Product marketing has been around as long as tech products have been on the market, but many business people struggle with it. They don’t have a full grasp of what B2B product marketing involves and how effective marketers can help their companies.
Perhaps because product marketing sits at the intersection of product, marketing, and sales, it fills different needs for each of these departments. Recently, I was working with a CEO who was considering hiring a product marketer. I described the array of tasks this person might handle, and she was surprised to hear that all these things could fall under the product marketing umbrella.
Product marketing is a catchall fix for gaps that exist between what the product team builds, what the marketing team says, what the sales team sells, and anything else connected to leveraging the investments the company makes when building new products.
Problematic Scenarios and Solutions
Many people agree that the first marketing hire should be a product marketer, and plenty of sites do a good job describing core aspects of the role. But the job is still a mystery for many.
To illustrate the role’s worth, let’s consider three scenarios in which a strong product marketer could take the lead in understanding the issues and finding the best solution for your company. Like product managers discovering what customers will value most, product marketers must do the same in the go-to-market functions and discover what’s best for market dynamics and customers.
Let’s take a look at some scenarios where good product marketing would be helpful. Product marketers need to be able to handle all of these situations in a thoughtful way, which is what makes the job so challenging.
Scenario 1: Product fix
Let’s say your engineering team has spent months fixing a performance issue that some important customers complained about. But when the fix was released, sales and customer success didn’t know about it, and neither did all the other customers.
Solution: A product marketer embedded with product teams would be aware when key features or fixes are being shipped. This person would develop the right communication strategy for the release, which would depend on how important the fixes are. Messaging could take many forms, including internal communication, news posts on social media, or a customer success outreach plan that boosts customer retention and helps sales close deals.
Scenario 2: The buzz over new features
Your company launches a big release with a lot of new integrations and enhancements. The feature that is actually creating buzz is a data highlighter that adds color-coding to a function that was already in the product (and, incidentally, was the easiest feature to add).
Solution: The product marketer needs to understand the market well enough to know — sometimes even better than the product team — what will “wow” customers. He or she will know this because this person is constantly talking to the sales and customer success teams and has direct knowledge from seeing the product in front of actual customers. It might be a small engineering effort, but one that delights customers. The product marketer designs launch and communication plans around what will have the most market impact, not around what is the biggest organizational effort.
Scenario 3: The disconnect
Your salespeople keep saying they need more demand gen and that their job is hard because “Competitor X is doing Y” or “We need feature X for our product.” In the meantime, marketing keeps sponsoring events, buying lists, creating content, and performing search engine marketing, but no one feels confident that all the activity is translating to a more predictable pipeline.
Solution: Making sales productive is sales enablement, not demand gen. The product marketer knows this can take a wide range of shapes, including training, creating Q&A videos, sample rollout plans distributed to sales prospects, competitive responses, and depositioning messaging.
The product marketer then documents and trains sales on the best, most repeatable process that succeeds in the shortest amount of time. Once sales and product marketing have figured out this mix, marketing specialists amplify messaging and work in channels where high-quality customers create high ROI. Product marketers lead this effort because they work together across the key functions of product launches.
Early-stage companies often ask me how they know they’re ready for product marketing. The answer: If you have a product, you’re ready. But know that the function is dynamic, especially in fast-moving companies, so you need a really smart generalist in the role. As needs, organizations, and problems change, so does the job. Product marketing is a vital component of your startup, so make sure you employ the best methods and best people you can find to fill this key role.
Martina Lauchengco, partner at Costanoa Ventures, serves on multiple boards and advises companies on marketing strategy, positioning, and all things go-to-market. With more than 20 years of marketing experience, she previously built and crafted strategies for market-defining software like Microsoft Office and Netscape Navigator.