What is solutions marketing?

Solutions marketing is even more confusing than product marketing. Solution marketing is about articulating how a customer pain is solved. While product marketing explains what a product does and why anyone would care, solution marketing turns the table, and explains how a customer pain point is solved – in some cases, with many products from the same company or different companies.

The conceptual issue is this – there are many ways to solve a problem and various  degrees to which a solution addresses a problem.

As an analogy, consider that if you need shelter, you can have many solutions – homes, hotels, airbnb, a couch at a friend’s house, a church – but the timespan of your problem and your ability to pay might limit how viable a solution any of them are.

As a tech relevant analogy, the IBM Watson is often positioned as a solution for companies looking to incorporate artificial intelligence in their business, but it is hardly out-of-the-box and also requires a good amount of time and much professional services/implementation effort to deliver results.


Why does solutions marketing matter even?

If it is so confusing, why bother with it, at all? There are a few, very strong business reasons to do so:

  • Growth / Market expansion : Product companies that have found initial product-market fit can run out of growth vectors if their addressable market is a narrow segment. Or their customer acquisition rates can plateau after initial use cases have been copied by competitors. Solutions marketing is a way to capitalize on product success and expand its applicability to a wider range of problems.  I spent many years at Splunk, and we initially marketed it as “Google for the datacenter”. However, had we limited its positioning to that of a search engine, Splunk would have been easily outrun by competitors. Expanding to other key solution areas such as security, IT operations, application management and more, helped customers see it in a much broader light.

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  • Faster customer acquisition: Solutions marketing entails putting yourself in the shoes of the customer, thinking about their problems and if/how your product solves it. Putting your product in context for a prospect speeds up the selling into and across an organization. The right kind of messaging, positioning, packaging and pricing around this type of thinking leads to faster, more streamlined sales. Going back to my Splunk example where I led solutions marketing for Splunk in IT Operations, Application Management and other areas, had I approached the prospects in the market with a “search engine” type of message, chances are our prospects would have been left wondering what they would do with a “search engine”. Adding the context of faster mean time to incident resolution, cross-technology stack visibility and added intelligence about critical applications’ usage, meant that customers could justify their purchases and accelerate the sales process.


  • Faster time to value for the customer: Solutions marketing, if done right, will mean that you build the “accessories” or “value-add” on top of your product that gets your customer to value faster. Whether it is in the form of targeted content, collateral, technical how-to’s, tool-tips, wizards, small apps or full-fledged, packaged end-to-end user experiences, it is a win-win – customer problems get solved faster, vendors get an opportunity to create differentiation that delights the customer.


Key concepts in solutions marketing:


Solutions definition: The easiest definition of a solution is that it is something that solves a customer problem. Defining solutions is not easy, picking the right solutions is even more difficult especially if your customer journey doesn’t reveal many patterns beyond the initial use case.

Some popular approaches used to define solution areas include:

  1. Classifying the distinct pain-points your product solves by industry/vertical – but this is a very broad definition, since your product is hardly likely to solve every problem in the industry.
  2. Evaluating popular use cases, particularly if your product is used horizontally across many industries. You can see this example on New Relic’s website where they have categorized their main use cases into DevOps, Cloud Adoption and Digital Customer Experience, likely because most of their customers got started using their product to solve specific issues in these areas.  You can see a similar example on Elastic’s website where they have defined 8 different solutions ranging from Cloud to IoT.
  3. Using the business initiatives that drive deals as a framework, an example being Okta’s website. Okta lists Protecting Against Data Breaches, Seamless Customer Experience and others as business initiatives.  This approach appeals particularly to sales, as it allows them to focus on specific initiatives inside their customers’ businesses. A downside is that the terminology for these initiatives may vary from company to company and make initial prospecting difficult.
  4. Using personas to drive solution definition. If you already have a product that is used by a variety of different personas (this is another blog post), engaging with these personas and figuring out the pain-points your product solves for them, could hint at what are solution areas for your product. At Splunk, we had distinct personas – IT operations professionals, application owners, developers,security professionals – and these helped outline our initial set of solutions. Persona-based solutions also helped us develop the right set of messaging, pricing, packaging and pricing for our go-to-market activities, because we could build business cases against existing tool sets in each of these individual markets.


Which approach to use?

Its annoying to hear the phrase “It Depends”, but there really is no set-in-stone guidance. It depends on your product and your business. In some cases, there is a clear signal from your product’s initial use cases of adjacent markets that are large and lucrative. To get a sense for this, understanding your customer’s journey and the adjacent set of products that make your product successful is often a useful exercise.


Oracle, in the early days, used the solutions approach to greatly expand the stickiness of their database. By building financial, ERP, HR and other business applications and marketing into these solution areas, they ensured their database was everywhere and now of course, they have 80% of the database market.

In contrast, mongodb.com, another very successful company describes solutions as basically their different products, which makes total sense to their core audience of application developers.

Salesforce.com leaves no stone unturned – they define solutions, by role, by business size, by need and by industry vertical.

Market sizing, an eye for growth rates of adjacent segments, customer councils, a thorough understanding of customer problems and adjacent product usage are all critical tools in your tool belt while picking solutions.

So what is the marketing part here?

Solutions marketing is analogous to product marketing – except now the entire solution area is your business concern. Messaging, positioning, content , collateral, pricing, packaging needs to appeal to and attract the right set of folks – ones who feel the pain, need the solution and are ready with budget.  


Each solution area should be equipped with the appropriate level of solution guides/cookbooks/apps/experiences to help customers achieve success faster. Demand generation, events presence, analyst and press engagements, all need to revolve around the solution areas you are investing in. Pricing and packaging can be used to encourage comparisons with single use competitors or alternatives that require much effort and customization to use for the same problem.


There is also an inbound role that marketing plays here – engaging with customers, listening to their stories of success with the product, and building on these stories to not just to acquire more customers but to also provide input to engineering and product teams so they can focus their build efforts. The more targeted your solution, the greater the chance of its adoption.

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.

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