In episode 10 of the show, we caught up with Jeff Curie, Principal at The Curie Point, about everything from what drew him into the product marketing industry, the shifts he's seen in the last 20 years, the problems most CEOs face and how to get sales teams to understand the role and value of product marketing.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 0:00
Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Product Marketing Insider podcast brought to you by Product Marketing Alliance. My name’s Bryony Pearce and I’m the Content Manager here at PMA. To help establish and elevate the role of product marketing we’re on a mission to speak to 50 PMMs and pick their brains on everything from their journey into the industry, which teams they interact with most, what skills they believe are critical to the role, and a whole load more. To do just that, with me today is Jeff Curie, Principal at The Curie Point. Jeff’s been running The Curie Point since February 2019 and before that, he held Presidential, CEO and Board member level titles at Bitvore, was the VP of Marketing at SupplyFrame, and was the Chief Strategist for identity management at IBM. Anyway, enough from me, first off welcome to the show Jeff, and second off could I ask you to please give everyone a bit of an introduction to you, your role, and The Curie Point?
Jeff Curie 0:51
Sure. My name's Jeff Curie. I am in Southern California, and I've done product marketing or owned the Product Marketing function for several companies, all enterprise software startups and, you know, I'm really quite passionate about doing it and how I've evolved it over the years.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 1:12
And what's the company you're at right now?
Jeff Curie 1:14
So my current company is called The Curie Point and it is an advisory company helping other software companies kind of sort out this problem.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 1:26
And how long have you been there for?
Jeff Curie 1:28
I've been doing it for about nine months. Prior to that I was the CEO of a financial technology company here in Irvine, California.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 1:37
So when you were in the CEO role did you move away from the product marketing side of things or were you still quite hands on?
Jeff Curie 1:45
Well actually no, the company was founded with a technology in search of a market and so a big piece of my job was to figure out what was the market for that product and then to create a product-market fit, so I did all the product marketing.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 2:04
Okay, awesome, and then going back to when you first got into Product Marketing, what is it that drew you into the industry in the first place?
Jeff Curie 2:14
Well you know, at the time nobody called it Product Marketing and I was starting an entrepreneurial launch of a product within a consulting company and I actually met a fellow that kind of changed my life. He was a Procter & Gamble marketing person and I got him on board to help me sort out the marketing for this new product and he kind of exposed it to me about, hey, well, let's pick up the phone and let's call potential customers and learn what they need and what they call it, and what they would pay for it and if it's important, and that just opened my eyes to, 'oh wow, people will actually tell me if I call them' and from then on I've been helping other people through the same process. So many people don't realise that people want to share their opinion with you and they're happy to do it, but everybody's afraid to pick up the phone or contact these people and just ask them their opinions. And so I've been helping companies do that for almost 20 years and now it actually has a name, I don't think it was before six or seven years ago before people really started talking about product marketing being different than product management and marketing.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 3:35
So I guess have you seen a lot of shifts in what is now the product marketing industry since you started until kind of the present day?
Jeff Curie 3:42
Definitely, definitely, I think it's great. I mean the work that you guys are doing, pulling all that information together, I was a bit shocked actually when I joined your Slack channel and all these product marketing people asking all these great questions. I was like wow, my people.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 4:01
If only we had this 20 years ago!
Jeff Curie 4:03
Yeah, I know. There's great information out there, so I'm happy to help any way I can.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 4:09
And then, so how did you get into product marketing in the first place? And then what did your very first job look like day-to-day?
Jeff Curie 4:19
Well, I got into it because I was starting a new software company business and I was the general manager of it and I had one employee that worked for me, he was an engineer. And, you know, I had to figure out well, what what does this product need to do? And who's gonna buy it? I mean, I had to do all that from scratch and so it was just the necessity of figuring it out versus you know, guessing. And so I just kind of waded into it with the fella that helped me and just learned about it and then started talking to more and more people and so at that time we didn't even have I mean, as you're supposed to, we didn't have a product, we had an idea, and we had some background in the space and so we started off calling people and asking them these clever questions, so we thought, and hearing what they wanted and what they needed and what their jobs to be done were - even though people weren't using that term at the time either. And so that's that's just how it all went. From there, we never stopped and we never stopped talking to people because that was the gateway of course, what our sales plans look like and how we sold and how we priced and what the brochure said and what the sales demonstrations did, that was all based on those conversations with prospects.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 5:49
And would you say, so I guess from 20 years ago to now there'll be a lot that's changed in product marketing for the better, would you say there's been any changes for the worse?
