One of the most common questions I get is, “How do I transition into product marketing?” I can empathize with the question because it’s one I’ve asked myself. As a former management consultant, I was eager to find the answer, and through some hard work, good fortune, and planning, I was able to make my own transition to becoming a product marketer.
As time went on, I began to get this question more and more, from marketers, management consultants, and MBA graduates. But I’ve also gotten the question from people of diverse business backgrounds, including fellow brother and sister marketers (e.g., CPG brand managers, digital marketers, and content marketers), as well as professionals with other functions and roles (sales, customer success, etc.).
In this article, I’m going to share examples of how to transition into a product marketing role and how a diverse group of current product marketers made the transition. I will also provide actionable tips on how you can transition into a product marketing career.
Common transitions to product marketing
The following are real examples of how people have transitioned into Product Marketing roles. While this list is by no means exhaustive (there are lots of ways!), it presents many of the ways it can be done.
1. Client Services to Product Marketing
Direct Relevant Experience to PMM: Product usage and adoption, understanding customer feedback, cross-functional stakeholder of PMMs, knowledge of “post-sale” sales process.
Saad Asad was the first marketing hire for a startup before he rose through the ranks to become Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Utmost. But prior to his hire, Asad was able to make the transition into Product Marketing from a Client Service Role.
“Previously, I worked in Client Services at a startup. In this role, I was focused on helping people learn how to use and adopt the software, managing accounts for renewals, and identifying upsell opportunities.”
In this customer-facing role, Asad gained important customer-facing skills that would eventually prove critical to becoming a product marketer. “PMMs have to know about the customer, inside and out, and I was working with customers everyday. I knew the exact pain points of our customers as well as valuable insights about how they interacted and engaged with the product, all important things PMMs need to know.”
After the transition from Client Services to Product Marketing, Asad was able to gain additional skills that rounded out his PMM experience, including product and feature launches, managing customer events, and writing content.
In terms of advice, Asad encourages those who want to transition into product marketing to talk to marketing leadership at your existing company and see how you can help out on side projects. He also encourages people to learn the core Product Marketing tasks and deliverables. “Learning this in a safe space can help set you up for a switch internally, which is easier than changing from a completely different role at another company or industry,” Asad said.
The Takeaway: If you’re coming from client services, lean into your knowledge of working with customers, know their pain points, and gain cross-functional knowledge of working with marketing to provide customer feedback.
2. Sales to Product Marketing
Direct Relevant Experience to PMM: Sales Enablement and Training, Product Positioning, Customer Feedback, Core Stakeholder of PMM.
After spending a few years in sports and event marketing, a guy we'll call 'Kirk' went and got his MBA. He held a Brand Management Internship before moving into a career in sales in the software industry. After a few years of sales experience, Kirk was eager to flex more of his creative and strategic muscles. “I really enjoy thinking strategically and writing, and I was looking for a role that would allow me to do it. After a handful of informational interviews with colleagues within his company and from his undergraduate and MBA networks, Kirk knew that Product Marketing was a great fit.
As someone who worked in Sales, Kirk quickly learned that his skillset was valuable to a lot of Product Marketing teams. “Since Account Executives are a core stakeholder of Product Marketers, I learned I could use my experience in Sales as a way to position myself for product marketing roles,” Kirk said.
Product Marketers regularly work with Account Executives on activities like sales enablement, product training, and getting customer or market feedback. During his interviews, Kirk was able to really hone his pitch. “I talked about how I could add value to the team by being the test for anything we put in front of sales or account executives, and how I could apply that knowledge to let them know what might work and what would fall flat,” Kirk said. That pitch resonated with a number of teams, and eventually Kirk found a role.
Finally, while Kirk did network externally with Product Marketers at other companies, Kirk did focus most of his efforts on internal roles. “While I enjoyed the company I was working at and wanted to stay, I realized that because I was making a role/function transition, that would be easier to do by staying within my company.”
The Takeaway: If you’re coming from sales, lean into the fact that being a stakeholder of PMMs is a valuable asset and strength.
