In this article, I want to talk about how to build a portfolio marketing team that spans product, industry, and solutions - the next PMM evolution.
I’ll discuss the evolution of product marketing over the past decade, the importance of simplicity and good storytelling, share my own experiences building the portfolio marketing team within my organization, delve into role clarity, and finish off my touching on PMM career growth and some mechanisms to help.
My name's Div Manickam, and in this article, I'm going to talk about how to build a product marketing team and also share a little bit about the evolution of product marketing over the past decade.
First and foremost, I'll be talking a little bit about how product marketing has evolved, and to start that, I'll go with an introduction.
Product, sales, & marketing objectives
Then I'll talk a little bit more about the pieces, so if you think about the product, sales, and marketing objectives.
Role clarity & OKRs
Next, I'll go into the actual meat, which is about role clarity. Oftentimes, as product marketers, we are challenged to better understand what is it that product marketers do, and what is it that the rest of the product organization or the marketing organization does?
We can do that best with OKRs and so I'll talk a little bit about that.
PMM career growth
To wrap it up, I'll also give you a flavor of what a PMM career growth would look like, and some mechanisms to help you in that career growth.
The importance of simplicity
One of the biggest things that I have learned in product marketing and this is more trial by fire I would say is that simplicity is the first and foremost thing. If we cannot understand the product or the capabilities enough, then we cannot explain it simply.
I think about simplicity as the big mantra to hold us as product marketers to our key traits, whether it's perfection, or making sure that we are delivering the right message to the right audience.
Values & beliefs
I have three principles that have helped me as my values and beliefs.
The first is as product marketers, we have to inspire. Most of the time as product marketers, we don't really have the resources or the bandwidth or the money or the budget at times, but we have to inspire everyone around us to be passionate about what we would like to achieve and have shared goals.
Trust and credibility have been always critical for making sure that we respect and trust each other irrespective of level.
The second piece is around influence. This comes from Extreme Ownership, we own what we do - the good, the bad, and the ugly. We're accountable to each other so it's not saying 'product marketing did X and team Y didn't do what they were supposed to do', it's owning the end to end.
We as product marketers are proud to take that end to end thread and be the ones to tie those pieces together.
Last but not least, is all about impact. Think about results and relationships - how do you bring team recognition together? Because at the end of the day, whether you're a product marketing team of one or a team of 10, you are one team and so we win or lose together.
These values and beliefs have helped me grow in my own product marketing career, and have helped me to build and empower a team of mindful, passionate, and amazing high performing product marketers in my organization.
For me, when I think about what product marketing is, and what got me into product marketing, I take it as the rule of thirds.
The first part of me is all about continuous learning. I've been very fortunate, and I thank my parents every day for the education and the recognition that I was given that education is critical to my success.
The second part is about winning together. When I think about winning together, it's my first career after my MBA, my internship, or my other respective jobs that I've had, where every opportunity wasn't just about completing a project, it was about the team coming together and winning together.
Fortunately last year, I was also recognized by my alma mater, Cal State East Bay, I was also given an opportunity to contribute to the Forbes communication Council and also recognized by the PMA. Thank you, PMA community, you have been a godsend to help us actually put the place for all product marketers together, I cannot thank you enough.
Explore, dream, discover
Last but not least, I am a true traveler. In my rule of thirds, the third piece of me if you're looking for me as a full piece is traveling, it's what holds me true. I get to explore different neighborhoods, I get to explore different perspectives and that has been an integral part of everything that I do.
It gives me a new lens into things I've never thought of before. I would say embracing uncertainty, traveling, food, motivational quotes - all that gets me excited every day.
Find your Ikigai: the purpose of life
I started off last year talking about Ikigai and the purpose of life. When you think about Ikigai, ‘Icki’ stands for life and ‘gai’ stands for worth.
If you are in search of finding your own true Ikigai, there's a lot of content that helps you find it but at the same time, I think the calling comes from within. It's about finding what you are most passionate about, what drives you to wake up from bed every morning. I think that in its essence, would be your Ikigai. I implore you to go find your own.
The evolution of product marketing
Now I want to talk a little bit about the evolution of product marketing and where we are and where we are seeing product marketing going forward.
Buyer journey reimagined: the art of storytelling
Everybody knows about a good buyer journey, you can think about a buyer journey from the funnel, think about awareness, consideration, decision, you can think about the flywheel. Irrespective of how you look at it, I like to put it in simple terms - discover, learn, try, buy, and advocate.
These are different phases of the buyer journey and each buyer has their own perspective of when they're coming and what content they would like to achieve, or receive from you as an organization or as a product. It's important for us to make sure we are there when they need us.