Jeff Curie 6:02
No, I don't think so, I think there's still quite a few executive-level people that don't understand what product marketing is and where it fits. They still look at, you know, marketing, they say, well, it's marketing and marketing generally is just a cost centre and they don't really ever deliver anything. I see that all the time, which is still shocking to me, that people think, oh well, you know, marketing's job is to get a website up and a brochure and that's it. They don't even appreciate what product strategy and product marketing and all these kind of key functions are, they just think simply of, well, there's product management that's to keep track of all the requirements, you know, it's mostly an inward facing role. And there's Marcom which is well, what colour should the branding be and, you know, we need some brochures and they need to look good. If you've been through working with a company that actually does Product Marketing you realise, oh wow, marketing is a critical function, especially today where people do most of the research online. It's critical.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 7:20
Yeah. Um, and then in terms of your day-to-day, if there is such a thing as a standard day, what does that look like for you?
Jeff Curie 7:31
Yeah, so right now I help four different companies in various stages of finding product-market fit and growing their revenue. So my real focus is growing revenue. I don't really care where the problem is, is it sales? Is it marketing? Is it product? But at the end of the day, figuring that out. The vast majority of my clients problems stem from product marketing, they do not understand their positioning. So my day-to-day is often out talking to either people that are knowledgeable in their industry, talking to their customers, interviewing their employees, and kind of coalescing and condensing what their unique market position is and then the messaging that goes with it. And so often is the case where companies are in process, you know, they may be generating $8, $10, $12 million a year but their sales have started to flatten out and they're looking to understand why. You know, they thought they'd be billionaires by now, what happened? And it's often that they don't really understand the product marketing or not, they're not clearly positioned. They have gathered up the low hanging fruit in their market but they really need to re-segment their market, because there's some big incumbent and they need to manoeuvre around that incumbent and claim their own space. And so day-to-day, I spend a lot of time trying to figure that out for companies and mostly by interviewing people and doing a lot of research to help them understand it and really understand what their customers really want.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 9:25
And is this with companies just in California or is it kind of countrywide, globally or?
Jeff Curie 9:32
You know, I have a couple of customers that are not in California, but the vast majority are yeah, local to me. I spend face-to-face time with the CEOs usually trying to help them understand what's going on so you know, face-to-face is hard to beat when you're really trying to help a company with their strategy and their positioning because there's a lot of things they don't understand. And so it's getting them to understand why they need to look at the problem different and why they have hit a wall is a subtle thing and not easily done over a telephone.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 10:13
And do you find you have with your customers, is it a lot of the same kind of problems that you have to uncover before you can do what you're doing? Like, do a lot of people have the same misunderstandings?
Jeff Curie 10:26
Yes, they do. It's funny, a lot of CEOs are not professional CEOs, so all my clients are software companies, they're all B2B software companies, and the CEO's often someone who, in some cases, they came out of sales, but in most cases they were technical. And so they know about the problem because they were an expert in solving that problem and they maybe did it as a consultant or something like that and they kind of came upon this idea and built a product to do it, but what they don't understand is the soft skills - sales, marketing, product marketing. They don't understand how that works. So they're typically technical engineers and they just don't understand how the business machine works, and so I'll help companies understand how the sales funnels work, how to convert people through the funnels, how to segment and re-segment markets so that they can better position themselves as a leader in a blue ocean versus a red ocean, so to speak.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 11:39
And do you find they're quite receptive to that or do you get a bit of pushback at first when you're trying to talk them through these cycles?
