As part of our ongoing mission to speak to 50 PMMs and learn about how they got into the industry, what their days look like and who they interact with most, we spoke to Linda Wang, Senior Product Marketing Manager over at Teachers Pay Teachers.
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 for the role, and a whole load more. To do just that, with me today is Linda Wang, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Teachers Pay Teachers. Linda joined Teachers Pay Teachers in January 2019 and before that, spent just over a year as a Senior PMM at Compass and almost six years at American Express. Anyway, enough from me, welcome to the show Linda, could I ask you to please give everyone a bit of an introduction to you, your role, and Teachers pay Teachers?
Linda Wang 0:48
Sure. I'm Linda Wang, I'm a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Teachers Pay Teachers. If you haven't heard of Teachers Pay Teachers, it is a marketplace where teachers can buy, sell or share for free, original educational resources that they've made for the classroom, and in recent years, we've expanded our offerings so we have a teacher crowdfunding platform. We are also offering subscription licences to schools so they can purchase access for their teachers on their behalf.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 1:23
And how long have you been there for?
Linda Wang 1:26
I've been a TPT for nine months. Yeah, since January.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 1:31
Okay, and how long has the company been around for?
Linda Wang 1:34
A while, I'm not actually sure exactly how many years but maybe about 10. So, we were originally founded by Paul Edelman. He was a New York City public school teacher and he basically just like started this from scratch, and then sold it to Scholastic and then ended up buying it back from Scholastic and we've been growing really, really fast for the last several years.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 2:02
Okay, awesome. And then what was it that kind of made you want to get into product marketing in the first place?
Linda Wang 2:08
Yeah, so I initially got into Product Marketing when I was working at American Express and I think I kind of just fell into it. I didn't really know what product marketing was or what I was looking for, but the first product I worked on was something called the Shop Small Map. So it's this map where you can go and find local, small businesses to support with your American Express card, so it was an interesting experience where I had to think about the value proposition for card members, like why would someone even want to use this map? Why would they care about shopping and spending at local small businesses? But then also, why would they care about doing that with their American Express card? And then how can we talk about what we're doing with this map? And how we're promoting it to card members and show what we're doing to small businesses and say, hey, look at all this free value that we're driving for you and your business, which no other card network does. It was a really challenging problem, and I just thought it was super interesting having to think about what makes people want to do something, and what is that one clear message that you want them to takeaway? So yeah, I ended up liking it so much I ended up kind of specialising in product marketing, which is what I've been doing for the past several years.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 3:47
And then what kind of roles were you doing before you fell into product marketing?
Linda Wang 3:51
So I was working on global merchant NPS, so my team was rolling out a new way to get feedback from small businesses that accept American Express. So I was bringing out global merchant NPS, I had also spent some time in industry development, so kind of like an internal consultant on what's going on with this particular industry and what are opportunities for card networks and people who accept American Express or don't accept American Express. I also spent some time working on merchant servicing strategy, so I've worn a couple of different hats.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 4:41
And then in between your time there and now at Teachers Pay Teachers, what did your career path look like in between?
Linda Wang 4:49
Yeah, so I was at Amex for a really long time, I was there for six years, and then after that I kind of had this decision point where I was like, do I want to be an Amex lifer? Do I want to stay in financial services? Do I want to try something different? I decided that I wanted to try something different so I ended up joining Compass, which if you haven't heard of it, is a real estate, brokerage tech company hybrid. So it operates like a traditional brokerage in many aspects, but they also have this product and engineering team which builds products just for agents that work under the Compass brokerage. So I joined the product marketing team there and I was there for about a year working on our CRM product for agents - so customer relationship management platform, and I also worked on our search platform, and then I ended up coming to TPT.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 5:51
Okay, awesome. And then so in your current role now at TPT, if there is such a thing, what does a standard sort of day look like for you?
Linda Wang 5:59
Yeah, so there's no standard day, but I'd say the most typical day is probably packed with meetings, lots of 30-minute meetings, lots of one-hour meetings, with lots of people. They're always very, like, lots of my day's usually packed with cross-functional meetings. So people from product, people from engineering, people from design, people from marketing, people from sales, people from operations, people from our community teams, and since I've been here, I've mostly been focused on product launches. So going from launch to launch to launch. So my day is usually spent thinking about what do we need to do to get ready for this launch? Where are we on this? I have to follow up with this person on this, and a tonne of also like desk side flybys just to have alignment on what we're doing. A lot of my days are typically spent driving towards alignment and driving towards decisions so that we can launch a product successfully.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 7:09
You mentioned you have quite a lot of launches, how tightly packed together are those launches?
