What is good product marketing? This is the most crucial question on my mind this week.
As I sip on my morning coffee in my jammies, my thoughts revolve around the new Product Marketing (PMM) leadership role I've taken on.
Over the first couple of weeks, I've met 20+ cross-functional stakeholders from Product Management (PM) and various Go-To-Market (GTM) teams. Some clear themes have emerged through those frank interviews, and I put pen to paper on a charter for the PMM team.
Initially, I felt ecstatic. Then, I realized that the charter was missing something. Though it feels clear and accurate, it's dry and uninspiring. Like a job description. Ugh.
Last night on the drive back home, with some old-school hip hop playing in my ear, inspiration hit me! I recalled reading the famed Good PM, Bad PM memo from Ben Horowitz a decade ago. I NEED the PMM version of that.
So, here, I present to you, Good PMM, Bad PMM.
If you ever need to explain PMM to someone in the future, send them this. Let's get into it.
Good product marketers know the market, segments, customers, buyers, and champions exceptionally well. A good product marketer is the CMO of the product. They are responsible for positioning the product as an obvious choice in the mind of their audience and take responsibility for devising and executing a winning plan (no excuses).
Bad product marketers are full of excuses. There is not enough marketing budget, the product team doesn't know what they're doing, salespeople aren't selling how we told them, the competition is way ahead of us, or we are not involved in the product development lifecycle. Good product marketers don't make these kinds of excuses, and neither should the CMO of a business.
Good product marketers make time for both strategy and execution. They don't get so tied down by the mechanics and logistics of launching products that they forget about the strategy that'll maximize success (revenue, growth). They are not project managers or gophers for the product or sales team. The "how" is necessary but not more important than the "what," and more importantly, the "why."
Bad product marketers feel good when they've mastered the "how" but don't have any clue about the "what" or the "why" behind the product or go-to-market. They have many checklists, but the checklists' content leads to undifferentiated marketing and sales.
Early in my career, when I was a PM, a PMM colleague of mine asked me why customers would care about a specific feature we were building. Every time I thought I explained why sufficiently, she'd keep digging to get to the kernel of truth in what I was saying. She wouldn't just take my word for it. She'd challenge every assumption or statement that came out of my mouth. The back and forth was illuminating for both of us. It led us to build the feature better and marketing that resonated. As a PMM, I strive to be like her!
Good product marketers influence strategy and roadmap by uncovering deep insights through a holistic market understanding. They convert feedback into insights that the entire organization can understand. They inspire the product team to think bigger and over a longer time horizon. Think coach, not the mascot or cheerleader.
Bad product marketers are merely messengers of feedback. They relay their observations from sales, support, and customers but cannot convert that feedback into insight. They get frustrated when PM and GTM teams don't listen to the feedback they provide.
Good product marketers find every opportunity to get more context on their buyers' entire psychology and context. When conducting research, they ask questions to understand the customer's end-to-end problems. They listen to sales and support calls, sit in on sales pitches, attend UX research sessions, wade through support tickets, find new industry reports, mystery shop the competition's products, create meaningful marketing research briefs and projects.
Bad product marketers jump straight to asking tactical questions about their product, not the customer!
Good product marketers are incredible communicators and facilitators. They write crisp and precise descriptions of the market, the customer, and buyers that everyone in the company understands well. They don't leave anything to interpretation and back up their claims with data and logic. A good product marketer focuses on building solid relationships with sales and marketing to remove sources of miscommunication and misalignment.
Bad product marketers can never align PM and GTM teams on one definition. Everyone works off a different description, resulting in confusion and chaos. Too often, we see this in our domain — sales teams think one thing, marketing thinks another, and the product team hasn't even been consulted.
Recently, I came across a process document from a PMM on my team that hit all the notes required in good communication. It was detailed and had lots of valuable specifics. It was visual. It had stories weaved in throughout. It made me want to read more and ask questions!
Good product marketers create a strategic narrative based on positioning and messaging that fits the customer's worldview. This narrative is used across various channels and consistently surfaced to tell a story that resonates deeply. The narrative focuses on customers' clear and obvious pain, which is solved by the product being sold. Good product marketers support the creation of content that educates, entertains, and inspires the audience.
Bad product marketers create dull and uninspiring sales decks with features, roadmaps, and value props that don't speak directly to the pain being felt by customers. They are full of internal jargon, acronyms, and feature names that no customer or prospect understands.
A few years ago, I was launching a new product for a startup that was complementary to the core offering and a natural extension. The challenge was that we weren't known for it, and buyers had to solve the problem through competing offerings. I remember thinking hard about positioning this new product relative to the market and realizing we didn't have to. It was such an obvious buy.
We trained the sales team on a "Would you like fries with that?" strategy. Let me explain. When you order a burger at a fast-food restaurant, the likelihood of you also ordering fries and a drink is so high that servers know they can simplify the decision for you by asking a simple yes or no question. I realized we were in the same position. Our customers wanted to solve their adjacent problem. We didn't have to create different and unique positioning. We just evolved our narrative in a way that made this cross-sell obvious.
Good product marketers understand the competition so well that they can pitch the competitor's products. They can argue the other side's case better than the other side can. Bad product marketers maintain competitive battle cards that contain feature by feature but can't summarize the differentiation strategically.
Good product marketers use customer references, advocates, and champions to elevate storytelling consistently. Bad product marketers never go beyond maintaining a list of customers willing to be referenced for opportunities being worked by the sales team.
Good product marketers launch products with zeal and enthusiasm that can be felt palpably by the market and their colleagues. The rollout and communication have been through and planned meticulously. Launch goals and a launch review process have been agreed upon ahead of time. Sales, support, and the rest of the GTM engine are well aware of what to expect.
Bad product marketers barely make it to launch day. They get inundated with sales, support, and marketing questions after launching and feel overwhelmed reacting to it all.
Good product marketers take full responsibility and measure themselves in terms of the success of the entire go-to-market lifecycle of the product. A good product marketer focuses the PM and GTM teams on the higher priority business goals - product-market-fit, revenue, retention, growth. They partner with cross-functional teams to align on these goals from the start and refrain from busy work.
Bad product marketers tout impact on metrics that don't have anything to do with the goals/metrics that matter. They don't benchmark against the best or have clearly defined success criteria for the product or the launch.
Marketing isn't magic. This is especially true for product marketing. If the product you're selling isn't differentiated and isn't adding value to prospects and customers in a meaningful way, no amount of product marketing can change that. The product doesn't have to be the best in the world but has to be good enough for marketing and distribution to work!
As I make final edits on this piece, the question I'm asking myself is this — "Is it that binary? Good and bad?" I realize that the truth probably lies somewhere in between. This definition sets an extremely high bar. To achieve that high bar, companies need to invest more in PMM, and cross-functional stakeholders need to learn how to leverage Product Marketing. With the right ingredients, PMM can indeed be a game-changer.
The higher bar I'm setting here is also a conscious choice to push my team and self towards excellence. Like most good things in life, you have to go above and beyond to be excellent. Many things I put in the "Bad" bucket aren't bad by themselves, but it can be easy and comfortable to do just those things and think your mission is accomplished.
On that note, if you're reading this and want to work on an incredible PMM team to bring the best B2B fintech products to market, get in touch and let's chat. We're hiring!
If you liked what you read here and are interested in building your go-to-market skills, follow GTM Digest on Twitter, where I post tips on leading go-to-market teams.