Jeff Curie 11:46
Well, that's a great question. I have found that there are two kinds of people: coachable and not coachable. Those that are not coachable I tend to not help because they don't want to know. They may be scared, they don't want to make a decision, it may be that, you know, they're brilliant, self-declared brilliant and and then it's like, well, you don't need my help because you're not going to listen to it and I don't need to spend my time with you because it's all for not and it doesn't go anywhere. So that's really the key, whether they're coachable people that have really reached the point where they're like, look, I don't understand, I've gone through two VP of sales, I've gone through three VPs of Marketing and we're still not getting it. And then it's like okay, let me help you understand why, it's because no-one is really looking at what is it the market really wants and how do you position into that market? That's what it comes down to those fundamentals and a typical salesperson and often a marketing person, they really don't understand how to do that. That is product marketing.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 12:54
And then these two separate brackets of people, are they quite easy to identify early on in your conversations with them?
Jeff Curie 13:02
Yes, fairly easily. You can usually tell pretty quick what kind of person they are, what they're open to and how, I don't want to say it but it's like they've hit rock bottom, but they've gone searching for help, you know, they've reached the point where they're like, I need help, I don't understand this anymore. You know, I've tried and tried and I'm frustrated and often is the case, especially with the CEO, they can't really talk to the employees about that, and they can't really talk to investors about that, because, you know, they have to be somewhat invincible and confident at all times, and they can't go "I don't understand, why isn't this working?" and so you really have kind of a confidence kind of relationship where you're helping them and making them really smart, helping them do a great job, when they've kind of reached that point where it's like, 'gosh, I really don't know what to do here'. So yeah, they're usually pretty easy to spot.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 14:10
And so in terms of your current set-up now, is it just you doing your consultancy? Or do you have a team around you? Or what does that look like?
Jeff Curie 14:18
I do have some people that help me but mostly it's myself. I've found that with product marketing there are people with the right aptitude and skill to do it, but I don't know if it's easily just a training issue, you kind of have to be innately curious about something and figure it out. And I'm sure, you know, most people on this podcast who are product marketing people, they know that in the middle of a conversation you get that sense, it's like, wait a minute, wait, that's new information and you need to adapt at that moment and pursue it and figure out, wait, I found a nugget here. That's not a learned skill, that curiosity and business acumen that leads you.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 15:17
Yeah, it's just sort of engrained in isn't it, you can't teach that kind of thing.
Jeff Curie 15:20
I don't think so, I think there's a certain type of personality that is well suited to do it and others not. I have not tried to replicate my experience and skill in doing that, so mostly I do that myself. I mean, I will use people to help me document things and capture information and transcribe information and set-up meetings and things like that, but when it comes down to the actual trying to decode the positioning of a company, and how it should be done and the messaging, I tend to work that myself.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 15:54
Okay, awesome. So then I guess this next question is maybe less relevant to right now, but in previous positions where you've worked in product marketing teams in-house, how did you find the relationships with other teams like sales, product, operations? And who would you say you interacted with most?
Jeff Curie 16:15
So that's a great question. So I've always felt that product marketing's role is an outward facing role. So generally you can split everybody in a company into inward facing roles and outward facing roles. And so as an outward facing role Product Marketing is often working with sales because you're dealing with the customers and the prospects and they can help you get into the clients, and in the role of where Product Marketing often becomes an expert in a market and being that expert allows you to have very interesting conversations with clients. When sales people get over the hump of allowing someone else in to talk to their client, which a lot of them don't like that, you know, because they want to control the situation. But once they realise that you're an asset and that the customers open up and they reveal all this other information to a product marketing person that they don't to sales, then I find that you become one of the key assets to the sales team, right? So you become a critical factor where they take you into key deals because they want to be able to say, you know, "Hey, let me bring in an expert, they can tell you all about what's happening in the industry and they talk to people all the time" and then you become a great tool to sales. Probably the opposite is, you can often get into trouble with product management who often see their role as being product marketing because they can't really clearly differentiate the two, and so there's kind of a natural conflict there were it's like, wait a minute, that's my job to go out there and figure out what the customer requirements are. But in reality, most product management people are internal facing. And so, you know, a lot of companies that I've seen and people that I've worked with, one of the biggest failings is thinking that product management is that person who's going to gather the customer requirements, but yet, they don't like to go out and talk to customers. And so you have this "Yeah, but we know, we know what the customers need, we sat here in the conference room and we've discussed it and we've got this roadmap." And it's like yeah, but who validated that? Who asked the customer that? You know, product marketing people are like, well, I'll pick up the phone and call them and I'll find out, and product management people are like, well, I don't want to pick up the phone and calling them because I'm uncomfortable with that. So, you know, there is a little bit of conflict there and that really has to come down to someone being clear about these two roles and what product management does and what product marketing does. Marcom to some degree can get in that conflict, but usually marcom loves product marketing because they need that information, like I can't write this brochure, I can't finish it without this knowledge, and this knowledge comes out of product marketing.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 19:38
So I guess that kind of leads me onto my next question as well. So in terms of the roles of a product marketing manager and a product manager, do you think it's quite important that those lines are quite defined?
