Full transcript:

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  0:04

Hi everyone and welcome to the Product Marketing Insider podcast. My name's Lawrence Chapman and I'm a copywriter here at PMA.

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I'm continuing my mission to speak to 50+ PMMs to learn more about their roles, how their teams are structured, and a whole lot more. And today, I'm thrilled to be joined by Priyanka Srinivasan, Director of Marketing at Qualia, a highly skilled practitioner, Priyanka was named among the top 50 Product Marketing mentors in 2021 and has earned her stripes at the likes of Twitter and Gainsight.

Thanks so much for joining me, Priyanka.

Priyanka Srinivasan  1:07

Thank you so much for having me.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  1:10

It's our pleasure. So first and foremost, can you just give us a quick insight into your current role as the Director of Marketing Qualia?

Priyanka Srinivasan  1:20

I actually just joined Qualia about a little over two months ago, and I lead our entire product marketing team today, which is a traditional go to market team, we work closely with product, with sales, with the rest of marketing to bring products to life, basically, to launch them here at Qualia. We're quite a prolific organization in terms of the amount of product that we're releasing today. We have our work cut out for us here.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  1:50

Okay, awesome. And what was it that made you want to be a product marketer in the first place?

Priyanka Srinivasan  1:57

For me, actually, I'm a bit of an accidental product marketer, in the sense that I didn't start my career in product marketing, I actually started my career in management consulting years and years ago. I was management consulting at a firm called Bain and I did that for a few years, I went to business school, and then coming out of business school, I actually joined Twitter doing go to market work there, which I know we'll talk about a little bit more in a bit.

Essentially, I joined a company called Gainsight, almost four years ago, and I joined their business operations team. I was really there to do more strategic projects. But really quickly, I ended up doing a lot of positioning and messaging and that was really strategic at the time for what we were doing and so that's kind of how I ended up in the world of product marketing.

I always tell people, I didn't grow up in marketing, I actually grew up in management consulting, and it's a skill that I think has been really helpful for me, as I think about not only product marketing, but sort of marketing more broadly at SaaS companies.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  3:01

There are so many people who are making that transition, just to touch on what you were saying, making transitions from other areas into product marketing, what would be your tip for anyone who is making that transition or for anyone to make a successful transition into product marketing from a different area?

Priyanka Srinivasan  3:24

I think it's probably the same advice that I'd give to anyone trying to make a transition from any one function into another one, which is that it's hard to do, if you're switching a job, because it's hard to find someone that's willing to take a chance on you, if you've never done that thing before.

As a hiring manager, you have to take a leap of faith. But I do think that if you're in a current company, where they're flexible, and many companies are, they're flexible for you to grow and learn and try something new. When you see an opportunity you should push for that I've seen a lot of folks do that, at various companies that I've been at, from any function to any function.

And certainly, I've seen a lot of folks do it into product marketing from other aspects of marketing, or even like sales engineering, I have a person on my team today who actually came in from the sales engineering side. He was doing a great job with that, he was really technical in that way, really involved with the product, and wanted to get into product marketing and so he's been very successful in that transition.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  4:29

Okay, brilliant. And, as you've already alluded to, one company that immediately stands out on your CV is Twitter. Did you find that the execution of the go-to-market process differed there almost like when you've been working in other roles given the size of that company?

Priyanka Srinivasan  4:49

I think in a lot of ways, what you'll find at companies is no matter what their size, you'll see the same sorts of principles around the teams. You have a sales team, you have a sales ops team, you're gonna have product marketing, you're gonna have demand gen, you're gonna have sales enablement, all these things you're going to have in most companies, especially in the SaaS world because things feel very playbooky in SaaS.

I do think with respect to my role at Twitter versus today, it is very different, obviously, being at a massive, massive company like that, like a Twitter, Facebook, or a Google versus being at a smaller company, because at a smaller company I see everything end to end, and I get to own a lot of things end to end.

Whereas when you're at a bigger company, you're in one slice of it, whether that's just working on one product only, or even just one specific project in, with respect to one product. And so from that perspective, you don't really get to see this full end-to-end thing.

I actually think when I moved over to Gainsight was the first time that I really saw how everything fit together, in a systems thinking kind of way, and that was really helpful for me. I think you get different things from different companies, I think it's good to have experience of a larger company so you just know what that feels like.

But for me, personally, I like to see the entire system, and I like to have a hand in it. So I think, being at companies the size of Gainsight, or Qualia where I'm at today is kind of my sweet spot.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  6:27

Okay. Obviously, go to market forms a huge part of your role that you're fulfilling at the moment so what do you think product marketers need to devote the most time and effort to really nail their go-to-market strategy?

