I love talking to aspiring Product Marketers. The combination of zeal, curiosity, and hints of frustration spark a sense of nostalgia, taking me back a few years to when I was in their position. One of the most common questions I get asked—other than how I transitioned out of a BDR role into Product Marketing—is: “What key skills are required to be a PMM?”
It’s a challenging question because the role is so dynamic, can be unique to each company, and is evolving every single day. However, over the course of my three years slinging deals with Sales, generating demand with Marketing, and influencing the roadmap with Product, I’ve distilled the role into what I believe are five core competencies. These are the skills I’d imagine would show up on the ‘baseball card’ of every Product Marketer.
As the linchpin between the technical and the market facing sides of the business, Product Marketers bear the hefty responsibility of owning the Go-to-Market (GTM) playbook for their products, solutions, and verticals. Generally speaking, “Go-to-Market” refers to the strategy for how a company will reach and deliver value to customers. It outlines everything from who your ideal customer is, what market segments to target, why your solution is of value to customers, what alternatives exist in the market, what ideal channels should be used to acquire customers, and how to monetize your offering. Though led by PMM, Product Managers usually provide some input as the GTM strategy is essentially, the market facing reflection to the product roadmap; jointly it’s all about successfully delivering value to customers.
One common misconception is that GTM and product launches are one and the same—they are not. The purpose of a launch is to generate momentum in the market for your product or service and is rooted in a product milestone focused on customer value. They are accompanied by corresponding activities that support goals over a shorter time horizon but ultimately feed into a broader GTM strategy.
For example, Apple is rumoured to be launching the seventh iteration of their Apple Watch later this year. Cutting the obvious notion of innovation over time out of the picture, each launch of the Apple Watch represented one step forward in their broader GTM plan to grow market share within the wearables market and eventually, the health technology space. While the Apple Watch may have originally been for young, health conscious individuals who wanted to flaunt their premium step, heart, and sleep monitor, the launch of the Series 7 will enable Apple to tap into a net new customer segment. For individuals with chronic conditions like Diabetes and Cardiovascular disease, the Apple Watch can monitor blood sugar levels, run electrocardiograms, and pass data to healthcare providers on irregularities. Each launch had its own key activities that represented one step forward in their overall strategy.
If I had to wrap this section with a bit of a bow, you can imagine the GTM plan as a book, launches as the chapters within the story, and all of the activities around segmentation, pricing, and distribution as the supporting characters, plot, and narrative that bring the pages to life.
Key Takeaway: Go-To-Market and product launches are not one and the same, but are related. Launches operate on a shorter time horizon and feed into a broader strategy to deliver value to customers.
Positioning and Messaging
Being able to effectively communicate your ideas through storytelling is the hallmark of a strong Product Marketer; positioning and messaging is the most common manifestation of that. It’s arguably the one skill that is most commonly associated with Product Marketing because after all, the messaging document is the crown jewel of any PMM. Despite often being used interchangeably, it’s important to note that positioning and messaging are distinctly different.
Positioning is a strategic activity that defines your product category, your ideal customer, and what unique advantages your solution has over others. It ultimately results in the infamous positioning statement—an internal statement that influences product development, enablement, and messaging. Think of this as the north star guiding the team.
Messaging on the other hand is the external message you’re sending to the market on how your product uniquely delivers value to a specific target audience. It’s the personification of your product in words that prospective customers will be able to resonate with. This is crucial because just as engineers bring the product to life through feasible code and UX teams bring the product to life through usable design, Product Marketers bring the product to life through marketable messaging.
The pair of Positioning and Messaging is the penultimate left and right brain activity that directly feeds into the broader go-to-market engine and is used to drive towards whatever business metrics your product is gunning for. Strong positioning creates alignment and eliminates ambiguity. Strong messaging sparks relevancy with buyers, elicits a sense of urgency, and unlocks sales opportunities.
Key Takeaway: Positioning is an internal “north star” that defines your product category, ideal customer, and unique advantage. It informs messaging, which is how you communicate your products’ value to different market segments.
