Sitting outside in the 32-degree heat recently, I was toying with what to write for my next blog. I looked to the clear blue sky as if searching for inspiration. Then, like Manna from heaven, The Product Marketing Alliance’s State of Product Marketing 2020 report dropped in my lap(top)!
Joy and behold! Problem sorted. Not because I, like many colleagues in product marketing, were contributors. But because it’s a statistically robust consolidation and dissection of our trade. For the first time featuring comparable data to the previous year (2019).
After giving the 77 pages of the report a thorough going over, I came to some interesting conclusions of my own. Are you ready to learn how you too can interpret this report by going beyond the stats and realising what it means for you?
Here’s what you need to know.
Recognising yourself in the report
If you have been in product marketing for up to five years and held a couple of PMM roles, you should be able to recognise yourself in the 2020 report. If you pick a few topics, you can draw a 2 x 2 grid or an XY axis and map yourself very easily.
The first question to ask yourself is where do you sit in the organisation?
Repeat this process by topic and soon you will reveal a picture of yourself as a PMM. As it states in the report, over a fifth of PMMs work alone. You could consolidate and segment the data to work out what kind of organisation you need to be in if you want to be in a team of, say five PMMs or larger.
It’s a simple spreadsheet analysis but it will give you answers. Furthermore, when next year’s report comes out you can update and track your progress,
My profile is very clear. Historically, given the companies and types of business I have served, I sit within just 6% of profiles, when measuring across multiple factors.
That puts me very much in a niche of product marketing. However, that’s in the past. Currently, I am sitting in the main body of 74% of profiles when measuring across multiple factors. It seems I have moved with the times.
No one sets out to be in marketing
The report states that 56% of product marketers did not set out to work in that role. Instead, they originated from backgrounds such as products, sales and customer success. Most interestingly, the largest ‘migrating’ group to product marketing was ‘other’ (33%). Here, in this group you have every background you could imagine from PhD scientists, teaching assistants to US Navy submarine officers!
It’s perhaps not a surprise that this is also true for all types of marketing. In Marketing Week’s 2019 Career and Salary Survey, further interesting traits are prevalent.
It states that of those who gained a marketing degree, 61.8% would enter the profession. Of those who studied a non-marketing professional qualification, just 39% would decide to pursue a career in marketing. Whilst a whopping 41.9% would decide while in employment.
However, once you get there, you stay, born out by the fact that 87.5% want to take the next step in their product marketing career or are happy where they are with only 4.5% of product marketers wanting to enter a completely new field.
Even though product marketing is a part of full-stack marketing (61.7% of PMMs report into the marketing department) and is a specialised discipline, product marketing and full-stack marketing share a similar trait.
Ultimately, marketing of either kind was not the obvious or first choice career destination for most marketers.
The investment rocket
Investment in product marketing is reported as very front-loaded, for good reason. Given most PMMs in the survey work in companies are in the pre-mid growth stage, the investment required in ‘tooling up’ is front-loaded. So, it’s no surprise that 46.6% of this investment is spent in the sub-$250k category.
It’s clear that in later-stage growth companies, the investment in PMM declines as growth hits its stride. Think of it like the fuel required to get a rocket to take off then the minimal energy required to stay in orbit. This is reflected in the fact that only 7.3% spend over $1m.
Easy as 1-2-3
50% of product marketing teams are made up of between 1-3 people. A fifth is a lone wolf (21.2%), deadly duo (15.3%) or three PMM musketeers (14.6%) represent similar scales.
It’s no real surprise that the profile of teams with 1-2 PMMs are either early pre or post-market companies.
If you want to work in a larger PMM team, ensure the company is at least in the Go to Market (GTM) or Scale Up phase.
Can we talk?
A product marketing manager prides themselves on getting the customer connected to the product through conveying the value of it. Therefore, it’s quite a surprise to discover that 21% of PMMs never speak to a customer directly and get their feedback from other teams. As Spock would say, ‘It’s illogical Captain!’
