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When joining a new team, is it better to have the right soft skills and have to learn the hard skills of the job or vice versa?

11 Answers
Robert McGrath
Robert McGrath
Deel Head of Global Marketing + ExpansionMay 11

A lot depends on the type of role. In general hard skills is where a lot of hiring managers would edge towards as it ensures the technicality of the role can be carried out. Soft skills are also vitally important and shouldn't be ignored. For soft skills, in a cross-functional role, it's virtually important but is also an area, with the support of a good manager, can be coached and developed. 

641 Views
Liz Tassey (she/her)
Liz Tassey (she/her)
Highspot Vice President Product MarketingJuly 8

I think it's a balance, but if I had to choose, leaning in to those soft skills is a great strategy when you are starting out.  

It's really important to go into a new team / company with a really strong growth mindset and a relationship building / collaboration ethos. Be curious, meet with your key stakeholders to really understand how PMM can be a good partner, learn about the business and what's working / what's not (this will lean in on data/business acumen for sure), learn the customer and the product, and start to build a view of where the business could best use your help. (To be clear, this type approach should be continued throughout your tenure, not just when you start. It's easy to fall into the "heads down, get the work done" as you get established, but continuing to connect with your stakeholders with a growth mindset approach, and building those relationships is a core part of the job, no matter how long in role).

Then, as you start to build an informed picture of the landscape and where PMM can lean in and help, you can start identifying the quick wins to gain credibility, drive impact and build momentum. And this is where maybe some of your harder skills will come in E.g using data to help prioritize what to focus on first (as you'll likely get lots of asks from everyone during your listening tour!) and set goals/ KPIs for those quick wins you will pursue, so you can measure impact.   

266 Views
Marcus Andrews
Marcus Andrews
Pendo.io Sr. Director of Product MarketingDecember 15

It certainly depends but I'd say it's more important to have the right soft skills. Specifically for product marketing teams. What PMMs do can really vary company to company. So while it's likely your hard skills will at least "sort of" transfer, there is no gaurentee. 

So, communication, flexibility, hunger, transpartnecy, honesty, curiousity, etc. Those are the skills you'll be leaning on for a while till you figure out how to apply your hard skills. 

Also the more senior you get the more I like it flips. If you're brand new to PMM you have to be really strong on soft skills, more sr. stronger in hard skills. 

532 Views
Eric Chang
Eric Chang
1Password Director, Product MarketingJanuary 20

If I had to choose one I would (slightly) lean towards soft skills. Having the right soft skills is what I believe enables a PMM to find the biggest opportunities and drive buy-in/alignment so that they can have the most impact. That being said, the main variable that would make me prioritize hard skills or soft skills is the level of ambiguity that you'll have to deal with on that new team.

Contrasting two extreme examples:

If you join a large team, with a mature product marketing function, for a highly technical/specific product in an established category, with a clearly scoped role, and have many resources/product experts around you that can help you onboard - then I would say that having the right hard skills will allow you to more quickly deliver value in your new role. You have clear sources of information to build positioning and messaging, established data/insights to look at, teammates that you can ask questions + get answers from, your scope is likely narrow, etc. and can get straight to work.

If you join a 2 year-old rapid growth 150 person company, growing 400% y/y, with a brand new product marketing function, for a new/disruptive product, the company doesn't really know what product marketing does, and the roles & responsibilities of different functions are hazy - then I would say soft skills are more important. You'll need every ounce of adaptability, communication, problem solving, and organization you have in you.

Of course roles will typically fall somewhere in the middle of these two examples. You can also take a look at my answer for the question "What are the required vs nice to have hard and soft skills for PMM roles in big SaaS companies compared to hard and soft skills for PMM roles in small start-ups/scale-ups in the tech space?" to see more of my thoughts around this.

