What advice do you have for a current product marketing manager who's looking to grow his/her career in product marketing?
Once you've established deep expertise and credibility in the field, the transition to leading a Product Marketing team will depend largely on finding the right opportunity. This can happen with your current org if there are internal transitions or scope expansions that open up leadership roles, or may require seeking out a role at another company. Often times earlier stage companies that are looking to hire their first PMM may provide a great on-ramp to functional leadership. If you can come in, define the function, prove it's value and make the case for growing the team, you will have earned the leadership role as the team expands.
See my answer here in terms of what can help you personally grow as a PMM. In terms of moving up the ranks, the journey is probably similar to other marketing roles where beyond a certain level, you need to go from being an IC (individual contributor) to being a manager.
To grow as an IC, and if that's your speed (management, despite the fancy titles, is not for everyone), you need to develop subject matter expertise and the reputation as a someone who is the best at x, y, z. Product marketing is a small circle as well--if you were to ask me or anyone in my profession who the best partner marketer in the Bay Area was, or the best sales enablement person in tech that you could poach, we'd probably draw from the same list. Within a company, scoring those early and visible wins as an IC will get you even higher visibility work, and continuously delivering on that is what typically gets you promoted
To grow as a manager or even become one, you need to demonstrate span of control, meaning that the work that you're doing requires further investment of headcount and resources and organizational endorsement. If that comes with your purview, then showing results and consistently delivering while developing a reputation as a manager who is a multiplier is typically what will get you ahead. If you do not have that remit, then it's something you need to make a case for, but be warned, it's not always that easy. Everyone and their mother is asking for resources, especially at startups. At Box and at MuleSoft, we ended up getting more investment because we delivered some really innovative programs and launches on the developer side of the business that made the companies look good. Once you can demonstrably show that your GTM operations are engendering a fly-wheel of success, one that can spin faster the more you put into it, resources and growth will come to you.
Every product marketing org is different, but there are typically three big areas that may or may not be included in a product marketing org including, inbound (working more closely with Product), outbound (or GTM, working more closely with Sales), and compete (often supports competitive needs of Sales or Marketing). On top of that, Product Marketers can often be called upon to support many other functions across Marketing such as demand generation or acquisitions.
If you want to run a Product Marketing team someday, you definitely need some form of experience in all three areas of Product Marketing. I also recommend getting broader marketing experience if possible (e.g., demand gen, acquisitions). If you have a broad set of skills and experiences to draw upon, you will be better equipped to be an effective Product Marketing leader.
Product Marketing has so many different specialties that it’s almost impossible to be a master of all of them. My advice is to pick a product marketing swimlane and develop a strategy or project that you can completely own and run with. This way, you become the go-to person at the company for messaging, or competitive intelligence, or solutions marketing, or product launches, etc....you develop an expertise in this area, gain credibility, and can then make the case for higher visibility projects, more resources, headcount, and so on. Even better if that project or strategy is highly visible and requires you to work across different functions of the company. I’ve found this to be especially true at startups.
The other piece of advice I have in this area is to join a network and community of PMMs. PMM is still a fairly new function at many companies and we’re all defining this role together. I’ve gotten a wealth of inspiration and knowledge from listening to PMM podcasts, looking through other AMAs, throwing out questions in PMM slack groups - all of which have led me to feel like I’m learning and growing in my PMM career.
Product Marketing is an evolving role and can mean slightly different things at different companies, from sales enablement to competitive analysis and everything in between. Hence, I would suggest this product manager to define what product marketing means to them and find / build a place most aligned with what they want to do.
Growing your career in PMM can mean many things from mastering each aspect of product marketing to going deep in a particular discipline (e.g., pricing, competitive, etc.).
If growing your career means managing others, however, I recommend first learning to influence others who don't report to you.
After all, influencing others is how many people — in all professions — grow into management roles in the first place. They start thinking less like an individual contributor, and more like a collaborator who needs to inspire others — who don't report to them — to achieve objectives as a team.
If they're successful in influencing others, their managers take notice, and they get promoted to manager. (Contrary to popular thought, from my experience, getting promoted to management rarely just happens because you are an amazing individual contributor.)
Fortunately, much of a product marketing manager's job, whether they're six months or six years into the job, is about inspiring others to achieve objectives, from deciding to launch a product (or not) to rethinking the product's target market and positioning.
Therefore, many product marketing managers can start practicing to be a people manager on Day One!
So, if you want to manage other PMMs someday, first master your ability to inspire others in various departments to achieve objectives as a team. You'll need this skill as an IC — or a department leader.
I think showing a promotion within an organization signals something a bit more special than a title change across organizations, so that is a way to motivate someone to stay on longer if an opportunity will open up for them. Start-ups offer a much broader scope of responsibility but may lack the true people management/external industry exposure that goes with say a Director or VP title at a large company, and may introduce risk into career progression if the growth stalls (I have seen this personally). At a senior manager level, you have demonstrated competence and can lead other IC's. At a director level, can you chart a functional or GTM strategy that generates results, at a VP level, are you able to come up with strategies and influence (Gartner, etc) that could have industry-level impact and disruption. Lastly, staying in one niche helps create domain expertise to move up, but doing PMM across 2 or more niches should help one master the function.