What's a typical product marketing career path?
There’s no one typical product marketing career path. Product marketers are often utility players, and get into product marketing from a wide range of backgrounds like content, campaigns, sales engineering or enablement, or even product. Once you’re in a product marketing role, you can expect to put in your time as an individual contributor for several years. The next step might be to make the leap to leading a team of product marketers, then a broader team of marketers.
Many VPs of Marketing and CMOs are starting to come from product marketing backgrounds because of the focus on strategy, messaging and positioning. Other product marketers transition into product management or strategy roles or strike out on their own as consultants.
The classic product marketing career path for those who want to stay in product marketing that I usually see in terms of roles and titles is PMM → Senior PMM → Group or Principal PMM → Director → Senior Director → VP → SVP → CMO. From my experience, I’ve seen managing a report or a team typically starts at the Group or Principal level and then expands each time you progress from there, sometimes it also happens at the Senior level. I haven’t seen a path in PMM to remain an individual contributor past the Principal level. In order to progress further once you do start managing, I think it’s all about showing you’re an effective manager that develops, supports and empowers your team (someone that people actually want to work for), delivers results and impact for the business, effectively navigates any politics that exist, and knows how to work best with and influence critical cross-functional teams.
There are a lot of PMMs that also decide to go into other functions within marketing too, like campaigns/demand generation is common. The path forward usually has the same roles and levels still ending in ultimately working towards becoming a CMO. I’ve also seen a lot of PMMs move over to Product (I actually tried Product for a short bit myself) and the last role within that function instead of CMO is typically CPO (Chief Product Officer). All of those paths could also of course lead to CEO too if that’s your ultimate career ambition.
I see 3 product marketing career paths ways:
- Continue down the product marketing career path. At some point, you will be capped at a VP or Director of product marketing role
- Get broader channel marketing experience (the most important one being paid marketing) and become a CMO somewhere. Choose this path if Marketing is your ultimate passion
- Learn more about product management and other business fundamentals and become a General Manager/ CEO leading a line of business. Choose this path if you love being a P&L owner, and all the glory and stress that comes with it
Which path you choose very much depends on what you are interested in and what you are good at.
It’s hard to pinpoint “typical” because product marketing is a field that sets you up for a few different paths depending on what you want to do. Being a product marketer gives you problem-solving, strategy, and execution skills that can help you in so many different careers so I wouldn’t want to say there is one specific path you should take. That said, I’ll talk through the one that I’ve walked, and that I’ve seen many of my peers take as well:
Very few people are product marketing managers as their first job out of college. Some large companies have associate product marketing manager (APMM) or rotational programs that give new grads exposure to this work and, honestly, I wish I had known this existed when I was getting into marketing. For most, myself included, a PMMs career started in a different type of marketing or on a customer-facing team. For me, that was a social media coordinator role for a telecom company. It wasn’t what I wanted to do long term, but it was an important foot in the door.
From there, you build up your marketing skills. I was able to transition into partner marketing as my next role, which gave me the ability to flex my product marketing muscles through the partner efforts I ran. Other roles can be in digital or content marketing or even as a marketing generalist. The key is to build up the foundational skills you need to excel in marketing as a whole.
After 3-5 years of experience, many marketers are then able to move into a PMM focused role. This might be a more junior role to start than other PMM roles on the team but gives you the ability to do product marketing full time.
From there, you’ll often stay in an individual contributor (IC) PMM role for a few years and get promoted into a Senior PMM position. This can often represent a fork in the road. You don't have to lead a team to be a successful product marketer. In fact, I know many PMMs who have become very senior, specialized IC PMMs who are at the top of their field without ever leading a team.
For those that want to move into management, the next step is often to move into a Group Product Marketing Manager role, where you’ll oversee a team of product marketers focused on one specific part of the business. This helps you learn how to lead without being responsible for all product marketing. This is also the time where you have to decide if you like leading a team and getting one step removed from the day-to-day work or if you’d like to go back to IC PMM work.
From there, you can move into a Director of Product Marketing or Head of Product Marketing role which is where I’m at now. Depending on the size of the company, this role is responsible for all product marketing (smaller company) or a specific product line or line of business (larger company).
Moving forward, there are Senior Director and Vice President of Product Marketing roles and, eventually, the opportunity to lead the entire marketing function as Head of Marketing or CMO. I can't speak too intelligently to that since I'm not quite there yet, but that's what's on my mind as I look to become an expert at the Director level and continue to grow in my role!
