The Role of Product Marketing in Your Startup, Part II: Implementing Product Marketing

In today’s market, it’s more important than ever to have a team solely dedicated to understanding market and buyer needs and using that knowledge to ensure your company executes compelling marketing and sales strategies.

product marketing

That’s why it’s crucial for you to define and incorporate a Product Marketing role into your organization. In this second post in a two-part guest series, product management expert Saeed Khan builds off of “Part I: Defining Product Marketing” by offering his tips for successfully implementing Product Marketing and hiring for the role.

How to implement Product Marketing in your company

As mentioned in Part I of this series, Product Marketing is a part of overall Product Management, but with the primary goal of understanding the market and buyer (their needs, alternatives, buying process, etc.) in relation to the company’s products and services.

Along with developing an understanding of the buyer, Product Marketing needs to utilize knowledge of the market, product, product strategy, and competition to enable the Marketing and Sales organizations to execute optimally in activities related to the product.

From a deliverables perspective, what this usually means is developing documents defining positioning, messaging, competitive differentiation, and go-to-market strategy, and ensuring Senior Management is aligned with these.

On a more tactical level, Product Marketing is also usually tasked with working with internal teams to ensure readiness and conducting successful product launches. This includes sales and marketing enablement – i.e. training and educating these teams on the go-to-market, positioning, messaging, differentiation etc. And finally, particularly in smaller companies, Product Marketing often creates data sheets, white papers, web site copy, and other collateral.

I can’t reiterate enough, however, that although this collateral and some of the tactical activities may be the most visible deliverables Product Marketing produces, they are not the primary focus. The strategic work – positioning, messaging, understanding the buyer and market dynamics etc. – is the foundation for virtually all other activities. Once defined, it can support other groups such as corporate marketing in creating consistent, highly effective collateral.

When to hire a Product Marketer

For a young company, every new hire is critical. There’s often no shortage of needs to fill, so it’s common that formal product marketing headcount is typically added when a company reaches an inflection point.

Unfortunately, that inflection point is usually reached because some person or small team – either product management or marketing – becomes so overloaded they can’t scale. The Product Marketer is then hired to “take some of the load” off that group.

This is the wrong way to hire, because immediately the Product Marketer will be defined by the responsibilities and deliverables handed off to him or her by the overloaded team.

Instead — going back to the Engineering/QA example — think of Product Marketing as a role to help both Product Management and the company scale. That way, the reason to hire is not simply to reduce the burden of another team, but to bring a better understanding of the buyers and market into the company and optimize how the company markets and sells to those buyers.

Over time, as the company grows, introduces more products or product variations, and attacks new use cases, market segments, verticals, or geographies, Product Marketing – as part of overall Product Management — should grow in some reasonable proportion. From that initial hire, the company should grow a team or teams of product marketers, working alongside product managers and aligned to best address strategic and market needs for the company.

In today’s market, where technology makes it easy for companies around the world to compete with one another, it is even more important than ever to have a team dedicated to understanding the market and buyer needs, and using that knowledge to ensure the company executes on compelling marketing and sales strategies.

Product Marketing talks to and listens to the market. It’s both inbound and outbound, but it exists with a specific focus. By incorporating Product Marketing into Product Management your company is assured full end-to-end alignment — from company and product strategy to product development, product launch, and go-to-market strategy and tactics. And who wouldn’t want that?

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photo by: kenteegardin

Share Your Thoughts

  • Larry McKeogh

    Thanks for your post on the topic Saeed. I found your perspective informative especially because I was preparing to talk to some startups in the Denver area about the same topic.

    What I found interesting during the preparation were 2 things: First, Steve Blank’s Customer Development Model My initial pass through the material, I had the first 2 stages in
    the Customer Development Model labeled as Product Management. The iterative approach to presenting an idea, listening to the feedback, adjusting, repeat sounded like the ideal Product Management process.

    Except then I stumbled across two quotes by Peter Drucker:

    “The business enterprise has two – and only these two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are ‘costs.’”

    This seemed to indicate that Product Management as a subset under Marketing. Marketing being that interface between the company and the market or customer.

    “The most efficient way to produce anything is to bring together under one management as many as possible of the activities needed to turn out the product.”

    It may be a leap, but from this, I take the Product Management license. This could be also where the problem of having Product Management fill in the gaps begins.

    I see Product Management as being the listening portion of the company. Product Marketing or the generic term marketing (small ‘m’) to be the complimentary role of speaking to the market. Each requires different skill sets and so you end up with 2 positions.

    Generally, a founder plays both roles or a large portion of them until called upon to focus on building the company. I’ve seen this usually happens around 20 – 30 people.

