What soft skills are must-haves for product marketers in your experience apart from diplomacy, curiosity, and empathy?
I'm going to admit upfront that I answered this in a previous AMA, so I'll copy and paste that same answer here. A year later, I can truly say that these continue to be the things I think are most important for a PMM to have. Almost all hard PMM skills can be taught, but these soft skills are much more valuable to me because they come from the PMM themselves. I can model the behavior, but each individual is responsible for whether or not they exhibit these traits.
Cross-functional excellence: As a PMM, you have the opportunity to lead without being a manager of people. A strong product marketer is someone who takes others along with them, rather than telling people exactly what they want them to do. They’re able to create strong relationships across the company, with product managers, engineers, designers, marketers, support folks, and more. They’re natural connectors who know who to go to in an organization to get things done and can influence cross-functional stakeholders to support and prioritize projects.
Executive presence and clear communication: As you get more senior, you'll spend more and more time presenting plans, public speaking, and communicating with executives in the company. The stronger you are at presenting and public speaking, the easier this will be for you. Executive presence also means knowing how best to leverage an executive’s skills to get feedback that will help your project, manage their expectations, and ensure they feel like they’re in the loop about work that matters to them.
A pitch in, get-it-done attitude: Being a PMM can be unglamorous at times. Sure, you get to run the big launches, but what people don’t see are the hours you spend writing support macros to ensure the team has what they need to answer incoming tickets, the amount of times a day you have to field seemingly random requests that don’t always fall neatly into your scope of work, and how often you get looped into last-minute, urgent projects that you didn’t plan for. PMMs that can approach this type of work ready to pitch in and help are often those that are seen as the most dependable and trustworthy, which helps them create strong relationships across the company. In my career, I've always made sure I'm never above doing the grunt work that's needed to get something across the finish line. While I don’t do it every day, I’m happy to roll up my sleeves to take a screenshot for a help article or write a macro if it means the team will be more successful and I reward members of my team that have the same attitude.
- High growth mindset / hunger to continuously improve.
- Great negotiators. We sit at the intersection of a lot of teams and needs! PMMs need to be skilled not just at bringing value, but negotiating priorities.
- Great collaborators. PMMs can't drive impact if they can't collaborate.
- Can't emphasize enough the importance of empathy, especially when it comes to XFN work!
Communication: You simply must be a good communicator to be a stellar product marketer. So much of our discipline requires strong communication in order to provide clarity (both externally and internally) and develop and exercise influence. Strong communication to me spans written skills, presentation creation skills, public speaking skills, and executive presence.
Adaptability: The potential list of things you might work on as a product marketer is so incredibly long and diverse! Someone who is excited by the chance to parachute into new situations and create new deliverables they've never encountered before is going to have a much steeper growth trajectory than someone who is less comfortable with change and ambiguity.
Self direction: A manager cannot be in all places at once. Having a direct report who can take a high degree of ownership of all aspects of their job -- correctly surfacing and acting on organizational/data signals to shape their work, defining rough drafts of their quarterly and annual roadmaps, developing preliminary problem-solving approaches, successfully managing cross-functional relationships independently, etc. -- enables the manager and PMM to engage on a more strategic and high impact level. This is extra important in product marketing given the breadth of the discipline and how many things you could be working on at any given time.
Because Product Marketing is at the cross-section between Marketing, Product and Sales, there are times when they are barely treading water to keep up with all the product launches, become a “catch all” function or have multiple conflicting stakeholder priorities. Thus, I think these additional other soft skills are must-haves to succeed in product marketing.
Takes Initiative: Acts ahead of need/anticipates problems, proactively sees things through, steps up to challenges even when things are not going well
Results Orientated: Focuses on and drives toward delivering on goals, documents activities and outcomes to learn from the past, invents new approaches with measurably better results, delivers performance improvements
Communication and Impression: Delivers messages and ideas in a way that engages an audience and achieves buy-in; uses listening and other attending behaviors to reach shared understanding; solicits opinions and concerns, discusses them openly and adjusts communication; remains cool under pressure during conflict or crisis; channels emotion into positive action
Influence without Formal Authority: Engages and works with people over whom one has no direct control, uses tailored approaches to connect with others, influence, and achieve results, influences a network of strategically chosen individuals to improve collective outcomes
A couple of others that come to mind:
1. Excellent communication skills and the ability to adapt these to the right audience - whether that's for consumers at scale, customers, or internal stakeholders.
2. Cross-functional influence - PMMs sit in between customers/consumers, Sales, Marketing, Product and even more functions depending on the organization. The ability to rally folks towards a common goal and bring everyone along is critical.
3. Related to curiosity - that constant need to understand the end user, whether that's consumers or customers, and continue to study their pain points, what motivates them, their issues, etc. Being empathetic with the people you are building for makes you a better PMM.
A collaborative attitude is a must. Product marketing is one of the most cross-functional roles in any company, so the ability to work well with colleagues in every vertical of the business is vital. Hand in hand with this is strong communication skills. Product marketers drive both internal and external messaging, so being able to communicate succinctly and effectively is key.
Strategic Thinking (ability to think and see big picture but also dive into the details and problem solve). For example, can this person go deep into researching a competitor, distill their findings, and add the context of their own business, to deliver concise and defensible talking points to arm the sales and customer success teams with.
There's another question I fielded about soft skills, so take a look at that one in the feed. The soft skills I listed there:
Clear and confident written and verbal communication
Ability to influence others (particularly product)
Strong drive for results/taking initiative
There's one more I'd add:
Bias for action
As I spend a decade working in product marketing at high-growth startups, I'll focus on must-have soft skills for PMM in a fast-growing startup:
- Hight user empathy: PMM should absolutely love talking to users. In most startups, personas, ICPs, value props, messaging, product features need to be constantly improved. This is normal to search for the best users to provide your features, with the best value prop and messaging. That's the essence of working in startups: build, learn, iterate. And it's impossible to do without talking to users, constantly.
- Ability to learn new products fast: Onboarding time in startups is much shorter than in other companies. PMMs should learn about company products very fast, so they will be able to translate complex technical ideas into values for users and speak users' language. This also goes to learning all tooling startup is using or rapidly adding (for example analytical products, that could be more niche). If PMM loves trying new products, this is a perfect match for the startup.
- Adapting to changes and bias towards speed: PMM in a startup will move very fast. The more traction startup is having, the more launches, case-study, sales presentations, research, re-designs, collaterals PMM will need to make and re-make. Priorities can change, the direction can change, and almost everything can change in a startup super fast. So the ability to adapt to new realities and execute on them is an extremely important PMM soft skill.
- Skill to build a structure to chaos: Startups are messy. If PMM doesn't have the soft skill to organize mess into the structure, all cross-functional projects, like product launches will be a nightmare.
- Love for cross-functional collaboration: With a lot of moving parts and fast team growth, it's very important to be ready to go the extra mile in your communication. Collaboration in startups is different: you can take more ownership (nothing is "someone else job"), you can lead & teach other functions, and you can overcommunicate (as tasks can get lost :) PMMs in startups must be great with communicators, empathetic leaders, and brutal doers (even if it's not in their job spec).
I hope, it helps!