It’s impossible to pinpoint one single product marketing skill that’s the most important among recruiters because needs vary. While some are building the product marketing function from the ground up, others are developing their existing team and this influences which skills are prioritized. Some employers will be on the lookout for skills in product positioning, for others it might be engaging messaging, whereas some will want to hone in on competitive intelligence.
Product marketing skills are as diverse as definitions of the discipline itself. Just because one employer may not value a skill as much as another, it’s essential to be as well-rounded as possible and identify critical hard and soft skills to climb the professional ladder.
So, in this article we'll be looking at:
- Valuable hard skills among recruiters
- Valuable soft skills among recruiters
- How to sell your product marketing skills
- What product marketing skills do entry-level candidates need?
- How to improve career enhancement prospects
Valuable hard skills among recruiters
In the State of Product Marketing Leadership report 2021, we asked 300+ senior PMMs what kind of hard skills they look for when recruiting into their teams.
Almost three-quarters of product marketers surveyed (74%) said they look for skills in GTM strategy and execution during the recruitment process, while 66% said they value writing skills and content creation. Product messaging and product positioning were also valued skills among recruiters, with 63% indicating they look for each of these skills.
Valuable soft skills among recruiters
We also asked product marketing leaders which soft skills they look out for during the recruitment process:
Strong communication skills were valued by the majority of product marketers surveyed (90%), with the ability to build cross-functional internal relationships coming in a close second for 89% of our senior PMMs. Adaptability, teamwork, and empathy were also considered to be core soft skills for a product marketer.
Tamara Niesen, Director, Global GTM & Demand Generation at Shopify told us how she prefers to find a balance between soft and hard skills when we asked her which skills were most desirable in a new PMM hire
“This is hard for me to answer because I hire on a balanced combination of soft skills and skills, but when hiring PMMs I look for:
- Customer obsessed and leading with empathy - a proven understanding of what this means, and examples of how this has been applied to effect change in a roadmap, product launch, or growth initiatives.
- Proven ability to pivot between product marketing, and solution marketing, (or a solid understanding of the difference between the two, and when you need to market a product vs a solution in a multi-product organization)
- Communication - presentation-based, written, and verbal storytelling skills, from writing, positioning and messaging, to pitch decks, to solution narratives, to rallying internal stakeholders to support an idea.”
During our Product Marketing Insider podcast, we’ve also picked the brains of PMMs who’ve successfully interviewed for the top roles in the industry about which product marketing skills have helped them get to where they are today. Here’s what they’ve had to say:
Messaging and positioning
Sarah Din, VP of Product Marketing at Unbabel
“I think one of the key things you need to nail right away is messaging and positioning, they’re core to any product marketing role. If you're not good at product messaging, you can’t do a product marketing role. So, be good at figuring out how to message to the right people at the right time.
“Product positioning is important too, especially if you're working in organizations that have multiple products or have a very competitive industry, so you need to nail how you position your products either complementary or against each other, however that is, or within a very competitive industry.”
Elizabeth Brigham, Director at The Jay Hurt Hub for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Davidson College
“Relationship building, hands down. That's the first thing I do when I go into any new company. I try to meet as many people as possible, I try to prioritize my time, obviously, with those with whom I would be working most closely, but understanding them at a very deep level, because without that trust initially going in, you're not going to be able to move quickly and get things done.”
Small group communication
Kerensa Hogan, Director of Product Marketing at RingCentral
“Because product marketing is so responsible for cross-functional communication, small group communication as a skill is so important. PMMs rarely ever speak to an audience greater than maybe six people in a room, right? And a lot of the things we do, and I would add conflict resolution as a second skill, is we are communicating in a small group.
“More often than not, we're hosting that communication, because we're either trying to make people aware of something or we're trying to get people to consult on something. Generally speaking, we're often the drivers of this effort and workflow. So, the ability to understand the importance of small group communication and the dynamics of small group communication, and how to fundamentally lead a meeting, is so important.”
Jasmine Jaume, Director of Product Marketing (Support and Platform) at Intercom
“It's kind of cliche, but communication is so key in a product marketing role, as well as building relationships with different teams and knowing when something is happening - whether that's a feature announcement or a change to the UI or whatever it might be, knowing who that's going to impact and having an overview and being able to think about things like, which teams need to know about this? And then being able to communicate that clearly and concisely and relate it in a way that influences people, so knowing why it's important to them, and why they should care about it. I think good communication skills are kind of key and I don't think you'd get very far in a PMM role if you can't communicate well.”
