Reflections on a Year in Product Marketing

From Daily KPI’s to Daily Targets

As a Business Development Representative, there was a certain comfort in knowing that metrics governed my life. A clear cadence of work with scientific precision outlined what success on a daily basis looked like. Accomplish X, Y, and Z and you could go home with your head held high. Of course, the added benefit of this was the constant dopamine rush you could tap into—a rush that countered the perpetual state of feeling like a sack of potatoes.

Unlike other quota-carrying roles, Product Marketing doesn’t have any daily, weekly or even monthly KPIs. Success is measured against broader objectives dictated by the company’s goals. Everything from hitting a revenue target, reducing customer acquisition costs, or widening margins are all responsibilities that Product Marketing is weighed against. It’s a role that offers much more autonomy in driving towards business outcomes. As a result, you could say that Product Marketers work on the business, rather than in the business.

Free reign aside, this was a really challenging shift for me. I’m the type of individual who likes to have leading indicators that remind me I’m driving towards my goals. Fortunately, the quick and easy fix was to pivot from daily metrics to daily targets. And let’s be clear, there is a difference. Metrics are numerical posts to hit. For example, make 50 cold calls a day. Targets can be numerical, but have the flexibility of being task-specific outcomes, such as building a webinar deck.

For me, success came down to crossing one thing off of my target list each day. That’s it. Simple goals stemming from a business objective that I could track visually, would provide me with my fix of dopamine, and keep my potato-like feelings at bay; unless of course, I mowed down some faux fries from McDonald’s that night.

Key Takeaway: Even in the absence of KPI’s find a way to track progress. Also, potatoes are awesome.

Ruthless Prioritization

One of the most fun aspects of Product Marketing is how expansive the role is. As experts on the buyer, we often find ourselves being pulled in several directions to support projects across the business. With that, time tends to be a scarce resource, as we juggle multiple competing priorities. 

When I first joined Miovision, I was eager to hit the ground running and make my mark. So, as my calendar fell victim to a never ending barrage of meeting invites, I graciously accepted them all. Consequently, the majority of my time was spent helping other teams drive towards their objectives, leaving no time for my own goals. It took the failure of one of my committed deliverables to make me realize that I had to start being more protective of my time. From that point onward, every meeting, every sync, and every project was (and still is) run through a mental ROI calculation to determine if it’s worth attending.

It may come across as pompous, but time is the most valuable resource at your disposal—and once it’s spent, you can never get it back. If you’re uncomfortable rejecting meetings, you can nip the problem in the bud by making colleagues acutely aware of your priorities with blocks in your calendar. In a world of shared calendars, these have become a staple for me, ensuring I have uninterrupted heads down time to work on my own projects.

Key Takeaway: Be protective of your time, it’s your most valuable resource.

Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter

December was a stressful, rewarding, and testing month for me. Our engineering team was on track to ship something new that was going to be announced at our upcoming live event. However, there was a lot of contention on whether what they were building was a new product or new feature. I won’t get into the details, but there were several late-night brawls involving myself and a few other individuals, beating the dead horse, vehemently voicing our opinions on the matter.

And they were just that: opinions.

We quickly came to the realization that the answers we were looking for, weren’t within the confines of our building. We had to adopt the methodology Eric Ries put forth in his book, The Lean Startup. Set a hypothesis, connect with the market, and use that insight to guide your decision making. It’s a mindset which is perfectly captured by a phrase the Pragmatic Institute uses which reads:

Your opinion though important, is irrelevant.

My fiancé has taken a keen liking to the phrase, often using it against me when I make suggestions on our upcoming wedding; of course, it doesn’t go over well when I say it to her.

The onus of using market insight inevitably helped us realize we were launching a new product, not just a set of features. On a personal note, I was thrilled to have come to this conclusion, as it meant I got to oversee my first product launch. Yay!

Key Takeaway: Your opinion doesn’t matter. Data from the market does.

Innovation is scary

Risk-taking is always a crucial ingredient in the recipe for innovation. However, it’s also one of the most difficult ones to put into action. People naturally bias towards decisions that perpetuate the status quo in an attempt to protect themselves from criticism and regret. It’s a behavior that Daniel Kahneman refers to as the Status Quo Bias in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow. People look for reasons not to do something if the status quo represents a safer course of action.

In February, our marketing team accomplished an unprecedented accomplishment. Within the span of two months, they scoped, stood up, and executed the first-ever partner summit in the company’s history. It was a project initiated by my Director in the spirit of taking risks and innovating in our industry. As successful as the event was, leading up to it, there was a palpable resistance from the team, skewed towards axing the project altogether. Just so we’re clear, it was a sentiment I shared also. To draw a comparison to horse racing: our horse had left the gate and I wanted to shoot off all four of its knee caps to prevent it from buccaneering any further — clearly, all the Halo I’ve been playing in isolation is having an impact on me.

At the heart of my angst was the lack of understanding around the core objectives of the project. To get over that hump, all it took was a quick chat with my VP of Revenue to indoctrinate me. Once I understood the reason behind it, it became easy to run towards the finish line, pull off an amazing event, and be excited in the stressful, ambiguous, and innovative situation we were in.

Key Takeaway: Lean into discomfort, try new things, and break the status quo.

Act Like an Owner

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received comes from an ex-Amazon employee who told me that success tends to follow those who act like owners, think in terms of P&L, and demonstrate resilience in the toughest of situations. I’d say it’s a very Amazon-like sentiment since the company is known for its obsession with finding ways to reduce expenses and maximize revenue. In its early days, this was exemplified by purchasing doors and nailing planks of wood to them, to create desks at a lower cost than actually buying desks. In the present day, that prudent mentality has evolved such that every Amazon project put forth must clearly outline how it will impact the bottom line.

It’s been my long standing belief that individuals with “Product” in their title are business owners, and as such, are responsible for the vision, execution, and success of a particular product in the market. It was a notion that I felt was exclusive to “Product” people, but after a year in the role, I’d say that belief is short-sighted.

The best performers, the individuals whom others gravitate towards, embody ownership irrespective of their title. The strongest sales reps see their work as a book of business, rather than a quota. Designers create visual stories in support of the brand, rather than speckling images on collateral. And Engineers don’t subjugate to tech debt merely because it’s the easy fix. Ownership breeds the highest level of excellence in any organization and is, according to Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great, a key differentiator between good businesses and great businesses. Asking the hard questions like:

If this was my company, would I support decision X?
Would I hire someone who spends their time on Y?
What would my shareholders think of Z?

All of this represents a shift in mindset that ensures you’re constantly providing value to your company, while cementing your position as an indispensable resource. 

Key Takeaway: Ownership breeds success. Be the CEO of your role.

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