What level of hard/technical skills should someone aim to develop to thrive in product marketing?
I’m a huge proponent of Jobs To Be Done, both for building products and for marketing products – in product marketing, though, you don’t necessarily have to be able to do the job of your audience, but you most definitely have to get it.
I often joke that I’m just a good enough programmer to know I shouldn’t be one. What this really means (aside from being a really bad joke) is that I can write about *it* and hold a conversation about *it*, so I can be an effective marketer to those who do *it*. Now *it* has changed for me over the years – I’ve worked on dev tools products, cloud infrastructure products, and security products – as a generalist, I can carry my own in each of those areas, but wouldn’t trust myself a single day on the job!
So generally speaking, this means that the types of skills to develop as a PMM are more about scratching the surface across the full technical discipline rather than getting really good at one specific area. For example, cloud practitioners may seek out a series of AWS certifications to up level their depth, but as a PMM only really need to know the key elements of the vast service catalog and what they each do.
Where product marketers thrive above the hard tech skills is being able to speak to complex technical topics in a simple and elegant manner. Base level understanding is table stakes, but positioning is where your focus will have more impact and where you will be more noticed. So how much technical depth do you need to effectively differentiate your product? That’s exactly how far you should go in that area, no further.
Great PMM teams have balance, across the dimensions of positioning & messaging, communication, industry depth, and technical expertise. It's rare to find the "unicorn" PMM that is outstanding accross all 4 dimensions. Most organizations build PMM teams so that they have a mix of expertise in order to get the best coverage accross all dimensions.
You want to figure out what your "superpower" is, and continue to hone it. But if technical skills is an area of weakness, it's something that you should not shy away from, but learn to get more confident over time. So you can become more well rounded.
The PMM Classification system is a great article written by Kevin Wu: https://medium.com/harmonic-message/the-pmm-classification-system-174539ab1e5c
I don't believe that any technical skills are required in product marketing. However there are a few caveats to that blanket statement.
- You should be as technically proficient as your target customer. So if you sell to developers, then you should have enough technical background to speak intelligently to those professionals. This doesn't mean you actually need to be a great developer, just that you understand the needs of great developers.
- If your company is highly data-driven and does not have visual reporting software, you may need to know basic SQL or another database language to run queries. This is mostly true of small startups--as companies grow this function should become specialized and automated.
- You need to be capable with applications generally. This doesn't mean you actually need to know how to administer Hubspot or Dynamics, just that you can understand something explained to you by a sales rep or demand marketer. It is very helpful to have a little experience doing something in a visual interface: running a WordPress site, administering Salesforce, etc. If you're marketing software, you should be more comfortable with software than the average person.
- You need to be capable of learning to use your own product, at least at the level of a typical economic buyer.
To thrive in product marketing, you need to be an excellent writer, presenter and business strategist. People who value their technical capabilities above these skills should be product managers--I think they're likely to become frustrated by their duties in product marketing.
As a product marketer, you should strive to have the same degree of functional understanding and empathy as a product manager and the same ability to contextualy step through/use the product as any technical pre-sales role (like an SE). This, in my experience, is necessary (but not sufficient) to thrive as a product marketer. Especially when you're new to the role, put the time in to do both formal training, like Sales Engineer (SE) certification, and to use your product (and ideally, competitor products) to do the things/jobs your customers need to do be successful. Once you gain fluency here, you'll be better prepared to craft messaging, extract what really matters from customer testimonials, enable the GTM team, brief analysts and pretty much everything we do as PMMs.