Priyanka Srinivasan  6:48

Yeah, this is probably harking it a little bit back to my consulting days, which in a lot of ways, when you're consulting is basically like really good research. Strategic consulting, you're talking to industry experts, you're doing a lot of secondary research, you might do primary research in the form of surveys, you're collecting a lot of information to form a perspective on a market and how fast it's growing, and what are the dynamics and where there's an opportunity and things like that, and then you advise your client.

And I think it's actually really similar, honestly, it's almost the same thing, really, when it comes to go-to-market strategy. Certainly within Qualia, and I think broadly, at any company I've been at where to be really good at go to market strategy and positioning and messaging, you have to know the space really well.

So I encourage everyone on my team, the things that you should be doing are understanding the market that you're in, how fast it's growing, who the customers are, how you segment them, are there any nuances about these different segments of customers that we should be aware of?

Which are the ones that we think we're best positioned to go after based on where we are today and based on where there's the opportunity? Who are the other competitors in the market? All of these things are really important to really understand where should we go in terms of the product and the company and how should we message? What's actually going to resonate based on what we know?

Obviously, talking to customers is a really important piece of that, talking to customers and prospects and testing messaging. So I think a lot of times, organizations can look at product marketing, and it can just be this receiving line from product where you just get a product and then you slap some positioning and messaging on it, and then you bring it to market. It's very playbooky, that's just what you do.

I don't think that is what we do at Qualia and I think that is one of the things that really sets us apart, and I think would set apart any go to market organization where we really push ourselves to understand our customers and prospects really well, the market really well, and what other folks are doing that are already in the market. That has really helped us a lot.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  8:57

Okay, and in terms of looking at what other people are doing in the market, I'm very much approaching this from a non-product marketing perspective. I'm a copywriter, but what would be your preferred form of competitor Intel and almost differentiate what you're doing from your competitors? And identify what your competitors are doing in that regard?

Priyanka Srinivasan  9:28

Yeah, I think there are really various different ways that you can dig into that. So I think, obviously, from a very surface level, you can just do Google searches and understand what your competitors’ positioning is, what the products they're releasing are. Obviously, folks have that on their website, we do as well, right?

So you can get a sense of that. And I know it seems really simple, but just getting a lay of the land for who's out there and what they're doing and putting some logic and thinking around how you segment your different competitors I think is really helpful just to see it visually.

Another thing to do is to talk to customers that you have that might have used that particular vendor or competitor in the past, or if it's a space that you're going into, that might use them today and understand what they like about that product, what they don't, the pricing, all that kind of stuff. So just try to gather that kind of intelligence on it.

Certainly, you're coming at it from a copywriting and content marketing perspective and I think from a content marketing perspective, one of the things that you can do, and there are various tools to do this today is really understanding what other folks are writing about, right? When it comes to content marketing.

And there are tools like Buzzsumo, and things like that, that are out there that you can easily see what is resonating in the market today amongst our audience and who's writing that content. That’s another helpful angle. So there are different things that you can do, not only on a product marketing side but certainly on the content side and other aspects of marketing as well, to better understand competition.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  10:57

Okay, and then just rewinding to your previous role at Gainsight, where you lead  messaging, I wondered, from your perspective, what you think good messaging looks like, and what would be your piece of advice for anyone new to that particular product marketing function? What would you say is the quintessential ingredient for good messaging?

Priyanka Srinivasan  11:22

It's an interesting question. At the end of the day, we're here to sell software and we're here to grow revenue. I think we're partners in that way to sales and demand Gen, in order to generate pipeline and to close deals. So when I think about what good messaging is, it's messaging that obviously is going to resonate across that funnel of marketing, and then down into the sales funnel as well.

So that we're generating leads, more awareness, we're moving them through the marketing funnel, and then we're getting them to be qualified opportunities, and we're moving them down, we're winning against the competition. That is fundamentally how you would determine whether your messaging is effective, is that improving metrics across all those different areas.

But in terms of the way to know or what really makes for good messaging, I think at the end of the day, it's a process that you have to iterate on constantly. So you do the research that you do on a market and on a segment, and then you come up with what you think is the best positioning and messaging.

Then you test it, we talk to customers a lot, we have a friendly customer advisory board and we'll put messaging in front of those customers to see how they respond to it. We'll have the sales team test it out in the market as well. And then we iterate. We get feedback on it, we are responsive to that feedback, we iterate.

