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What are the biggest surprises when going from a company where product marketing was established to one where you have to establish product marketing?

7 Answers
Gregg Miller
Gregg Miller
PandaDoc VP of Product Marketing & BrandOctober 8

One of the biggest surprises is that the vast majority of people at smaller companies have little idea of what product marketing is. Your new colleagues may have never worked directly — or even indirectly — with product marketers before. This means that you as the new head of PMM have a much bigger leadership challenge ahead of you than when working at a larger company that likely has had a fairly defined PMM function for years. Further complicating the challenge is that product marketing looks so different at so many different organizations. It’s super important to meet this challenge head on by proactively answering questions like:

  • What value do I think product marketing should contribute to this company? Why do we matter?
  • What is the appropriate balance of tactical vs. strategic and short-term vs. long-term work for my team?
  • How should we prioritize and manage the myriad projects PMM could potentially lead (i.e. sales enablement vs. market segmentation vs. market opportunity exploration/validation vs...)
  • What tools, frameworks, and processes can help my team work successfully cross-functionally?
  • How should all of the above evolve as both the team and the organization grow?

    It’s tempting to just dive into the work, but I’ve found it to be super helpful to explicitly define these types of questions and get the buy-in of both leadership and cross-functional leaders on my team’s scope. Given how fluid/undefined PMM can be, taking these steps gives you a better shot of being able to sit firmly in the driver’s seat and steer your team’s destiny.
2082 Views
Thomas Dong
Thomas Dong
NetSpring VP of MarketingDecember 9

It's not so much surprises, as it is the scope of opportunities to improve sales and marketing effectiveness. PMM generally brings stability and consistency to messaging, so where I have built the organization from the ground up, PMM has played a crucial role in helping Sales better replicate success and scale revenue. The website often needs a redesign to realign with crisper positioning and messaging, Demand Gen may need to be redirected on who (and where) they are targeting, and you'll almost certainly need to tame the sales decks that have been created "out in the wild". 

Before your arrival there were probably varying opinions on the ideal customer profile, target market, product positioning and/or customer value. So lay a strong foundation and get consensus on your personas, customer journey maps, and messaging, and you'll see an acceleration in improvements when everyone is rowing in the same direction.

825 Views
Andy Schumeister
Andy Schumeister
Sourcegraph Director of Product MarketingJune 8

The biggest surprise is that even though product marketing may not exist as a function, the company is already doing product marketing: launching new products, pricing and packaging, creating messaging and positioning, etc. The challenge is that this work likely doesn't have a clear owner and is distributed across many teams. 

As the first product marketing hire at Sourcegraph, I spent time in the beginning meeting with product, sales, engineering, marketing, design, etc. to understand what had already been done and what the biggest gaps were. From there, I created a document that outlined what product marketing does, how we work with others teams, and a vision for the team. Sourcegraph is a very transparent company - you can take a look at the document I created in our public handbook. This process also helped me think through what the team should look like based on the needs of the business. 

534 Views
Jasmine Jaume
Jasmine Jaume
Intercom Director, Product MarketingOctober 26

My experience was actually the other way round - I went from a company where I was the first PMM and helped establish the PMM team, to a company where there was already an established PMM team (and PMM already had 'a seat at the table'). Some of the learnings from that experience:

  • It's much easier to create effective messaging for a launch when you were involved in the development of the feature in the first place (i.e. giving input on the customer pain points, inputting into scoping decisions etc), rather than trying to retroactively figure out why your audience should care about something when it comes to launching it
  • Many people don't understand what product marketing is/does, or the value we can add, even if the team has been around a while - so don't assume they do! Once they understand and see the value, most PMs and others in the company want PMM involved and will seek out your input. 
  • There is no one 'right' way to structure a PMM team. What works for your team is heavily dependent on your business model, stage, product portfolio and maturity, sales motion and so on. And what works will likely change as those things change also. 
  • Many of the challenges product marketing teams face are similar, regardless of the size or maturity of the team. The specifics may change but, having talked to many PMMs at many different companies, there are clear commonalities and themese in the challenges we face!
1018 Views
Jennifer Kay Corridon
Jennifer Kay Corridon
Yelp Product Marketing Expert & MentorOctober 12

I remain surprised by how many digital professionals or companies with outsized product footprints are still unfamiliar with the specialty of "product marketing." When your the first hire of this kind, I'd recommend being prepared to talk about the scope of product marketing and take the opportunity to help crystalize where your initial focus area will be. It's also helpful to walk through the types of projects and impacts that you've worked on in the past and how they can translate or be depolyed at your new gig.  

421 Views
Adam Kerin
Adam Kerin
Truework SVP of MarketingJanuary 18

I’ve been the first PMM at two startups now. It's been pleasantly surprising how impactful some of the basic PMM tools are when applied for the first time, and how quickly you can see their impact.

Things as foundational as customer interviews, launch trackers, and announcement tiers have an oversized impact at a company that’s likely never done it before. While these were likely table-stakes in your previous roles, don’t underestimate how much they help discipline and quality to the team's GTM efforts.

It also never fails to surprise just how quickly you feel your impact at a startup. At a large company you may spend more time doing “internal marketing” with cross-functional stakeholders to gain buy-in for a given plan. At a startup, much more time goes to building and doing. With fewer layers of bureaucracy and approval, you can go from idea to impact in a week, not a quarter. This has been one of the most rewarding aspects of small startups.

451 Views
Anand Patel
Anand Patel
Appcues Director of Product MarketingOctober 27

I've had to build out product marketing at both a large organization (4,000 employees) and a growing organization (150 employees), and I would say the biggest surprise/challenge is creating the right working relationships. 

Product: Defining who owns what since PMs may have been managing many of the product marketing activities themselves. Another challenge is communication and visibility. It seems fairly obvious to bring in product marketing early into the development lifecycle but when a company isn't used to doing that, it's a hard habit to break (or create in this case).

Sales: Establishing a balance that you're there to support and help them reach their goals but also not just a sales sheet factory. The most surprising about this relationship is realizing that many times sales (and marketing) have not been strategic about their positioning and focus. 

Marketing: Same point as above, about the surprisingly non-strategic approach. The other big surprise you may run into is the number of leads or amount of marketing effort that is happening and driving non-qualified, non-ideal leads (ties back to not being strategic).

Honestly, there's probably a ton of other surprises and challenges :)

At the end of the day, the main things are 1) figuring out where the current gaps are and where you can support at this current point in time to build trust, and 2) what you want product marketing to be in the next 12-18 months. It will take you some time to meet the 2nd objective because you have to create new habits, build trust, and make people comfortable with offloading responsibilities to product marketing. 

Good luck to everyone in this situation. It's fun and challenging at the same time! 

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