I think typical is atypical in PMM. I come from a background in brand before and have managed team members that came from consulting, manufacturing, advertising, as well as traditional marketers. Many of those past team members have gone on to careers in other parts of marketing, to product, or to careers in strategy/business line ownership. Many have built careers as leaders of growing PMM teams too.
One of the things I love about Product Marketing is how customer-centric it is and I believe that prepares you for a wide-variety of careers. If the path to CMO isn't your end-goal, fear not and don't be afraid to share that with your manager. I encourage those on my team that manage to hold regular meetings outside of the traditional 1:1 to talk with their team members about their long-term career and to ensure that we're helping people towards those goals.
Great question! Product marketing has been getting a lot of attention recently as a top career choice for anyone interested in marketing or strategy, but the truth is everyone's career path is different and product marketing may look different from one role or company to the next.
The product marketing role sits at the intersection of product, sales, customer success, and core marketing, which means:
- Some PMMs will specialize more in product: release marketing, product launches, product & feature messaging, etc.
- Some PMMs will specialize more in sales: sales enablement, competitive analysis, etc.
- Some PMMs will specialize more in customer success: customer stories, customer marketing, etc.
- Some PMMs will specialize more in core marketing: content and messaging for digital campaigns, website content and messaging, etc.
Ultimately product marketing encompasses all of this, so many product marketers will gain experience in each of these areas. Becoming well-rounded is a goal of many product marketers, but it often takes deliberate career planning and regular conversations with your manager. As you build up your product marketing resume, you'll be entrusted with more cross-functional responsibilities and will become more valuable to your company.
For many, product marketing is the end career goal. For others, it's a stepping stone to an eventual Head of Marketing / CMO role or other executive role.
Unlike highly specialized roles like Finance, Engineering or even HR that traditionally have vertical careers, I don’t believe Product Marketing has a typical career path. As a generalist role, working as a Product Marketer allows you to gain exposure and experience across different functions, from customer research and product management to marketing and sales. I have friends and former colleagues that recently pivoted from Product Marketing to Product Management.
Nonetheless, I believe the most common career path for a Product Marketer Manager is to develop into the leader of the team (Head/Director of PMM) and eventually grow into department head (Sr. Director or VP of Marketing). The most recent example is Greg Joswiak, Apple’s CMO that rose through the ranks as a prominent product marketing executive. Other examples include friends and former colleagues such as Mike Polner now VP of Marketing at Cameo and Laura Jones VP of Marketing at Instacart, both with strong foundations in Product Marketing.
As a highly cross-functional role, my recommendation is to leverage this opportunity to collaborate closely with other functions and learn about their day-to-day and roles and responsibilities, it might spark some interest and open up career opportunities you haven't previously considered.
I think there could be a number of career paths for PMM. In our team, we see everything from Sales (i.e, former AE), to Product Manager, to content marketer to solutions consultant. I think each of these has their ‘edge’ - for example, coming from sales you have a really unique perspective having had to actually sell and deliver messaging on the front lines. An SC has a more technical perspective and they’re a great fit for a technical PMM role.
I personally came from a combination of management consulting and operations and, as a result, I’ve been able to carve out a niche for myself more as a mini product GM or broader go-to-market strategist than a PMM.
Regardless, the core skillset for PMM in my mind is someone who can tell a story well (in a clear, concise way) and is obsessively curious about the buyer and what makes them tick.
I don’t think there is a typical career path for Product Marketers. I personally started my career in investment banking and consulting and transitioned into a corporate role via Operations. I made the transition to Product Marketing by networking and building relationships while I was working in Operations. I built a relationship with someone who gave me the opportunity to work in product marketing even though I didn’t have experience.
From there, I worked on products that I loved (video for many years) and did whatever was required to ensure my products were successful. I did everything from shaping narratives, training sales, working with product to shape the roadmap, pitching to customers, etc. Eventually, I found myself with a small team, and over time the size of my team and remit grew.
My advice to anyone who wants to build a career in product marketing is to find a product that you find compelling and get to work. If possible, try to get a range of product marketing experiences (inbound, outbound, compete) before moving into management roles. This will give you a broader set of skills and experiences to draw upon when you are someday running a Product Marketing organization.
That's a good question. I think it will vary based on when you start your career as a PMM and where. I've seen PMM leaders go on to be CMOs and founders, or successfully transition over to areas like product management and general management.
In terms of roles/titles, you typically see a progression of the following type:
Product Marketing Manager (PMM)
Director PMM, Senior Director
Bigger firms like Google als have entry-level programs like the associate product marketing manager program (APMM) which are simply amazing and help you figure out whether that path is right for you.