What’s in a memorable story?
When I think about a memorable story, I usually go back to Simon Sinek’s’ Start with why' - that story is the story that I will always hold near and dear to my heart, because it has helped me realize what the value of a big memorable story is.
It wasn't his presentation or how he said it - yes, maybe that also had a part - but the reality is, it had a start, it had a middle, and it had an end.
When you think about a start, it's that start which is going to make someone think, 'Oh, I want to read more. I want to know more about this'. That's your discover and learn phase.
When you think about the middle it's gaining that trust and credibility. There are millions of products out there, why should I go with you? That's the try and buy phase.
Oftentimes, as product marketers, we are either engaged in that awareness phase, making sure we are helping the lead gen pipeline, or we are in the try and buy phase, helping with demos, and competitive intelligence, and analyst reports, and all that good stuff.
But then, our work as product marketers is only complete when we actually contribute to the end, which is finding your true storyteller, your advocates, we love to hear a good customer story.
It doesn't matter what messaging or positioning we work as product marketers, but when you hear it from a customer, when you hear their perspective, it's night and day. I always encourage everybody to find their advocates - have advocacy programs within your organization if you can.
Portfolio marketing (product, industry, and solutions)
Now I want to talk a little bit about those scenarios. When you think about portfolio marketing, this is some of the work that we did that helped us crystalize what our charter is and what our mission is.
When we started as product marketing, we were a team of a few folks and we grew quickly from four people to 12 people in 18 months. That growth meant we needed a structure, we needed to make sure we were prioritizing our team members’ efforts in the right places.
Our PMM team is the voice of the market who listens to buyer needs and delivers that insight across the organization. It's us being that audience-centric buyer journey advocate, we are the evangelists within.
Now, when you look at that structure then portfolio messaging kind of sits at the center, we are integral to the marketing organization, we're integral to the product organization, to sales, to support, to design, to customer success, to professional services.
There isn't a team that I haven't worked with in my prior experiences and primarily because of how central our role is. Whether we are launching a new product, whether we are launching a new platform story or a new message, all of that needs to penetrate all the way throughout the organization.
We become the voice of the customer, the voice of the market for that purpose itself.
Disciplines - data-driven
I like to think of it as five disciplines, and they all need to be data-driven.
First and foremost think about portfolio messaging and product positioning. Yes, we often think that as product marketers, we only have one product or two products to support. But the reality is, and even the state of product marketing report states this, at least five products.
There are even PMMs where they have more than two or three products that they themselves are owning. That's a lot to take in.
But at the same time, how are we prioritizing our efforts?
- Are we looking at our product/solution launches?
- Are we looking at the buyer persona?
- Audience growth?
- Competitive intelligence?
- Market presence?
- Analysts and media engagements?
- Are we bringing all of this together to drive what?
- The platform adoption, solution adoption, or industry growth?
If you answer those questions, I think it'll give you a better crystallized idea of where product marketing needs to spend their time and energy.
The reality is, as you define those disciplines, you will have parallels and team interlocks or process interlocks, for example, you'll be working closely with the product management and solutions teams to drive the roadmap and release highlights.
To be part of those conversations not as an afterthought, to be part of the integrated marketing campaigns with the demand generation team, to be part of the content and editorial team to drive content development, whether it's your assets, your webpages, demos, videos, you name it.
You also have analyst and media relations, customer advocacy, global sales enablement, sales engineering, biz ops, sales ops, all of these important because these are all cross-functional initiatives, and perfect for a product marketer to pick up and run end to end.
That's what we do. We are the advocates from the start to the finish and beyond sometimes. If we broke that down into five functions, then it's as follows:
Buyer personas and insights
If we don't know who our buyer is, and if we don't have journey maps, then it really doesn't matter what else you're doing in the organization. Because we still don't understand who we're selling to.
Portfolio messaging and positioning
This is crafting your proposition, finding out what your narrative elements are, how do you want to tell your story? Because at the end of the day, it's all a story. If your story is not memorable, and your value proposition is very technical and very high, then it's very difficult for the rest of the market to take that story and run with it.
So we had actually simplified our story from an integration player into a platform story and that shift helped us to rethink how we talk about our product and how we talk about our platform as a whole.
Bringing offerings to market
These are your launches, every launch needs to be integrated with the campaign. There needs to be a plan and these plans are not just about, 'Hey, I'm launching something so all the momentum is for the launch date'.
No, your momentum needs to be before launch, on the launch date, and after launch, because you should be tracking your launch activities to see how you're progressing.