I think the thing about messaging is it's a constantly moving target and a constantly moving thing that you're doing. Even when I was at Gainsight launching products, I was launching new categories and new things that honestly we didn't really know how it would land, and there weren't really other competitors in the market. If I look at my early messaging docs, or my early materials from that, versus where it landed by the time I left, they're completely different, because we just learned so much along the way.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  13:14

Sure, it's almost like just going with it and rolling.

Priyanka Srinivasan  13:20

You've got to start somewhere so you start somewhere, and then you iterate.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  13:24

Yeah. Okay. And I always ask this question, and I get very mixed responses but I'm going to ask you anyway. If there is such a thing, and what does a standard day in your role as a marketer/product marketer look like?

Priyanka Srinivasan  13:41

This is great. For me, I'm probably gonna go with one of the polar opposites that you see, there is no standard day in my role. I think part of that is being a people manager, and part of it is also the phase where we're at right now, we're hiring really aggressively, so I'm spending a lot of my time looking at candidates, talking to folks, talking to them about Qualia and the opportunities.

But once we've got our team a little bit more built out, I think there are other things that I’ll be spending my time doing. The way that we're structured today, we have different folks that are focused on different products and/or different strategic partnerships that we're launching and so I spend my time working with each one of those, and honestly, it's a lot of context switching, because they're very different things.

And then I spend a lot of my time also working cross-functionally with other leaders and setting up structure around how we do launches and how we work together and collaborate. That's really, really important stuff and there's definitely no one standard day for that because different things will come up or different things we'll think about where we really need to add structure around it and we have to really solution around that.

So I think probably it's a lot of that and I think also just the stage of the company that I'm at, I'm not at a Twitter anymore and I'm not at a massive company so I think every day is a little bit different.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  15:13

To be honest, your answer doesn't surprise me in the slightest. I've spoken to so many people in product marketing and they'll just be like, 'yeah, there's no standard day at all'. But at the same time, that's a good thing, right? Because you don't want to be going into work knowing exactly what's around the corner, that is why product marketing is so exciting, and why so many people want to go into product marketing, so I'd imagine that's a good thing?

Priyanka Srinivasan  15:41

Yeah, I would say that it's the same thing for my team as well. I mentioned being a people manager, but I would imagine that they would answer very similarly for themselves. There's no standard day.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  15:51

Yeah. So in terms of your team or your direct teams, can you tell us a little about them in terms of the numbers, or how many people are within the team, and the roles of those within it?

Priyanka Srinivasan  16:04

Yeah, so we have four people today, we're growing really rapidly, we're gonna double that. I've structured the team to map it to product so we have different product areas at Qualia today.

I know I didn't talk a lot about Qualia, at Qualia we build products for the real estate industry, and particularly for title and escrow companies, and lenders and real estate professionals. So we're really there just trying to make the real estate transaction a lot smoother today, which is something I think a lot of Americans can relate with.

And as a result of that, we have a number of different products that we're selling into the market with different audiences. So I've structured the team really around that so each person is focused on a different product and audience. So we might have someone that's focused on our lender audience and our lender product, someone that's focused on our core title and escrow product, but we also have things that are not product-related.

So we are also launching a massive partner marketing effort. That's not linked to a specific product, but we are hiring out aggressively for that role today, which is someone to basically build that entire partner marketing machine from scratch.

Then we launched a number of other strategic partnerships as well and we're looking for someone actively right now to own those, that's not linked to a product, but it's obviously a massive launch effort for us.

It's a little bit of a mix of product and marketing function in contrast to which I've seen at Gainsight and other places, we're not mapped to sales. So we have various sales teams that focus on different segments and there's a world in which you could map product marketing to enterprise sales, or to SMB or whatever and we have not done that, for various reasons. We're very mapped to product today.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  18:07

Okay. And so in terms of the top three skills that you've gained throughout your career to get you to where you are now, what would you say those are? Your top three characteristics that have helped catapult you to the role which you occupy today?

Priyanka Srinivasan  18:28

I'll start with saying, especially as a leader at a company, being able to work cross-functionally with other leaders. At the end of the day, getting to the product marketing skills you can do that over time and that's important to learn all that stuff.

I think getting to a leadership level becomes a lot more about how do you work with other cross-functional leaders? Do they respect you? Can you build structure? Can you work together with them? Because at the end of the day, when you take products to market, at a really small startup, it's very tactical and you're just building the messaging and the docs, things like that.

I think as you scale, you have to put in a lot more structure so that you can scale the business without just throwing people at it. And so being able to work cross-functionally well and solution collaboratively with other leaders is really important. I'd say that's number one.

