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.
Product marketing is so often misunderstood, and a lot of CMO’s didn’t grow up with it so they don’t particularly understand it. Still other CMO’s struggle with the PMM orgs that seem to spend more time on things they can’t see or aren’t held accountable for inside their own marketing org. And, like you said, while pmm plays a cross-org glue role, it can leave it stretched way too thin as a result. I think having a charter for your team is a really important place to start. It should last you a good year or two or more, or at least until your company hits another important milestone. On top of that you need annual team objectives that you’ve reached alignment on with your key c-level stakeholders. We have a little “PMM pitch deck” that I try to update every year and refresh for senior stakeholders. It includes our charter, objectives, strategy as a team, structure, OKRs for the quarter ahead. I think it helps to think about how to draw clear connections between CPO and business and marketing outcomes, and ensure your team’s efforts are working at that intersection.
To drive alignment, make something that execs can respond to. Recently, I created an example “future state” pitch deck to articulate a future narrative for Glassdoor. It wasn’t perfect, but it helped drive discussion and alignment on overall company positioning and direction. But in general, make something for folks to respond to. I think it is so important for product marketing teams to establish credibility and expectations that PMM owns specific artifacts that ultimately help the company make smarter decisions. We have a toolkit of go-to templates that we try to work from for whatever business need we have. If we are talking about overall positioning, make a positioning statement. If it is messaging for a launch, create a messaging framework with clear product descriptions & value props, and show the brief or GTM plan, depending on the stage you are at. We build business canvases, products-on-a-page, research summaries, etc… And we add to the toolkit when new needs arise. Whatever you make to facilitate the alignment discussion, make sure it is backed by research. Data, even if from a few customers, should help take some subjectivity out of the discussion.
Your founders will have a stronger org when they eventually trust product marketing with more control over messaging. If you can, start with research. Talk to prospects and customers and show how they respond to different approaches. And test and learn. If you have an existing audience base, you can try different approaches to a/b testing messaging through various marketing channels (i.e., digital advertising, email, website, etc.). Identifying quick ways to validate and challenge hypotheses on messaging will help shape a perspective to share with your founders when you don’t have a huge budget or time for indepth research before going to market. And then create a moment to thoughtfully present your thinking. Send a pre-read, facilitate a discussion. Show your expertise in the customer and a messaging maven.Last thing I’d add - your job is to help the org make better decisions. So you don’t have to control it, you just have to make it better.
If I was an exec at your company, I’d want to understand what is awful about this pitch (share research, client feedback?), what evidence you can provide that it is hurting my business (do an a/b pilot?), and what you think good looks like (comparative/competitive examples?). If you brought that to me, I’d hope I would listen. Then, if I was you I’d try to listen really carefully to what this executive is worried about. Bad timing, overwhelmed sales team, something else? Maybe you can then address those concerns more directly. Dig into the pitch and do the research to back it up. Gather feedback from reps (and customers, if possible), and communicate a direct correlation to how it is hurting sales opportunities. Is it the pitch deck or is it poor pitches? If you have an enablement partner, can they shed light as well? At the very least, even if the pitch decks and pitch training does not get a full overhaul for whatever reasons your exec team communicates, if you are able to get your stakeholders to act on a few discrete/incremental improvements that lead to positive sales outputs, you will have had a quick win under your belt that sets you up for future credibility with execs.
(This answer from my fearless colleague Sophia Fox) As a junior pmm, recommend being strategic about the types of projects you work on, and in what capacity. Cannot emphasize enough taking the initiative to seek out and work with your manager and cross-functional partners to identify where pmm can uniquely add value to any key business initiative. Find mentors too. That’s their job, and it is part of yours as well. If you don’t find execs mentors who you feel comfortable with, I’d really ask yourself if you are at the right place for you. Then, show up. As a pmm leader within an org, create as many opportunities to help garner greater visibility into the valuable work that your junior folks (and newer team members) bring to the table. And, whenever possible, if you are the catalyst, let their voice (and face) be in the forefront along the journey so that it is unmistakably clear that they are the primary lead on said initiative. This will not only create a culture of trust and excitement, but it makes your team stronger. Your executive team cannot ignore the contribution of every pmm member within your org.
It starts with making sure the c-suite knows where you fit in to business outcomes. What are your OKR’s for the quarter, for the year? Is there a straight line between your priorities and the key opportunities for the company? Have you shared them?The second is making sure you are being heard. The company needs you to be heard - the unique perspective product marketing brings is so critical to company growth, especially today. So be bold. Have you cultivated sponsors outside of your direct reporting structure (often product, sales or even engineering) to help advocate for your needs? Have you delivered for them so they are ready to go to bat for you?I’d also add how you hire is important. I believe in small, relatively senior product marketing teams, ruthlessly focused on a few key initiatives. Being good at saying ‘no’ to some work is ultimately more important than being good at asking for more heads or being in every conversation. There will always be more work than a product marketing team can do, and the nature of our discipline is (blissfully) flexible, so take advantage of that, and focus your team on delivering where it counts.
First, this is so hard! I have been through a few turns of this and candidly I’d say not every company is ready. There are companies that are just not ready to have a strategic pmm org. Maybe their product org is still maturing, or not on secure footing for some reason. It is especially hard to have a strong product marketing team without well led and secure, collaborative product orgs. Second thing I’d suggest is to build trust, get closer to the customer. Product orgs always need more time with their customer. At Glassdoor, product marketing owns the market research and insight function, so we initiate a lot of the market opportunity analysis and qual and quant research our product team utilizes. This gives us an opportunity to speak with product not just with opinions, but with data and insight. Our head of market insights is in many ways our secret weapon, and we try to put data-backed insights at the center of everything we deliver.
Getting senior alignment is a key strategic role for PMM - we can be powerful bridges and connectors. Whenever there is a clear difference of opinion the best thing I’ve found is to bring the customer more fully into the room. Bring research to bear on the problem. You can be a powerful tiebreaker if you can couple your opinion with insight and data.
I’m not certain the stakeholders and leverage have changed much in my experience with different company sizes, although resources clearly do. As you grow from startup to tween/teen and mature, the stakeholders diversify with the added resources that come from business growth. Sophia and I have generally watched pmm move from an individual contributor -- plugged in to a growth team, leading basic sales enablement, and driving core positioning through product -- to an enabler, helping other teams do their work better, and ensuring a single voice across touchpoints. In startup and sometimes tween/teen organizations, you may not always have dedicated resources for research, sales enablement, learning & development, or business/revenue operations to help shape positioning, messaging or building product business cases. As the company matures, you work with more defined teams and added resources, but your opportunity to influence at an executive level doesn’t necessarily change.