Product Marketing
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Head of Marketing, IoT at Twilio

Promotions! A topic that's on everyone's mind. 😄

If you are just interested in the title, you can move to a smaller company and get the title today. Nothing wrong with it, go for it! And in fact, it may help you gain more experience/skills as well.

If you are interested in moving up the ladder within your current company, then you may need to work on your skills a bit more. My answer below is for this second path.

Let's first understand the difference between a Sr. Manager and a Director. Regardless of the function (HR, PMM, Finance), the differences between these levels are fairly similar and typically include:

  1. Ability to manage a larger scope
  2. Strategic view
  3. Executive presence
  4. Ability to manage people (if the role requires it)

Generally (and unfortunately) in that order. 👆🏾

Now let me explain each and some suggestions on how you can gain the skills in each area.

Ability to manage a larger scope

  • What is it? Scope in PMM could be deeper or wider. 'Deeper' if you manage all PMM functions for a single product and 'wider' if you manage all/some PMM functions for multiple products. The definition of 'width' and 'depth' varies by company.
  • How do you get this skill? Manage your work and time by focusing on the big rocks and not getting distracted by the small ones. Offload the small rocks to contractors or junior team members. Then expand your scope. Ask for more. Be bold, take on a high visibility product. Or take a risk, take on the underdog product or a new product and make it big. Take on additional products within the same business unit or other businesses units.
  • How do you prove you have this skill? Generally, there are no shortcuts here. You will have to gain the bandwidth and skills and give your leaders the confidence that you can do it.

Strategic view

  • What is it? This involves thinking, planning and acting based on a longer term and broader view. A few examples a) thinking and planning for the long run (2-5 years) with market trends in mind, b) owning and/or defining the Go-To-Market strategy (sales channels, product mix, pricing, partnerships, etc), c) thinking and making trade-offs and decisions on behalf of the entire company and not just your small piece of the pie. 
  • How do you get this skill? Remind yourself to do the above at every stage until it becomes a habit. Remind others (team members, peers, stakeholders) to do the same.
  • How do you prove you have this skill? Once you do the above, people (especially senior leaders) tend to notice and may even get you assigned or involved in x-functional projects or long-range planning. 

Executive presence

  • What is it? In my opinion this has more to do with your character and personality than your appearance. Qualities that demonstrate executive presence are - humility, listening skills, consistent behavior, calmness, being inclusive, ensuring equality, ensuring diversity, firm decision making...you get the idea.  
  • How do you get this skill? You constantly self-reflect and strive for continuously improving yourself. Look to other leaders you admire and adopt what works. 
  • How do you prove you have this skill? Frankly you don't have to do anything to prove it. This will show up loud and clear to everyone - in everything you say, everything you do, and every meeting you attend.

Ability to manage people

  • What is it? I think managing people should stem from an innate selfless desire to help people grow and be their best. Too many people in the workforce are suffering from unhappiness and ill-health for one reason alone - their managers suck! If you do not have a desire to help others, then do everyone a favor and don't be a manager. There is more to being a manager of course, but all those skills pale in comparison to the above imo. 
  • How do you get this skill? If you have not managed people before, then you can start small by managing interns/contractors and make the case of a team member. If you are already managing people, then look to expand your skill by managing more senior folks and managing 'people managers'. Of course, you should grow your team only when appropriate for the business, without a desire for building a fiefdom (don't be that kind of a leader). And genuinely strive to be a good manager. Read books, learn from other managers, take training, reflect on your thoughts/actions and most importantly ask your team members for feedback. 
  • How do you prove you have this skill? Generally your team members will share their feedback in your performance reviews and it will be pretty clear where you stand here.

Lastly, the secret...
Now, after all the above details, let me tell you the real secret to promotions. You don't get promoted just because you are the best. You also need someone who believes in you and is willing to go to bat for you. Is willing to bet on your and give you the chance. Is willing to fight for you to be promoted instead of the 10 others in the queue. This person has a name, they are called your 'sponsor' (not to be confused with a mentor). So the trick is to find who is influential within your company and who could be your sponsor - could be your manager or your manager's manager or a leader in another group. And ensure they see your success, caliber and immense potential.

Good luck!

Head of Global Product Marketing at Asana
I started as an IC and was working on a product that was on the verge of being deprecated. Fast forward three years, and I got a promotion and was managing a team of 9 people. How did I do it? Well, the short answer is that I delivered results. I saw an opportunity to grow the product I was assi...more
Vice President, Product Marketing at Gong.io
The expansion in scope! A director owns a function. Is able to partner with senior leaders and build strong relationships in other departments to establish strategic plans and objectives. Be as metric driven as you can in your current senior manager role, show the impact, then your manager sh...more
Product, Partner & Developer Marketing Leader at Samsara
There is no one path but let’s unpack what it means to be a director. It isn’t that the directors know exponentially more or they suddenly become better decision makers. When we all start our careers, we search for the right answers. In fact, we are judged by our ability to find the right answer...more
VP of Product Marketing at Observe.AI
Advancing to a director level can happen as an individual contributor when the scope of the role is expanded, and more responsibility is given to you—for example, leading product marketing for a product line or multiple product lines. You can also step into a people manager role. No matter what p...more
Head of Product Marketing at Prove
I am more about roles than hierarchies, and Sr. Manager or Director may mean different things at different companies depending on their size and level of development / maturity of the company. I would be more focused on the role, increasing responsibilities and impact than titles so you can write...more
Global VP Marketing at MOLOCO
Adopt a mentality that focuses on the market first, not the product. That way, you can serve your partners in Product, Engineering, Demand Generation, Revenue, Growth, Sales, Customer Success, etc. in ways that they wouldn't be able to serve themselves. And use that mentalithy to get things done ...more