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How do you make the jump from senior manager to director level in product marketing?

9 Answers
Suyog Deshpande
Suyog Deshpande
Samsara Sr. Director | Head Of Product & Partner MarketingNovember 18

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 answers. However, as we grow, we acknowledge that we don’t and won’t know the answers to all the questions asked of us. At that point, the ability to ask the right questions (of yourself and of the team) takes priority over the ability to answer the questions.

Additionally, directors+ are able to connect their work with the work of colleagues outside their functional area. They drive joint-outcomes for the company and not just for their function.

Finally, you should be ok to let go some things - including the thrill you get from sharing your work. Someone on your team will most likely do that and you should feel proud and happy about it.

One more thing, don't work to only please execs within your organization. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't seek feedback but focus on business goals than what would make "X" happy?. I have seen several people who only focus on making execs happy. Execs are smart enough to see through that. You are more likely to fall into this trap as you become director+ as you are going to get more exposure to execs. Stay away from that temptation. 

3866 Views
Dana Barrett
Dana Barrett
Tremendous VP of MarketingOctober 15

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 assigned to, and sought out other people who had the same vision. We all worked together to turn that product into a success. Once the product started succeeding, I was given a small team. Then, I was called upon to help turn around other product areas that were underperforming.

The story I shared illustrates one path to Director - find an area or product to “own” and deliver results. That is the most effective strategy if you want to get the title in your current company. Another path to obtaining that Director title is to switch companies. The latter may be the faster route depending on how competitive your current company is and how long you have been working towards your promotion. That said, switching companies does come with risks (e.g., building new relationships, learning how things get done, etc.). You will ultimately have to make the decision that feels right for you based on your current situation. Make sure you seek advice from trusted friends or mentors before choosing your path.

16207 Views
Hila Segal
Hila Segal
WalkMe Vice President, Product MarketingJanuary 27

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 path you choose, transitioning into a director role means graduating from product marketing execution into designing a strategic product marketing roadmap that aligns with company goals and the needs of the business. How to do that?

  • Ensure you have a good understanding of your company's strategic initiatives (for example, going up market or transitioning to recurring revenue models).
  • Develop a POV on how product marketing can help achieve corporate goals  
  • Build product marketing priorities and OKRs, socialize them with marketing, product, and the GTM organization for visibility and buy-in.
1564 Views
Ryan Goldman
Ryan Goldman
Moloco Global VP MarketingMay 5

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 -- create artifacts, not just strategies.

1333 Views
Pallavi Vanacharla
Pallavi Vanacharla
New Relic VP, Product MarketingMay 27

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!

2234 Views
Leandro Margulis
Leandro Margulis
Prove Head of ProductSeptember 7

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 your own story in terms of career progression. That said, in any company you will need to be already performing at the next level to make the jump. So I would look at the Director of Product Marketing job descriptions at companies of similar size and development to the one that you are in, and make sure you are performing at that level to then go for that promotion.

650 Views
Julien Sauvage
Julien Sauvage
Clari VP, Brand, Content and Product MarketingDecember 6

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 should be able to see how that expertise you've built could apply to the entire function.

765 Views
Rahul Awasthy
Rahul Awasthy
Rapid Vice President Product, Developer and Partner MarketingJuly 24

I made this jump and it wasn't easy - here's my guidance based on experience.

  1. Find a leader who believes in you. Very often people don't tell you this one thing - Promotions are personal in the sense that someone is taking the risk that you will succeed at an unproven level. The assumption is you already have the base-skills as your peers who also qualify for that promotion

  2. Take Risk politically in medium/large orgs - Demonstrate that you can lead a project, an idea and market ALL aspects of it. Your product and sales champions are critical in backing your promotion. In short as a PM, I should want YOU as my marketing launch person. As a Sales leader, I rely on YOU to sell better, enable better, message better

  3. Jump ship carefully - Sometimes it's the only option, but weigh in and have a honest timeline based discussion with your manager. Do NOT assume your manager thinks your great work means you want people responsibility. Many are happy without it.

Good luck and let me know what your experience says

307 Views
Noelle Bloomfield
Noelle Bloomfield
Gloat Director of Product MarketingJanuary 31

Be it as an individual contributor, or in a managerial role, moving to become a director requires ownership, impact, and managerial skills. Here's what this means:

  • Ownership: The difference in managerial levels often comes down to scope, but even without massive scope increases, can come with a higher level of independence in operating. To advance from a senior manager to director level, you need to show ownership of your scope, end-to-end from project planning, execution, measurement, results-sharing, and re-prioritizing. Treat your scope like you are the CEO, iterating and innovating to make the process better wherever you can. The more independently you can do this, the more it will justify moving you up to a higher level. Secondly, when you see a problem or area where your organization could function better, OWN IT. Leaders are change-makers and don't let "scope" prevent them from making a difference. 
  • Impact: Tie your scope and results to bottom-line impact. From win rates, revenue, faster sales process, feedback, and engagement, measurement to show you truly move the needle for the business is essential to justify a higher title. If you can't do that today, create a way to (surveys, new measurement tools), as this is your greatest negotiation tactic. 
  • Managerial Skills: Even without direct reports, moving to a director-level means you have to know how to drive progress by managing stakeholders, leadership, processes in ways that go beyond just a project end-to-end. Can you look at the goals for the business and manage up/down/across to make meaningful changes to reach those goals? Practice peer-to-peer management, making cases to leadership independently, and prioritization of tasks to help gain the critical skills to help you succeed. 

Have all this? Ask! Research your market value, continue to gather performance feedback, negotiate, continue to demonstrate growth and change, and find the right opportunity!

478 Views
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