Nikhil Balaraman

Nikhil BalaramanShare

Senior Director Product Marketing, Roofstock
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Nikhil Balaraman
Nikhil Balaraman
Senior Director Product Marketing, RoofstockJanuary 5
  • Short answer: build the framework, but allow people to be creative. Don’t micro-manage every single email. But maybe run some audits and always be close with the SDR leaders, and get a good understanding for why they are getting rejected/hearing no.
  • Long answer: 
    • PMM, and especially Brand marketing, are going to be helping in setting the tone and narrative of how we talk to prospects. For many of these prospects, the outreach from SDRs will likely be the first time they have direct contact with the company; so, PMM’s role should be to ensure that we’ve set up a framework that gives teams the freedom and flexibility to adapt their language to specific audiences as needed, but that the messaging remains consistent. 
    • To get more specific, I would say that the PMM team will set up a structure for expressing the company’s key value props. Under those value props, you might want to create a matrix (could just do this on a spreadsheet) of Persona x Vertical and then fill in those cells with specific use case collateral or customer case studies. So if I sell to IT, and one of my key value props is “Trust”, I would have a matrix that look something like industry: finance, tech, retail on one axis and title: cio/ciso, vp/dir eng, vp mktg, dev on the other axis. In each of the boxes I would want to provide SDRs with easy to access to case studies, one pagers, or even just key quotes that would appeal to that audience. 
    • This might be a little bit too tactical but it gives you a sense of how you can use a framework -- in this case key value props -- to help organize content and ensure that people have the flexibility to pull what content might be most helpful for them, but still have that content organized in a way that they’re all saying the same thing (e.g., Hi Jane, I saw you’re recent data breach at Y company in the news. Well here at X we’re on a mission to [mission statement] by providing products that [val prop 1, 2, 3]. Here an example of how your competitors are using us to keep their networks safe [pull from matrix]! I’ll give you a call tomorrow at 10am to discuss further.)
Nikhil Balaraman
Nikhil Balaraman
Senior Director Product Marketing, RoofstockJanuary 5
  • Generally, product marketers and sales enablement should work hand-in-hand as they are some of the most cross-functional roles in any organization. Because of their cross-functional nature, these roles need to be closely connected in order to coordinate messaging, launches, new asset distribution, new campaigns and more across multiple functions and departments. 
  • Organizationally, it’s not uncommon to have sales enablement and product marketing sit in the same org, with some of the roles of sales enablement (such as time to ramp, % of reps at quota, etc.) owned by a sales or revenue operations role which sits in the sales org. 
  • Functionally, Product Marketing is going to own the narrative. PMM typically works across the organization to help understand and give shape to the vision, and then translate that into a mission, values, and positioning that form the narrative which then guides all asset and collateral development. Sales Enablement ensures that the sales teams are fully trained on how to communicate that narrative, and how and where to most effectively use those materials in the sales process.
Nikhil Balaraman
Nikhil Balaraman
Senior Director Product Marketing, RoofstockJanuary 5
  • Instead of focusing on the features, start with the use case -- why are we launching this we sub-product? What problem does it solve for our key personas or existing customers? Do we have examples of users adopting this product?
  • Once you have an understanding for how/why people are actually using this, then move a step up in the pitch to the messaging. How do we frame the problem that our prospects or current customers are actually having that this new product/enhancement addresses? Ideally, the messaging for this feature will tie into the broader messaging for the main product/company.
    • For example, at Uber Freight, we released a new product to help shippers (companies) connect with any trucking company via the Uber Freight tech stack. This solves lots of inefficiencies that exist in the market today, and has the added benefit of feeding into our mission which is to simplify the movement of goods and help communities thrive. Instead of focusing on the exact features, we can tell stories of how this helps our customers gain visibility into their shipments, helps truck drivers gain access to more freight, and helps the entire market by improving transparency and efficiency. 
