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My name’s Robin Pam, I’m the Director of Product Marketing at Optimizely, and today I want to share with you ways to grow your product marketing career, based on my own experiences and career.
This is a picture of me when I was five years old.
I always knew from the time I was five years old I wanted to be a product marketer.
How many of you can say the same thing? Yeah, no. No one says that, no five year old knows what product marketing actually is. No one really gets here because they started out saying they wanted to be a product marketer. We all get here in our own various ways.
My path to product marketing
My path here went as follows - I started in politics, I worked in Washington, DC where I worked on a campaign. While I was there, I worked on a website for the Centre for American Progress, I was doing content strategy before it was a thing. As a result, I decided I liked the internet part of what I was doing more than the politics part so I moved out to California and started working in startups.
Eventually, I made my way to Optimizely, where I've been for the last five years, and at Optimizely I have grown a team, I now have three people and we're working on our fastest growing product line at Optimizely called Optimizely Full Stack.
What I love about product marketing, and we'll get into up-leveling your career in a second, is no one thinks they want to do this, but when you get into it, it's actually really interesting. I love being at the intersection of business strategy, customers, and cross-functional relationships in the organization.
Hard skills aren’t everything
What I've learned in this process over the last few years, growing a team, growing your career here, is that hard skills are really important, how to do messaging and positioning better, how to make a great deck, doing market research, project managing your launches, these are all important hard skills you need to know and just like in school, doing these things can help you get good results.
But, they don't always equal all the results.
So, if you want to drive business results, if you want to grow your career, if you want to get promoted, you can't just rely on all of your hard skills. So how do you have the impact you want on business, the product that you're working on, on your own career? What can you do?
Well, in the process of working in startups over the last several years working in product marketing, the thing I've discovered is most important is to improve your credibility.
Credibility is the most valuable way to get taken seriously in your job, influence your company, get the results you want, and ultimately get promoted. Let's talk a little bit about credibility, how you get it, and why it's important.
How many people reading this manage people today?
For those of you who do and for those who don't, managing people is something we can do to direct resources and direct the organization effectively. But even if we have a team, we have to actually influence the rest of the organization, our cross-functional stakeholders like sales and product and customer success. As a product marketer, you often have lots of responsibility, but no authority, so you have to influence people.
The trust equation
I learned about credibility via this book - the Trusted Advisor. Our company is obsessed with this book right now, especially our customer success team, but I haven't read it myself. So disclaimer there but I don't think you need to read it to really get the point here. The point is in order to influence people, in order to have authority in your organization, get results you want, you have to have to be trustworthy, people like to follow people who are trustworthy.
To be trustworthy there's a simple equation, credibility plus reliability plus intimacy divided by self-orientation. Credibility is the first thing here, it's what you need to do to establish that people can trust you that you'll do the things you say you're going to do and that you can actually get results for your company.
The way they talk about it in the Trusted Advisor is credibility is about the words you speak, for example, we might say, "I can trust what she says about intellectual property. She's very credible on the subject". It might be an intellectual property lawyer, but it might also be a product marketer who works on an intellectual property product.
If you're a product marketer and you're coming into a new situation at a new company, or taking on a new product line, it's highly likely you haven't necessarily been an expert on that topic in the past. So how do you get yourself to this level of expertise, so people can trust what you say about your product, and therefore follow you and follow your lead in marketing and sales and product?
Credibility and me
To talk a little bit more about why credibility matters so much to me, I want to tell you a story about my experience at Optimizely. So three years ago I came back to Optimizely from being on maternity leave. I had my first baby, I got back from leave, and we just launched this new product.
Optimizely up until this time had been known as an easy AB testing platform for marketers. But In 2016, we launched this new product targeting developers with this new platform, this new product called Optimizely Full Stack. I came back from leave, I took a look around at this product, at the company, my boss had been fired so I had a new boss, and there was no one else on the team. It was a little bit of a fresh start.
I didn't know what I was getting into but nonetheless I jumped back in and looked around and thought, 'This thing looks really interesting. It smells a little bit like the future. That thing we were doing for marketers that's really cool, but this is actually AB testing in your back end code for product and engineering teams'. I started to think about it and think about developer marketing - that's pretty interesting, I've never done that before, it's a new skill I could take on.
