Pallavi Vanacharla

Pallavi VanacharlaShare

Head of Marketing, IoT + Sr. Director of Product Marketing, Industries, Twilio
Content
Pallavi Vanacharla
Pallavi Vanacharla
Head of Marketing, IoT + Sr. Director of Product Marketing, Industries, Twilio
Pallavi Vanacharla
Pallavi Vanacharla
Head of Marketing, IoT + Sr. Director of Product Marketing, Industries, TwilioMay 27

Let me answer a slightly different question, the one that does not get asked often - what are the biggest mistakes you have made and what did you learn from them?

I have seen many successes in my career, but they were made stronger from the lessons I learnt (from my mistakes). Here are 3 mistakes that come to my mind right now.

Idealistic PMM - When I was younger, I used to think that for a product to be truly successful you need great positioning. Not true at all. One of my competitor’s CEO was a celebrity and their product became successful because of the sheer volume of media coverage they received. While I tirelessly worked on crafting a positioning that resonated with the customers, it was pointless in the end. 

Lesson - Don't overestimate the impact of positioning and messaging, there is a lot more to a product’s success (market timing, pricing, PR, a killer feature). Focus on those, even if your positioning is not perfect.

Not being the CEO - We had just entered a new country with a big partner and I was doing everything in my power to make the product successful from a marketing point of view. But our sales orgs were not aligned and we did not have executive sponsorship from the partner’s sales leadership. Clearly, we had a sales leader, who was not doing his job right. By the time I realized what was happening and escalated the situation, we had lost several months of market lead time (and in-year revenue). Whose fault was it? Mine! 

Lesson - PMMs need to act as the CEO’s of their product, everything is your business and everybody’s business is your business.

Not hiring fast enough - In the past, I have made the mistake of asking for a headcount after I felt the need for an additional PMM. Because PMM tends to be a lean function, the hiring timing can really impact your business success. It takes at least a quarter to find the right talent, a quarter to onboard and another quarter to get them performing at their high efficiency level. So if you want results in say month X, you should have hired 9 months earlier. 

Lesson - Anticipate ahead and ask for resources 3-4 quarters before you need it. Not always possible to do this, but no harm in trying.

Pallavi Vanacharla
Pallavi Vanacharla
Head of Marketing, IoT + Sr. Director of Product Marketing, Industries, TwilioMay 22

Here is what has worked for me in the past. This pace below is relevant for smaller teams/orgs. You can pace this out for larger teams/orgs as needed.

30 DAYS

Goal: Establish credibility and define your goal and priorities

Key tasks:

  • Build relationships with key stakeholders and understand expectations
  • If you are a manager, get to know your team (obviously!)
  • Understand the business - products, market opportunity, business metrics
  • Define your draft year 1 goal, strategy and priorities and get sign-off from stakeholders 
  • Deliver any critical (and time sensitive) initiatives to show an early win (if needed) 

Deliverables:

  • Overall goal, strategy and priorities
  • Any critical initiative (if needed)

60 DAYS

Goal: Start executing and define the plan

Key tasks:

  • Continue building/strengthening relations with stakeholders, extend to co-workers
  • Build the plan (initiatives/projects, timelines, metrics, resources) aligned to the priorities
  • Understand the market - customer insights and competitive landscape
  • Fill any urgent sales content gaps/needs
  • Start executing on a few key initiatives aligned to your priorities

Deliverables:

  • Customer and market observations
  • Critical sales content gaps 
  • PMM Plan aligned to priorities
  • Put tracking mechanisms in place
  • Make resource asks 

90 DAYS

Goal: Validate your strategy/plan and start ramping to your peak efficiency level

Key tasks:

  • Based on everything you learned so far (and resources available), iterate on your goal, strategy, priorities and plan
  • Get into full execution mode
  • Start delivering early results/wins 

Deliverables:

  • Any revisions for your strategy and plan 
  • Completed initiatives and results

Pro tips for near term impact (depends on your focus)


If the near term focus is internal, then understand your stakeholders biggest pain or need and put a plan in motion to address that (assuming you agree with it of course). But ensure all the key stakeholders agree on the biggest pain to solve first. For example if the biggest problem is the sales enablement mechanisms, then work on that, and do market research and positioning later. 


If your internal stakeholders are not screaming, then you have the luxury to focus on the external market. And you can follow the classic PMM sequence of initiatives (as they tend to be sequential) - understand the business, gather insights (customer, market competitive), craft positioning and messaging, build sales content, drive/support sales enablement, and start evangelizing (social, AR, PR, marketing content). I also liked what Suyog shared during his AMA

Pallavi Vanacharla
Pallavi Vanacharla
Head of Marketing, IoT + Sr. Director of Product Marketing, Industries, TwilioMay 13

Good question.

