We spoke to Podium's Product Marketing Manager and our newly appointed PMA Ambassador, Steven Pelham, about the difference between in-house and agency product marketing, which roles he dabbled in before PMM, which parts of the job he enjoys most, reporting structures, and a whole load more.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 00:00
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. This week’s pod’s sponsored by Product Marketing World. For those of you who haven’t gotten out to one of their events yet, Product Marketing World runs product marketing Summits all over the world. In each city, they unite 100s of product marketers and put together line-ups including speakers from companies like Google, Uber, Twitter and Yahoo, to name just a few. To see if they’re coming to a city near you, head over to their site, productmarketingworld.com. 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 Steven Pelham, a Product Marketing Manager over at Podium. Before joining Podium he was a PMM at Workfront and he’s actually one of our PMA ambassadors too. So, let’s pass over. Welcome to show the Steven, could I get you to kick off by giving everyone a bit of an intro into you, your role, and the company you’re currently working at.
Steven Pelham 00:08
Yeah, definitely. My name is Steven Pelham. I'm a product marketing manager at Podium, and we're headquartered out of Lehigh Utah in the United States. I've been in product marketing for about five to six years, done a variety of different things done product marketing at the SMB level, at an enterprise level and on the agency side of things working with doing product marketing for clients. In my current role at Podium, I oversee two of our products, so a little bit of context on Podium. Podium is the fastest growing company in the state of Utah, and the 13th fastest growing company in the United States. And we've been around for just over five years now. And Podium is an interaction management platform. And essentially what that is, is we help businesses to manage key interactions with their customers, their teams and their leads. So really seeking to modernise the way that businesses do business locally. So we have a suite of products that help with that - reviews products, web chat, a team chat product, I oversee two of those products and then I'm responsible for the full go-to-market strategy for those products.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 01:34
Okay, awesome. How long have you been at Podium for?
Steven Pelham 01:38
I've been at Podium for about seven months.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 01:40
Okay, cool. And then you mentioned you've worked agency side. How does that compare to working in-house?
Steven Pelham 01:47
Yeah, it's a lot different. I think on the agency side, it's very kind of high level. There's a tight scope of work, and you're restricted to that and you do all this amazing work and then you have to hand it over to the client and just hope it really works and hope it really takes. I think I would probably prefer being on the in-house side just because I'm able to take it and I'm able to see it through to really go deep with it. But that's probably the biggest difference.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 02:17
And then going back to the start of your product marketing career. What made you want to get into it in the first place? And was it a gradual progression? Or was it something you were actively targeted towards?
Steven Pelham 02:29
Yeah, so for me I found that my sweet spot is somewhere in the middle, I'm a little bit of a hybrid. So I dabble a little bit in the creative side, but I also dabble a little bit in the data and analytic side, but I would not consider myself someone that would ever sit on a creative team or someone that would ever be a data analyst. And I think it's that ability to be a hybrid, a little bit of everything, that made product marketing really appeal because I've been able to observe and see that some of the best product marketers are those that have a really good understanding of how the business works, how different parts of marketing works, and can flex and move back and forth between those different areas.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 03:14
Yeah. So pre product marketing, what sort of roles were you involved in?
Steven Pelham 03:21
Yeah, so I was more on the data side of things. So I was an analyst, doing just different types of market research. I also dabbled a little bit in demand gen, email marketing, customer communications. But yeah I found that sweet spot and then ultimately transitioned over to product marketing.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 03:43
Okay, cool. And then in terms of the day-to-day, what does that look like for you? Is there anything like for example, do you have a morning routine that will be standard throughout the day in terms of checking numbers or is there any sort of consistency to it for you?
Steven Pelham 03:56
Yeah, so the day generally starts out by coming in and seeing what are the largest fires for that day, by responding back to different messages. That's generally how it starts. But one of the things I do every day is I make sure I go to our product team stand up meetings. So I have two products and there's different sub-teams within each of those products. So I have potentially up to five stand up meetings that I could go to each day. And I don't go to every one each day but I do try to go to those stand up meetings to really be plugged in to see how the product is being built, is progressing, challenges, because that makes my job so much easier to be able to help with product launches and then to be able to really communicate out the value of the product as well.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 04:46
And who else is in those meetings? So there's you from a product marketing perspective, product teams, is there any other departments that are involved in that?
Steven Pelham 04:55
Yeah, so we have in our stand ups, they're led by the product manager, we have the engineers, of course, I'm there from Product Marketing, we have a rep from our customer success team that's assigned to each product, and occasionally they'll be there. We also have a member of our product support team that's assigned, they're talking to customers every single day and so they'll be able to bring back, "Hey, here's some of the challenges they're facing." And that helps supplement some of the customer calls that I have in my role. So it's a great spot for everyone to come together quickly for 15 minutes and to be able to relay information.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 05:37
Okay, cool. And then in terms of your direct team, what does that look like in terms of numbers and roles?