Linda Wang 7:14
Yeah, the reason why I've kind of gone from launch to launch to launch is because our team is really small and it was understaffed, although we just extended a verbal offer for a new head of product marketing so I'm hoping she says yes! And we welcomed a new member to our team about a month ago, which is great. I've worked on a few different launches since I joined in January, so one was a new Google integration for buyers and sellers of digital resources made with Google Apps on the marketplace. I also worked on our Android seller app, those two launches actually happened at the same time, which happened in the spring, and they're very different products, like very different messages, have almost nothing to do with each other except the timing. So I worked on those two, and then in August launched our new teacher crowdfunding platform where teachers can raise funds from people they know, teachers, other teachers, principals, PTOs, PTAs, parent-teacher associations, friends, families, etc. for funds to buy resources on our platform, so that launched in August. I'm now working on this new schools offering, which is technically not launching until the back to school timeframe in 2020, which would be like next summer, but in order for us to get there, we have to launch the concept to sellers who are on our platform, and that will be happening in a few weeks. And then we have to start our sales process a few weeks after that all to be ready for teachers getting access to the platform in time for that back to school timeframe.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 9:17
That kind of leads me nicely into my next question. So in terms of introducing new products and features, what does that sort of process look like for you?
Linda Wang 9:26
So it looks different depending on the scope of the launch and depending on who the audience is for the launch. So for example, for our Android seller app, that one was very cross-functional, but lower scope because the number of sellers on our platform who also have an Android phone is pretty low. And the number of people who were using the old Android app was also super, super low, and we were launching this new seller app so that we could deprecate the old app, while also still serving sellers who are really important members of our community. Versus this new school subscription, which is a huge endeavour because it involves our sales team, it's something very different that we've never really done before - something with this kind of business model, it's just a much bigger product and it has a much bigger surface area. So it requires many, many, many, many, many more months of lead time, and there's like a whole sales cycle involved, and then we have to get sellers to opt in to being included in the catalogue, all those things would not apply to launching an app on the App Store. So it kind of varies depending on the product and the audience.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 10:57
That makes sense. And then of the teams outside of product marketing, so like product, sale, service, that kind of thing, which ones would you say you work closest with on a day-to-day? And what's your relationship with those teams like?
Linda Wang 11:10
Yeah, the people who I work closest with every day are the product managers that I'm like staffed with. So when I'm working on a particular product, there's usually just one other product manager. In the case of this current product, there's two PMs because the product surface area so large, so I'm working with another PMM to work with them. That's pretty much the most consistent thing. I also work really closely with our marketing team, obviously, on our launch marketing campaigns, so on the copy, the collateral, the visual designs for our marketing campaigns, I work very closely with our marketing team. Depending on whether this thing that I'm working on has big implications for our seller community, I would also work with our seller communications and our seller operations team. So you can think of those two teams as like a community team almost. So for example, when I launched the crowdfunding platform I didn't really work with them because I just needed to keep them in the loop as to what was going on, so that they knew what the sellers were thinking about and what they were hearing from their buyers. But for this new school script subscription offering and then also for the Android seller app and the Google integration for sellers and buyers, for those things, I had to work very, very closely with our seller teams.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 12:42
Yeah. And would you say your relationships with those teams are quite strong?
Linda Wang 12:47
Yes, because, what PMMs in general should be for stakeholder teams like marketing or sales or community teams or things like that, is like we should basically represent the product for them, so they should be able to come to us with any questions about how the product works, what are our product, roadmap timelines and things like that. So we do that in partnership with the product managers, but if the product managers had to spread themselves across engineering, product design, visual design, marketing, sales, operations, the seller community team, they would be stretched too thin and they probably wouldn't be able to do everything. So yeah, we're basically like what PMs do for engineers and designers, but for marketing and sales and our community teams, and depending on who the PMM is or who the PM is or what the product is, we'll have some overlap and responsibilities going from product-to-product.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 13:54
Okay, awesome. And then in terms of your relationship with marketing, in terms of kind of copy and design for launches, is that something that will stay in the product marketing team and be passed over to them for a proof, that kind of thing? Or do you hand it over to them from the off and they'll do the copy and design themselves?