Yes, relationship building is absolutely a hard skill. The fact that more and more institutions around the world formally teach courses on the so-called “soft skills” like negotiation, effective communication, and leadership highlights their technical nature and importance in the world of business; relationship building is no different.
The reason this is a crucial skill is because Product Marketing is a highly cross-functional role; arguably the most cross-functional role (sorry PM’s). We interact with most teams across the business: Product Management and Finance when it comes to pricing and packaging; Engineering and Customer Experience for technical documentation; Sales and Marketing to generate new leads; and even Legal when evaluating the competitive landscape.
A large part of the PMM’s role is to set the strategy and enable others to execute. In other words, Product Marketers must be able to influence without authority by leveraging their relationships across the business. Additionally, your relationships across the company also ensure your voice is heard when it comes to value creation activities for the customer. A Product Marketers opinion matters because it’s rooted in market knowledge. It’s difficult to provide your opinion if you haven’t established trust with your peers.
Key Takeaway: Take the time to invest in cross-functional relationships. Your effectiveness as a PMM hinges on it.
When you sign up to be a PMM, you’re secretly padding your resume with the skills of a sleuth because as an expert on the market, keeping tabs on the competition is a necessity. Generally speaking, competitive intelligence is the act of identifying alternative solutions to yours in the market, curating insights on them, and effectively disseminating said insights throughout the business to relevant stakeholders. It’s not enough to just see that a competitor has changed their price or added a new feature. You need to understand how that change will threaten your position in the market, develop tactics to counter it, and level up your internal teams with that know-how.
To be clear, sales is not the only group that benefits from competitive intel; though they may be the most common consumer of it. From a product development perspective, it’s incredibly valuable to share competitive insights with Product and Engineering teams. Customer Support can benefit from market activity when handling upset customers who may be on the brink of churning. And finally, executive teams can derive value in understanding the lay of the land when setting the overall strategic direction of the company or when trying to accelerate it’s vision.
It’s easy to get bogged down in a mountain of competitive insights, but, this is where your positioning can help provide relevant information. Markets are increasingly becoming commodified, marred with alternatives for customers. Take the Martech landscape as an example. There are well over 8000 vendors in the space who all promise to deliver on a variation of the same value proposition: more leads, more pipeline, more revenue. Given the low barriers to entry, competition is fierce and if you’re not paranoid, you’re dead. This is why more and more PMM roles are sprouting with a focus on competitive/market intelligence.
Key Takeaway: Competitive intelligence goes beyond just informing the business what your direct competition is up to. It involves keeping tabs on the market as a whole, identifying relevant threats to your business, and creating a strategy on how to protect your position in the market.
Having a deep understanding of the technical nuances of the product, alongside empathy towards buyer personas positions PMMs as prime candidates to play a role in Sales Enablement. We can perfectly align product value to customer pain points. In all honesty, Sales should be craving to talk to you on the regular! That being said, as a former sales guy, I can attest to the mixed feelings most reps have towards enablement.
Despite being extremely valuable (when done right), it’s often seen as a necessary evil because it takes away from time spent on the phone, drafting emails, and engaging prospects that ultimately results in hitting quota. With that in mind, Sales Enablement should always focus on carving a path to quota for the team. When executing, it helps to actually think of the teams you’re enabling as another persona in your target audience. Apropos that, the tactics and approach to Sales Enablement should differ from how you’d educate your prospects and customers.
The term “Sales Enablement” is also a slightly dated way of looking at the function. As more companies ditch the traditional sales model in favour of a product led strategy, there’s more emphasis on enabling through the Customer Experience—that is, the channels through which customers would interact with a company. The two key pillars of Customer Experience are people and product. In other words, we should be enabling the actual launch, success, and support team members alongside the product itself. The catch here is when you’re enabling the “product”, you’re actually enabling the end user to ratchet up product adoption. Regardless of how you slice it, a strong enablement program can make or break your products’ effectiveness in the market.