Why do product marketing jobs have high turnover?
I have a different perspective. Most of the turnovers I have seen are voluntary - people moving on to different companies, different roles. So to me it's not necessarily a bad thing. Personally I get bored doing the same thing for more than 2 years. So if my role does not present new learning opportunities, I will probably move on.
On the other hand, in general marketing can be an easy culprit when business is not doing well and budget needs to get slashed. It's just the reality of the profession.
Not just product marketing but overall marketing has relatively higher turnover compared to other functions. This is true for CMO vs other CXOs as well.
If it is initiated by the candidate, then in most cases, it would be fair to say that the job market is hot and we all should be happy. Of course, I am not considering people who left jobs because they did not like their manager or their company. That problem is hard to generalize and answer.
If the move is initiated by the company - then the first suspect is mismatch in expectations. Marketing is not magic and it will not cure the revenue problem overnight. So, if you hear that the company is hiring marketers because sales isn’t doing well, be very cautious. Marketing is only one factor in revenue however, it is a very visible factor and subjective enough to be the scapegoat.
Second reason is that the company hired a wrong type of marketer for their needs. Hiring a demand gen person before a content marketer or PMM is bad move in B2B. Make sure that either the company has the required support structure (or willingness to invest immediately) to help you succeed.
Third but an important reason is that you deploy a big playbook at one go. As marketers we all have playbooks but if we deploy all plays at one go, marketing investments will spread thin and it will be really hard to show financial outcomes from marketing investments. Pick a couple of plays and invest in them. Replace some of them the next quarter.
While answering this, I am not considering company wide layoffs, acquisitions or macroeconomic factors.
It is interesting you say that, because my colleague Sophia and I were talking about it and have felt like there’s been a bit of a renaissance in PMM hiring right now. Organizations seem to get the value of PMM more than ever. Maybe tech companies are getting some marketing religion - they can’t just out-engineer each other.
That said, this year has been challenging and many companies have been through a lot of turmoil. In general, be really strategic about where you go and who you work with. I’d ask myself if product marketing is core to the business outcome at your company. Some companies aren’t ready for it yet, or just don’t have sponsors in place to support it. Some companies lack an intact company or marketing dept culture. The culture, and the people you work with are so important not just to your work success, but also your personal well being, especially in this remote environment and with so much change happening inside and outside orgs today.
I'd first like to call attention to your last sentence - this is an issue with all of marketing, not just PMM. The CMO the the highest turnover spot on the exec team. There are two reasons IME.
- The bad news. Marketing is an easy target when times are bad because many of the ways we are supporting the business are indirect. Product delivers stuff or it doesn't. Sales makes their number or they don't. When sales misses their numbers, they blame product and marketing. Product blames sales and marketing. See the problem?
- The good news. PMMs are in high demand. This is a difficult skill - most technologists can't speak to business people and most business people aren't technical enough to do what we do. A lot of the attrition is voluntary. And even when it's involuntary, PMM is often targeted in a layoff because we are the highest paid people on the marketing team. That's not such a bad problem to have.
What can you do to extend your longevity? Make sure your relationship with your head of sales is rock solid and make sure what you are doing is visibleto the C suite and the impact on the bottom line is explicit.
Mike's answer is spot on. Since you've been laid off 5 times in 10 years though, I'll add one other thought. It's possible that you're focusing on outputs, not outcomes. PMM done right is much more focused on outcomes - well defined, measurable (as much as possible). It's the PMM lead's job to secure buy-in from execs, product leadership, and sales leadership on those outcomes. Then it's your job to hit them. It's easy to churn out 2 white papers per quarter and think you're doing something. It's a lot harder to sign up for a web conversion metric or something similarly relevant for your business.
I highly agree with much of what has been said and would add that Product Marketing is a pretty ambiguous role when you think about it. It is often very different according to the org. Tranferring to a new team or having a new boss or a new CMO could mean an entirely new idea of what Product Marketing should or shouldn't be doing and what success looks like.
For example, in one of my experiences Product Marketing was nearly 100% product strategy and organizing (like a Project Management Office) product launch, with zero focus on content, demand generation, etc. In my role now Product Marketing is 100% responsible for all bottom-of-funnel content, be it landing pages, ads, sales or channel material. I am now bringing the team to the strategy table with product.
What I do is create a "Product Marketing Strategy and Metrics" doc and align that with every important stakeholder in the business, everyone on my team and new leaders so that we understand exactly what everyone is expected to be delivering and measured on.
Another reason is burnout. Too many organizations perceive PMMs as lead gen people. That puts them into a highly tactical mode. Without so much tactical work, there's never enough time for strategy. Which leads to more tactical work.
Here's one of my blog posts that might help - https://www.brainkraft.com/product-marketing-if-a-product-manager-is-the-ceo-of-their-product-what-is-a-product-marketing-manager
Mike's answer is spot on. It's not uncommon for companies to have a poor strategy or fit within their marketplace and then expect marketing to sprinkle magical growth hacker dust on it make the problem go away. To help alleviate this trend, marketers need to do two things: be good at math and speak the truth.
- Math represents Derek's response (also very insightful). Product marketing can fall into a grey, undefinied space between departments. So it's incumbant upon you to connect your actions to tangible outcomes within the business. My team affectionately calls me a "roving linebacker" because I am consistently working on the most strategic company initiatives. I accomplish this by monitoring key numbers across the entire customer journey and then systematically address weaknesses that are preventing us from reaching our goals.
- Speak the truth involves two concepts: first, speak up. Play a strategic role rather than slipping into order-taker mode. Be respectful and assertive at the same time. You represent the customer, so don't be afraid to take a contradictory perspective. And secondly, share truth. Don't sugar coat. Be realistic with expectations. This, I believe, is why management consultants can thrive in PMM roles. They are accustomed to picking up on client expectations and delivering on them. Part of what makes someone good at this is setting the correct expectations in the first place.
Finally, someone who's experienced this much turnover might consider applying their analytical skills to selecting their next post. PMM is a highly collaborative role. All-star individual performers can and do fail when they are surrounded by a poor team. Conversely, mediocre performers can attain a level above their skill set when they are a great team. So choose your team wisely, employ some math, and speak the truth. Best of luck!