Shouting about how amazing a product is and flying the flag for its USP is easy. When it comes to showing off your skills and talking about yourself as an expert though, oftentimes it's not quite so easy 🤐
If you find talking about yourself and selling your PMM skills a sticky point, stop what you're doing 'cause you're in the right place.
In our most recent AMA, we gave you the chance to pick the brains of Abby Barsky, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Cord.
We steal her insights on a number of skills, employment and interview-based topics including:
- Getting noticed when you're a generalist
- Transitioning from social media into PMM
- What to look for in a first PMM hire
- Tackling imposter syndrome
Q1 - The PMM career path
I hear time and time again, "every day is different in product marketing", but can the same be said for the product marketing career path itself? In your mind, is there a defined path, and if so, which skills do you consider indispensable to progress into senior roles?
A: "I definitely agree that every career path in product marketing is different. Because product marketer is a relatively new role, a lot of those career paths are uncharted. You can set your sights on being a VP of product marketing leading a team, or go into strategy or product roles, like CSO or CPO. Alternatively, there are opportunities to stay an individual contributor either by trying out different industries or by advising/consulting/mentoring more junior PMMs.
"Two overarching skills that are critical for all product marketers is customer empathy and storytelling. Practically speaking, you can develop more empathy by frequently speaking with the people who have the problem you're trying to solve, regardless of whether they are a customer yet. One-on-one conversations like user interviews and sales calls are ideal. Written feedback from surveys and social media can give you more data too.
"To become a better storyteller, look for inspiration outside of the world you are working in each day. Think about which stories captivate you in your life and why—whether it's in a series, book, or a conversation that you can't help but eavesdrop on. What about it interests you? Is it the mystery? The honesty? Fear of missing out? Try to capture some of those same emotions in your messaging, campaigns, and inside your product's experience.
"There's data behind these two skills I've chosen. I analyzed what the PMA's top 100 influential product marketers cited as the most important skills in my article Heart vs. Hands vs. Head: The Top Product Marketers Rank the Most Important Traits. In it you can learn which other skills were frequently mentioned."
Q2 - Get noticed as a generalist
I am a marketing manager with broad experience. I've always been on small teams, and so I've become a generalist and haven't specialized. I'm exploring pursuing a career in PMM—how can I get someone to take a change on me, even though I don't have specific PMM experience?
A: "As a generalist pursuing a career in PMM, you can do a few things:
- Get introduced. I know this can be a frustrating suggestion when you don't know anyone in a PMM role. I would look into your second degree connections on LinkedIn and ask other marketers you know if they know anyone in a PMM role. Getting involved in communities like the PMA Slack, Women in Product Facebook group, Sharebird, or Twitter can also be a great way to make online connections with people. Usually people are open to having a short conversation if you do your research and come with questions in mind. Once you've spoken with them, they can help introduce you to teams that are hiring. It might be easier to start within your industry. I see you've had several experiences with bootcamps, so maybe starting with people involved in online education would be an easier "sell" since you can offer your insights in return.
- PMM-ify yourself. Frame your current responsibilities or accomplishments to be relevant to a PMM role, because they probably are! Keeping in mind that PMMs should be experts in who the company is building for or selling to, look at your resume and think about how you can emphasize this. Taking a look at your LinkedIn, I see relevant accomplishments related to writing engaging content for your audience, developing personas, and enabling the sales team with collateral. As you apply for PMM roles, read the job description thoroughly and see where you can reflect what they're looking for in your resume. Don't be afraid to make it a little obvious even, because hey, you're doing your research and marketing a product (in this case, yourself), just like you'll do for them."
Q3 - Transitioning to PMM
I'm a social media marketer right now looking to transition into a product marketing manager role. How would you recommend I learn more about what product marketers do day-to-day, and what can I do in my role now to make myself a better candidate?
A: "I'm always impressed with people's willingness to hop on the phone regardless of where you are in your career. Also, lurking the PMA Slack, particularly the pmm-questions, pmm-resources, and pmm-jobs channels can give you a good idea of the kind of challenges PMMs face day-to-day, what tools they're using, and what articles they're reading.
"After you've done that, see if you can sneak in some PMM responsibilities into your current role. Volunteer to join sales calls or user interviews and take notes, ask whoever is working with data about the user journey and KPIs they monitor, talk to communications about how they develop messaging for your products. Being well-versed in these areas will help you in PMM interviews. There may even be an opportunity for you to help first-hand and take on side projects.