Steven Pelham 05:44
Yeah, so on our product marketing team, there are seven people. We at the moment are fairly flat. We have our director and then there are six of us on the team. We have two sub-teams, so we have what we call our product-centric PMM team, and that's the team I'm on. So we're product marketers that are assigned to a specific product. We also have a team that is fairly new that we're experimenting with, it's called the go-to-market team. And these product marketers, they're assigned to different verticals, at Podium we operate in different verticals or industries. And that's how our sales teams are broken out. And so each of these go to market product marketers, they're assigned to a specific sales team, a specific sales vice president to help really land the entire Podium product suite within that vertical, whereas I'm focused more on typical product marketing things, product launches, and helping to really promote and market the products that I'm over.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 06:48
Okay, cool. Out of curiosity, do you have a favourite aspect to your job, is there a certain part of product marketing you enjoy more than others?
Steven Pelham 06:58
Yeah, I really enjoy launches, the kind of rush of launch, it's exciting to see things come together. I also really enjoy getting customer insights that are then able to impact strategy. I love being able to have those customer calls, to send out customer surveys to get data that I know is impacting and quantifying the way that I'm doing my job as well as the way that the product team is building the products, etc. So that's really fun for me.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 07:31
And in terms of those customer calls. How often are you getting on the phone and talking to people?
Steven Pelham 07:37
Yeah, so I would say probably every week, every other week at the farthest or the longest out, but yeah.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 07:47
And how does that work for you? Is it just off the cuff you'll try and call a customer, or do you book slots in the diary, and are people quite receptive to that kind of thing?
Steven Pelham 07:55
Yeah, it really depends where we're at. I know oftentimes our product team, they'll want to get feedback about a specific feature, sometimes I'll want to get feedback about a specific campaign or a specific tactic or effort that I'm trying to do on the product marketing side. Sometimes they just come to me. And so it just depends. I wish I had a more concrete strategy, but it just flexes and comes and goes.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 08:26
And then in terms of teams outside of product marketing, so sales, product, operations, that kind of thing, which departments do you have most contact with day-to-day? And what would you say your relationships with those departments are like?
Steven Pelham 08:39
Yeah, so the departments that I interact with most are product and engineering, marketing, customer success and sales. So those are all the full scope of teams I interact with. I would probably say that marketing and product are probably the two that I interact with most followed by sales, and then customer success would probably be the last. But it really depends on the day as well.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 09:09
Yeah. And you have good relationships with all those teams?
Steven Pelham 09:13
Bryony Pearce - PMA 09:14
Okay, cool. And then where does product marketing report to at Podium?
Steven Pelham 09:20
Product marketing is at marketing here at Podium. However, in a previous role, I was at a company where product marketing reported to product. So I've been able to see both.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 09:31
And having seen both do you have a preference or do you feel it strongly fits in one rather than the other?
Steven Pelham 09:38
Yeah, so I read some of the literature that Product Marketing Alliance recently put out on this and some of the findings and I believe one of the conclusions was there are pros and cons to both but I think most people see it in marketing. And I kind of agree with that assessment. I think there are pros and cons to both. I think in the long run, I'd probably prefer it in marketing, simply because I've just seen how things have worked here, and at Podium it works, but I mean in a different company with a different culture and process, having product marketing in product may work better. So I think it depends.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 10:18
Yeah, I guess it's just company by company, that kind of thing, isn't it?
Steven Pelham 10:21
Bryony Pearce - PMA 10:22
And then if you had to narrow it down to three, what would you say the top three skills are that have helped you get where you are today in product marketing?
Steven Pelham 10:28
I think one would be the ability to work really well with people because that's my job. I mean, I mentioned all those different stakeholder groups that I work with on a daily basis. And some days I feel like my day ends and I've been running the entire day from one person to the next to the next. And being able to build strong relationships is key. I think another thing is being able to understand how all these different things work together. Because you have to understand, what's important to a CSM? And what's important to someone in support? What's important to an engineer? What's important to a copywriter? And you have to be able to speak their language to some extent. I think another thing is organisation and project management to some extent. In my product marketing roles I'm the quarterback and I have to be able to keep track of sometimes dozens and dozens of things in flight at the same time to make sure that they're progressing and to make sure that everyone has what they need to help them to continue to progress. And I think the last thing is, and it might sound silly, but just being able to really work hard. I mean for product marketers, there's a tonne of pressure on them to be able to really land things successfully. And so you have to be able to work hard and to clear your mind and be able to work well under pressure because oftentimes you will have people, who one day or another, will not be happy with you or not be happy with something. And you have to be able to work under that pressure and work really hard to be able to get resolution quick.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 12:29
And is product marketing quite new in Podium? Or was it there from the off? How long has it been around?
