Indy Sen

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Hypergrowth Leader and Advisor
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Indy Sen
Indy Sen
Hypergrowth Leader and Advisor, | Formerly Google, Box, Salesforce, Mulesoft, WeWork, Matterport, PopSQLJuly 23

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)

Senior PMM

Group PMM

Director PMM, Senior Director

VP 

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. 

Indy Sen
Indy Sen
Hypergrowth Leader and Advisor, | Formerly Google, Box, Salesforce, Mulesoft, WeWork, Matterport, PopSQLJuly 23

Such a great question. I think the best thing you can do invest in yourself and "sharpen the saw". This is especially critical earlier in your career. A couple of approaches: 

1.) Read - My mom has this saying: Books are like software updates for your brain. Yes, not all business books are spell-binding page turners, but you'll quickly see that your brain will free associate and you'll draw on differents nuggets, often at opportune times. I've stumbled on frameworks for example that helped chart the course for a GTM, or quotes that set the entire tone for a keynote. And it's not just business books, but stuff like sociology, psychology and even biographies. Fiction is also great because of the rich storytelling aspects, narrative arcs. If you find an author whose writing you love, read everything she's written because it will make you a better communicator. 

2.) Watch - Ted Talks, Superbowl ads, Saturday Night Live, it's all good--really. As a marketer I think it's really important to have your pulse on the zeitgeist and pop culture. This is advice I received from Danielle Morrill, an early Twilio employee, and while it felt self-indulgent and non-intuitive at first, it does help you come up with stuff that feels relatable. You're often just a good meme or pop culture reference away from making an idea stick. Podcasts are great for this too. 

3.) Speak - "Every time you speak, you are auditioning for leadership". This is a quote from James Humes, a former presidential speechwriter. The more you can dial into your authentic self and the earlier you get confident expressing your ideas in public settings, the better you will be at your job. People often have this reflexive "I suck at public speaking" fear, but all speaking is public speaking. Steve Jobs used to maniacally rehearse his keynotes. Marc Benioff starts his next big idea keynotes with a kernel that he first peppers into customer meetings or smaller settings and then continuously tweaks until it's Dreamforce ready. So do Toastmasters, or jump at opptys to represent your company at conferences. Speaking is a muscle and one that will make you stronger as a marketer. 

4. ) Courses: You can and should definitely take courses as well. Business school is obviously a popular option, and it helped moved the needle in my career as a career-switcher--but it's also expensive, which is why I started with some of the ideas above as they are more accessible and practical. Many employers offer e-learning options like Lynda, or in person classes as well. At Google, I goaled myself on taking at least one or two of these a quarter because to me, it felt like it was part of our compensation package--why wouldn't you do it?

Indy Sen
Indy Sen
Hypergrowth Leader and Advisor, | Formerly Google, Box, Salesforce, Mulesoft, WeWork, Matterport, PopSQLJuly 23

Influencing: You need the ability to inspire and drive cross-functional teams, often without any of the "authority". Cross matrixed orgs FTW, baby.

Storytelling: You can turn a plot into a narrative (see answer above). You have a knack for finding that storytelling hook that gets to your why this solution, and why now?

Positioning: You can distill a product's features and benefits into something that's aspirational and make the audience feel like this product is uniquely suited to their needs, and can even turn them into a better version of themselves. This is true whether you're marketing an iPhone or an Enterprise Service Bus.
Curiousity: Stay hungry, stay foolish. You know you're doing a good job when you learn something new every day. 

Indy Sen
Indy Sen
Hypergrowth Leader and Advisor, | Formerly Google, Box, Salesforce, Mulesoft, WeWork, Matterport, PopSQLJuly 23

Yes, in my experience there are definitely a few org considerations that will shape your fortunes as a PMM, and navigating those will determine whether you're set up for success. 

  1. The first, as you allude to is the function you report into. I've been in orgs where PMM has been in marketing, product or sales. IMO, PMM should always be part of marketing because, while you're no doubt deeply embedded with the latter two functions, you are by definition a marketer and need to be evaluated as such. The problem with being in product or sales orgs is that your contributions--while appreciated--will not be top of mind when it comes to calibration and performance assessment. And that's just physics--a PM leader will likely dole out comp and stock refreshes to the top PM talent they want to retain. Ditto with sales, which can be an even harder case to make as performance is quota based and you are the "cost center". Note that it's fine and even a good idea to be dotted to product/sales. 
  2. The second is more company specific, and has to do with the dominant company culture. You've probably heard of companies that are more sales centric, or others where engineering is "king". Now you can do amazing work as a marketer at either one of these, and grow your skillset commensurately, but do pay attention to how "valued" marketing really is as that's what will ultimately affect your long term growth trajectory. Things to watch out for: PMM viewed as a "service bureau" i..e "so we're launching this product in 3 weeks and need a blog post" or if you feel stuck constantly doing reactive and ad hoc work vs fleshing out programs and shaping strategy. 