  • If you’re a technical product marketer, you may want to also think about how you train different audiences. Everyone, but especially, the Sales and CS teams should be trained on the narrative. Your SE teams will likely need to be trained on the technical details and ease of implementation (or reality of implementation)...especially if your buyer/decision maker persona and the user or implementer are different (e.g., buyer might be VP of Marketing/eComm; implementer is actually the dev team or website team)
Nikhil Balaraman
Nikhil Balaraman
Senior Director Product Marketing, RoofstockJanuary 5
  • There are 2 main ways of tracking for success: Consumption Metrics and Outcome Metrics
    • Consumption metrics -- these metrics should be shared/co-owned amongst Enablement, PMM, and Content teams 
      • Content views
      • Collateral usage
      • Quiz scores (used as an Enablement metric when rolling out new messaging)
    • Outcome metrics -- these are more Enablement specific metrics, but PMM should definitely be attuned to how new launches and especially new product positioning affects these metrics
      • Win rate
      • Deal size
      • Deal velocity
      • Time to firsts (first opp, first deal, quota attained, etc) 
  • In the end, the enablement function should work with leadership on what strategic initiative is being prioritized, and build out a program to solve for it, using benchmarks and metrics to measure for success. 
    • For example, if the goal is to double the sales team, there needs to be a scalable onboarding program to ensure productivity early. A KPI might be, time to create first opportunity, time to create second opportunity, and same for deals. You’d want to start tracking how long it typically takes for a seller to create an opp after your onboarding, as well as some other early metrics, and then implement a program for onboarding and training reps, and compare those to your previous benchmarks.
    • Another might be wanting to reduce your sales cycle time. You’d want to identify what are some blockers within your sales process and work to remove those and compare your new cycle times to your previous.
Nikhil Balaraman
Nikhil Balaraman
Senior Director Product Marketing, RoofstockJanuary 5
  • At a high-level the goal is likely to make sellers more productive in some sense. Probably by making them more effective or more efficient. Let’s just call this “go-to-market readiness” as this is typically a key pillar of any sales enablement team.
  • GTM readiness is likely the success metric that is going to be most inspected/cared about. So you’ll want to be tracking things like time to close, deal velocity, deal size, churn (if trial to close), or any other metrics that are standardized and easily reportable via your CRM. Other GTM readiness metrics that would be especially relevant for orgs that are quickly growing include things like time to ramp for sales reps (could be measured by testing/quizzing for proficiency in combination with quota attainment), % of reps at quota, etc.
Nikhil Balaraman
Nikhil Balaraman
Senior Director Product Marketing, RoofstockJanuary 5
  • Depending on where the business is, sales should be either consulted or informed on almost every launch. Unless there is a tight liaison and voice of the sales team (ie Sales Enablement), it will primarily be consulted. In order to best understand the market, industry, personas, and segmentation, your sales team will be the best data point (one caveat is to keep in mind “recency bias”--aka, “if we build this one feature a prospect just asked me for, we could win 10 more deals”...maybe, but let’s validate that)
  • In my experience, what has been successful is working closely with the sales enablement team to create a small “trusted tester” group of sales reps across segments and regions who can help sanity check everything as launches are being planned. These groups should be kept small to facilitate meaningful feedback, but the best part about working with sales teams is that they tend to not be shy in sharing their opinions. Having this trusted tester group involved early and often in the process, and having them test drive some of the early assets and messaging can then help both the PMM and Enablement teams when it’s time to officially launch.
Nikhil Balaraman
Nikhil Balaraman
Senior Director Product Marketing, RoofstockJanuary 5
  • By understanding how deals work from beginning to end. Get to know the SDRs. What research do they do before starting a sequence? How does a meeting get set? Sit in on first calls. Is a first call all discovery or all demo? What follow ups get sent? And so on and so forth including understanding how a customer implements/on-boards.
  • Once you see enough of these, you will likely start to see a pattern emerge. Within this pattern is where the plays can emerge. Ok, so for this vertical, this is typically the use case they care about, the questions they ask, the objections we need to handle, etc. Start writing that up. Make that part of the new hiring onboarding. Drop in on more calls to see how the pitch is evolving (or invest in a tool such as Chorus.ai to do this for you at scale). 