    Having this listening role is an important, but overlooked element to a new venture’s success. Incorporating one into the other seems like trying to listen with your mouth or talk out your ear. They need to stand on their own merits.

    • Saeed Khan

      Larry

      I’ll try to respond to the points you made.

      WRT Customer Development, it primarily focuses on the very early stages of the product definition and development cycle. At that stage that’s a lot of what product management does. But as products are released and mature, the goals change and become more complex, so listening is only a part of what is needed.

      WRT Drucker, I don’t agree with what he’s saying if taken literally. e.g. are Apple (retail) stores an expense for Apple or part of their marketing? Is Zappos’ customer service department viewed as a cost center or as part of Marketing?

      I do agree that Innovation and Marketing are critical and those both fall under Product Management’s responsibility. Marketing should be understood in the classic sense of Marketing (i.e. strategic marketing) vs. simply marketing programs which is really what a lot of Marketing departments do today.

      Product Management is responsible for maximizing the success of a product over the life of that product. So, it does involve listening, but it involves a lot more. I see the responsibilities broken into 4 major areas — all at the product level.

      * Business Objectives
      * Go to Market Strategy
      * Organizational Readiness
      * Product Readiness

      I’ve written about this on my blog. You can see more here:

      http://onproductmanagement.net/2012/06/13/product-management-metrics/

  • http://twitter.com/DigitalPoss DigitalPossibilities

    Saeed,

    A really great set of posts. I agree entirely with your core premise – if you don’t understand the market as a Product Marketer you cannot produce high-quality, well targeted messaging and positioning, or even collateral.

    Once example from my experience. I know that effective presentations are minimalist because a human cannot listen and read at the same time.

    Yet within a domain where I worked, minimalist presentations were treated with distain and considered lightweight. Hence, it was important for us to be very careful in creating material to meet that need.

    Product Marketing, like Product Management needs to be out in the field (whatever that means in the context of a business) understanding pain points, needs as this filters into understanding positioning and messaging.

    • Saeed Khan

      DP

      We’re all marketers and sales people in the end. :-) In my current situation, I work very closely with Product Marketing and help them fill in any gaps they may have WRT their understanding of customers/market etc. They have their interactions and perspectives and I have mine, but combined the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

      Saeed

  • http://twitter.com/benjrees Ben Rees

    Thanks Saeed, great post (as well as the first). Really useful definitions of these roles – I guess my only comments would be that, firstly, I sometimes think the simpler, if less accurate definitions of the roles can be more helpful to those outside these positions. I write a bit more here – http://focusproductmarketing.com/2012/10/24/product-marketing-and-product-management-roles/ but in essence, many find the role of “Product Marketing Manager” quite confusing, and I often use the definition “Product Managers get the right product on the shelf, PMMs get it off the shelf”, just because people (say, developers or testers) can understand it and remember it more easily!
    The other thing I was going to say, which you hint at a little (I think), is that it really depends on the people you employ. We have Product Managers who are really strong on the marketing side of the role too, and some that aren’t (but are stronger on some of the other parts of the job you describe). So the definitions end up being pretty fuzzy around the edges anyway. Do you often find this in real-world situations?

  • Ryan Yeoman

    Saeed,

    Great posts. Thank you for the educational and thought provoking material. We’re actually discussing/working through challenges related to this right now.

    Curious, do most small companies combine these two positions into one? If so, at what point (company size, number of product lines, ???) do you recommend breaking them out into separate positions?

    Are there situations where having the Product Mgr, Product Mkt Mgr, and Project Mgr all be the same person is an effective/efficient solution (aside from when you only have 3 people in the company)?

    Thanks again.

    • Saeed Khan

      Ryan

      Yes, small companies do combine these two roles into one. It makes sense in small companies where it’s difficult to justify 2 separate people, but at some point one needs to split the roles and have dedicated focus. When exactly is hard to say. It’s a business decision that should be made in terms of scaling the business, ensuring adequate focus, meeting overall product objectives etc.

      It could be at 20 people, it could be at 50. There’s not specific number, but the management team should be savvy enough to see the value and understand that at that point, for example, hiring a dedicated PMM will deliver more value than an extra developer. Nothing against developers, but I’m just using that as an example.

      And with the exception of the tiniest companies, I’d never recommend combining PM, PMM, ProjM.

      Saeed

  • Saeed Khan

    Ben

    I think simpler definitions have a place and can be useful as long as they are not taken literally or misused (which they often are unfortunately).

    And yes, the people you employ makes a difference. Without question. But this is true for any function. It really means that specialization of roles is critical so that the right people can excel in the right roles. :-)

    Definitions can be fuzzy for any related set of roles but unfortunately for Product Management/Product Marketing it seems to be fuzzier than most. I think people really have a hard time understanding cross-functional roles.

    Saeed