Tamara Grominsky, Chief Strategy Officer at Unbounce
“As a product marketer, you need to be data-informed with a real sense of curiosity, because no one's going to tell you what data to go look at, or what questions to ask. You have to have this sense of curiosity and kind of a desire to dig under the surface to identify trends and see what's happening with the customers.”
Jasmine Jaume, Director of Product Marketing (Support and Platform) at Intercom
“I'm big on organization, especially in a fast-moving startup environment, PMMs have to be very agile and flexible. Things come up, you know, there's a feature the product team wants to announce that you don't know about and you need to figure out how to fit it in. You need to make sure you're communicating with the right people. And when you're running things like big launches, organization is key to making those run smoothly. I like making lists and plans but whatever that looks like for you, just keeping organized and staying on top of things.”
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Focus & prioritization
Div Manickam, Director WW Services Marketing and Portfolio Management, DCG Services at Lenovo
“As a leader, and I think this is slightly different from an individual contribution, one of the big things for me is having that focus and prioritization. As I took on the role, I quickly realized that it's easy for us to let other teams tell us what to do, and that means you're just chasing project after project. So having that focus and prioritization was very critical.
“Making sure you have the discipline to say no is important too. As much as you want to be a team player and as much as you want to say “yes, I've got this” and try your best to not be underwater, you will be. You need to be able to know how much you can take on and always keep that 10 to 20% buffer - as idealistic as it may sound because there’ll always be projects that will be last-minute or a last-minute fire that we need to put down, and if we don't have that buffer then some other project is going to slip and you don't want to be the reason that happens. So only commit to things you can do and then the others just say no.”
Samantha Yeh, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Spotify
“I think empathy is a core skill to develop for product marketers, but it's not just empathy for the users, it's also empathy for the teams you need to involve and the decisions you rely on their expertise to help you resolve. I think one way we were able to elevate our level of influence in the organization was by better understanding those teams, our partners’ goals, and the things they think about a lot in their day-to-day.”
Want to improve on this? Take a read of how to build empathy and gain insights with a company-wide customer support day.
Francis Larkin, VP of Product Marketing at InVision
“We need people who can deeply understand these products because they are the subject matter expert internally for the marketing and the sales organizations. So, they need to be intensely curious, they need to be able to break down this product, and they need to be able to articulate it concisely to peers and customers. So strong product orientation and curiosity is a must.”
How to sell your product marketing skills
Gaining the desired product marketing skills represents half the battle when you’re competing for your dream role. You need to sell your skills and prove you tick all the boxes.
We picked the brains of Abby Barsky, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Cord, who gave 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
The product marketing career path
Q: 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 agree 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 are 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.”
How to get noticed as a generalist
Q: 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 chance 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 boot camps, 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."
How to transition into product marketing
Q: 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."
How to move from B2B to B2C marketing
Q: 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."
Skills to look for in a first PMM hire
Q: 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 you can 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."
Bouncing back from rejection
Q: 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 at 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."
Advice for entry-level product marketers
Q: 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."
Product marketing skills to continually develop
Q: 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."
How to tackle imposter syndrome
Q: 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 afterward 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, told me to think about the most important things you want people to know about you; it’s 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!"
What product marketing skills do entry-level candidates need?
Empathy, cross-functional communication, storytelling, research, and problem-solving were among the key skills deemed essential for entry-level PMMs by Daniella Latham, Senior Product Marketing Manager in Education at Canva. She said:
“Product marketers come from diverse backgrounds, as the role typically requires a healthy mix of both creativity, problem solving and analytical skills. In any B2B or B2C company, you might find product marketers coming from sales, demand gen marketing, project management, or customer support.”
How to improve career enhancement prospects
Product marketing is an area with broad scope for professional development. Some common job titles for product marketers include:
- Associate Product Marketing Manager
- Junior Product Marketing Associate
- Portfolio Marketing Manager
- Digital Product Marketing Manager
- Product Marketing Manager
- Solutions Marketing Manager
With experience, PMMs can progress into more senior roles, including Senior Product Marketing Manager and VP of Product Marketing.
PMM Hired, PMA’s product marketing hub, gives you the tools you need to take control of your career and ascend the career ladder, including:
- Interview advice and examples
- Exclusive articles
Built with brands like IBM, Amazon, Etsy, and Google Fiber (plus much more), PMM Hired breaks down the key steps in the product marketing career journey and provides specific and detailed content about how to improve your skills and increase your chances of landing that next promotion.