  • The added benefit of sitting with the sales team to gather this intel, is that they’ll also see that you’re putting in the time and effort to understand the deal process. So when you start writing up these plays, they can actually trust that you understand how the sausage is made.
Nikhil Balaraman
Nikhil Balaraman
Senior Director Product Marketing, RoofstockJanuary 5
  • There are no shortcuts to getting buy in from a sales team; and, every product marketer needs to know how their product gets to market. To get buy-in from a large sales team you need to demonstrate empathy with the sales process, and be useful in accelerating pipeline. If you’re selling a B2B product, then you also need to know your sales team well. This means understanding how they’re organized (by region, by segment, by vertical), understanding what the pipeline looks like at a given point (maybe not by rep, but at least by segment), and being able to pull things together when you see an opportunity to help accelerate deals. For example, I see that Walmart is an opp for one of the enterprise reps, and I just finished a case study with Target. Before training the team on the Target case study, I’m going to set up time with the rep who owns the Walmart deal and walk them through the final draft of the Target case study, ask for any feedback, and then see if we can set up a call with Walmart to walk through the case study.
  • Tactically, if you don’t have a sales enablement partner/leader, then I would suggest setting up a meeting, at least monthly or every 3 weeks, with at least one of the sales segments (likely your most important one or the one you’re focused on enabling). You can always make that meeting bigger. Partner with the manager for that vertical to ensure the agenda isn’t just driven by product marketing. Highlight recent wins and lessons learned, perhaps create an award that is passed between reps in this meeting, and always use it as an opportunity to educate the reps on new PMM assets or marketing campaigns that have launched or are about to launch and how to use those assets to assist in a pitch. Using the same doc (such as a Google Slides presentation) for these is helpful as reps can go back and reference those materials when they need them.
Nikhil Balaraman
Nikhil Balaraman
Senior Director Product Marketing, RoofstockJanuary 5
  • I actually came to PMM from an SE role/background and would highly recommend people who are in technical roles consider PMM! The best part about this transition is that you're already trained on how to be an expert on the product, and how to best address and identify customer pain points, and craft solutions for those paint points. 
  • Specific to making the transition from an SE or technical account manager role, I think the easiest step is to get involved with PMM is to provide feedback on pitch decks and ideas for new collateral. One of your biggest assets is also your customer relationships, so use that time with customers to ask them about how our product can do more for them, or what use cases they wish we solved. Maybe we do actually solve that today, but our message just isn't getting out there...and maybe a new space that needs a dedicated PMM of which you can end up becoming the lead!
Nikhil Balaraman
Nikhil Balaraman
Senior Director Product Marketing, RoofstockJanuary 5
  • It's going to be hard in the early days becuase you'll have a lot to do, and the partner channel probably is non-existant until ~20m or so in ARR. If you're selling into regulated industries this might vary/be sooner, but your main focus should be on enabling your internal teams.
  • Good news is that once an official partner person is hired, you should already have some assets ready to go! Most of your existing assets can probably be lightly customized so that your messaging and positioning stay consistent, but speaks to the new audience. Maybe a few new assets that the channel can use if more of a sell-thru relationship vs. sell-with. 
  • After a few deals materialize, hopefully a pattern will emerge and you'll see if it's more of a downmarket partner motion (e.g., Canva or Hubspot; selling thru marketing/brand/design agencies to SMBs) or more of an upmarket partner motion (e.g., Microsoft, Salesforce; selling thru GSIs to F50 companies). If you're seeing especially fast channel growth (say something like 20%+ of pipeline coming thru the channel), then definitely dedicate a PMM to that channel!

Credentials & Highlights
Senior Director Product Marketing at Roofstock
Top Product Marketing Mentor List
Product Marketing AMA Contributor
Lives In San Francisco, California
Knows About Sales Enablement, Analyst Relations, Enterprise Product Marketing, Growth Product Mar...more