"This might be helpful; I listened to the PMM at UberEats talk about how he hired PMMs with non-PMM backgrounds at the end of this talk."
Q4 - Moving from B2C to B2B
Do you have any advice for someone going from marketing a B2C product to a B2B one?
A: "This was something on my mind when I first started at Cord. But honestly, don't overthink it. At the end of the day, you're selling to people in both cases. Behind the second "B" in "B2B" is a person with motivations and behaviors, just like any audience. So figure out what they care about, where to find them, and how to engage them. Your B2C experience can be advantageous too, because your perspective can create something that stands out in the B2B world."
Q5 - Skills to look for in a first hire
I'm currently interviewing for product marketing manager roles. What skills would you emphasize for a first-hire (first PMM on the team) vs joining a team of PMMs?
A: "I just joined a team as the first PMM but have worked with several marketers on a team (not several PMMs though).
"For a first-hire, I would emphasize any experience you have starting something from scratch, show that you are able to operate independently and demonstrate that you can balance strategic thinking and execution. Being the first PMM can also mean working closely with a cofounder so understanding that person's working style is going to be very important.
For a team, I'd focus more on working cross-functionally and collaboratively with concrete examples of projects you've worked on, or better yet, led, with many contributors. Also as teams get bigger, communication becomes more and more important so describe times you've kept teammates and stakeholders informed on initiatives and their results."
Q6 - Bouncing back from rejection
I’m curious to learn about some of the challenges you may have faced when trying to sell your skills for a new role? How did you overcome any disappointment, take constructive feedback on board, and put measures in place to bounce back and accomplish your desired outcome?
A: "A few instances come to mind:
- Job searching during the pandemic is rough. Specifically, I got the feedback that although I would normally be a great fit, a lot of more senior people had been laid off recently, so the competition was fierce and they went with another candidate. This was discouraging to hear in the beginning of my search, but I appreciated the hiring manager's transparency (better than being ghosted, am I right?). I knew a lot of this was out of my control, so I persisted. I continued to apply for PMM roles, particularly through connections from previous roles since the referral would help me stand out among candidates that might have more experience.
- Not having enough managerial experience. While interviewing for a new role, I went through 7 interview rounds and 1 assignment for a manager position. From the beginning they expressed concerns that I hadn't managed more than 1 full time team member and a few freelancers but I continued forward in the process. I was getting more and more excited about this role. However, in the end, they went with another candidate. I was disappointed. But, a few months later, I peeked at who they ended up hiring on LinkedIn, and lo and behold, she had much more managerial experience than me! The most important and informative thing that happened was that I got the real answer. Then I knew that my next step was that I needed to get more manager experience. Another way to get to the real answer would be to ask directly. I took this interview question from my friend Elizabeth Raman: "Do you have any concerns or doubts about my ability to succeed in this role? That way, you will get more constructive feedback and the disappointment will feel less personal. Once you have that constructive feedback, be persistent on finding a role that matches your skillset and allows you to achieve your goals."
Q7 - Entry level advice
I’m currently a content writer at a creative agency and I'd like to apply my creative skills to product marketing. I have a ton of creative experience, but little experience working in sales. In your experience, would prospective employers help me develop those skills, as an entry-level candidate, or will my inexperience prohibit my chances of transitioning into a Product Marketing role?
A: "Your creative experience can be a huge selling point for product marketing. As channels get saturated with the same old, same old, having content that stands out is critical and not easy to do.
How closely you have to work with sales depends on the type of product you'd be marketing. Some PMM roles, like ones marketing a direct-to-consumer product, wouldn't need much sales experience at all since the organization probably doesn't rely heavily on sales. Others, like B2B SaaS, may have more sales involved depending on how self-serve their product is. If you do want to go into an industry that's usually more sales-heavy, I would try to seek out ones that have a more established sales team that you can support. If they have some existing processes in place with how the PMM supports sales, it shouldn't stop them from considering a PMM with curiosity and the ability to collaborate and learn from that sales team."
Q8 - Skills to continually develop
Different skills unlock the many different roles interspersed within the PMM career ladder; for instance, attributes required for an Associate position will pale in comparison to those needed for a VP role.