I think the second thing which is sort of related to that is being able to make decisions quickly. I think a lot of people like to agonize over decisions, there are so many different ways something can go and there are pros and cons. I think it's really important, especially in an earlier stage company to make a decision and just move with it.

Actually, Qualia is not super early stage, we're more midsize at this point but still, we are moving really, really fast. And I make tonnes of decisions every day that could go in multiple different directions, but I think it's just really important to decide on something and then put your stake in the ground and move forward with it, because we just have to move.  

I think the third thing interrelated to probably both of these is speed. So I think that this has come through both speed of doing the product marketing work and I think I learned that really early on in my career at Bain, because actually, my first manager, one of the things he told me is you just have to be really fast at this job.

Not at the expense of quality, it has to be really good work but it also has to be fast, it has to be everything. But I think that's really important, as well. I think if you can do the job well, and you can do it really, really fast and then you can work cross-functionally well with leadership, and you can make decisions quickly, that is all incredibly valuable, I think, to an organization.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  20:47

Okay, and going back to what you were saying earlier about your team at the minute, it's growing and the company is growing, to anybody who might be listening who wants to scale and get bigger and progress and improve their team, what would your advice to them be? Can you almost grow too quick sometimes? What steps or measures do you need to put into place to make sure that process is controlled and measured, but at the same time successful?

Priyanka Srinivasan  21:27

Yeah, I think one of the biggest things that I think about with respect to my team is just making sure that they have the coaching and the engagement that they need from their manager. One of the things that I realized is you can't wait too long to put in that layer of leadership that really can coach folks and really help them.

Because at the end of the day, I think what keeps people in their role is feeling like they're being engaged with, and they're doing really important work. As I think about scaling the team, I want to make sure that even as we add people that we're making sure that we are adding the right kinds of levels of folks that can also just help coach more junior folks on the team, so just balancing that out.

Or if we hire more junior folks, making sure that there's enough bandwidth for more senior folks on the team to really help. I think that's incredibly important as you scale. I think you can do it too fast if you're just like, 'I just want to add a tonne of people, and I'm not thinking about their leveling, or how the dynamics are gonna play out’.

But I think a lot about that because even for myself if you're looking at a team of seven or eight people, I can't give all of my time in the way that I would want to all those people. So I have to think about I need to hire a mix of folks and levels of experience so not everyone needs my time in quite the same way.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  22:57

Yeah, sure. And in terms of the role of a PM at your company, would you say there's almost like a crossover between what you do and what the PM does at all?

Priyanka Srinivasan  23:11

I hope there's not too much of a crossover, because we wouldn't want to duplicate work. But one thing I do think is really key in both of the roles is that hopefully, you're spending a lot of time with customers and prospects and really talking to the folks that are actually using the product. I probably said it 10 times already and I think that's a really core thing to a product marketer, it's obviously a very core thing to a product manager as well.

I started this discussion by talking about a core skill of product marketers in terms of go-to-market strategies really being able to look at the entire market and understand the dynamics and understand where there's opportunity and competition and all that kind of stuff. I think that kind of research really helps inform where there's a potential opportunity to build an additional product or build an additional feature that we might need.

Where I see product really coming in is okay, once we've come to the conclusion that we need to build this thing, product really figuring out, how can I build the best possible feature or product for that? So basically, whatever feature you decide product is responsible for building the best possible one. The way that they go about doing that, obviously, is working with engineering and talking to a lot of users and customers, and understanding what's out there today and where the gaps are. So I do think that there's overlap there, to that extent.

Then I think once the best possible product is built, it gets kicked back to marketing in a way and product marketing in the sense of ‘help me figure out how to position this well’, and that obviously relates back to the research that you've done on the market and the positioning and why you did it in the first place. So I think that's sort of the dance that I think product marketing plays with product and certainly the way that we are working together at Qualia as well.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  25:04

Okay. And in terms of the actual process of introducing new products and features, what does it look like at Qualia? And how does that compare to previous places that you've been before?

Priyanka Srinivasan  25:18

It is very product-driven today, I can't say it enough, we have an incredibly prolific and amazing product team. At the end of the day, when I look at whether I would rather be a sales or marketing-driven company, or product-driven company, I think I'd rather be a product-driven company in the sense that at the end of the day an amazing product can really sell itself. And I think we have an amazing product.

The first time I ever saw it, I was just amazed by it, I thought it was a really, really beautiful product. So I think a lot of the decisions about what we do, the product team really is very entrenched and understands the customers and the prospects a lot and what the pain points are and where to go next. And a lot of them spent a lot of time in the real estate industry before, so they really understand the customer really well.