As you can tell there's a bunch of situational stuff and pattern matching you should try and stock of as quickly as you can. But if you're at least confident that you're set up for success from a reporting and cultural standpoint, then the rest is up to you. And that's the fun part.  

Indy Sen
Indy Sen
Hypergrowth Leader and Advisor, | Formerly Google, Box, Salesforce, Mulesoft, WeWork, Matterport, PopSQLJuly 23

It's really the following three functions: product, sales and the greater marketing team. You will regularly interface with these three, and depending on the company will be deeply embedded with product and sales. 

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The one way I see this changing is that businesses increasingly need to bring B2D aka Business to Developer sensibilities to the fore. Think about how so many companies are becoming "platform companies" and that means that product marketing will also need to supporters stakeholders such as Dev Rel and/or BD who interface with developers and partners respectively. 

I heard the other day APIs being described as self-service BD for companies, and that really rings true in this day and age. Every company is either sitting on a data asset or has a customer base that others want to plug into. As a PMM, your ability to market your wares and interop frameworks and making internal stakeholders on that side of the house equally as successful as sales and product will be increasingly important. 

Indy Sen
Indy Sen
Hypergrowth Leader and Advisor, | Formerly Google, Box, Salesforce, Mulesoft, WeWork, Matterport, PopSQLJuly 23

See my answer here in terms of what can help you personally grow as a PMM. In terms of moving up the ranks, the journey is probably similar to other marketing roles where beyond a certain level, you need to go from being an IC (individual contributor) to being a manager. 

To grow as an IC, and if that's your speed (management, despite the fancy titles, is not for everyone), you need to develop subject matter expertise and the reputation as a someone who is the best at x, y, z. Product marketing is a small circle as well--if you were to ask me or anyone in my profession who the best partner marketer in the Bay Area was, or the best sales enablement person in tech that you could poach, we'd probably draw from the same list. Within a company, scoring those early and visible wins as an IC will get you even higher visibility work, and continuously delivering on that is what typically gets you promoted

To grow as a manager or even become one, you need to demonstrate span of control, meaning that the work that you're doing requires further investment of headcount and resources and organizational endorsement. If that comes with your purview, then showing results and consistently delivering while developing a reputation as a manager who is a multiplier is typically what will get you ahead. If you do not have that remit, then it's something you need to make a case for, but be warned, it's not always that easy. Everyone and their mother is asking for resources, especially at startups. At Box and at MuleSoft, we ended up getting more investment because we delivered some really innovative programs and launches on the developer side of the business that made the companies look good. Once you can demonstrably show that your GTM operations are engendering a fly-wheel of success, one that can spin faster the more you put into it, resources and growth will come to you. 

Indy Sen
Indy Sen
Hypergrowth Leader and Advisor, | Formerly Google, Box, Salesforce, Mulesoft, WeWork, Matterport, PopSQLJuly 23

No doubt your product, its value props and your audience will change from company to company. 

What doesn't change however is your job to be done as a product marketer, and the role you get to play. No matter what organization I've been part of, PMM has always sat at the intersection of product, sales and marketing. Now you might get pulled in one direction or the other depending on the company (see answer above) but on any given day, you are the only person this side of a GM that will be as close to all three of those functional areas. 

So my advice to you is to perfect your ability to service each of these three functions by building the muscle memory and pattern matching to meet and anticipate their needs. That's something that will help you navigate your next job, any job, should you choose to jump ship. 

Specifically: 

  • For Product, become their trusted advisor. Learn and master how to support the product lifecycle end to end with market research to test product hypotheses, naming, pricing, packaging, positoning to GTM etc. Be prescriptive about what needs to get done for the product to succeed in market. Remember that while product and engineering may come up with the plot, product marketing delivers the narrative. And it has to be a two way conversation, because just like with movies, one does not work without the other.
  • With Sales, especially in the enterprise, you need to be sale’s best friend. That means equipping them to have the best and most meaningful and authentic conversations with customers via killer assets and training programs.
  • As for marketing, you’re the quarterback, the router of information and single source of truth when it comes to messaging. You provide the messaging primitives and content backbone as well as go/no-go guidance on which channels to activate and how.
Indy Sen
Indy Sen
Hypergrowth Leader and Advisor, | Formerly Google, Box, Salesforce, Mulesoft, WeWork, Matterport, PopSQLFebruary 3

Looks like this question got the most upvotes so let me start with it and try and give as much context as I can.