Steven Pelham 12:37
Yeah, so it's kind of interesting. So Podium had insane growth. In five years we went from two people in a spare bedroom of an apartment to over 600 employees. Just rapid hyper-growth. And I think in a lot of tech startups, and I think Podium is similar in this, they tend to grow really fast in sales, and they get this kind of humming sales engine. But then product marketing gets brought on later. And I think, from what I've observed product marketing is more of a maturity function. And it's something that will help take a business from X level to Y level or whatever. So product marketing has only been around for a little over a year here at Podium in its five-year existence.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 13:28
Okay, cool. And then you mentioned a little earlier that your favourite aspect is the launch side of things, in terms of communicating with sales and briefing them on new products and features, what does that look like and how does that work at Podium?
Steven Pelham 13:43
Yeah, so I mentioned we're broken out into different verticals. So in Podium, one of those verticals might be auto another might be retail, another might be professional services, or whatever it may be. And so one of the cool things but also one of the challenging things is that because the auto buyer and the retail buyer, and the attorney buyer might be so different, and those sales teams think so differently, you have to be able to know the value vertical agnostic of what the product is doing. But then you also have to be able to take it and to translate it down into, "Hey, here's what this means for an attorney. Or here's what this means for a tyre shop owner", or whoever it may be. And so, going through the launch and helping to enable and get sales-ready, I go around and meet with every single different team and at each vertical to say, "Hey, here's the core message, here's the value we're adding, here's why we've built this. But then here's really how this applies to you and those people that are going to buy from you". And so I think there's an added layer of complexity just because of how verticalized Podium is. However, it's fun to be able to go and to really land these launches in a bunch of different markets.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 15:06
And you mentioned you're up to 600 employees now, are they all based in Utah?
Steven Pelham 15:12
No, so most of them are in our corporate office here in Lehi, we have two buildings here. But we also have an office in Brazil and an office in Australia.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 15:24
Okay. And then is product marketing all based where you are? So your direct team is?
Steven Pelham 15:31
Yeah, we're all based here in Lehi.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 15:33
Okay, cool. And the next question, would you say there's a lot of crossover between your role and the role of a product manager in Podium?
Steven Pelham 15:44
Yeah, so there is definitely a lot of crossover and I think I've seen this in a couple of different companies now, that there are sometimes things that are traditionally product marketing that a product manager will do, and sometimes there's things that are more product manager that a product marketer might do. And I think that it really comes down to the relationship, because I've had a lot of different PM to PMM relationships, I think the key that I've been able to see is being in frequent contact and having frequent one-on-ones with the product manager, to make sure that we're aligned. Some product managers, there are certain things that they just don't want to touch, to step in, and there are others who do want to take it over. And so you do have to work more to establish a little bit of swim lanes and be like, "Hey, I will focus on this, you focus on that". Yeah, definitely lots of overlap.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 16:54
So I guess that kind of leads on to the next question. I was going to ask if you think it's quite important for there to be quite clearly defined lines between the product manager and the product marketing manager, I guess are you nearer to the side that it should be quite fluid? And I guess, again, it varies from person-to-person and company-to-company.
Steven Pelham 17:11
Yeah. I do think it is good to have more literature or industry reports or articles or whatever it might be, that's like, "Hey, here's traditionally where we see product marketers really adding a lot of value. Here's where we see product managers adding a lot of value", just so that those are available to serve as a guide. I think like you said that sometimes fluidity works really well. And other times, it just does not. You've got to have like, "Here's what I'm doing, here's what you're doing. We'll come back together to make the relationship work", but it really depends just on the relationship between those two people.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 17:54
Yep. And in terms of you, so you're saying you need regular contact with the PMs. How does that work for you? Is it structured, you know, 'every morning we'll meet at this time for half an hour', or is it just random desk drops?
Steven Pelham 18:09
Yeah, so since I try to go to the stand ups every single day, I'm able to see each of those product managers for at least five to 10 minutes every morning. And we may not dive into things deep, but if there's something I need from them, or that they need from me, right after stand up we're able to quickly - take 30 seconds or whatever it is - and say, "Hey, here's what we need". I mean, beyond that messaging back and forth. I think it helps as well that at Podium we do have several messaging products. And so we try to really over-communicate both with our teams and with our customers. And so that helps and then beyond those two things also formal one-on-one sit-downs every week between me and the PMs and then if we need to have other people involved we'll bring those people in as well.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 19:06
And then in terms of physical location in the office, are you sat by product and marketing?