I am sure you have heard this statement many times - “PM and PMMs are like two sides of the same coin”. It’s absolutely true, and work wise I see the roles to have a Venn diagram. There are things each team leads and drives by themselves and then there are overlap areas.

The overlap areas usually are:

  1. Product strategy
  2. Product roadmap
  3. Target markets
  4. Positioning and messaging
  5. Sales enablement (includes launches)

The first step to building joint KPIs is building a trusted, valued and collaborative relationship. Where each party trusts that the other side has the customer’s interest and the business success in mind. And both sides value each other’s opinion and input and actively seek it.

Because PMMs are typically hired after PMs, PMMs have to work harder to insert themselves into the strategic decision making process, by proving their value. The fastest and most fool-proof way to prove your value is by becoming the go-to person for market trends, competitive intelligence and customer insights.

For establishing a good relationship, you can ‘lead by example’ and include product in any discussions around #3-4 and encourage them to do the same for #1-2. Once you have established a good relationship, then getting aligned on the above areas and defining KPIs become easier. I would suggest the teams adopt the KPIs defined by product for #1 and 2 (such as time to market and customer wins) adopt the KPIs defined by PMMs for #3-5 (such as market share, customers win rate, and shorter sales cycles).

I do not believe having commonly shared KPIs is necessary. I always find it better to have a single leader/POC for a KPI. As long as you have a good working relationship with product and they care about the same things above (and I can’t imagine they would not), then getting their time, attention and input should not be an issue. If you don’t get the support, it is usually a bandwidth/resourcing issue, not a lack of desire to do so.

Product launches are the easiest area to align on in my opinion as both teams care about the success of product launches. Usually KPIs here include - # of trials/sign ups, traffic/impressions, and media coverage.

Pallavi Vanacharla
Pallavi Vanacharla
Head of Marketing, IoT + Sr. Director of Product Marketing, Industries, TwilioMay 9

Let me ask you a question: What are the top 3 reasons people join, stay or leave companies?

Answer...

  1. Company (culture, potential, growth)
  2. Job (fit, growth potential and salary)
  3. Manager (leadership qualities, chemistry, trust, etc.)

The first is mostly not in your control. You are limited in what you can control on the second. This leaves you with the third, which is frankly the only thing you can control in its entirety.

So my advice for you is to focus on what you can control and don’t worry about the rest.

Many studies have shown that when all else is equal (or even less than equal), employees will join/stay at a company because they like their manager and want to work with them. The same is also true for exits, a lot of employees leave just because of their managers, even when the company is doing good. I am sure you may have experienced this in your own careers.

Let's all work towards being the best managers and team members, not just to attract/retain great talent, but also because it is the right thing to do.

(PS: read my other answers for some advice on how to be a good manager)

Pallavi Vanacharla
Pallavi Vanacharla
Head of Marketing, IoT + Sr. Director of Product Marketing, Industries, TwilioMay 8

Love it! Excellent question.

Here is the team culture I like to create, which frankly is applicable to any function. But, at the end, I will provide some cultural traits that are specific to product marketing.

General cultural traits:

  1. Happy
  2. Trusting 
  3. Collaborative
  4. Caring
  5. Humble 

How do you do the above? Remember the saying "be the change you want to see"? Well do that and everyone else will follow. 😃

This works at scale too, you will often find that some of the largest companies exhibit the culture and values demonstrated by a single person - their CEOs.

Here are some ways in which you as a leader can demonstrate the above.

Happiness is perhaps the most important aspect of your culture. If you could only focus on one, this would be it. Happiness leads to success - for you, for your team, for everyone. It motivates people to perform at their best, brings out their creative juices, and gives them the resilience to overcome setbacks. But first, you must start with yourself - make being happy your life-long goal and try your best to be as happy as you can be, every day. The good news is that happiness is highly infectious, so you don't have to explicitly teach it. A book that has helped me a lot on my happiness journey is “Happiness from the Inside Out ” by happiness coach Robert Mack, which provides very easy, practical, and actionable ways to become and stay happy - for life.       


Trust comes from being 'completely transparent' on how you think and why you do what you do. Yes, you read it right. Share your financials, performance evaluation approach, salary structures/increases, promotion process - everything! This is also the only way we can remove disparities and be truly inclusive. Trust also comes from your team members knowing that you will have their back, even when they are not in the room. 


