to have to be a well-rounded PMM. This framework lays out those skills and helps us to understand what our team likes to do and what their strengths are.

Here are the skills and responsibilities we look at:

  • Discover and share market needs. This is all about getting close to the customers.
  • Define and build the solution. In other words, the fun part where you work with the product people to build the product and think about the roadmap.
  • Align and launch products and features. This is all about go-to-market, getting the product out there, and having a big bang moment.
  • Position and message the solution. I don’t need to tell you how important that is.
  • Publish and evangelize content and insights.
  • Market and enable sales and care – always fun.
  • Standardize and optimize workflows.
  • Satisfy and grow the customers. This is where customer marketing comes into play.

In my team, we do a super fun exercise with this framework. I give everybody 22 points (which is not a lot) to allocate to the stuff they really like doing.

Then I give them more points to score themselves on how good they are in each of these areas. This is a useful exercise for when you’re hiring too. As you bring new people onto the team, it’s great to see what their strengths and weaknesses are.

What gets you the seat at the table?

So how can we put all of these skills to use in securing a seat at the strategy table?

Firstly, you really want to bring net new insights – things that the leadership team doesn't yet know. These insights should highlight opportunities that your organization is well-positioned to exploit. In other words, you need to know your stuff.

If you're trying to align people but you don’t have any valuable information to offer, it’s going to be a lot harder to get them on board. You're just making noise and taking up their time. When you know your stuff, people will come to you to learn with you.

So how can you get hold of valuable insights and get that seat at the table? Without further ado, here are the two things that any PMM can use to become indispensable:

📊 Pivot tables

☎️ Talking to customers

The unexpected magic of pivot tables 🪄

Now, you’re a data-driven product marketer, so you might be wondering why I’m talking about pivot tables. Why not Tableau, Snowflake, or any of that cool data science stuff? Hear me out on this.

First, with data science, you need an expert to extract information for you, so there's a barrier between you and the insight you want to bring to the strategy table.

Plus, you need to ask that expert very precise questions; otherwise, they won’t know what to bring you and you won't get the insights you need. What I’ve found time and again is that this results in a slow loop of you going to someone with a not-great question and them coming back to you with more questions.

Pivot tables, on the other hand, are stupidly simple to use. You just have to click one button. Remember, I promised two things any PMM can do to get a seat at the table. I didn't promise secrets or witchcraft because I want to share two things that you can actually do every day that’ll make you more knowledgeable and more likely to have a seat at the table.

Pivot tables are also blazingly fast, which means you can have constant and rapid trial and error. Instead of not knowing what the right question is, you can go in and slice the data, look at it, discard it if it’s not interesting, and pull in the next dimension until you find something that actually is interesting.

Finding strategy in just one chart

Whenever I join a new company, one of the first things I do is export data from the CRM and dump it into a pivot table.

I typically look at the segments they have and, if the company has multiple products, I look at which customer segments buy which product. Let me show you a couple of examples from past roles, what they’ve led to, and how that relates to product strategy.

The first example is from GoToWebinar. Now, GoToWebinar wasn't a great product for Citrix – or at least it wasn’t getting a lot of attention. GoToMeeting was the main revenue product.

They'd introduced a ‘good-better-best’ strategy pricing model for all the products, and GoToWebinar was just coasting. One of the first things I did was use a pivot table to look at the tier distribution for GoToWebinar, and I found that 74% of customers were on the lowest price.

Based on that finding, we decided to focus our strategy for the next two years on differentiating the better and best tiers. For six consecutive quarters after that, we outperformed our financial targets just by adding functionalities to the middle tier so that more new customers would sign up for it. Super simple, right?