After a month or so of investigating this, working on a few aspects of it, I sent this email to my boss at the time.
At the time, she actually had a job rec open for someone to come in and work on this from the outside and I said, "No, you shouldn't hire someone from the outside. You should just hire me. I'll do it. It's going to be awesome". Her response? "I don't think you have enough technical credibility to do this job". She said this to my face, the VP of product marketing.
I looked at her and I was like, 'Okay, yeah. You don't know what you're talking about. I can totally do this. I'm going to rock it and you are just going to be proven wrong'.
I was super motivated. If any of you reading have ever been in a position where someone's told you they don't think you can do something, maybe it's discouraging a little bit, but at this point in my life, it was just motivating. I said I'm going to do this and I'm going to go figure it out.
What I'm going to share is exactly what I did to build my credibility, to get over that hump of having that technical credibility, having the credibility to own this product from front to back, to lead the go-to-market for this new part of our business.
The 4 ingredients to credibility
The four ingredients that went into this for me were knowing the product, owning the data about it, developing customer empathy, and constant communication. And as you'll see, none of these things are rocket science. It's all pretty simple. But these are the things I think as product marketers, we often don't necessarily think about when we're so obsessed with our messaging, our positioning, and all of those hard skills I talked about. Hard skills are super important but these are the things that if you do them well, if you put them all together, if you show you are the leader of the go-to-market for your product line, these are the things that are going to get you promoted.
1. Be a product expert
Let's dive in and talk about being a product expert and why this is so important. For me, the first thing I had to do to prove that I had technical credibility for this technical product we were trying to sell was actually go and learn to use it. I had read about it, I'd seen other people use it, I'd seen a demo, but I hadn't actually gotten my hands dirty.
A few years earlier, I had actually taken a night class in learning how to program. If you work in tech and you haven't taken a class on learning how to program I highly recommend it, it's like learning a new language. So I dusted off my programming skills and I learned a little bit of Python, I went through our tutorials, I got set up on my computer, I spent a day doing this and then went back to my boss and said, "Look, I've installed our product, I've used it, I can totally do this. It's really not that complicated".
This gave her confidence I could handle the technical aspects of what we were doing, and it gave the product team confidence that I could speak with them about the actual product. This is super important - if you're trying to attack something you don't necessarily have a lot of expertise in, whether that's a new industry or something that is more technical than maybe your marketing skills have a match for.
The other thing that was really cool about learning the product is we did a sales certification shortly after I started working on this. In the sales certification, we made every one of our salespeople give a demo of our product, and being able to say, "I'm a marketer, I did this, you can do it too", was super helpful in getting them to actually take the certification seriously, and go through it and actually feel confident that they too could learn how the product works.
I'm going to start calling these cheat codes because I think all of this is pretty obvious stuff, it's just you have to actually do the work. The goal of any good product marketer should be to be a stand-in as a solutions engineer for your product. Of course, this is in my B2B enterprise software context but as a product marketer, you should be able to demo the product, you should feel comfortable going in front of a customer explaining the value of what you're selling.
Maybe you can't answer every single implementation edge case or every single detail that an SE might be able to but you should really be able to substitute when necessary as a solutions engineer. This is going to give you credibility to get in the room with product, to get in the room with sales, and to have your voice heard when it comes to influencing the product roadmap.
2. Own your data
We talked about product, now let's talk about data and how important this is to credibility. Data is super important. Data is super important because revenue is essential.
Revenue is key
As a product marketer, revenue is the only thing that matters. When I took on Full Stack, I quickly realized the only thing that would matter after a year was: how much did we sell? How much money was in the bank from this product?
How do you get to revenue?
Going back to my experience, the things I needed to understand were what goes into this revenue which is obviously the end goal. But it's pretty hard to figure out how we actually sell more if we don't know the inputs that go into this final number. So it's not like sales ops or marketing ops were sitting there waiting for me to come in with a beautiful dashboard perfectly ready to go, no one's going to sit there and hand you the data you need on a silver platter. In a lot of cases, it's just not something readily available. So how do you break it down?