Linda Wang 14:11
It depends. It's definitely a very close partnership, so for something like our Google integration or like the Android seller app, I led on copywriting for those items because we were trying to do so many things in parallel, I didn't have time to really put together really great like, "here's our messaging hierarchy, this is the value proposition framework, and this is how it would play in various different scenarios" types of assets. So I was doing the first draft of copy, but I was taking a lot of feedback from them on making sure that our assets were on brand, using the right tone, getting a lot of feedback on how to optimise for email best practices, how to optimise for these particular channels best practices, like watch out for this because the seller community is going to interpret it this way. Versus on the current product that I'm on I actually don't lead on copywriting for any assets and the marketing team's leading on copywriting because I came on to the product pretty late and then also because the surface area of how many assets we have to create is so large, one person could not take the lead on the first draft for consistency purposes. So it depends.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 15:36
Okay, thanks. And in terms of your physical set-up in the office, where do you sit, are you near marketing, product, both or sales or?
Linda Wang 15:47
So I sit with my product pad and since I've worked on a few different products at TPT it means my seat changes. Ideally, I wouldn't be changing product pods or seats again for like nine months now we're more fully staffed. So when I say the product pad, I mean the PM, the engineers and the product designer, our company's pretty small, we are about 160 employees and we all fit on one floor, so I'm often like scurrying around to everyone else's desks just to like have quick chats, but yeah, I sit with my product pad.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 16:29
The impression I get from these podcasts is that not many product marketing managers actually sit on their chair much of the day, they're kind of here, there and everywhere, in meetings, talking to people, deskdrops...
Linda Wang 16:40
Yeah, tonnes of deskdrops. Yeah, I had to change something this morning. And I did I synced up with like six people in the span of like, 15 minutes, I was just running around like, hey, I think we have to change it to this. Are you cool with this? Great, I'm going to go like just double-check with this person before I send out a slack update so that no one's alarmed.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 17:03
Sounds like you're combining a workout with your working day and killing two birds one stone! Okay, what would you say the top three skills are that have helped you get where you are today?
Linda Wang 17:15
Yeah, um, managing up is a big skill for a product marketer, well, for anyone really. But especially product marketers and product managers, being able to manage expectations up and across and represent the cross-functional team you're working withis super critical because without that ability to manage up and out and get trust, and basically have people know that you're on top of it, your job becomes a lot harder, because the idea is that you're supposed to be very on top of it. So I'd say managing up and across. Definitely project management, which kind of goes hand in hand with just running a really tight ship, and then communication for sure. I mean, that's part of managing up, across and out all these different stakeholders and relationships, but being able to clearly and concisely pin-point what is the message that we're trying to deliver, whether we're talking to customers, whether we're working face-toface, or whether we're working on marketing collateral that's going to go out, or whether we're in a meeting and we're trying to just drive to a decision, being a really crisp and clear communicator is super, super important.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 18:43
Yeah, makes sense. And then, where you're at the moment, is there a lot of crossover, would you say, between what a product marketing manager does and what a product manager does?
Linda Wang 18:53
Um, there's definitely shared overlaps in terms of skill sets and depending on who's staffed on what and what the product is, what one product marketer owns on one product might be owned by the product manager on another product. But I'd say generally speaking, we do try to keep it pretty consistent. For example, the product manager owns the roadmap and it's their job to prioritise what features we're building, why, in what order, and how it all comes together in a cohesive experience and working with engineers and product designers on that. Versus like product marketers, we're in charge of working with marketing to make sure that when we bring this to market, the product has a chance to succeed and grow on its own. And then depending on the product, also working with sales, depending on the product also working with our seller community teams. There are some areas of fuzziness, like who's in charge of keeping customer experience, like our support team's up to speed. Typically, when I'm on a product pod I will do that. Who works with user experience research on briefs for a research project or things like that? It really just depends on the question that we're trying to answer at the time and who the product marketer and who the product manager is, but I'd say maybe it's like 15% overlap, 85% not when you've already like normed on the team and you've been working together for a while and you're in a rhythm. And when you're probably first getting started on a team, maybe like 20% overlap.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 20:45
Okay, that's really interesting. And would you say the set-up you've got now is fairly consistent to set-ups you've had in previous companies in terms of those relationships and lines?
Linda Wang 20:54
Um, it was very different at Amex because Amex is like this huge enterprise, so the day-to-day work and how we interacted with teams was very different, but I'd say the general idea of like, the product manager is in charge of the roadmap and how we're building the product and yeah, actually, I guess, company-to-company, it's pretty much the same, it's just the culture of the product pod will be very different, and the culture of how we work with the teams that we've worked with is very different. But generally speaking, product marketing works with marketing, sales, customer experience, community teams, etc. and product managers work with engineers and product designers. Then there are some things where the product manager has to talk to marketing and the product marketing manager has to talk to engineering, but for efficiency sake, it's usually more split like that with a very heavy, thick line between the product marketer and the product manager.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 22:02
Okay, awesome. And then in an absolute dream world, is there anything you would change about that set-up or those relationships?