3. Product Manager to Product Marketer
Relevant Experience to PMM: Managing the Product Roadmap, Writing Messaging and Positioning Statements, Building Products, Cross-functional Experience, General Communication
As a risk-taker and curious individual, Rene Hardtke, Sr. Director of Product Marketing at Integrate has always followed her interests and curiosity. This has allowed her to build a career with multiple stops along the way in roles in technical writing, communications, and product management.
After managing a series of features in a product roadmap and leading an agile development team, Hardtke yet again saw her next challenge presented in a product marketing role, and made the transition to Product Marketing. Given her stint in Product Management, this felt like a natural transition. Afterall, some of Hardke’s existing skills prepared her for such a role. Her ability to communicate effectively, through multiple mediums and with multiple audiences, made her a great fit for a transition into product marketing. “I can’t put enough emphasis on the value of good communication, both written and verbal. From writing messaging and positioning to internal negotiations, a PMM who can effectively communicate is set up for success,” Hardtke said.
In terms of advice to people who want to transition into Product Marketing, Hardtke encouraged people to follow their interests and curiosity, even if they don’t yet have the title. “Product marketing is a quickly evolving role,” Hardtke went on to add.
The Takeaway: Product Managers work hand-in-hand with Product Marketers and have an intimate understanding of the Product Roadmap.
4. MBA to Product Marketing
Product Marketing is starting to become a popular Post-MBA path for MBA graduates. Prior to getting her MBA from Babson College, Priyanka Tiwari, Director of Product Marketing at Interactions LLC was a software developer and embedded systems engineer for a cloud storage company. Wanting a career change, Tiwari went to get her MBA, but she wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted to do. To find this role, like many, Tiwari did many informational interviews with people in jobs she was interested in at companies she was interested in. “During these conversations, there were no expectations, just a chance for me to learn about what they were doing, and demonstrate my interest in PMM,” Tiwari said.
Networking and informational interviewing paid off, and Tiwari landed a PMM role after graduating from business school at a cloud storage company, the same industry that she previously worked in, but in her newly desired role. “I encourage people to change one thing at a time when they are making a career transition. When I took my first PMM role in the same exact industry I was in pre-MBA, it helped me ease into the transition, and it certainly was a great value add to the company I was working at because they were confident in my past experience,” Tiwari said. “I still very much use my technical skill set that I developed as a software developer. Your old strengths still matter, so don’t forget that they exist.”
Erin Nevruz, Principal Product Marketing Manager at Celigo who transitioned into the PMM role after business school, agrees. “In addition to my MBA, my past experiences in Marketing Analytics and on the agency side were valuable to positioning myself for a Product Marketing role,” Nevruz said. Previously, Nevruz gained experience with cross-functional marketing initiatives such as market size, pricing, competitive intelligence, and demand generation, all of which gave her exposure to the work outputs as well as to the many of the stakeholders that work with product marketers. “Product Marketing tends to be a strategic role, which requires a comprehensive understanding of many facets of marketing. My MBA helped me augment my past experiences to make me a good candidate for Product Marketing roles,” Nevruz said. In terms of making the transition, one decision that Nevruz made (and what helped) was choosing an industry that she had expertise in. “This gave me direct expertise and specific experiences to draw on during my interviews, and I think this ultimately helped me land a position” Nervuz said.
The Takeaway: Business School can be a great way to pivot to Product Marketing. Make sure to leverage your past experiences, skills, and strengths, and to identify roles and opportunities that you are interested in, but that represent the right amount of change from your previous role or experience. (not too much!).
5. Content Marketing to Product Marketing
Direct Relevant Experience: Content, Messaging, Positioning, Enablement, and Campaigns
Tom Banks started off his career in content as an SEO copywriter and moved to an inbound and digital consulting role. He then started working in digital marketing and focusing on lead-gen and sales enablement. But over time, Tom proactively went out of his way to work on projects with the Product and Engineering team, and over time he built up credibility and trust. “As a marketer, I always made it my business to know my product inside and out, regardless of my role. This enabled me to work on product and engineering related projects, and use my skills of messaging and lead gen to work more closely with product,” Banks went on to add.