Bottom line, there's a lot of optionality for a PMM to go on to larger management or entrepreneurial roles because the role is so cross functional to begin with.
I don't think there's a typical product marketing career path. But here are a few that I've seen:
Marketers first: these folks can come from anywhere. Growth /demand generation, content, or brand marketing is what I've seen most often. Some even have ad agency backgrounds.
Former Product Managers (PMs): they started on the product side then decide to join "the fun side." 😉
Ex-Sales: Typically solutions engineers (SE) who understand the product well. They usually make the leap to help with messaging or the go-to-market.
Business Analysts or MBAs: Most of these people come straight from business school or have worked on the business side first.
For product marketing, it's less about the path and more about the competencies. To be really effective, you need to be a:
Deep listener: you have to have an ear to what the market, customers, competitors, and cross-functional teams— especially sales— are saying.
Stong storyteller: you're the communication arm of the product, so you have to sell your ideas to internal stakeholders and be able to attract the customers you're trying to reach with value props/messaging that resonates.
Strategist: you are looking out for the best interests of the business, so you need to make decisions based on your competitors and intelligence. You have to be prepared to ask questions, be questioned, and be flexible enough to change your mind.
Customer empath: a solid understanding of the customer — including their buying psychology — is key to success. You have to put yourself in their shoes at a human level to understand their biggest challenges and pain points.
Team player: PMMs are the "glue" of the go-to-market and keep many cross-functional teams aligned/informed. Soft skills and relationship building are essential to success. You also have to be prepared to answer to executives and upper management, depending on the role.
Well, that depends on the role. If you're writing a lot of content and not driving a lot of strategy, you probably should be a content marketer or a writer. If you own strategy of product marketing, and product marketing is an important marketing function to drive growth, then I'd say there's a clear path to director of product marketing. You can look at a company that's at the forefront of marketing to see how important product marketing is, Hubspot. (you can also look at Salesforce, etc.) A PMM there for three years (Meghan Keaney Anderson) made it to Product Marketing Director and then ultimately VP of Marketing.
Meghan's LinkedIn for reference: https://www.linkedin.com/in/meghankeaney/
Now, if PMM sits under product for a certain company and mostly owns input to the product roadmap, then that person won't lead marketing, and likely won't lead product. My two cents.
The product marketing part of the typical career is pretty straight forward. Generally, you will start as a Product Marketing Manaer. In larger orgs, you may take on a Sr. Product Marketing Manaer or Principal Product Marketing Manager title as you become more of a senior individual contributor. Director is next, which may be an IC or your first management role. In larger orgs, the directors may all roll up to a VP of Product Marketing.
What's maybe less obvious is what comes before and after the PMM stage of your career. In terms of getting into PMM, most commonly people are coming from a PM or Sales Engineering background. Occasionally, someone will come out of a tech writing or content marketing background, and some will jump straight into PMM from undergrad or B school.
For your post PMM career, some move laterally into other functions. Sales or SE if you want to make more money, PM if you enjoy stress and want even more of it. In terms of moving up, VP of Marketing or CMO are the obvious next steps.
The good news for those of you who are aspiring CMOs is that there has been a shift in the desired archetype, and most CEOs now have a preference for CMOs coming out of PMM over those coming out of communications or demand generation. It makes sense to me - from my admittedly biased perspective PMM is the hardest job in marketing, and it's much easier to hire a demand gen or comms expert.
There is no typical career path :)
As a functional that interfaces and leverages cross-functional work and expertise across Marketing, Product, Sales, CS, and so on, you can come (and go) to all these areas. Having exposure to all of these helps.
IMO, Product Marketing should be a senior step in your career after getting experience with other functions.
But of course, also depends on the type of org your are in. In a small company a PMM works solo or in very small team and gets exposure to many things this enables them to learn and experience many different things.
While in a bigger company, you have some opportunities to specialize if that's what you're looking for.
ANyway, you your direction is to go to the manager track and become a leader (Director+) you need the broad exposure - because when you get there you'll be interacting with Marketing, Sales, Product and CS leaders and you need to understand their needs, their mindset and how to best partner with them.
Product Marketing is a highly strategic role and can add value to a number of positions. I think the most obvious choice is to progress from PMM to Head of PMM to VP Marketing and ultimately, CMO - this is not the only path. Many PMMs make great Product leaders, Strategy leaders, or can even progress to become the CEO. Find which elements interest you, understand where your strengths are, and go for it!