The PMM Functional Skill Set: The Top 10

The two most important things you can bring to the product marketing job are the right mindset and the right functional skill set.

The right mindset ensures you are focused on the right things; mastery of functional skills ensures that you are able to execute strategies, content, programs that lead to revenue.

  1. A good PMM can create a GTM plan and orchestrate its successful execution.
  2. A good PMM can develop positioning and messaging that resonates with customers. A good PMM knows how to relate product features/capabilities in terms and categories that customers understand, care about and most importantly – would pay for.
    • Test drive your positioning by customers. Don’t take yourself as a proxy for one of our customers – there is a reason why you don’t work in IT. If it is clear to you, may not be clear to customers. Don’t rely too much on industry analysts either – there is also a reason they don’t work in IT.
  3. A good PMM knows their customers.
    • A good PMM knows which are the biggest customer deployments and can recite 3-5 impressive customer case studies. A good PMM can tell their entire product story as the story of a particular customer. “Let me tell you what Qualcomm/HSBC/The Marine Corps [pick your favorite] has achieved with our products” is always a lot more impressive than “let me tell you about features X, Y, Z”.
    • Developing customer relationships requires time investment. Sales calls and other customer  meetings are a good place to start. If you have a particularly good meeting, follow up with the customer, and stay in touch them on regular basis.
    • Send your favorite customers regular updates – your personal commentary on the company’s product news etc. Be prepared to help them with escalations.
    • Be judicious what customer relationships you decide to invest in. Make sure you don’t focus on either “outlier” customers (the ones that are unlike any other customer – e.g. your largest customer, or the most vocal customer) or only on one type of customer (i.e. only on your largest ones) .
  4. A good PMM knows their product.
    • Always seek out opportunities to uplevel your product understanding and expertise. This can be formal (taking classes) or informal (read the documentation, engage the PMs and engineers)
  5. A good PMM excels in communication – writing crisply and succinctly; presenting with confidence and gravitas.
    • Presentation is a skill that one can always improve. Doesn’t matter how good a presenter you are, take the presentation class offered by VMware once a year.
    • People are always uncomfortable giving critical feedback, so you have to solicit it proactively. Ask customers or your sales team how you did during customer presentations. Always look at the presentation feedback you receive from larger customer or industry events.
  6. A good PMM cultivates strong analytical skills. Don’t accept anything on face value. Dig. Get to the bottom of things.
  7. A good PMM has a broad base of relationships across the company – in corporate marketing, channels, PM, engineering, sales etc. A good PMM can influence marketing, sales and channel organizations to prioritize and execute on his/her initiatives.
  8. A good PMM has a limited number of standardized, current sales tools and collateral. And a good PMM is focused on impact not activities – i.e. he/she knows that creating a new sales tool or piece of collateral is not the end of the job but just the beginning. What matters is how many sales people in the field and the channel will adopt and use that sales tool, and how many customers will read that piece of collateral. All too often PMMs are guilty of creating great materials that languish on their hard drives.
    • When you create collateral and sales tools – think of leverage – i.e. think how you can educate the customers/prospects directly and save sales and the channel time. For example, if you are to build an ROI calculator – you can create a spreadsheet that you hand to sales, and rely on them to hold the hands of customers through a TCO analysis; or you could build an online TCO calculator so that  customers can do it themselves – faster and with less friction.
    • It is crucial to ensure that your materials are being adopted by sales and channel partners.
    • Make a habit of looking at any reports and analytics how your sales tools and collateral are adopted by sales and customers.
  9. A good PMM can drive pricing and packaging decisions.
  10. A good PMM contributes personally to driving deals to closure.

The PMM mindset

The two most important things you can bring to the product marketing job are the right mindset and the right functional skill set.

While mastery of functional skills is important, what sets apart the great product marketers from the good ones is crystal clear understanding of the mission, and the ability to sustain a focused drive to achieve it. The following points illustrate what occupies the thoughts of the successful product marketer and guides how they spend their time and energy.