Finding the right segments, prioritizing the right segments, because you can have a grand plan with going after many segments, but if you don't prioritize it right, you might be in the wrong segment at the wrong time.
Sales/partner knowledge transfer
Think about the sales plays that you're working on, the messaging and content you're building, any enablement that you're delivering across sales, customer success, biz dev teams, this is all crucial for the portfolio marketing team to be successful, and for the company as a whole to be successful.
Objectives and goals planning
What questions would you ask as you go through this effort? One of the questions that we had asked was if our focus area is around cross-functional efforts across product, sales, and marketing, for driving that platform adoption, for advocating for the market, and the customer, then how do we do that?
Yes, we know we need to be data-driven, we need to hear the market and share the market voice, we need to be persona-led, we get all of that, but how do we start?
Our first step was let's actually identify:
- What are the business objectives?
- What is the growth plan for the organization?
- Are we an early-stage startup?
- Are we in the growth phase of the startup?
- Are we already a mature company?
Depending on where you are in your growth strategy, you can define where the priorities are.
Product, sales, and marketing goals
Sometimes the priorities can be we're looking for customer lifetime value so it's all about platform adoption, it's all about bringing new solution offerings.
Average deal size
We can talk about average deal size because sometimes that shows that the company is growing.
If you have a deal size today of 50K and then you grow it to 200K, then that's good traction to see. That means you're going after new markets, you're going after new industries. Then you could possibly be moving from an SMB mid-market to the enterprise.
That means you're going after new buyer personas, penetrating into new partner ecosystems, the GSIs, the SIs, the OEMs, and ISVs. That's all great.
That gives us as product marketers, the leverage we need to move. If you're prioritizing customer lifetime value, then what are we measuring? Apart from revenue growth, attach rate perhaps?
If you're thinking about new solutions, are we looking at the revenue numbers? Are we looking at the number of customers that we are increasing?
If it is average deal size, what are we measuring against is it market share?
And then if it is enterprise, then let's look at those buyer personas, are we increasing audience growth? Are we evangelizing across top partners? All that prioritization will make sure the company as a whole is focused on the same priorities and the same goals.
Then it becomes easier for us as product marketers to take that message, and then go forward, "Okay, let's talk about resource planning. We have platforms, solutions, industry, services, we have different segments, we have different audiences we are going after, how do we want to measure success?"
This has been one of the challenges that product marketers have because the reality is what we do is 10% ours and 80% some other teams and then 10% other stakeholders involved in.
Success metrics/key results
So we need to make sure we are measuring success how we influence PQLs, so think about product-led growth:
- Are we looking at segment growth?
- Are we thinking about adoption?
- Are we thinking about efficiency?
- Pipeline volume, velocity, deal size?
All of these questions will make sure you're prioritizing the right approach.
Our team when we looked at our growth, we started off in 2015 as a team of one. When I joined the company, we were a team of three, only to realize that our growth was accelerating so we had two product marketers, and we have one solution industry marketer.
Then we grew it to have three product marketers and two solution and industry marketers, then we realised this conundrum where we were like, "Oh, are we totally product focused? Or do we want to be solution focused?" So we combined our team name to say product and solutions marketing.
Now, every time we added new team members, it didn't mean that we were gonna keep adding their roles and functions into our name. We wanted to make sure we were strategic in how we positioned ourselves.
We were struggling with explaining whether we were a product or we were marketing and so we would get random requests, "hey, I have a presentation I need your help with can you pretty it up? Oh, you're part of the product, can you help present to an analyst?" These questions and requests came from all spectrums.
We got to a point where we needed to be strategic and help the company understand what value we brought for the organisation. We quickly pivoted to say, actually, what we do is portfolio marketing and as part of that, that includes product, industry and solutions.
Then we also brought in competitive intelligence, because we started seeing a need as the market was evolving, because we initially had five vendors in the market five years ago and then we started seeing 100 vendors in that same market.
So as competition became more and more important, we brought that into the product marketing portfolio. Then we also dedicated an individual from enterprise, we knew that this was something you'll have to continue to build momentum on.
Eventually, in 2019, we had seven people across product, solution, and industry. So there were team members, where they either had a product and solution or they had a product and industry. Depending on the products capabilities, we had those decided.
Then we had two dedicated team members for competitive intelligence. This was important because there was more and more need for it. We had one individual for launch and one individual for product evangelism, and one for enterprise.
The team grew to support the market needs, to support the business needs, and then in 2020, we had a reorganization of how we wanted to restructure different teams across product and marketing and we had four team members move into the go-to-market team that was created within marketing.