Jeff Curie 19:52
Yes, I do.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 19:56
So you mentioned as well about your relationship with sales teams and getting them to understand that you're an asset. What would your advice be? So if there's someone listening right now and they're constantly having headaches with their sales teams, what would your advice be to kind of make that transition to help them see you as an asset?
Jeff Curie 20:13
Well, I think product marketing people that want to be that asset need to be out presenting at conferences. And I think when you start becoming, and not Product Marketing conferences, but whatever industry you're in, you need to be a speaker. And because once you take the knowledge you've gained through Product Marketing work and you go out and you start sharing it as a thought leader and as an industry expert, and, you know, sharing the information kind of in an unbiased way, as we all know, unbiased to a degree, then sales people go, "Oh", they look at you very differently. They go, "Wow, okay, well, you're out there talking to people and my customers know you", and so then they have a great respect. The sales people don't want to stand up on stage and talk about things like that. But product, but that really puts a product marketing person in that spot of being an authority on the subject. And then I think that really opens things up where they say, "Hey, now you're now you're one of our MVPs, our most valuable players even though you're not in sales, you're like the heavy hitter. So come on, and let's talk to my senior client. And I want you to tell them what you're seeing going on in the industry right now". And then you've reached that point where now you're an authority, and people respect that and they want to hear it because you are kind of non biassed, and you're talking across dozens or hundreds of customers and what they're doing and everybody, like all the customers, love to hear that, "Oh, what am I doing that's different than everybody else? What am I doing better or worse than everybody else?" And a product marketing person has that perspective. So if they take that perspective and share it, it's a very powerful sales tool.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 22:06
Is that the kind of thing you've done yourself, have you ever spoke at those kind of industry events?
Jeff Curie 22:11
Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I enjoy doing that. I think, I don't know i've never seen any kind of research on it, but I think that product marketing people naturally, maybe it's not true but for myself, I'd love to be a teacher, because I like to share that information, I like to see people light up and go, "Oh, that makes so much sense. That's why this is happening." And sharing that information, being willing to stand up on a stage and present it at an industry conference, it's very valuable obviously to the company, but it is to sales and it is to the product marketing person because he who knows what the customer actually wants has the power. At the end of the day that that person is golden.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 23:04
You can tell I'm not a product marketer because the thought of that just fills me with absolute dread, getting on the stage I've had literal nightmares about those kinds of situations.
Jeff Curie 23:15
You know, you start small.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 23:17
People keep telling me this! Saying you need to start small and build your way up, but I don't even start small I just don't start ever.
Jeff Curie 23:27
I remember the first time I did it, and I talked really, really fast and I didn't take a breath, I just funnelled all this information at these people and then walked away. And I thought, well, that was pretty terrible. I was so nervous. But you know, after you do it 50 times, 100 times, 200 times, you get very comfortable with it.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 23:47
Yeah, that's my issue, I think I speak... I have to actively slow myself down when I speak in a normal conversation, so when I get nervous, I just get a motor mouth and I guess I'm a typical British very pale, so when I get nervous, my face just goes like to a level of red you've never seen before. Then I go even redder because I know I'm getting red and it's just a vicious cycle.
Jeff Curie 24:09
I think that's pretty common.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 24:11
Yeah. One day I'll throw myself out there. Um, okay, so next, what would you say the top three skills are that have helped you get where you are today?