Eventually, Banks was contacted by a headhunter for a digital marketing role, but he let the recruiter know that he was interested in Product Marketing roles. A few months later a role opened up and Tom transitioned.
Tom contends that “most marketers have done some form of product marketing, even if they have not worked in an official product marketing capacity. Since most marketers have worked on campaigns, messaging and positioning and slide decks, personas, etc., you already have a decent base.” The other skill that Tom mentioned was customer empathy, which isn’t just for marketers. “In a prior life to my marketing career, I worked in hospitality management. And whilst this probably doesn’t have any direct transferable skills, I think it helped instill my laser focus on customers and the customer experience. I tend to take that picture of the customer being immediately in front of me into everything I do. I think this is at the heart of product marketing.”
The Takeaway: If you’re coming from a content background, lean on your ability to create compelling content, messaging, positioning, and any of your knowledge about the audience/buyer that you create content for.
6. Management Consulting to Product Marketing
Direct Relevant PMM Skills: Training and enablement, presentation and storytelling, customer empathy, market and industry insights
After spending 5.5 years as a management consultant, I was ready to make a career transition into a new field and opportunity. Like many others, I took some time to understand my unique strengths, the projects I liked working on, and the skills I liked using. I looked out for opportunities that might be a good fit. After talking with numerous people in the industry, I landed on Product Marketing.
While I knew this was a career transition and that I was going to have to be crystal clear on demonstrating my value since I didn’t have the PMM title as a management consultant, I had a core set of skills that I knew could be valuable in a PMM role. I made sure to 1) target specific types of companies where I could leverage this expertise, and 2) really drill into specific examples of how I demonstrated skills that PMMs use. Many of the companies I targeted I had either done client work for or had collaborated with in some capacity, and I had direct experience with the two specific verticals I targeted (HR Software and CRM Software). I had experience with the respective buyer and end user of those products. I could easily articulate the challenges, business drivers, and desired outcomes. However, I lacked direct experience working with sales, and I was a little unsure about some of the other PMM skills (e.g., Product Roadmap). So, I made sure to probe those further during informational interviews. In advance of interviews I made sure to prepare a few stories that I could use if I had to answer questions about those topics.
In the end, I landed a Product Marketing role at a Software company that had a direct relationship with my previous employer. In addition to focusing on telling a compelling story about my transferable skills, I made sure to have specific examples of how I had done very similar things to what a PMM did, but just in a slightly different way. Between the transferable skills and similar deliverables, as well as demonstrating my abilities through the interview process, it was enough to make the switch to Product Marketing.
The Takeaway: You need to be thoughtful and intentional about the story you tell, as well as the companies you choose to apply to.
Tips for transitioning into a product marketing role
So how can you make the move? Here are some tips, based on my conversations with the above-mentioned PMMs.
Internal transfers can help ease the transition
If you already work at a company in a Product Marketing function, this can be the best spot to make a transition into Product Marketing, and bonus points if you already are working with this team. Start by building relationships with the Product Marketing team, getting to know them and building trust, just like Kirk did as he was able to transition from Sales to Product Marketing.
Build skills through extra projects
Whether you are trying to transfer internally or externally, build on your current set of core strengths by taking on additional projects to grow your Product Marketing skills. Jeff Hardison, who made the transition from online advertising and email marketing to Product Marketing, says, “There’s so much work to be done, whether it’s customer research, market analysis, studying in-app usage or product usage data, that we can all use any help we can get.” Some tactical examples include the following:
- If you’re in Customer Success, offer to conduct some win/loss analysis with customers.
- If you’re in P/R, offer to draft some positioning/messaging for a new product.
