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How can I break the ceiling from Sr. Product Marketing Manager to the next level (director or team lead)?

6 Answers
Christy Roach
Christy Roach
AssemblyAI VP of MarketingOctober 9

This is a hard jump to make! Not to sound like a broken record, but the first step is communicating with your manager to let them know that you want to move into management and getting their feedback on what you’d need to do to make that move and what timeline might be realistic. I can’t say it enough, being clear in what you want and communicating that to the people who can help you get there is essential to growing your career.

From there, there are a few things you can do to help the process. First is taking management training, getting a career coach, getting 360-degree feedback, and reading books on management to help prepare you for the shift. I really enjoyed the book “The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You” by Julie Zhuo. It helped me in my management career but is also a really honest take on management that non-managers can learn a lot from. 360-degree feedback can help you understand where you need to grow in order to be seen as a leader in your peers’ eyes and a career coach can help you work through that. I did all of these things and think it’s helped me in my career tremendously.

The other piece is keeping an eye on what the business needs. I became a manager when Asana was around a Series C, 350 person company. I made the jump by proactively writing a job rec, pointing out where our team didn’t have coverage, and why this person should report to me. My manager and I talked about it extensively and I got lots of feedback from her. And, because I had her blessing and buy-in on the role, she was able to help me make the move. 

The lesson here is that being a manager doesn't just happen when you think you're ready, it happens when there is a business need, and it’s up to you to help find that need and help fill it. I was able to make the move because I spotted a gap on our team and came up with a plan to fill it, not because I finally got the blessing that I was ready to be a manager. A lot of people wait until someone taps them to become a leader and, while there are people this happens to, it's not always the case. I knew I wanted to manage a team and I took the initiative to figure out how to make it happen in a way that was good for the business and good for my career goals. I encourage you to do the same! 

2215 Views
Priyanka Srinivasan
Priyanka Srinivasan
Verkada Vice President Product MarketingAugust 13

The first thing you have to ask is - is there room for a director or team lead at my company in product marketing? My CEO once said there are basically two ways you can start managing a team:

  1. The company is growing (in headcount) and some of that can get allocated to you 
  2.  If the company isn’t growing in headcount, there’s a reorg that happens where you’re given more scope / resources / headcount

It’s worth noting that on (1) you need to be able to make a good case for why you should get some of that headcount. Heads are the most fought for things at a company. In order to do that, you need to demonstrate that you’ve taken on a ton of scope / responsibility (that is valuable to the business) and you need people to help you run / scale it. So you should ALWAYS be looking for more scope to take on - ask for it constantly and own own own as much as you can. And make sure they’re functionally valuable things like analyst relations, competitive, enablement, etc etc. And then you’ll have to make a case to your manager.

For (2) - you can’t control when that happens, or even less what comes of it. So I wouldn’t count on this as a strategy.

If your company isn’t growing rapidly (in terms of headcount), there just might not be an opportunity for you, no matter how good or ready you are.

You should be able to suss that out pretty quickly. If that’s the case and being a team lead is something you want to do - leave. Don’t waste another minute hoping for it in your current org. Seriously.

1153 Views
Mike Flouton
Mike Flouton
GitLab VP, ProductNovember 15

First, Make sure you own your company's most strategic product. Usually that's the product with the highest revenue or fastest growth. Ideally both.

 

Second, make sure the execs know who you are. Go as high as you can go. Develop relationships with the CEO and/or board if you're small or mid-sized, aim for BU head if you're in a large enterprise. Be the one standing up in front of the exec team (or board) giving updates about your product. Say smart things. 

 

Third, make sure you're riding the right rocketship. Make sure your current boss is the type who is always singing your praises. This reinforces those CEO/board relationships you should be developing in parallel. 

 

Finally, be patient. Your chance will come, often when you least expect. Usually it's because your boss leaves and they pick you to replace her. This is why it's so important the execs know and love you. It could also be that your boss gets recruited for a CMO job and needs a head of PMM and pulls you with her. 

940 Views
Steve Feyer
Steve Feyer
Eightfold Product Marketing DirectorApril 6

Perfectly correct answer from Mike. I do all these things and have been promoted annually.

"Riding the right rocketship" also has the component of picking the right company in addition to the right boss. If you arrive ahead of growth, you'll earn team management responsibility as quickly as you can handle it. But if your company is stagnant, those above you will need to leave for you to advance.

One caution I always give is not to grab a high title from a small company just because it's offered to you. I could be a Vice President today... most likely, VP of nothing. Escalating your title far beyond your true capability and experience level can box in your career, and costs you credibility.

643 Views
James Winter
James Winter
Spekit VP of MarketingDecember 12

Adding on to all of the great advice above:

  • Build your network: meet as many marketing leaders as you can so that when they're ready to hire someone externally you are on their list. Also get to know some good recruiters. 
  • Be flexible and ready to leave your current company: your chances of being promoted at your current company are miniscule compared to the jobs available elsewhere 

If you wait to get promoted at your current role, you're limiting your chances immensely. The math is pretty simple: if you wait at your current role, they either need to be creating the role for the first time (unlikely) or someone needs to leave (also unlikely). When you stop limiting yourself to your current company the number of director level positions becomes MUCH higher. 

479 Views
Horacio Zambrano
Horacio Zambrano
Truu, Inc. CMO, TruU.ai ; B2B GTM/PMM AdvisorDecember 5

All of the above. To create those higher level relationships internally and project more seniority, you need to be/sound as strategic (about your industry, competition, trends, shifting dynamics) as you are/can about feature richness. Executives tend to be strategic and they need people that can bridge the on the ground execution to their vision/story-telling.

418 Views
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