Jeff Curie 24:25
Well, I think curiosity is definitely one of them. Curiosity about genuinely wanting to understand how customers work, and what they do and their businesses, I think is really, really important. I think it's really important that people understand how businesses work. So I find a lot of people don't really understand. If you look at the business model canvas, the idea of the business model canvas by Osterwalder, and if you're familiar with that the books called Business Model Generation, that body of work is really, really important. And if people can, if you can go talk to your client, and you can understand, "Oh, this is how their company works, this is how they make money. These are the key things they do." And then you understand, "well this is how our company works, these are the key things we do", then you can create a win win. And by understanding, well, if this is good for you, then this is good for us and I can put these things together. And that's a, I think a key capability for product marketing is to be able to put those two pieces of information together to craft the solution that is good for the customer and good for the company. So I think that's a second key factor. And then the third one is persistence and diplomacy which I think are coupled together. Slowly getting people to understand and appreciate what it is you're doing and why you're saying it. And a lot of times you'll say, "well, the customers say this" and you'll get, "no, no, no, that's not what they want. Go away". And you can't give up. Right? Because it's like, no, no, I talked to the customers and this is actually what they want. So many people are not coachable or hard headed, "No, no, no, we're an expert in this and, and we know" and it's like, well, no, I don't think we do because it's not what the customers are saying, and so I think those things all kind of play together, the persistence internally, the curiosity to work with your clients and understand it, and then out of that the business understanding of what the client is actually doing and how your own company works so that you can kind of forge a strategy that is a win win across the board.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 26:59
Awesome, thank you. And then have you had any regrets in your product marketing career that stayed with at all?
Jeff Curie 27:09
Yeah I've got a lot of scars. Probably the biggest one is, there's a difficult situation that I've run into a few times, I don't hear people talk about it but a lot of times you go out and you start to understand what a company is doing. So if you're new to a company, and you're in product marketing, and you go out, you're trying to figure out what this new product should do or how to apply a new technology out in the world. A lot of times you'll find, 'hey, I found an application for this, but the market is too small'. And so it's a difficult situation in that well, gosh, but people will pay money for this and we can build it and we're almost there, and we can take this to market but you can't build a big company on it. And so you have to, from that point of view, understand the the CEOs point of view, so what are they trying to do with the company? Because if they're trying to build a small company that's sharing profits among their employees, a profitable company can be fabulous for everybody. But if it's a venture backed company, then it's a different situation because a venture backed company or any company with external investors, they invested money with the with the intent that you will have a liquidity event in the future that will be very profitable, in which case you have to be targeting a large enough market to make that happen. And that typically is markets, depending how much money you raise, markets that are 100 million in sales to a billion in sales. So you really have to understand the nature of the company and whether you found a market and you found a segment of a market, let's say, but that segment of the market isn't big enough to sustain what you're going to try to do if you can win 10 or 15% of it, or isn't it? And if it isn't, you really have to say, 'Well, okay, I gotta keep going', or I've got to convince myself that I can leap from this market into another market that is also big, and this is a stepping stone to the other. And so that's what I found to be a very difficult situation where you come to the realisation that, 'hey we can build a $20 million company here, but that's not our mission. Our mission is to build a company that could IPO or be 100 million dollars, and this market won't get us there'. You've got to say, 'I gotta keep looking'. That's a very difficult situation to deal with.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 30:04
And then in a perfect world where does the role of a product manager and a product marketing manager begin and end?
Jeff Curie 30:15
Well, I think the very good product management folks are oriented around prioritisation and release of the features that are the value to the customers, and it may be optimization of the processes to make it happen, it may be optimization of the features needed to win in the market, but their job is to focus on delivery of those capabilities on a continuous, well, it doesn't happen necessarily continuous but a frequent basis. So the evolution of that product roadmap and why it's the most important thing to do next, and recruiting people to help that. Product marketing is really almost like the flashlight out there in the world is saying, 'Well, should we go this way or this way? What's more important to the market? And the customers?' And trying to understand how the value is different and how to position that value. And that feeds back to the roadmap, but Product Marketing can be looking quite a bit further down the road. I mean, a roadmap for the product management may look at one quarter or six months. But Product Marketing may be looking out six months to two years and saying, here's how the market's going to evolve. Here's what customers are willing to buy now and why they need it now. But in in a year, it's going to shift and morph. And so they're looking further down this road, then the product management people.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 31:57
And then in your opinion, what, if anything, do you think needs to change about product marketing?