I had to learn how to use Salesforce reports. Salesforce is where most of our customer data lives so this is where I spent my time figuring out what was going on before someone bought before they got to revenue. For us, it was trials, it was a sales pipeline, it was closed revenue.
But on the other side of the equation, looking at the go-to-market from front to back, we also had to look at our customer health metrics - this lived in different systems.
Google Sheets is another great tool and pivot tables. I spent a lot of time getting to know pivot tables, I watched a couple of YouTube videos and I'm pretty good at pivot tables now, but this is a very powerful tool. You don't have to learn a lot of sequels, you don't have to get too into the weeds to actually be good at delivering data or finding what you need. But being able to do this analysis yourself and find what you need and the systems available can give you a powerful tool to build that MVP and figuring out what are the core metrics and how you're doing against them.
Again, other teams have other priorities, your ops teams, for example, are thinking about cutting sales territories, compensation, the cost of customer acquisition at the very top of the funnel, they're not thinking about what is contributing to the revenue number for my product line when your product line is such a new thing for the business and isn't yet on anyone's radar.
So what do we need to report on to show success? We had to track our funnel from top to bottom from awareness all the way through consideration, qualified leads, sales accepted leads, opportunities, pipeline, and then our win rate against certain competitors to know what was going on.
With a new business like Full Stack, I needed to look at all of these things and figure out what was going on. As marketers, what I found from working with the rest of our marketing team is we're often good at vanity metrics. We're like looking at:
- How much traffic we're driving to the website.
- How many blog posts did we publish?
- What was our output?
- Maybe how many MQLs did we drive from that thing?
But often as marketing teams, we don't stop and think about:
- How does that trickle all the way down the funnel?
- How are we actually influencing that final number of pipelines and then revenue?
So I believe as marketing people, and as product marketers, in particular, we need to own that number. We need to own the pipeline number, the revenue number, and take responsibility for those outcomes instead of just the inputs into them. We have to look all the way up and down to know what's going on.
What this does when you know what these numbers are, and when you take responsibility for that outcome of the revenue and the customers that are signing up, you can start to ask the right questions, you can start to ask:
- Are we driving enough top of funnel interest?
- What's our conversion rate from traffic to qualified leads?
- Are salespeople able to actually do what they need to do to create a pipeline and close it? And then,
- Who are we losing to and why?
When you have the data and the answers to these questions, you can go to your cross-functional stakeholders like product and say, "Hey, we're losing deals to these competitors because we don't have the right product features. Or maybe we're losing because we need to position better and our salespeople aren't enabled enough". You can go to your sales team and create the right enablement programs to help them sell better.
As product marketers, we're the leaders of the go-to-market and it's our responsibility to take this global view. No one else is taking a global view of what is going on in your business line. No one else is thinking about all of these metrics at the same time, in the same way you're going to. In my opinion, it's one of the biggest mistakes we can make.
One of the things I've done especially early in my career, is assuming other people are looking at these things and assuming other people have these answers. So if you can be the one who has the data, who has these answers, it's going to give you a ton of power and a ton of credibility in the conversations that you have that you need to go influence the rest of the organization to align around.
All of a sudden, it's not about your opinion, it's about what the data actually says.
Having the right data is like a cheat code to executive visibility. Executives love data. They love to see someone is paying attention to the right things. Eventually what happened for me is once I defined those metrics, once I got my hands dirty in Salesforce, Google pivot tables, even got the product team to give me what they needed in chart IO, I was able to get our CMO to start including the right metrics in his weekly reporting to the other executives at the company.
I got myself invited to the weekly meeting where all the executives came together to review all their metrics, and had a couple of slides where I actually reported on, 'Here's how we're doing. Here are the bookings. Here's the pipeline generated. Here are the numbers we need to pay attention to as a company to make sure we're all aligned around making this product successful'.
So, having data tying to revenue makes you an authority on the business. It makes people come to you to ask the right questions. And it helps you get a seat at the table to influence the teams you need to influence.
3. Be a customer advocate
I've talked about product, I've talked about data, now I'm going to talk about customers. They all have stories; we're marketers, and marketing is best when you can tell good stories. Stories also work really well. Stories work great when we market our products externally, but they also work well internally when we're trying to market our own results.