Collaboration is easy to cultivate. Genuinely value diverse and opposing opinions. Ask for feedback and solicit ideas on every key decision. When people feel included, they reciprocate by doing the same. And when you are asked for feedback, take the time to think and provide useful suggestions, so your feedback is valued and solicited again.

Caring for each other should come naturally. Try to celebrate and acknowledge the good moments, not just the birthdays, but the small wins too. When someone needs an extra hand, don't judge, step in, lean in, and do what it takes to share the load. And help shape and support your team member’s career beyond the current role or company.

Humility is often underappreciated in certain cultures, but this is very important to me. If you (as a seasoned leader) understand that you are not the best and don't know everything, others will also realize the same 'truth'. This does not mean you do not feel confident or don't tout your team's accomplishments. Just make sure you understand difference between confidence and arrogance.

Additional PMM traits:

  1. Customer-obsession
  2. Strategic thinking 

These are less cultural traits, but rather functional-specific characteristics and hence can be easily accomplished by laying down PMM processes.  


Customer-obsession is the very foundation of product marketing. And in my opinion, the difference between a good and a great product marketer. Make gathering customer insights part of everyone's role (even if in a small way). Encourage direct customer conversations and interviews. Because the more you speak to customers, the more obsessed you will become about solving their needs, building the right products for them, representing their needs and doing right by them. And it will all happen seamlessly, naturally, and automatically. So ensure every PMM speaks to customers as often as possible.

Strategic thinking is not something you are born with, and like any other skill, it can be learnt. There are two small, but effective tricks to encouraging strategic thinking. 

  • 1st tip: Allow each PMM to completely own at least one piece of the pie. Then encourage them to build the strategy for their piece, which will cultivate the strategic thinking mindset. And executing that strategy will help them discover where they were right and (most importantly) where they were wrong. This iterative learning process will continue to make them more and more strategic with time.  
  • 2nd tip: Give people the free time to think. When product marketers get the time to think, great things happen. They discover new market opportunities, discover messaging that sticks, define products that delight, and much much more. The way to do so is to a) scale back on what you commit to delivering for the year and b) staff up with adequate PMM resources.  

Lastly, what do you do if you team members do not exhibit the above characteristics? Well human behavior is very hard to change, but if it is impacting your team cohesiveness and success, then give them clear and direct feedback and gently keep reminding them, to steer them in the right direction. But try to do so with deep love and care - none of us are perfect and everyone is on a journey.

Not sure if this is what you were looking for, but hopefully some of it was useful.

Pallavi Vanacharla
Pallavi Vanacharla
Head of Marketing, IoT + Sr. Director of Product Marketing, Industries, TwilioMay 4

Not everything we do is measurable and this is especially true for PMMs. 

Unless there is a compelling reason to measure every aspect of sales enablement, I would not suggest you do so.  

But if you must, then for most things, a simple survey to the sales org is best. Ask them how useful a specific task was in their sales cycle? And if you should stop, continue or improve that specific task? Remember to give them an incentive to complete the survey. 

You can also try other indirect means, like measuring the sales success rate of someone who took a training vs. not, but none of these methods are reliable because a lot goes into sales success. 

Pallavi Vanacharla
Pallavi Vanacharla
Head of Marketing, IoT + Sr. Director of Product Marketing, Industries, TwilioMay 4

The short answer is 'it depends'.....let me explain... 

A product marketer, in my opinion, is like the CEO of a product. And just like a CEO, has to do whatever it takes to make the company (in this case product) successful. Hence, she/he should be measured on what is relevant for that specific year. 

PMM OKRs depend on your answer to questions such as - what is the stage of the product lifecycle? Do you own all of product marketing or a specific PMM function? What are the business goals and objectives this year? etc. 

Stage of product lifecycle

If you are working on an early stage product, then perhaps you are trying to determine product-market fit, understand market needs, or launch a product this year. If you are working on a mature product, then perhaps you are trying to beat competition, optimize pricing, and gain market share. The OKRs for both situations will clearly be very different. 

Product marketing function

OKRs vary by PMM function - positioning and messaging, competitive intel, sales enablement, customer insights, etc. 

Business goals and objectives

If the business objective this year is geographic expansion or establishing the partner channel org, then your OKRs should be tied to these initiatives, as you are obviously going to enable, drive and support them. 

In the meantime, if you have a very traditional role and just want a list. Here is a great list by PMA to get started, but remember to adopt it and change it to what matters most to your org and PMM function.   