That shift led to our team being more product centric, and more focused.
I'm telling you all of this to give you a flavor of as your company grows, how is the product marketing team growing?
When I started in 2016, just to give you a frame of reference, we were 200 to 300 employees. Let's just take 300 for a number. When we grew to 2019, I think we closed 2019 around 1000. That's a good frame of reference of how quickly the company is growing and how quickly your product marketing team is growing.
Sometimes the number of team members is not where the essence is, the essence is in making sure you're focusing on the right priority.
When I think about role clarity, these were some of the questions that we had as a team and we wanted to make sure we had a better understanding of where we bring different stakeholders across the organization. Just to get alignment, sometimes it's just that - having good alignment.
Who, what, why, where, how, & when
Crayon had this good article talking about the who, what, why, where, how and when. When you think about this, it gives you clarity on how you want to structure the conversation.
Corporate marketing vs. product marketing
The responsibility of who
If you're thinking about the who, which is your buyer persona, that owner is product marketing.
The responsibility of what
If you're thinking about the what, that's the messaging, positioning, and content marketing, then you have two owners you have product marketing and corporate marketing.
Sometimes the reality is product marketing does all these things and then eventually, there are other teams that are being built within marketing to take on these responsibilities. Find out what is important and where your function is growing within the company.
The responsibility of where
Then think about the different aspects of how we look at that structure. Where is the responsibility? If you think about events, yes, as product marketers, I have been in the booth floor, actually showcasing demos and presentations, actually trying out the new pitches and new narratives and positioning, those are perfect times to find out how you want to tell that story.
But then, the corporate marketing team, the events team are the ones who are going to help us with finding the right audiences, making sure we have the right placements on those target markets.
The responsibility of when
When you think about when, that's also functionality for corporate marketing, based on my experience. These things can go left or right. Think about demand generation, think about social media, we can help with the story or the message, guide them, but then at the end of the day, it's the demand generation and the social media team that is helping take that message and making sure it's reaching the right buyers at the right time.
The responsibility of why
When you think about why, this is the product and solution launches. Understanding your buyer needs, are we targeting the right buyers? Making sure our buyers care about the message that we're talking about.
The responsibility of how
The last piece is your how. Think about your corporate marketing, the demand generation function, how to target the market, when you should reach them, think about your email, your paid ads, account based marketing, all of the good stuff.
This is a good framework to think about it. Now, let's go into a visual representation of this.
If I look at portfolio marketing, and the different functions within marketing, this is a quick representation of that structure.
Roles & responsibilities
The next piece that I do want to talk about is there are different teams but at the same time, you also have different roles and responsibilities. How do you break down the roles and responsibilities?
When I think about roles and responsibility, I use a simple RACI method where you have responsibility, contribute, and inform. I've gotten rid of some of the others.
But the reality is, we need that clarity to make sure we are positioning ourselves for our team success, and also helping educate the rest of the company on where we can help.
When we talk about priorities, this is one of the big drivers for us to make sure we are positioning ourselves correctly. Instead of talking about product marketing, or portfolio marketing, irrespective of whether you sit within the marketing function, or the product organization, our renaming to portfolio messaging was important because 90% of our time, our priority is messaging and positioning.
If we can do that job well, then great, then it's an opportunity for us to focus on the rest of the things, whether it's your product launches, your collateral, customer market research, all of the good stuff.
But the other function that was important for us and a big driver was to understand who do we work closely with? This report from the Product Marketing Alliance helped us to better get a sense of 90% of our efforts and time goes working with the product organization.
It was a clear validation for us to better be part of the product organization and have close alignment with our product management team. And then we work closely with marketing, with sales, with customer success, with business development and the rest of the organization, and in that order.
There was a better sense of how do we serve our stakeholders and at what frequency do we serve our stakeholders? Because we cannot be everywhere at the same time.
The second piece that we also did was write down a simple charter. How do we position ourselves? And where do we come in?
- We had platforms and services, this talked about our product expertise, driving the adoption of the platform.
- We talked about our industry and verticals, or horizontals, if you will - the use cases, which industries do we want to go after and why?
- We talked about new markets, whether it's enterprise or mid-market, depending on where you are in your own customer journey.
- Then making sure you're positioning yourselves in the emerging technologies, these are your forward looking market opportunities, make sure the company has a voice and is represented through these emerging technologies.
- We had competitive intelligence, building battle cards for our tier one competition. Like I mentioned, we had over 100 vendors in this market space. How do we make sure we are focusing on the right ones?