Ali Zelisko, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Stella Connect transitioned from Customer Marketing as a result of having strong writing skills and a strong voice for customer service, also echoed something similar. “For example, if there is a large product launch at your company, see if there are any opportunities to take on more ‘stretch projects,’ or try and be the point person on your current team for the product launch.” Case in point: when Zelisko was in a different role, to illustrate her PMM skills, she helped the Product Marketing team develop the sales enablement training for the product launch, even though it wasn’t in her scope of responsibilities.
Whether it’s finding a way to participate in a product launch, helping produce content such as blogs, ebooks, or webinars, or pitching in to help with sales enablement content, getting these types of projects can help you evolve your skill set and give you something to talk about in an interview.
Build skills through a portfolio
If you can’t build skills in your current job, no sweat! Build your portfolio by finding ways to work on projects that demonstrate PMM skills outside of work. If you aren’t sure what to build, start by understanding some of the common Product Marketing deliverables or outputs. See how you can replicate them in your own portfolio. For example, PMMs often have to create content, such as blogs, whitepapers, and ebooks. So, how can you do the same thing in your own portfolio? In addition to building PMM skills, you also have something you can put on your resume and talk about during your upcoming interviews!
Laser in on your strengths
It’s a given that everyone has both strengths and weaknesses. Your job is to figure out what strengths you have and how they can be positioned within the context of a Product Marketing role. Maybe you’re like Kirk, and you can build really compelling presentations and stories. Maybe you’re like Asad, and after working in customer success, you can pinpoint customer challenges from a brief conversation. Or maybe you’re like me, and you know the market and industry better than anyone else. Your job is to figure out your superpower and make the case for why it will make you a great PMM. To do this, you need to do two things. First, know your superpower! Start by reflecting on where you’ve done your best work and what skills you used to do that work. The second is to know what a PMM does and what skills they use. This knowledge can be gained from informational interviews and learning the role. Once you know both of these two key elements, you will have a clearer vision about how and why you’re a good fit for a PMM position.
After his startup was acquired by a larger company, Jeff Hardison, VP of Growth at Grain, was asked to lead Product Marketing by the CMO for the new division. Although he had never been a PMM, Hardison knew that he had relevant skills. Hardison explained, “In previous marketing roles, I’d managed things like online advertising, lifecycle marketing, and content development. I realized that in those roles I’d enjoyed research, strategy, and writing, all things PMMs should know how to do.” Using these foundational PMM skills, Hardison was able to successfully transition into this new PMM role.
Get to know how the products work
After working as a copywriter and digital marketing specialist, Tom Banks was able to make the transition into PMM. He credits his deep awareness of products. “As a marketer, I always made it my business to know the product inside and out, regardless of my function or role,” Banks said. In each of his roles, Banks has made an effort to understand the product, use cases, and common customer pain points. Banks went on to add, “As a result of this, I was able to find more opportunities to engage with product managers, which helped me transition into a PMM role.” If you’re working for an existing technology company then this is a great place to start.
Don’t change too much
As a rule of thumb, the more factors you want to change usually means the more you’ll have to work to make that change. For example, if you’re trying to change the role, industry, and company, that is probably going to be more challenging than just changing the role (e.g., just staying with the company). Take Tiwari’s advice by trying not to change too much at once.” In my first PMM role, I stayed within the same industry I had previously worked in. Getting out of my comfort zone one step at a time helped me make the transition, but it also helped me position myself successfully in the recruiting process.” Now, Tiwari is on her 2nd PMM role, and in this role she was able to make more changes, but that happened because she had a solid PMM base skill set, something she previously lacked.
One way to build PMM skills and get noticed is to take it upon yourself to help in the process. Banks encourages all those interested to participate whenever possible in anything, whether it’s a beta test or a product launch. Banks gives great advice: “Ask questions and talk to your product managers or engineers. The chances are, if you are asking questions about the product, that customers might eventually be asking as well, which means that they’ll have to figure out how to update the messaging and teach sales how to address it.” What you are doing can not only give you good experience, but also add significant value.
There are many different paths to Product Marketing, and as an evolving role, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Using these tips and following these stories can give you some ideas about how you can make your own move. The rest is up you!