Pallavi Vanacharla
Pallavi Vanacharla
Head of Marketing, IoT + Sr. Director of Product Marketing, Industries, TwilioMay 3

Promotions! A topic that's on everyone's mind. 😄

If you are just interested in the title, you can move to a smaller company and get the title today. Nothing wrong with it, go for it! And in fact, it may help you gain more experience/skills as well.

If you are interested in moving up the ladder within your current company, then you may need to work on your skills a bit more. My answer below is for this second path.

Let's first understand the difference between a Sr. Manager and a Director. Regardless of the function (HR, PMM, Finance), the differences between these levels are fairly similar and typically include:

  1. Ability to manage a larger scope
  2. Strategic view
  3. Executive presence
  4. Ability to manage people (if the role requires it)

Generally (and unfortunately) in that order. 👆🏾

Now let me explain each and some suggestions on how you can gain the skills in each area.

Ability to manage a larger scope

  • What is it? Scope in PMM could be deeper or wider. 'Deeper' if you manage all PMM functions for a single product and 'wider' if you manage all/some PMM functions for multiple products. The definition of 'width' and 'depth' varies by company.
  • How do you get this skill? Manage your work and time by focusing on the big rocks and not getting distracted by the small ones. Offload the small rocks to contractors or junior team members. Then expand your scope. Ask for more. Be bold, take on a high visibility product. Or take a risk, take on the underdog product or a new product and make it big. Take on additional products within the same business unit or other businesses units.
  • How do you prove you have this skill? Generally, there are no shortcuts here. You will have to gain the bandwidth and skills and give your leaders the confidence that you can do it.

Strategic view

  • What is it? This involves thinking, planning and acting based on a longer term and broader view. A few examples a) thinking and planning for the long run (2-5 years) with market trends in mind, b) owning and/or defining the Go-To-Market strategy (sales channels, product mix, pricing, partnerships, etc), c) thinking and making trade-offs and decisions on behalf of the entire company and not just your small piece of the pie. 
  • How do you get this skill? Remind yourself to do the above at every stage until it becomes a habit. Remind others (team members, peers, stakeholders) to do the same.
  • How do you prove you have this skill? Once you do the above, people (especially senior leaders) tend to notice and may even get you assigned or involved in x-functional projects or long-range planning. 

Executive presence

  • What is it? In my opinion this has more to do with your character and personality than your appearance. Qualities that demonstrate executive presence are - humility, listening skills, consistent behavior, calmness, being inclusive, ensuring equality, ensuring diversity, firm decision making...you get the idea.  
  • How do you get this skill? You constantly self-reflect and strive for continuously improving yourself. Look to other leaders you admire and adopt what works. 
  • How do you prove you have this skill? Frankly you don't have to do anything to prove it. This will show up loud and clear to everyone - in everything you say, everything you do, and every meeting you attend.

Ability to manage people

  • What is it? I think managing people should stem from an innate selfless desire to help people grow and be their best. Too many people in the workforce are suffering from unhappiness and ill-health for one reason alone - their managers suck! If you do not have a desire to help others, then do everyone a favor and don't be a manager. There is more to being a manager of course, but all those skills pale in comparison to the above imo. 
  • How do you get this skill? If you have not managed people before, then you can start small by managing interns/contractors and make the case of a team member. If you are already managing people, then look to expand your skill by managing more senior folks and managing 'people managers'. Of course, you should grow your team only when appropriate for the business, without a desire for building a fiefdom (don't be that kind of a leader). And genuinely strive to be a good manager. Read books, learn from other managers, take training, reflect on your thoughts/actions and most importantly ask your team members for feedback. 
  • How do you prove you have this skill? Generally your team members will share their feedback in your performance reviews and it will be pretty clear where you stand here.

Lastly, the secret...
Now, after all the above details, let me tell you the real secret to promotions. You don't get promoted just because you are the best. You also need someone who believes in you and is willing to go to bat for you. Is willing to bet on your and give you the chance. Is willing to fight for you to be promoted instead of the 10 others in the queue. This person has a name, they are called your 'sponsor' (not to be confused with a mentor). So the trick is to find who is influential within your company and who could be your sponsor - could be your manager or your manager's manager or a leader in another group. And ensure they see your success, caliber and immense potential.

Good luck!

Credentials & Highlights
Head of Marketing, IoT + Sr. Director of Product Marketing, Industries at Twilio
Top Product Marketing Mentor List
Product Marketing AMA Contributor
Lives In San Francisco
Knows About Consumer Product Marketing, Building a Product Marketing Team, Sales Enablement, Prod...more