Linda Wang 22:12
Sometimes product marketers are staffed on multiple pods and that was the case at Compass and used to be the case at TPT. We're kind of moving away from that and going to a one-to-one model. So like one product is one product manager and one product marketer, as opposed to one product is one product manager is like half of a product marketer. So we are moving in that direction and now we do have that one-to-one ratio, which is great, and I would say that if for any reason we had to move in the opposite direction, the one thing I would want is to move back to a one-to-one ratio, because I think it's so, so helpful. The job of a product marketer, similar to the job of a product manager, is you become much more efficient when you have high context, because that's actually the value that you provide for other teams, that you have high context on this particular product. So similar to how you wouldn't want a product manager split across like three different products that don't have anything to do with each other, you also wouldn't want the same for a product marketer.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 23:20
And when you have these one-to-one ratios, do you still do a lot of cross-collaboration within product marketing? So you'll kind of liaise with the other product marketing managers to spin off ideas?
Linda Wang 23:30
Yeah. We can probably get better at it, since our team is still new and we're still getting used to everything, but I do ask for advice from my teammates quite a lot, just because they've been working at TPT for much longer and they have different areas of expertise that they bring to the table. So all those perspectives are really helpful when we're working on products.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 23:57
Awesome. And then in your opinion, if anything, what needs to change about product marketing?
Linda Wang 24:06
So I think at TPT we've done a great job in terms of one, we've moved Product Marketing from reporting to marketing to reporting to product and then getting to that one-to-one ratio. We've also recently established the precedent that if there's no product marketer on a product pod, the product manager is responsible for the things that a product marketer would normally do on that pod. And I think, as an industry, in my opinion, that's where it should be going because this whole question of like do product marketers roll up to marketing? Do they roll to product? They could survive in marketing and product marketers work very closely with marketing and they also work very closely with product. But at the end of the day, if there was no product marketer, who would you have doing all of these responsibilities? In most cases, it should be the product manager because they have the most context on that particular product, but I think getting companies to realise that and getting teams to realise that, we still have a way to go. So, for example, when I was at Compass, when I initially joined, we rolled up to product, and then when we hired our new CMO we ended up moving under marketing which was challenging. So I'd say, yeah, that's probably what I would recommend, which is, I guess just helping companies and teams and PMs and PMMs realise that like PMs and PMMs together make up the product expert, and if you don't view them as two pieces of one, then you'll never get to that place where you are getting the most value from both the PM and the PMM, and then also, product marketers will be caught in this weird limbo if they're supposed to know everything about this product in terms of bringing it to market, in terms of making sure it's growing, understanding why people are using it, why people are not using it, how to navigate product adoption blockers, how to help the sales team understand insights about the product and things like that. I think just not recognising that product marketers bring that product expertise, but in a different application, leads to a lot of burnout on product marketers because they're expected to do this thing, but then they're usually not set-up to be successful because they'll be staffed on multiple pods, they'll be expected to have high context, but they won't be given the access or the resources or the focus to do something like this.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 27:01
That's a really interesting perspective, thank you. And then final question, if there were any new or aspiring product marketers listening to this podcast right now, what would your words of wisdom for them be?
Linda Wang 27:17
I guess it's just like general career advice, but try to learn as much as you can about different products. So, there's something to be said about specialising in a certain type of product or in a certain type of area, like I work on e-commerce products, or I work on subscription products, or I work on the supply side of marketplaces, but I think being able to bring expertise from launching and growing different types of products makes you ultimately a stronger product marketer because their best practices from all different kinds of products that you can bring into the role, and I think being able to say, well, this is how this works in the subscription world and therefore, you know, why don't we try launching this app in this way and taking advantage of our marketplace community like this, being able to triangulate insights from the different types of products that you've worked on makes you a better product marketer in the end, as opposed to just going super, super deep on one type of product and not learning about different ways of bringing products to market and growing them. So that would be my advice. I can see like the argument for specialising early and becoming the expert on like AI, SaaS software, but I also think it's more fun to work on different types of products and it gives you more career options later on - should you decide that you wanted to do something else.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 29:00
No I'm with you as well. I think I'd prefer the variety side of things and yeah, I think that was a really good perspective. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time today Linda it's been really great talking to you.
Linda Wang 29:10
Yeah, I hope this was helpful. Let me know if there's anything else I can provide.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 29:16
Will do. Thank you very much. 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 and speak about your day, a specific topic or 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!