Having said that, it's always a team effort in terms of what we're learning in the market in terms of areas we need to go. And so we in product marketing collect feedback from customers and prospects, we talk to sales a lot, sales talks to product a lot in terms of what they're seeing in the field, where there are gaps today, what we need to build.

For example, we're launching an integration next month that will really help open up a certain market that really, to this point, we've definitely been selling in that market but because we didn't have this integration, it was a little bit harder, a tougher sell. And so that was something that sales were experiencing. Getting that back to product really helped them prioritize, 'okay, we actually really need to build this integration if we're serious about moving forward in this particular region'.

So it comes from everywhere, but I will say we're a very product-driven company and our product marketing team works really closely with product.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  27:07

Okay, great. And in your opinion, I mean, product marketing is an area that is becoming increasingly popular, more people are staying within product marketing, and more people are transitioning into product marketing. But there's always, as is the case with anything by pure nature, room for improvement. So what do you think needs to change about product marketing to make it even better than it is already?

Priyanka Srinivasan  27:38

I'll say this, I've said it a million times in different forums. I think that a lot of times product marketing can feel like a playbook. I think a lot of things in SaaS can feel like a playbook if you think about it because SaaS is just at the end of the day, you have a product and up till this point, a lot of the strategy for a lot of companies, whenever you talk about strategy, was just in the product.

It's all like PMs making the decisions and that's why think product and eng have always been this really elevated thing. So once all the strategy and the product is built, then you just stand up your go-to-market teams around it, that's been the playbook.

So you'll be like, 'Okay, and now I need a sales team. Now I need a marketing team. And within marketing, I need to demand gen and events and content and PR and product marketing. Then I need a customer success team and a services team, a support team'.

And it's just like, you run a playbook. And I think at worst, in my opinion, product marketing is just like a playbook that you're like, "Okay, now I just take stuff from product and I have all these templates that I have and then I go through my checklist and maybe the most creative thing is that I have a messaging guide that I've had to build out".

But for the most part, it just becomes this rinse and repeat playbook. And I've seen a lot of product marketing leaders like do that, they just basically have their playbook and it’s just rinsed and repeated. I think some people may like that, for me, I want my job to be a little bit more creative and interesting and I definitely want to be part of the strategy. I want my team to really be a part of the strategy.

The way that you earn that is by getting out there and doing the research and really understanding the market well, and then you have a seat at the table in terms of the strategy of the business, not only in terms of the product that we build but also how we go to market, what are the different channels, all that kind of stuff. I think product marketing has that, in a lot of companies I think it can feel like a playbook.

I think it has the potential to be incredibly strategic and I think at Qualia we see it as incredibly strategic in terms of the way that we work with other teams. I think the other thing is that Qualia is a little bit special too in that we're not a playbook SaaS company, it's a really interesting market with a lot of network effects and things like that. That helps as well.

But at the end of the day, I would say the biggest area where product marketing actually could elevate itself is really the potential it has to be a very, very, very strategic function if it's not today in an organization, and I think in many organizations, it's not always seen that way.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  30:09

Okay, and to round off what's been a great chat, I've really enjoyed speaking with you, if there are any new or aspiring product marketers listening to the podcast, what advice would you give them to get the most out of their product marketing career?

Priyanka Srinivasan  30:30

I will give them the same advice that I gave in the Sharebird top 50 marketers thing, which is one of my favorite pieces of advice. It's actually not just for product marketers it's for everyone, which is, in your career, I think what you want to do is always be looking for a company if you're looking to transition to a new company, or even within the current company that you're at, look for a company that's in hyper-growth, growing really, really fast.

Or if you're in a larger company, a business unit within that company that's growing really, really fast. Then find someone there that is really well respected, a leader that's on their way up, a really strong advocate that has a reputation for being a really strong advocate for their people, and go work for them.

That is the way you can get a more and more outsized opportunity. I've seen this play out in different ways, and I've seen the opposite happen with people that I know that have been at companies that are either really slow growth where they might have been working for someone that's a great advocate, but there's no opportunity because the company isn't growing that fast.

Or they're at a high-growth company, but they're working for a manager who just is not really a great advocate for their people and doesn't really care that much about advancing people's careers.

What you want to do is find a high-growth company with someone that's really aggressive about advocating for their people and go work for them. I would say that for anyone across any function, not just product marketing.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  32:07

Okay, awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me, Priyanka. It's been, as I say, a great chat and I've really enjoyed having you as our latest guest on Product Marketing Insider.

Priyanka Srinivasan  32:19

I really enjoyed being here as well. Thank you.