345 Views
Valerie Angelkos
Valerie Angelkos
Howl VP of Product MarketingMay 24

I think it depends ultimately on what the team needs. In a highly technical area, I'd value industry and product knowledge highly, as long as the person is then coachable and open to learn on other areas within the PMM world. In a not so technical area, I'd prioritize PMM skillsets over other areas. Soft skills should be part of the package either way, aligned with the value of your team and company.

Ultimately the goal is to find the right balance and bring different perspectives so the team can learn from each other as well.

358 Views
Jane Reynolds
Jane Reynolds
Archer Director of Product MarketingMarch 22

I find that people with strong soft skills often have the ability to pick up the hard skills quickly. People who’ve honed their soft skills are proactive about asking the right questions, and are motivated to sharpen any hard skills that may be lacking, or need improvement. In basically any role that involves collaboration and teamwork (and which roles don’t?), the soft skills are most important for getting internal buy-in, planning a go-to-market strategy, and adjusting seamlessly when any issues arise. Of course basic hard skills in the area you’re applying for are required, but I focus on a candidate’s soft skills when assessing their fit for a role.

412 Views
Aurelia Solomon
Aurelia Solomon
Salesforce Senior Director, Product MarketingJune 15

See my answer above. It depends on the company and what their needs are. My default is hiring for soft skills because they are harder to teach, but that's not always possible to meet business goals. Sometimes the hiring manager needs someone who can come in right away and do the job with minimal coaching on the hard skills. This is a good thing to suss out in your interview process -- ask the hiring manager what they are looking for.

476 Views
Kelly Kipkalov
Kelly Kipkalov
BILL Sr Director, Product MarketingDecember 19

My answer to this is that 'it depends' on where you are in your career.

If you are early career and just starting as a PMM, I would typically be making a hiring decision solely based on soft skills. There's no expectation that you have a well rounded set of hard PMM skills as an entry level candidate. But as you progress in your career, that dynamic will come into better balance and hiring managers will be looking for both. Starting at the manager level, I would be vetting candidates for specific PMM craft (your hard skills), not just soft skills.

395 Views
Julie Towns
Julie Towns
Pinterest VP, Product Marketing & Product OperationsJanuary 17

As you get more senior in your career in any role, but especially one as cross-functional in nature as PMM, soft skills become much more important than hard skills or product expertise, especially if you are a fast learner.

You can learn the hard skills of a job, within reason. For example, if you're a PMM, taking a job in engineering will be stretch, but if you have a background in one industry you can absolutely take a PMM job in a completely different industry. What's important is your ability to ask great questions to learn quickly.

As for soft skills, these are harder to coach and develop overnight and can take years to truly master and find your unique style. So I'd recommend focusing on:

  1. Concise communication. For example, effectively communicating the complexities of a product to sales or being able to simplify your recommended GTM strategy to product is critical.

  2. Building relationships and earning trust. Taking the time to get to know your partners, build a strong rapport and deliver on your promises when you need nothing from them will come in handy when eventually you need their help.

  3. Understanding organizational dynamics and how to influence. PMM is a heavy influencing role where we don't always have the resourcing or authority to drive towards an outcome, so instead we need our partner teams in product, sales, marketing, research, comms etc. to take on work on our behalf. Understanding how to navigate an organization, who to influence and how is key to getting things done, scaling yourself and delivering results.

441 Views
Sarah Din
Sarah Din
Quickbase VP of Product MarketingMarch 28

Really depends on the need - if the role is looking for someone to jump in and get started immediately with some critical projects, chances are the hard skills are going to outweigh the soft skills, but every manager will think about this differently. I think you need a balance of both - hard skills can be learned, soft skills are harder to teach :)

323 Views
Abdul Rastagar
Abdul Rastagar
GTM Leader | Marketing Author | Career CoachNovember 19

The ideal candidate will have both but that’s often not possible. For me personally, I think the soft skills are far more important. Especially at the more junior and even mid-management levels, the hard skills can be taught. The soft skills are much more difficult to teach.

As an executive, you should really be proficient in both.

1047 Views
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