It stuck in my mind for a few weeks. Sure, the function and skill set of PMMs can range from highly technical to highly go-to-market focused. Some teams are more closely aligned with product and others to sales. And some are perceived as highly strategic to the organization’s growth while others seem to be relegated to strictly powerpoint slide creation hell.
And also like ice cream, we all seem to love some flavors more than others. I jumped onto and have stayed on the salted caramel train since the early 2010s. Creamy and not-too-sweet, salted-caramel ice cream had the perfect combination of characteristics for me.
Is there a similar set of characteristics for the ideal PMM team? If not, are there consistent themes that lead teams to success more often than not? Having seen a few different organizations, at varying stages and levels of success, here are a few thoughts at 3 stages of growth for your budding tech company:
- First Marketing Hire: When the right time for your first product marketing hire could be a blog post to itself. Without getting too controversial, you don’t need marketing until you have a viable MVP, a few pilot customers demonstrating success, and have plans to start selling at some level of scale (an A round or a similar milestone). When ready, what should your first marketing hire look like? Should they excel in positioning, messaging and sales enablement? Or demand gen, promotions, and analytics?
After solving for culture fit, ability to wear multiple hats, entrepreneurial attitude, ability to grow into a marketing leader, and other early stage requirements, my take on the marketing skill set is that it depends on where your biggest gaps are as a founding team. And be prepared, this may take a bit of self-reflection and honest thought.
Are you a technical founder or product/engineering founding team? Make sure your first hire has a strong go-to-market skill set. While you may have strong convictions about your target market, customers, and competition, you should expect a high marginal return from hiring someone with years of experience positioning products, developing messaging and working with sales. Get this person on board and empower them to make bold recommendations. Support them as they partner with sales to roll out new messaging. And give them a seat at the table when it comes to evaluating customer feedback. You’ll appreciate them for their 6th sense (to them, it’s common sense) for distilling the signal from the noise when it comes to what will move the needle with key buyers.
On the other end of the spectrum, are you a sales oriented CEO with a technical co-founder? Do you have strong conviction for the next phase of growth? Are you willing to hear a new voice in the room that may offer a differing opinion on company’s target market and ideal customer? If your answers are yes, yes and no, then be honest with yourself and hire yourself a high caliber demand gen marketer. The last thing you want to do at this point is to rock the boat by promising your new hire that they will be driving the go-to-market strategy, only to undercut them at their first suggestion to make a left turn. Getting an execution and metrics oriented demand gen leader will amplify your voice and rapidly accelerate your pace.
- First “Head of Product Marketing” Hire: You’ve surpassed your first few customers and have pipeline coming in from your own programs, not just through your investor network. Your product has evolved from an early stage MVP to GA, with a few differentiating features and more on the way. You’re the head of marketing and ready to hire your first PMM to be a close partner to demand generation. Where should they fall on the technical to go-to-market spectrum?
Again, this hire should round out your skill set and gaps on either the technical or GTM side. Additionally, at this stage, it becomes crucial to start translating your feature-benefits into buyer value. Let’s unpack this a little more.
Let’s say at this stage, you’ve effectively built a “better mousetrap”, a solution that is cheaper, faster and/or better at solving a problem for your core buyer. You are effectively diving into an existing market, with buyers with existing budget, and trying to take share from within a category. This is great, and frankly, a tried and true path for going from scratch to scale successfully. But to reach the next stage of growth, your marketing and sales teams now need to go from preaching to the choir to convincing the skeptics. In other words, or in the words of Geoffrey Moore, you need to “cross the chasm”.
How do you convince the skeptics? It will not be by talking about the fancy benefits of your product features or why your open, secure, mobile-first, serverless platform is superior. They care about their careers and how your solution will help them succeed. In other words, how will your product drive revenue, reduce cost and risk, make their team happy, or some other outcome that will reflect positively on them. In the most basic sense, this is buyer value.
Product marketing becomes crucial for reaching these pragmatists, effectively “crossing the chasm”, and reaching your next growth milestone. Ensure your PMM leader firmly grasps these concepts.
- Scaling Your Product Marketing Function: You’ve made traction, earned a spot on a G2 grid, have a strong logo wall slide, perhaps even gained the attention of a few competitors. Congratulations! But pressures abound to maintain growth, and to do so it may become time to reassess your total addressable market (TAM), positioning, and go-to-market strategy.
Product marketing can be a key resource during this period. Many organizations add new functions under product marketing to meet this challenge, such as:
Defining “core” product marketing as the team aligned to product, ensuring new feature and product launches are communicated to internal teams and the market to drive the largest impact
Adding “solutions” as a function under the umbrella of product marketing. This team is aligned to the buyer personas / business segments. While “core” product marketing starts with the vantage point of your product and translates the value proposition to the market, “solutions” marketing starts with your customer, defines the buyer personas, and crafts your value proposition to resonate with their objectives and challenges. There are many flavors of “solutions” marketing and the right option may depend on your business need. For example - Do you sell to one core buyer, but their needs differ across size of company? Then defining your GTM around “segment” may be the optimal choice. Alternatively, is your core product horizontal, as in it can solve challenges across industries? Then defining your solutions team by industry can help accelerate sales by translating your value proposition into business value in each vertical.
Launching customer marketing as a function under product marketing. A team dedicated to capturing and marketing success stories and nurturing a network of advocates can improve awareness and bring credibility to your positioning and messaging. Aligning this team closely with product marketing can help remove slack from your day to day operations.
Launching and aligning content marketing with product marketing. A function focused on developing high quality content to drive awareness, consideration, conversion and success can drive enormous growth. Aligning this team to your key strategies in product marketing can ensure each piece of content is produced with a specific goal in mind as part of a border campaign.
Where customer and content marketing should sit in a marketing organization may be a contentious topic. Should they align more closely with demand gen campaigns? Or report directly to the head of marketing? There may be rationales for each scenario.
My take is that at the core - product marketing determines the strategy and the messaging and demand gen executes the programs to drive the business, disseminating your message to your target segments. Demand gen needs to be a machine, measured on efficiency and business metrics. How much did we spend and how much did we earn? Product marketing needs to have a longer term view. Successful positioning sets a vision for the market and your products. It can shape the long term arc of your business. Having content and customer marketing aligned with product marketing ensures that their projects and focus are on shaping the long term success for the business, and not shifted towards near-term targets.
The right flavor of product marketing may depend on your company, stage of growth, and objectives. And there may never be a single best practice org chart for product marketing. But I do believe that some teams are set up for success and can have a huge impact on growth. And I’ll go to my grave with that, and with a double scoop of salted caramel ice cream.