This is something no respecting PMM should do as the scope for (even unintentional) misrepresentation is there. You miss any opportunity to ask targeted questions in the context of your requirements. This is a large part of the value of getting directly connected to your customers or prospects.
I side with Sarah Din, Director of Product Marketing at SurveyMonkey as quoted in the report:
“The fact that one out of five product marketers never interact with customers is really surprising, for three main reasons!
“First, a good product marketer cannot be successful until they develop deep customer empathy and have a full appreciation of their customers’ pain points. Attempting to do that, without direct customer interaction is akin to a physician attempting to cure a patient without ever interacting with them.
“Second, third-party sources of customer feedback are very useful, but to really get a full picture of who your customer is, including all the subtleties and nuances, nothing beats going directly to the source.
“Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is just the right thing to do. If you are going to try to position a product to a customer in order to convince them to buy it, you owe it to them to take the time to listen to what they have to say.”
The missing strategic think tank of product marketing
When evaluating a product marketers’ responsibility, the survey shows a very tactical view. Reported responsibilities include things like managing launches (85%), creating sales collateral (73%) and content marketing (55%).
Strategic responsibilities are listed, with positioning and messaging rightfully in pole position at 92%. Yet, bar a couple of notable exceptions, the list is quite calculated.
This long-standing product marketer could credibly argue if this is the best value delivery for a PMM given much of what is really to be done, is strategic. Customer orientation, research, segmentation, segmentation targeting, segment persona development, etc., are the meat of marketing strategy and should firmly sit with product marketing.
Are we best utilized as handling website management (35%)? The answer is thinly veiled deeper in the report.
The sample size is a substantially robust 2,000 PMMs. However, a quick look at the company sizes across the sample base reveals that 58% of company profiles range from early pre-market fit to mid-growth and everything in-between. This means that mature, established businesses are under-represented.
Furthermore, in terms of years of experience, just under 60% of the sample has been in product marketing for less than five years, of which, 8.4% less than a year.
Combined, these facts build a picture of early-mid company stage product marketing that tangibly demands to be more hands-on and tactical. It’s a simple business need.
What is exciting though, is that as new businesses form and grow, product marketing is recognised as a fundamental need in defining and conveying value. Over time, I expect to see these same companies and product marketing managers tap into the strategic value they can bring to the table too.
A uniformed definition of product marketing will never exist
The least surprising part of the survey result is that just 5% of PMMs are 100% sure their role is understood. But who’s fault is it? The answer is somewhat abstract. Everyone and no one.
Consider this. Is the result any surprise when you consider that product marketing means different things to different companies? All at different growth stages and across the dividing lines of B2C/B2B and global vs. regional?
Heck, if I think about it too much, even I get confused! I like to look at it like this. Draw yourself a 2 x 2 grid. Left to the right axis is strategic/tactical and the top to bottom axis is global/regional. Now, try filling in the grid with basic roles and responsibilities.
What’s the result? Boom! No box in the grid looks the same. So now you have some basic appreciation for why the business world gets confused by what product marketing is.
The answer is ‘it depends, see grid’. If you want to see how it plays out in the real world, the image below is a summary of my last 22 years in product marketing. Note that no single role occupies exactly the same space. There’s even a black hole where product marketing ceases to exist!
The company situation can’t be controlled. But as a wise ex-boss of mine at Microsoft once said, ‘control the controllable’. You can control yourself and you should position yourself in the team and company as you would a product. Ensure you go out of your way to proactively demonstrate your value. If you do that consistently, then as a discipline, we have a better chance of improving these numbers and the understanding of the role of product marketing. The defence rests its case.
The Product Marketing Alliance State of Product Marketing 2020 is a rich and robust report for our discipline. It tells us that PMMs are alive and kicking and critically, new companies are placing key bets on product marketing as a need in the business because they see the value we deliver.
For the first time, we see year-on-year comparisons and consistent results, despite some minor variations.
The postcard from the future will evolve naturally, the future already tells us that we will have a three-year trend in the next report and that with a growing and very active membership (this week the Slack group reached the 10k milestone), we will welcome more Corporations into the fold as the membership diversifies.