While some PMMs are enthused by every element of the product marketing discipline, there are some instances when working as a cog in a larger operation doesn’t tick all of the boxes.
In a bid to strike a happy medium, many practitioners are setting up product marketing consultancies, but what does this process involve, what level of experience do prospective lone rangers need, and what’s the incentive behind setting up solo?
We spoke with PMM expert Devon O’Rourke, Founder and Managing Partner at Fluvio, who lifted the lid on the why, what, and how of consultancy life.
Q: I would love to start a product marketing consultancy, but it is something I have never done before. How did you (or how do you recommend) someone starts doing this and attracting clients? What is the right amount of experience in product marketing for this, especially for working in start-ups/smaller companies that might not be well known?
A: “The hardest part of the process is the start! I recommend you think through a couple of things. Firstly, ask yourself if you’re confident in your PMM skill sets and if you feel you can lead others.
“Also, consider whether you’re willing to take on a certain amount of risk and what are the things you need to be comfortable with taking on these extra risks.
“Finally, I’d say it’s important to weigh up whether you folks in my network that trust and respect me and are willing to champion my services.
“There is no silver bullet answer for how many years of experience you need or how to attract clients. If you've done great work and been a PMM leader (ideally with a respected company), have the confidence to take on risk, and have a network that can help then you have a chance!”
Q: When hiring product marketers for your consultancy, what level of experience do you look for and what expertise do you expect them to have? Do you actively look for PMMs with differing skills so that you are more equipped to combat any problem a company might throw at you?
A: “I look for PMMs with varying levels of experience and backgrounds that will allow Fluvio to service any client within tech/SaaS. I have PMMs within the Fluvio Network with as little as 1-2 years and as much as 20 years of experience.”
Q: What was your incentive for setting up a product marketing consultancy; you held some fantastic in-house roles - was there anything specifically that triggered that desire for change?
A: “I've always craved a bit more ownership than larger companies can provide. My initial thinking was that I would use Etsy/Amazon to help propel me into a leadership role at a startup.
“However, while I interviewed PMMs to join my team at Amazon I was surprised at how challenging it was to find and hire the right PMMs and that got me thinking. If Amazon was struggling with this, surely other companies were. That led me to believe there was a big opportunity for a consultancy with a niche focus on PMM (the big consultancies certainly don't have this).”
Q: As I progress in my career, building out my consultancy is something that I am considering more and more. However, I have one doubt in particular that holds me back - how do I go about building that all-important reputation as a consultant? Do you have any advice about this when first getting started?
A: “Reputation and your network are critical to finding success as a consultant. I recommend jotting down a list of the 5-10 folks that you think trust you and respect your work the most.
“Then, find some time to chat with them and inform them of your plans and see if they are willing to help champion your work via emails to potential clients or LinkedIn, or even better, if they have any projects themselves that might be a good fit.
“I've also heard others say that they informed their current employers of their intentions to start consulting and asked if they could work out some project work as a way to slowly step away.”
Q: I started my consultancy after I was laid off due to COVID. Do you have any thoughts and recommendations on taking a vertical approach to a consultancy (I specialize in cybersecurity) versus serving clients regardless of their industry?
A: “My suggestion would be to focus on where you know you add the most value, and if an opportunity to expand into a new area arises - take it. I want to grow Fluvio to serve many verticals within tech/SaaS but that will take some time.”
Q: What's your pricing structure? Do you charge by the hourly, per project/deliverable, or something else?
Also, if you do a project or deliverable, how do you estimate the time that you will have to invest to get enough domain knowledge to be effective, and how do you handle it with clients when it's a bigger project or trickier deliverable than you originally determined?
Finally, how do you manage through change at organizations that are smaller and mercurial with their strategy?
A: “I tend to try and bill on projects, which encompass deliverables and timelines. That said, everything boils down to some sort of hourly rate that is used to estimate total costs.
“My process consists of 1) getting to know the business by asking questions during the introductory call and conducting my research/analysis and then 2) laying out a formal proposal aimed to address the core areas of the business where I know Fluvio can help, ensuring I include project deliverables, timelines, and costs.
“I always include onboarding/auditing/researching in my timeline and generally assume I can get this done in a maximum of 2 weeks. Of course, I (and my team) will continue to develop domain expertise throughout the engagement, but speed is critical and something I am very aware of (in fact, it's one of Fluvio's three principles).
"I also ensure that if the scope expands (i.e. the client has requested a change in deliverables that will add time), I have a rate that will be applied to the additional time to prevent scope creep (this is in the agreement/SOW).”
Q: How do you find new clients to consult for, and how do you pitch yourself to consult (and not just provide free advice)?
A: “I've paused my business development efforts and have turned to an inbound strategy (I am very fortunate to have a healthy book of business that allows for this).
“However, when I got started I focused on finding the right company (maybe they are trying to hire PMMs, maybe they just raised a new round, maybe they acquired a new company, etc) and then find the right contact(s) (maybe CEO, CMO, Dir of Marketing, etc.) and send them a personal note via email or LinkedIn highlighting the challenges they are surely facing and matching them to my services/experience. I also try and include a couple of examples of products/projects I have worked on and a testimonial quote or two.”
Q: What specific deliverables/work products do you typically agree to produce? I.e. a GTM roadmap? X # of product messaging documents for the sales team?
A: “As you know, a PMM's scope is expansive! First, I get to know their business and challenges and then layout my tactics/deliverables to address. It tends to be very custom so there isn't a standard set of deliverables.”
Q: How do you identify what the client wants /needs is product marketing services and not say a traditional marketing or PR strategy? Are there clear indicators one way or another?
A: “This is a good question and something I listen for during my intro call. I have a long list of questions I use to understand their business, org structure, identified problems, etc and if I come away understanding my services are not the right fit - I tell them so!
“I've found that some folks think they need a PMM consultant but they are looking for an SEO specialist or a demand gen consultant for example. Transparency is key, you don't want to set yourself up for failure.”
Q: Based on your experience, what are clients looking for these days that they can't find elsewhere? How do you position yourself (messaging-wise) to show them that you can meet these needs?
A: “This depends on the type of company and their maturity level. For smaller/startup type companies, they are looking for someone who can tactically execute on messaging/GTM strategies and can digest technical documentation. For larger/enterprise-type companies, they are looking for proven product marketing leaders who have a track record of identifying problems/opportunities as they relate to growing a product or business and galvanizing a team around a mission.
“In terms of how I position myself, that's best answered by looking at my site! In short, showing that 1) I know the problem(s) they are coming up against given their situation (maybe they are trying to hire PMM, maybe they just raised a new round, maybe they acquired a new company, etc) and 2) I have fixed those problems before at notable companies (also add a testimonial quote if you have one).
"In the end, it's all about understanding the prospective client and their challenges (that in itself builds trust).”