How do product marketers make sure they're learning enough varied skills to be a well-rounded professional when scope is an issue?
This is a great question! I know lots of product marketers who worry that in getting more specialized they’re missing out on the opportunity to get that broad skillset. I reject the idea that you have to change jobs in order to get the experience you want and think there are plenty of ways to get it in your current role. Here’s what has worked well for me:
Do your homework: While there are some skills that are universally important for a product marketer (ex: bringing new products to market), there are some that are more niche and specialized (ex: specific expertise in freemium business pricing strategies). Before you start mapping out how to get the experience, you need to figure out what experience you want to get and what’s not as important to you. This likely sounds like a “duh” comment, but I’ve talked to many people who know they want to be great product marketers but haven’t done the legwork to figure out what that means to them. To start, have an explicit conversation with your manager about what they think are the skills you need to have to be a great product marketer, rather than making assumptions about what they think. From there, talk to some leaders you admire who have the type of well-rounded career you’d like to have or, better yet, are hiring for the role you would like to get a few years down the line. Ask them what types of skills they see as mandatory for someone they’d hire onto their team and compare that list to the skills that you’re getting to build in your current role. Don’t have any leaders in your company that fit the bill? Reach out to people on LinkedIn, contact people from the Sharebird community, or approach people at meetups. I can’t speak for everyone, but I personally have always been open to chatting on the phone or getting coffee with someone who wants some advice.
Create a shortlist and share it with your manager: Turns out, most managers truly want to help their employees succeed in their career goals. Once you have a list of the skills you’d like to build in your role, you should have an honest conversation with your manager about what you think the gaps in your skillset are and where you’d like to get exposure and get their point of view. Once you’re on the same page that yes, this is an important skillset to have and no, you’re not getting exposure to it in my current role, it opens the door to exploring opportunities to take on projects to build that skill. You have to remember that the company will put you in the role that they think is best for the business, so it’s important to communicate to your boss that you’re willing to go above and beyond to take on extra work in order to get the skills you’d like. As a manager, once I know what someone wants, and once they’ve made clear they’re willing to work for it, I’m usually pretty excited to find opportunities for them to get the skills they’re looking for. When you’ve got a strong performer on your team, you don’t want to lose them, but you also don’t want to keep them in a role they’re not happy in. It’s a total win for me when I know where my direct report ultimately wants to go and I can find new projects for them to take on to help them grow in their career.
Seek out other teams who have projects like the ones you’re wanting to do: In talking to your manager, you might find that they are fine with you taking on other work, but aren’t able to give that to you themselves, either because they don’t have influence over that area of the business or they want you to take the initiative yourself to grow your career. If that’s the case, you can reach out to a lead on a team that does the type of work you’re looking to do and make it clear that you’d be interested in taking on a special project or helping out to grow your skills in that area. So long as you’ve already talked to your manager and they’ve agreed to let you dip your toe in something new, most leaders will be excited about someone who wants to help out their team. The thing to remember is to be realistic about the work that’s already on your plate, make sure you take on work you feel confident you can get done in the time allotted, and you and the leader who is responsible for the work are clear on what level of involvement you’d like them to have.
Be realistic in your timelines: If you’re like me, as soon as you figure out what you want to be doing or identify a gap in your skillset, you want to tackle it immediately and all at once. Take my hard-earned advice, this mindset sets you up to fail. Take an 18-month approach to this work and map out, in 6-month increments to start, the skills you think are most important to build and how much work it will take to build them. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you can’t go from never launching a product to running the quarter’s biggest product launch right away. You also can’t look at these skills like checkboxes that you do once and you're done. If you’re approaching growth as a bunch of checkmarks to help you get where you want to go, you run the risk of looking at execution as your measure of success, not the quality of work. Of course, you should push for what you want and set ambitious goals for yourself, but it’s important to recognize that once you and your manager have a conversation about where you want to grow, it may take a few months for an opportunity to present itself that gives you what you’re looking for.
Great question and a challenge I've definitely run into throughout the years. Every role and every company is different and you're not always going to get the full spectrum of PMM with every move.
To fill any gaps, I strongly recommend making friends in other departments. If other marketing teams are covering responsibilities, try to partner with them or shadow them to stay involved and learn. If you want to buff up on your enablement skills, grab coffee with your GTM and enablement teams to talk about doing a "minor" project on the side. I also recommend always having a BFF in Sales that you can do ride-alongs with and bounce questions off. That is invaluable!
When you're not hanging out with your new cross-functional friends, go big in online communities and courses! There are a ton of opportunities to learn the craft so you are ready when it's time to launch.
This is one of the reasons to work for a smaller company where you get a wider scope, there is always pros and cons on each company type. Now if you are in a large company with a small scope, Make the implicit explicit and talk to your manager and others to express your interest in learning more about the wider scope. That should open doors to get more involved with a wider variety of product marketing tasks.
Reach out to the product marketing network! Sharebird is a great place to start :) And I find that LinkedIn is another helpful resource for connecting with other product marketers to get insights from their experiences as well. Not only can people share case studies from the work they’ve done, but they can also provide guidance and feedback, and act as mentors.
There are also a lot of wonderful classes available, including via Product Marketing Alliance. Check with your employer as you may be able to expense these classes as a career development opportunity.
The role of a product marketer is very different in every company. Still, I believe you shape up the position in your organization - the strengths, interests, and passions you bring with you can expand the role beyond its initial job description. Whether you're a PMM at a global enterprise with thousands of employees or part of a lean and mean marketing team at a fast-growing start-up, you have to control your own destiny.
The vast majority of learning and development happens not in formal training programs, but rather on the job—through developmental assignments. Identify the set of PMM skills that are important for you to develop - it can be more opportunities to actively pitch your product in sales cycles, running large quarterly launches, or sharpening your writing skills. From here, you have to continually look for new projects and ways to get yourself involved in a broad set of initiatives across the company. Take advantage of your connections in sales, enablement, GTM, product management, customer success, and devote at least 10-15% of your time to extra curricular activities. Coordinate this with your manager and make it part of your OKRs (objectives and key results).
There are multiple ways I'd suggest doing this. One approach is to use the current area that you're focused on i.e. sales enablement, and how you can use your knowledge and experience of this to influence the likes of product launch strategies. For example, if you're in sales enablement you have a birdseye view of what the sales teams challenges are, what they're hearing from their customers and what works within the pre and post-sales processes. Use this knowledge to springboard yourself into conversations with other people across the org. This helps because 1) it allows you to build lasting relationships and trust, and 2) gives you insights and experience into how and what they work on. Be curious, ask questions and champion the customers.
I think it's always possible for product marketers to learn varied skills by being open to new projects or opportunities when they've mastered a skill. At a large company, where roles are more specialized there are often opportunities to work on different projects or products that may have different product-market-fit. At a smaller company, the scope may be wider but you may not have the opportunity to go as deep with any skill set. I'd advise being open to all the opportunities you see around you and be unafraid to speak with your manager about your career and growth aspirations and have them help you identify projects or opportunities that might help you take the next step.