In your opinion, what skills should a product marketer always look to refine, irrespective of their seniority?
A: "I wrote about empathy and storytelling in a previous answer but if I were to add one, it would be prioritization. As a PMM you're facing a lot of decisions all the time: What messaging to try out, which channels to engage with, what segments to target first... The list never seems to end. Prioritization comes from understanding the business's goals, measuring, evaluating, and re-evaluating the ROI of your efforts (considering time, money, and effort), and practice."
Q9 - Tackling imposter syndrome
I’ve encountered my fair share of Product Marketers who are blessed with incredible skills and the potential to play a key role in an organization’s PMM success. However, when it comes to the crunch and they’ve bagged the interview they’ve been waiting for, they crumble!
Do you have any words of support or advice for PMMs who may find themselves in a similar situation, or may potentially be suffering from imposter syndrome?
A: "Putting yourself out there in an interview makes you feel so vulnerable, and bombing one can make you doubt yourself so much.
"One way that helps me is to ask interviewers for feedback either during the interview (ask them about their concerns or doubts) or afterwards in an email. It's intimidating to put yourself out there like that, but understanding the specific reason behind not getting to the next interview stops the endless guessing your brain will do for you (and those guesses are normally way worse than the actual reason).
"Unfortunately, many companies don't offer feedback like this and you are left guessing. But no matter what, know that there are a lot of other factors at play other than just how you performed in the interview. They could be hiring internally, or there could be someone who has more directly related experience.
"Imposter syndrome is extremely tricky. Everyone has it to a certain extent. Helping yourself understand your worthiness can give you authentic confidence that is based on your actual skills and accomplishments. A couple pieces of advice that have helped me:
- Adding to a list of responsibilities/accomplishments every month or two. This helps you reflect and remember how much you are growing in your role and what you can offer to a team. Once it comes time to update your resume, you can pull things from here. Similarly, I keep my LinkedIn up-to-date so that I feel confident I’m putting my best foot forward.
- Lara McCaskill, who I met through PMA, gave me the advice to think about the most important things you want people to know about you. Totally normal to not know what those are. To get started, ask people who you work with what you do well, or what was the thing you helped them with the most.
- This is a silly one but looking at memes about imposter syndrome or other people feeling insecure at work reinforces the universality of these feelings. A lot of people are struggling right now especially with lockdown, so it’s so important to remember you’re not alone!"
Q10 - Interview best practice
I’m in the process of preparing for an interview and have received conflicting advice from people in my PMM network; some have suggested an innovative approach will help me sell my skills to greater effect, while others have suggested simplicity is key. Which approach do you tend to favor?
A: "I tend to favor simplicity. Present your qualifications clearly and concisely (see my answer to Tasha Schroeder's question above about catering your resume to each role) and then show your creativity in any assignments they include as part of the process. Another place you can show your innovative style is in a personal website, blog or LinkedIn. That way, as they are researching you, they can get a fuller picture. But I think in order to get to that point in the first place, you need to make it easy for the hiring manager to check requirements off their list."
Q11 - Personal development tips
I wish to evolve, but I am still learning things at my job, and I don't feel confident because, in fact, I am always learning. I want to take on a higher position and ideally, join a team as a senior, but hires are mostly first PMM or Head of PMM.
How can I avoid being scared too long of jumping on a higher opportunity?
Can you suggest some books/bloggers to grow PMM skills? I want to learn how to lead product marketing (if not people - at least successfully create a department - or both)
A: "I would start by saying do not feel like you have to meet 100% of the qualifications for a job, or have experience in everything they describe. Job descriptions are aspirational. Hiring managers will sacrifice some of the bullet points for someone who is trustworthy, positive, and enjoyable to work with. Skills are teachable if the person is worth taking the time to teach and stays curious which it definitely sounds like you do.
"One path to taking on higher positions is by starting in a less senior role with the clear expectation of advancing after meeting certain goals outlined by you and your manager. I interviewed for a job where we discussed me being a senior specialist for 6 months before transitioning to team lead.
"In terms of books and blogs to check out, I recently read Product Led Growth by Wes Bush. I would also recommend the MKT1 substack, which is written by a mentor of mine, Emily Kramer.
"I'll leave you with this quote that I love: "Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." - Nelson Mandela."