It was my first time running a product marketing team. Wanting to build a relationship with the vice president of sales, I asked him what great product marketing meant to him. “Apple-like marketing,” was his terse reply before he walked away, not wanting to engage any further.
Now, some relationships are just not meant to be. But I now know better than to ask this question again.
Even stellar product marketing managers (PMMs) differ on what great product marketing looks like. To others on the executive team, it can look like shadowboxing, with the shadow being some “content” that gets produced in the process.
Product marketing is an increasingly popular function among startups. The typical reasons driving a PMM hiring decision tend to be: “We need content to feed the marketing funnel,” “We need help with messaging,” or “We need someone to enable sales.” All valid reasons, but all highly tactical reasons.
The tactical framing of product marketing work leads to unfocused activity. This may include driving product strategy, producing collateral, training sales, drafting request for proposal (RFP) responses, setting packaging and pricing, executing lead generation campaigns, delivering competitive analysis, recruiting beta customers, writing technical documentation, creating technical demos and much more.
In most companies, the product team’s goal is quite clear: Ship the usable products, on time. The sales team’s role is even sharper: Meet the number. The goals are not tactical, and they form the essence of the company’s operations.
However, PMMs tend to either get subsumed into larger marketing organizations that purely focus on demand generation, or they exist within a product team where they may get closer to product strategy but also get mired in recruiting customers into beta programs or writing technical documentation.
In both scenarios, their goals roll up into the goals of their individual team(s) or manager(s), often losing the “forest from the trees” view and missing true ownership to make the product successful in the market.
Something has to change.
As a rule of thumb, one function should not be trying to do what is best done by another function. Likewise, PMMs have special skills that should, ideally, not come into conflict with secondary tasks of other teams.
We need a crisp, strategic “why” for product marketing that makes it clear to a CEO or an executive exactly what the function has to offer.
Consider this “why”: Product marketing maximizes the extractable value of your product(s) from the market.
What this means is that, if done well, it can be a multiplier on what the go-to-market (GTM) team would otherwise be able to do.
Note that I use the word “maximize.” A PMM function isn’t really there to achieve initial product-market fit, which is a role for product management and the founding team; it is to help you scale once the initial fit has been accomplished.
I will say it again: PMM is a growth function.
Based on this definition, as a CEO, here are three things that you should start asking of your PMM team:
1. Optimize my total serviceable addressable market (TSAM).
This will make your PMM team focus on creating enough market runway for your existing products. Activities that this may result in include:
• Creative product packaging and pricing targeted to the right use cases and buyer willingness to pay.
• Positioning into adjacent markets that already have a need for your existing products.
• Reevaluation or updates of named account lists and distribution among sales territories.
2. Maximize my effectiveness within the TSAM.
This will make your PMM team focus on improving win rates and on fixing any bottlenecks within the larger GTM motion. Activities that this may result in include:
• Competitive analysis programs.
• Win/loss programs.
• New whole product offerings (e.g., training programs, certifications, etc.).
• Sales channels performance analysis.
• New sales decks.
3. Help make my products successful.
There is a key distinction between highly usable and highly successful products. PMMs can help you with the latter. Activities this may result in include:
• Revamped case study programs.
• Initiation of customer advisory boards.
• Sales performance incentive funds (SPIFs) for GTM teams to increase case study generation.
• Reimagination of product categories.
• Analyst calls and webinars.
There is often a change in the dynamic of empowerment and initiative once these asks are made. And as CEO, you’ve now just gained an entire function whose job it is to give you a multiplier on your GTM efforts. Now that’s valuable!