Steven Pelham 19:13
No, so our current building here is five floors, the product and engineering team is on the fifth floor, marketing is on the second floor, and so I walk up and down a lot of stairs. There are some empty desks sometimes near the engineers, so sometimes I will just go and I will sit and I will work by a specific team. If I need to be near a product manager, or if I need to be close to someone in sales or if I need to be close to someone in customer success, I will just go and work by them or try and find a common space that's near them and work that way. When I really need to crank on something I'll go and hide in some conference room or sit at my own desk and put on big earphones and block everything out. But that's what it looks like.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 20:09
Okay, awesome. And then in terms of introducing new products and features, what does that process look like? And how much involvement do you have?
Steven Pelham 20:17
Yeah, so at a previous company, we had three or four big releases a year, and everything worked up to those and then we would push send on the launch and it went. Here at Podium it's a little bit different because we're constantly shipping new features and adding new things, which can be challenging, with things constantly being updated. I'm trying to find full inflexion points that customers would really care about because customers aren't necessarily going to really be wowed or amazed with every new feature that you have for shipping or new feature each week. So, a lot of what our product marketing team meetings look like as well as when I sit down one-on-one with the product managers, and even being at stand up to some extent is to understand how things are progressing along so I can kind of plan out, "'Hey, here are the tactics that we're going to do, here's the messages that we're going to send to help support each launch", and then just to understand timing. So I think again, it depends on the product team sometimes, being part of that process works a little bit better, I'm brought in early and things go really well. Other times I'm not brought in early and it causes a lot of stress and anxiety on my side just because I'm expected to launch this thing but I'm not brought in soon enough and they get frustrated that the launch isn't happening. So I feel like I've made progress with those particular teams I'm on but it just depends.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 22:02
And then how far would you say you typically try and plan in advance for these features and launches?
Steven Pelham 22:09
It depends. So I was brought to Podium, recruited specifically to help with the tier one, big, full new product launch. And that launch took months of planning. I mean, some features I brought in late and so it may just be a week or two of planning or even less sometimes. But some things you may not even support, or launch you're just like, "Hey, from a marketing perspective, we're not really going to do anything with this". I mean, we might mention it in a monthly customer newsletter or something like that. So it really depends.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 22:52
Okay, penultimate question. What if anything, do you think needs to change about product marketing?
Steven Pelham 23:01
That's the million-dollar question. I think over the past few years, we in the product development world have seen UX and product management and engineering get this really close triangle of strength and relationship. And I think bringing product marketing more into that group and making it a square or whatever it may be, is really important. Because I mean, you'd never build a product without having someone design it. You should never build a product without having a market launch expert and that's what product marketing is and can do. And so just helping to further educate engineering, product design, and product management, the value that their product marketing can bring. And I think outside of that, I would say the same is true in sales as well, and customer success. And really in a similar sense, helping them to understand how critical product marketing is. I think personally, I've been able to see that value and see these teams really appreciate me and the value that I add as a product marketer. But I think seeing wider spread adoption of that. Because I feel like some people really don't value or really don't understand what product marketing can bring to the table.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 24:47
And then I'm going to put you on the spot again, in terms of that education, educating these departments, how do you think that needs to be done? Is it a company-by-company thing and it's the product marketer's responsibility within that company to educate people? Or is it on a bigger scale?
Steven Pelham 25:02
Yeah, so I would say both, I think company-to-company the things that I've seen work best are 1) when a product marketer's able to bring a lot of value, to really work hard and to come back and be like, "Hey, here's this", and then the other stakeholders are like 'wow', they actually see firsthand the value they're adding. I think the second part is a little bit more formal training, as having product marketing leadership work closely with sales, product, engineering, customer success and leadership, to say, "Hey, here's what we want to do, here's the value that we think we can add". And then having those executives of those varying teams have a downward push as well to those other stakeholders to be like, "Hey, really involve product marketing. Here's how you do that". And I think outside of the organisation, that's why I love the Product Marketing Alliance, I feel like it's an amazing group to bring product marketers together but also helps to convey and show the value of what product marketing can do on a larger and on a broader sense across industries.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 26:22
And the final question, if there were any new or aspiring product marketers listening to this right now, what would your advice to them be?
Steven Pelham 26:33
I would say to really determine their strength because I think each product marketer brings a different strength to the table. Some are stronger on the data side, some are stronger on the creative and the writing side and I feel like some are really strong with sales whereas others may be stronger with product. And to really understand where you currently stand, and then I'm of the belief that you should really lean into your strengths. Yes, look for ways to build out your weaknesses and look for opportunities to grow. But really lean into your strengths and bring that value to the table and then continue to learn what are your gaps, what things might you be weak in, are you weak in competitive intelligence, are you weak in writing or whatever it might be, and then look for ways to learn from people who are strong in that because as a product marketer, you don't have to be best at everything. But you have to know how things work together, and you have to have a good understanding and appreciation of all things.
Bryony Pearce - PMA 27:41
Okay, awesome. That's great. Thank you very much. And thanks for your time today to speak to us.
Steven Pelham 27:46
Yeah, of course. Thank you.