As product marketers, writing stories, synthesizing insights is core to what we do. Understanding customers and telling their stories is a hugely powerful tool in your credibility toolkit. I don't know about your company, but at Optimizely the currency of credibility really is customer stories.
You can have data, you can have opinions, but if you don't have customer stories, some customer comes in saying 'this is the thing I need' or 'here's why something is happening', it all falls flat, and it doesn’t come together. We remember stories. So for you as a PMM, what does this mean? How does this work?
Get out of the office
Well, for me, this is the most fun of being a product marketer, getting out of the office, talking to customers, getting to know them, understanding their stories, and then telling those stories back internally.
Anytime there's a customer meeting, an opportunity to meet people, this for me is what's inspiring and heartwarming and human about what we do when we spend so much time sitting behind a computer screen all day. So when I first started working on Full Stack, this was one of the most important things I took to heart - getting out of the office.
We had an understanding internally at Optimizely, this product we just launched was a developer tool, that developers were going to use it and we had to market to them and build out this developer marketing strategy. That intimidated people, our salespeople said, "I can't sell to an engineer" our marketers said, "Developer marketing? But we're gold on MQLs, how's a developer ever going to be a marketing qualified lead? They don't even have budgets", and our product team said, "Well, they're the users of the product. They're the ones who are actually in the application all day long writing code".
So I spent a lot of time whenever I could, going to these customer meetings, I went to sales meetings, I tagged along with our product manager, I attached myself at the hip with our product manager. This is a good hack for getting up to speed quickly on your customers - product managers often take lots of customer meetings. Be insistent, go with them everywhere they go, attach yourself to the product manager.
I asked one simple question everywhere I went, which was, "What value is your team getting from our product?" And what I learned really quickly after going to 15 or 20 of these meetings, it was clear what we were selling was a lot more than just a developer tool. It was actually a tool for product teams, product managers, analysts, developers, all working together on building software and testing it and iterating on it so their customers can be happy.
Coming back and having these insights, sharing them, synthesizing them with the rest of the company, shifted the way we were all thinking about this product in our go-to-market internally; it helped bolster the sales team's confidence that they could actually sell to these business stakeholders, and bring the developers along as influencers rather than the actual budget holders. It helped our product team understand there were product gaps we needed to serve that weren't just for developers but were also for analytics managers, or product managers as well.
So getting this data and getting out of the office and getting these customer insights was incredibly powerful to influencing the way the company was building our go-to-market strategy.
Share what you learn
The second thing that's really key about this is sharing what you learn.
So, every time I went to a meeting, every time I went on a trip, I took notes. I love writing, I got into marketing because I like writing, I like sharing stories. And while I couldn't necessarily lead a demo or get into the technical details with an engineer in a product meeting with our product team and engineers, I could take good notes.
It's very simple, all that time I spent writing notes in lectures in college became very useful when I got out into the field and started talking to customers. Super simple thing.
And then, as marketers as product marketers in particular in the strategic function, synthesizing information, drawing out insights from all of those inputs, makes you an incredibly valuable resource.
It seems so simple to just take notes, write them down, put them in an email, and send them to your company. But this is incredibly powerful. And it's something your product team probably isn't going to do as much. When they look at something, they're going to think about what are the feature gaps? When you take these notes, you're going to think about what are the business implications of the conversations that I've had, and what I've been hearing.
One thing I like to highlight about this, too, is executives love these kinds of things. That's a theme over and over again, executives love data. They love seeing customer notes and seeing the insights and takeaways from this because they don't have time to do it themselves. Anything you can do to help do the legwork for them and help bring customers closer to your executives and bring that voice into the conversation is going to help you be associated with good information in your company. And it's ultimately going to make you, as we saw with data, a source for what is the truth that we should be centering around as we build out our go-to-market strategy for this product line or this company?
Build a customer advisory boardTM
This is the final point I'll make about customers. These are some customers that I got to know while I went to all these meetings and I like to call this my personal advisory board. It's a very technical term, a very sophisticated concept. You meet people, build relationships with them, send them some emails, invite them to do some marketing activities with you maybe come to some events that you're putting on.
All of a sudden, you have a few people who maybe when you have a new idea about how to message or position your product, maybe you're developing a new pitch or a new concept for an event series and you want to run it by someone, all of a sudden, you have a few people who can go run that idea by who are real customers of your product in your company in your target market.