  • Good PMMs see themselves as business owners.
    • A good PMM feels ownership of the ultimate success of their product on the market. Success on the market is measured by things like revenue, revenue growth, unit growth, number of users or market share. Therefore, a good PMM closely monitors these key indicators, and can rattle off the stats in their sleep.
    • Develop a key metrics dashboard that you update and track on a regular basis. Key metrics you may want to track include number of product eval downloads, sales pipeline, bookings, market share, product mix, average selling price, length of sales cycle etc.
  • Good PMMs know the routes to market (sales and the channel).
    • A good PMM understands HOW success happens in the field and what is most important to the “feet on the street.” A good PMM understands the dynamics of the sales and the channel: which channel contributes the most bookings, which channel is the most profitable, which channel sells which product. A good PMM also understands the motivations and the mentality of sales people, and knows how to influence and leverage them for success.
    • Understand the distribution structure for your product – i.e what percentage of sales occur through self service sign up, what percentage is sold through sales force or channel partners. Understand what are the most important distribution channels, and establish relationships with leaders in the most important distribution channel. Generalize their best practice and think creatively how you can elevate all sales people or all channel partners to that level.
    • Work with the sales and channel enablement organization to put together a program to uplevel the rest of your partners.
  • Good PMMs knows their product’s sales cycle and continuously try to optimize and shorten it.
    • A good PMM can identify the root cause of bottleneck to growing the business: is it customer awareness, or lead generation, or the ability of the field and partners to overcome objections, or inability to do the technical validation, lack of references, high price etc.
    • Create and maintain your model of the sales cycle – i.e. what does the funnel from web site visitors (awareness) to leads (consideration) to opportunities (sales) looks like; where do the drop offs occur. How long does each stage of the sales cycle take? Make it a priority to work out one bottleneck a quarter.
  • Good PMMs drive their own agenda.
    • The nature of product marketing is that it is interrupt driven: a sales team wants you to jump on a customer call, another sales team is looking for help overcoming objections, the marketing team wants feedback on their campaign copy, and you need to prep for an analyst briefing. You can spend 18 hrs a day responding to requests (and implementing other people’s agenda). Good PMMs do not fall victim to the “tyranny of the urgent” but rather closely guard their time to ensure that they accomplish the objectives on which they will be measured! A good PMM knows when to say NO and which balls to drop.
    • You need to make time for the initiatives that you want to drive. Very tactically – try to block some time on your calendar every week where you are going to work on things that you want and need to drive.
    • Classify requests that hit you along the two axes of how urgent and how important they are.The urgent and important things you are better off handling yourself. The urgent and unimportant you try to delegate. The important and non-urgent you need to make time for with the above trick because these are usually the things that over the medium and long run make all the difference between success and failure. And finally the non-urgent, non-important things – you simply delete that e-mail, forget about it, and don’t feel bad about it.
  • Good PMMs are leaders who relentlessly pursue of their objectives. Good PMMs are leaders. The definition of a leader is “one who knows where they are going and is able to get others to follow.” A good PMM recognizes that they must influence the behavior of people over whom they have no organizational control. This is often challenging, but a good PMM does not give up, and is persistent and resilient in the face of obstacles.
  • A good PMM is also focused on continuous improvement through skill-building and upgrading of processes, deliverables, etc., tuning and tweaking (or even over-hauling) until the desired effect (or effectiveness) is achieved.

What is product marketing?

I recently came across a presentation about what product marketing is, and the most interesting takeaway was that if you asked 5 people, you got 6 opinions.

Product marketing is often narrowly construed as writing datasheets and white papers, or creating launch plans. Granted, these are essential activities on the job but they are means to an end, not the essence of the job.

Every company has a sales and marketing infrastructure which – along with product development – is the company’s most strategic weapon.  The charter of product marketing is to aim this strategic weapon precisely.

In other words the charter of Product Marketing is to 1) define the go-to-market strategy (for a product, product line or an entire company) and 2) orchestrate its execution.

Go-to-market strategy addresses the following 4 questions:

  • What is the value proposition and unique advantages (positioning, messaging, content creation)
    • Articulate customer pain points / issues / challenges / concerns
    • Articulate how the products / features uniquely solve these customer pain points
    • Collect and articulate proof points – ideally with hard numbers – how these pain points are addressed
    • Create sales tools and marketing collateral that enable the sales and marketing teams to communicate to prospects and customers
  • Who is the target market (market segmentation)
    • Identify who has the pain points above – not everyone on the market has the same ones.
    • Group customers with similar characteristics and pain points into segments. Identify ideal customer profiles for each segment, and even better – develop personas for each segment.
  • How are people / organizations in the target market going to buy the product (packaging, pricing and bundling)
    • Determine the appropriate “packages” or “bundles” of features that meet the needs of each customer segment.
    • Determine what is the pricing metrics – i.e. how you charge for your product – per user, per some other usage metrics, flat fee, etc.
    • * Note: packaging and pricing is typically the most overlooked but arguably the most powerful part of a go-to-market strategy.
  • How is the target market reached (sales and channel strategy)
    • Work with sales, marketing, and other customer-facing organizations to determine how the target market is going to be reached – i.e. would the customers sign up for the product through web self-service, is the product sold by a salesforce – either inside or direct, or are there partners who can distribute the product.

Orchestrating the execution of the go-to-market strategy means:

Product marketing can’t execute the go-to-market strategy alone – but it has to be the hub that connects the dots between other go-to-market functions (sales, marketing, customer success), and provides crucial support to all of them. The best product marketers lead that execution from behind.

  • Sales and channel enablement
    • Provide content and expertise to enable the sales (or self-service or channel) to position and sell the product
    • Act as product expert in any customer interaction
  • Demand generation
    • Provide content and expertise to the demand gen team (sometimes called growth, campaigns etc) for the web site, marketing campaigns, events and over marketing tactics.
    • Act as product expert and spokesperson in any marketing events.
  • Press and analyst relations
    • Act as product expert and spokesperson in front of press, analysts and other influencers