What is your advice for creating and/or improving the product marketing process when joining a small but growing team with no or little structure and an inexperienced management team?
You can't change/improve what you don't fully understand. When you join a smaller team where product marketing didn't formally exist before, it is important to recognize that product marketing always existed, but was probably executed as a team sport. It may have been carried by the product manager, the CEO, the CMO, or a content marketing lead.
I would always begin by learning what worked and didn't work with product-marketing related efforts (which likely was not seen a product marketing work), and understand who is close to these efforts and outcomes. Make sure they understand you are their ally, and you are here to build upon their past efforts. Product marketers will have a hard time succeeding without building allies and support within the team.
To bring along the exec/management team, it is important to be clear about what new insight and perspective you bring to the table. Listen first, and then suggest frameworks and ideas to change things that make an immediate impact. Quick action and small wins early on are much more appreciated than strategy and discussions - especially in smaller orgs.
Whenever I join a new team, my first objective is to earn trust – both within my department and with cross-functional partners. Without trust, advice from “the new guy” about how things should be done is usually unwelcome.
To do that, start by identifying problems you can solve to make everyone’s life easier. Not things you observe that are suboptimal compared to your last job, but things that are driving people at your new company crazy already. There’s always something, and if you can solve that, the team will be much more open-minded to your ideas.
When it comes time to push your ideas, it’s important to frame them in terms of how they will help the team and company. Otherwise, they’ll come across like a power play.
The biggest mistake I’ve seen new joiners make is trying to port over strategies from their last company without accounting for why they worked there, and whether the circumstances are the same and primed for success. Being transparent and detailed about that translation is essential.
Ultimately, the best product marketing processes will depend on company goals, org structure, the strengths of each team, culture, and so much more. It’s definitely not one-size-fits-all.
If you are at a smaller company with little or no structure, it’s a great opportunity for you to build the foundation from scratch. It can be a daunting task, but inaction will likely create more headaches for you down the line. Here are few things I would consider:
- Education: Help the teams understand your role and the value of the PMM function.
- Feedback: Proactively solicit feedback from your key stakeholders. Understand their challenges, needs, and perspectives on what can be improved. Chances are they’ve also given it a lot of thought.
- Context: Put together notes on areas of opportunity based on your own observations and understanding of business goals.
- Analysis: Look for drivers and themes to understand what’s leading to efficiencies
- Backcast: This is a process I learned from a mentor. The idea is to draw out what an ideal PMM process should look like for your company based on all the context you have and work backward to lay out the pieces you need to get there.
- Planning: Put together a project plan so you know what to tackle first and reprioritize when needed.
- Buy-in: Socialize and get alignment on your plan and vision with key stakeholders. Communicate the goals and expectations.
- Check-ins: Make sure you schedule check-ins and get feedback to reassess whether the changes you are making are effective and you are on the path to building a better product marketing process.
I expect that this small and less experienced team is also more reactionary and tactical rather than proactive and strategic. That’s OK to a degree when in fire-fighting and startup mode, but product marketing can help improve this with your overall launch and GTM process.
Start by aligning with leadership on the major objectives for the year as a company , sales, or product team. Then map out how product marketing will help drive these goals through adoption, market perception, etc. Finally determine all the potential launches, campaigns, initiatives, and partnerships needed to achieve these goals. Articulating all these objectives and building broader support will help set your “north star,” guiding your priorities and the team direction.
Startups tend to value speed, but the pre-work is still a must for an effective GTM strategy. A misconception from stakeholders who haven’t experienced high-impact product marketing is that we just write a make a flashy blog post and sales deck shortly before launch. Use this process to show how valuable the prep is to getting to that actual product announcement. The accurate messaging and positioning doesn’t come from a thesaurus, but from market and customer research upfront.
I used to run in ultra marathons and 24-hour obstacle races. The way I built up that endurance was with the mantra, “today I will do what others won't, so tomorrow I can do what others can't.” I think the best GTM strategies are also born from significant effort and prep long before launch day.
See my answers on gaining buy-in from resistant functions and 30/60/90 day priorities. The most important thing to do, especially in an environment with a less experienced management team, is to educate everyone internally about what product marketing is, what your impact will look like, and how it should be measured. In less structured environments, it can be helpful to manage through metrics. That is, pick a differentiated metric that is not necessarily owned by another function as market penetration within a particular customer persona/segment, transaction density by geography, etc, and report regularly on that. This lends more weight to the processes and strategies you want to put in place.
Additionally, I would establish cross-functional meeting cadences dedicated to demonstrating your processes to the rest of the org. They can quarterly competitive intelligence shareouts or monthly GTM roadmap reviews or both.
1- Don't focus on a singular, perfect process. You may need to vary your processes depending on the intent (eg. simple feature release v. next flagship product GTM launch). 2- Get input from your stakeholders to know where process is breaking down (eg. is there too much swirl in the creative review and approval process?). You can solve for that with more in-market testing and optimization to remove the subjectivity, if so. 3- Look at all of your inititiaves collectively. Were you mostly working upstream with product owners to inform / influence R+D or were you often brought in after the product construct was locked and you're simply grabbing the baton? If the latter, figure out ways to connect earlier with stakeholders to drive greater influence around product fit, bringing in competitive insights or making connections elsewhere on other agendas to start building up trust and rapport to change the dynamic. 4- Call the ball. Be open about wanting to change the process. Get partners on board with your vision by talking through things like speed to market. Let them know its a work in progress and that you are going to try new moves, but be time bound around a solution within X weeks or months.
I would focus on three areas: tooling, process documentation, and communication.
- Tooling: one of the biggest game-changers can be getting out of spreadsheets and getting into a proper project management tool (e.g. my team loves Asana). This can help you plot out tasks and timing, assign owners, and even facilitate review/communication around assets. Also developing templates (GTM doc, creative brief, etc) can be really helpful for sharing info in a consistent and efficient way
- Process: as soon as you can work with stakeholders to develop and document a launch process and store it in a centralized place (eg team campaign folder). What are the steps in your launch process + the checklist of standard key milestones? Who are the decision makers at each stage? When and where will feedback/review occur? Who needs to approve? DACI, RACI etc can be really helpful tools as well for clarifying ownership and roles at each step. I'd also recommend documenting a process for quarterly planning as well so that everyone is aligned on how you will receive requests from product/partner teams and how you will decide what to prioritize.
- Communication: planning out when you will communicate, to whom, and how (templated status update via email, slack updates etc) and tracking that in your project management tool is a great best practice for staying on top of internal comms. Aligning with leadership on when you'll update them and when they want to approve or just be informed is also helpful.
A few other notes:
- my team recently moved to doing most of our launch review steps asynch via Asana's commenting tool. This has saved loads of time on meetings etc and helps keep communication in a centralized place
- as we grew, we also hired a project manager to help facilitate developing the process and operations around campaigns and quarterly planning with product and that has been immensely helpful
Say no to protect your yes. When you join a small team, or if you are the only PMM at a company, there is going to be a mountain of work for you to do. You can either get buried in the work or you can be strategic about what your focus is. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize!
How can you do that? Learn about the goals and prioritizes of all of your stakeholders (most commonly Sales, CS, Product, Marketing) and understand common threads and pain points of the organization. What will make the most impact now? What is needed to reach the most impactful goals? How can you help drive revenue?