So, this again is not rocket science, it's literally four people you can email and keep up a relationship with. If you can do these things, get out of the office, take good notes and maintain relationships, you can be a customer advocate and a customer expert in your company who people come to you for that source of truth. And again, establish your credibility as someone who really knows what's going on in the market and in the world outside of your building.
4. Communicate constantly
Finally, the last piece of the credibility formula is communication. So with Full Stack, we talked about having a product, we thought it was a developer tool. We weren't seeing the full picture. We learned that through a lot of data, a lot of customer interviews.
Now the challenge was to shift the way the company was thinking about how we went to market with this product, about the things we needed to do to drive the revenue we talked about upfront. Turning a big ship like Optimizely, we're a 500 person company right now, we had a six-year pretty healthy business, focused on our web experimentation product, selling to marketers, turning that ship and changing the go-to-market to shift more to these technical teams who are building software instead of just building websites was a real challenge.
We had to go to the market differently. We had to change a lot of things about the way we do business. And for the last three years, a lot of what I've done is spent my time sharing the stories from customers, sharing the data I've developed, and trying to change people's minds internally and shift the way they're thinking about our business.
The way you can do that is communication. Again, super-sophisticated technology here, email. Very, very sophisticated. Very complicated, very hard to do.
But seriously, anyone can do this. This is something you can go back and do tomorrow is start sending out a regular email to your important stakeholders. This is my example of a go-to-market update.
I created a list of all the important stakeholders in the go-to-market from sales engineering to our sales leadership, our marketing leadership, executives who might have an interest in seeing what was happening, who could control the resources going to our projects. I didn't ask anyone if they wanted to be on this, I just started sending it one day. And no one is upset when they get an email that says, 'here's how we're doing against our four key results as a company'.
I put an executive summary in that just said, "Hey, here are the important things that you need to know that have happened this week. Here's where we stand". Sometimes it had some risks in it, about not hitting our numbers for the quarter, not generating enough pipeline, maybe customers who were about to cancel their subscriptions, who we needed to go after in a more targeted way.
This is where you put your calls to action for the rest of the teams. Progress toward annual metrics, no one is upset to see that in an email. And below that other KPIs that rolled up into those revenue metrics. So everything we talked about, at first, whether it was the number of free trials, the number of leads we were generating, customer health across the board, all of these things rolled up in this email that got sent out to stakeholders on a weekly basis.
It took a lot of work to put this together for the first time, I'm not gonna lie, but over time, it becomes a habit. It becomes something that as you develop your knowledge of the data sources as you get the right reports in place, as you start to bring people along, you can automate a lot of this and make it a lot faster.
So a lot of the work is just upfront putting the structure together and then just making sure you have the muscle memory to do it on a regular basis. Because this is what's going to drive behavior.
As I said, executives love emails like this, this is our CFO and CEO responding to this email saying, "these summaries are awesome please keep them coming", Bill and Dan, that's the head of engineering and the head of product at the time, "Why not use this format for each of our products?" This is super powerful!
This is why the product marketing job is so cool and this is why I love it so much. You sit at this intersection of customers, data, go-to-market. We're the only ones who can write emails like this and get responses like this because we're the ones who have the data, who have the knowledge of the customers, who can see the full picture from top to bottom, left to right, however you want to talk about it.
When you have no one reporting to you, or just a small team of product marketers, and you're reliant on changing the organizational behavior to achieve your outcomes, this is a really important tool in your toolkit. So, cheat code here, just email, write good emails, and send them out regularly. People will come to rely on this and they'll miss it when it's gone.
We've covered four ingredients to credibility; product, data, customers, and communication.
None of these are things that you're going to learn in a manual or a handbook anywhere. These are the things that are going to take you from the A student in school to the person who actually gets promoted. These are going to help you focus on the things that you need to do great things for your team, your business, and your company.
You can drive business results, grow your influence, and get promoted. That's how it happened for me. It's not rocket science, I encourage you to look beyond your hard skills. Think about how you can incorporate all of these things into your daily practice and communication as a product marketer. And eventually, this will help you grow your product marketing career.
Thank you so much.