At Google we had the following heuristic for marketing which was: 

1.) Know the user
2.) Know the magic
3.) Connect the two

It informed our marketing overall, but especially our positioning and messaging. You asked about both and I would actually separate the two.

For positioning it's always a good idea to start with the product and engineering teams. They are typically the closest to the vision of the product--who it's for/what it does/how does it do it i.e. the "magic". I often use the metaphor that if the product is a movie, PM and Eng will typically cook up the plot, while it's product marketing's job to deliver the narrative. 

Sales is also a good stakeholder for positioning. They'll help you narrow down the "user" details, especially in enterprise where they spend more time with customers than anyone else in the organization. So it really behooves you to spend as much time with sales as you can. Done right, product marketing is sale's best friend. 

So at big companies, prod, eng and sales are typically good places to start for positioning while at smaller companies, like startups, you may want to involve the founder and leadership team early as they have most of the datapoints. But I'd keep the stakeholder list pretty tight overall when it comes to positioning otherwise you'll tend to swirl and it's really important to nail positioning first, because messaging is the by product. 

Per the Google heuristic above, positioning covers the user and the magic. Connecting the two is where messaging comes in, and that's where you should open up the aperture when it comes to stakeholder management IMO. This is where Demand Gen, Field, AR, PR or even support stakeholders comes in.

The reason is simple. As the product marketer, people will and should treat you as the SME when it comes to the product positioning but will likely want to help shape what messaging looks like at the last mile, whether that's on the web, email copy, print ads, events and activations, or when talking to the press and analysts. After all, they own those channels, are directly responsible for their performance and know what typically plays well and performs--or not. The worst thing you can do is go against the grain and be precious about a turn of phrase or a cool tagline. 

At Salesforce, we had a campaign where with partners where we thought we could riff of the expression "being on cloud nine". Well that worked well in NORAM, but didn't make sense in other markets where the expression was meaningless when translated. 

So when it comes to positoning, be ruthless and direct about who has input as you don't want to swirl on that or compromise. But for messaging, take the inputs, and to paraphrase Bruce Lee "be like water". While you shouldn't let the substance change, you want your message to resonate. 

Indy Sen
Indy Sen
Hypergrowth Leader and Advisor, | Formerly Google, Box, Salesforce, Mulesoft, WeWork, Matterport, PopSQLFebruary 3

Positioning is the precursor to messaging

If you don't know who your product is for, what it's good for and how it's different from other products in its space, then it will be very hard to come up with viable messaging. 

Put another way, positioning is the primitive, typically expressed as an internal statement (see question above re: Geoffrey Moore's framework), whereas messaging is a set of derivative assets, typically copy and value statements that help suit the needs of different channels and media (web, print, social, video, on-site activations, etc)

Indy Sen
Indy Sen
Hypergrowth Leader and Advisor, | Formerly Google, Box, Salesforce, Mulesoft, WeWork, Matterport, PopSQLFebruary 2

The best way to rapidly test whether your messaging is working as intended is to deliver it to your sales reps or other collaborators and see whether it helps them or not. Ideallly, you'd equip a few of them with a beta of your new pitch deck, or messaging artifacts and either get their gut reaction right then and there, or have them pilot it on a few conversations.

Of course, if we're talking about digital channels than quick a/b tests via tools like Optimizely on the web, or tweaks you make to your assets like newsletters and nurtures that you test will also give you a sense of how your messaging performed. 

At Matterport we recently refactored our product page for Matterport for the iPhone. We had a strong start when we launched the page at the time of the product announcement, but then traffic slowly started dwindling there. When we refactored it we found that the primary driver for people coming back and staying on the page was the addition of customer use cases. Another example of where customer stories are literally the best messaging you can come up with. 

The best way to tell that your messaging didn't resonate is that reps end up going back to their own content or ignore the deck and assets you created. I've often seen companies where sales just putting their own messaging together because product marketing didn't meet their needs. See my answer above on how to keep sales in the loop during messaging development. 

Credentials & Highlights
Hypergrowth Leader and Advisor
Formerly Google, Box, Salesforce, Mulesoft, WeWork, Matterport, PopSQL
Top Product Marketing Mentor List
Lives In Oakland, California
Knows About Building a Product Marketing Team, Go-To-Market Strategy, Influencing the Product Roa...more