You can leverage some of the Gartner, Forrester quadrants or waves, but at the same time, as a company have a conversation, are the five that are in the top left of the quadrant the most important ones you want to go after? Are we focusing on the right ones? Are we working towards going higher up or working towards competing with those that are price sensitive? Different combinations. Understanding that is important.
- The last piece was around solutions. Having the solution accelerators, a partner ecosystem built on efforts were critical for our success.
Let's actually talk a little bit about MEDDPICC, because MEDDPICC was important for us as a business. It helped us tie our conversations within product and marketing into conversations that sales were having and that's why I think of this as an interlock.
Think about product, sales, and marketing as three stools, all three need to be logged in the same priorities and goals otherwise, it doesn't matter what we are doing.
We looked at MEDDPICC as the methodology for sales and this helped us have the common language.
- Economic buyer, the one that has the power to say yes or no.
- Your indication of pain, these are your pain points.
- Who are your champions in the company?
- Then who the competition is.
These four were critical for making sure product marketing had the right input and had the right output. This became a part of our organizational outcome.
OKRs - objectives and key results
To top it all off, it was important for us to communicate how we executed on some of these initiatives. We had our own OKRs, the objectives and key results.
If you have not visited already, I definitely highly encourage everyone to take a look at John Doerr's TED Talk, 'why the secret to success is setting the right goals'. This helped us to position ourselves as product marketers, but at the same time also gave us the lever of how do we want to talk about ourselves?
We want to be market driven and persona-led, we need to adapt to market needs and drive agility and velocity. To do those three things, we had three core OKRs.
The first was aligned with the customer, the second was aligned with the employee, and the third was aligned with the business. We covered all three grounds.
Align with the customer
To align with the customer this is around increasing awareness, demand share, voice with focused integrated marketing programs.
Previously, we had programs that were tied to different assets and this gave us an opportunity to actually have structured marketing programs every quarter.
We had stakeholders across product, sales, and marketing coming together agreeing on what are the programs that we want to run, campaigns we want to run, and then moving forward from there.
Align with the employee
The second was making sure that we were all one team, irrespective of whether you're in product, sales, and marketing, and that engagement was important for us.
Align with the business
The third was simplifying our platform positioning because we were going after a new market. This was aligned with the business priorities and so we had our key results from making sure we have sales certification to making sure we have the right persona, architects in our portfolio that are actually consuming our content, and:
- How do we make sure we accelerate that audience growth?
- How do we make sure we have the right products and capably showcase at the right time?
So making sure product adoption was a priority for us.
Portfolio messaging dashboard
Now, all of these things helped us tell our story and build transparency across the company.
It wasn't a question of what is product marketing doing? It was a question of great, these are the priorities that you have as an organization, are my stakeholders objectives aligned with these and if they are not, then let's have a conversation.
It made things much more transparent and we actually had this on our wiki so everybody knew every quarter where our focus was and what we were achieving, by the end of the year. A great exercise to build that transparency and accountability at the same time.
This was more of a wishlist dashboard, I would say. We piloted some efforts more just brute force, where we brought in web page content, web page traffic data from Google Analytics, we brought in traffic data from blog posts all of that together to get a sense of what our top content is.
Because as product marketers, it was daunting for me, when I didn't know where we were spending our time and effort on. If you have a wish list, or if you have a dashboard that you would like to see, here are some recommendations or ideas on how you know what is working.
It could be a flavor of this, it could be different flavors.
PMM career growth - GROW model
If you think about, at the end of the day, you as product marketers are looking for your career growth. Your career growth starts with goals, reality, options, and what's next.
It's up to you to figure out where you want to go, how you want to accelerate it, but at the same time, this is a great model that I learned in 2018 that I have practised with my team and it has helped us open up with career conversations, which we typically would have at the end of the year during our performance review. That's definitely not the time to do it.
What’s your goal today?
We had quarterly cadences where every quarter we would start off with, what's the goal? Where do you want to go? This doesn't mean that it is a career growth conversation within your own team. It was a career conversation for where do you want to be in your career?
What’s going on?
Let's actually talk about the reality of when you're there, what are some options and how you can take it next. This is a great conversation to have every quarter, I highly recommended. It helped me actually go through some of our team members and talk about it in a simple color code - red, yellow, green.
Explore options and obstacles, align with objectives
Are we moving towards the green? Or are we at a red and we are stuck, and we don't know how to go forward? These conversations actually strengthened our team morals and team growth itself.
This is a beautiful quote, you might be thinking, 'oh, wow, I spent all this time in my career. I never knew about this tool, how do I benefit from it?'
You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.
I highly recommend everyone to take a look at it.