Jeff Curie 32:04
Well, I think you guys are on the right track frankly, I think it's getting more executives to understand what it is, and the fact that it is a critical discipline to the success of companies. And I think there's been various studies that have shown that most companies, I think the majority of companies, don't actually understand what their customers really want from them. And those companies way underperform companies that do understand what their customers want from them. And that is the job of product marketing. And so a lot of companies just don't appreciate how important it is, and that it's a skill and that there are people who are skilled at doing it. And so they they don't even know to look. So I think really getting the executives of the world to understand what this skill set is, and that the outcome of companies that are applying this skill set is statistically much better than companies that are going off a more traditional model. And that's especially true, I think, with smaller companies. Ff you're General Motors that that job is very different than if you're a tech software company, who's putting together leading products in a new space. It's much more dynamic than a company who's designing a car that takes four years to put into the market, which is a very high stakes game without a doubt and not one that I would be willing to play. Whereas software's much more malleable, much faster moving, much more agile. So it's a very different thing that we can adjust very quickly as you learn and modify things as you're moving forward versus the car industry. But I think the implications are similar either way, if you don't understand what the customer wants, you're going to produce a product that is not particularly interesting or you're going to not price it correctly or position it correctly and the company just won't do well. And so it's just a vital function that needs to happen.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 34:26
Would you say it's quite a frustrating aspect of product marketing, the fact that you feel you have to justify the value of your skill set?
Jeff Curie 34:48
Yeah, it is frustrating. It's difficult in that I think there's even a lot of differences in where the role sits. Certainly the CEO should be someone who values it to a great deal. But it often sits underneath a VP of Marketing, and often the VP of Marketing doesn't understand it because they're a more traditional Marcom-centric VP of Marketing and so they don't really even appreciate it. And Product Management, where that sits, is it under engineering? Is it under marketing? That's another big question that keeps moving around. They don't really, because of the natural conflict between what product management thinks they do and what they actually do, and what Product Marketing should be doing, so they're not out there asking for it either. They're not out asking, "Hey, I need to hire some outward facing product marketing person", because of course the executives will look at them and go, "What are you talking about? You are product management!", they're like, "No, no, it's different". And so I think it's just a big education of what an important role it is. I'm surprised that it's less codified than it is and that fewer companies actually understand it and pursue it. So I applaud what you guys are doing to promote it, and to promote it hopefully even more broadly up into the executive teams of companies, so they can understand the skill set and what it brings to the company.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 36:28
Yeah, definitely. And then moving on to the last question. If there are any new or aspiring product marketers listening right now, what would your advice to them be?
Jeff Curie 36:42
Well, I certainly encourage them to continue with the practice and to keep refining it. I'd suggest they study Clayton Christensen and study the Business Model Canvas and how these products work. How to really understand and embrace the broader business that they're in and understand how that business really works. And continue to be curious, read a lot, cross pollinate across different kinds of companies, because there's lots and lots of ideas and things that work across industries. And so I think it's stay curious, stay hungry, keep looking and keep adding value. Like I did mention, become the authority in your company as to the market. I think that's a great path for young product marketers to keep an eye on, if they know more about the market than anybody else in the company then they're doing it right.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 37:50
Okay, awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Jeff. It's been really lovely speaking to you.
Jeff Curie 37:55
Bryony Pearce - PMA 37:57
For everyone still tuned in, thanks so much for listening. And if you enjoyed the podcast, please help us spread the word to other product marketers. Before we leave you to get on with your day, if you want to get involved here are a few ways you can. If you're a product marketer and you want to come on the show to speak about your day, a specific topic or just your role in general, that's one option. If you want to flex your podcast hosting skills, being a guest host is another. And finally, if you or your company want to sponsor an episode, there's a third. Thanks again and have a great morning, afternoon or evening wherever you are.