Improving Product Marketing
With 30,000 new products introduced each year, and an often quoted failure rate of 95% – Product Marketing needs improvement. [HBR Feb2011] A first step is to better define key elements of Product Marketing, define the core elements, and start measuring against these elements to focus the talent base on improvement. Our previous post reviewed a brainstorming exercise on Product Marketing Excellence. Now let us look at developing a common scorecard for product marketers.
Four sources guided the analysis below to develop the 12 key criteria of Product Marketing Managers (PMM’s). Aventi Group’s Sridhar Ramanathan, posted his perspective on the 10 key components on which Product Marketers need to focus. Another source is a summary of 25 Product Marketing job postings – citing the most commonly used terms. Two more sources came from brainstorming run with 15 professionals at ProductCamp Toronto 2015. First was a guided brainstorming session, followed by comments made during an open brainstorm discussion. The guided brainstorming focused on particular areas, whereas open brainstorming captured missing elements. Chart 1 shows these results.
To make this a useful set of product marketing dimensions we cluster the common concepts from each group (column). Not scientifically rigorous, these clusters form conceptual dimensions of the job. Chart 2 shows the results of this clustering. Twelve dimensions evolve.
A big part of Product Marketing is creating the strategy for the product offering. It means summarizing the value proposition, positioning in market, differentiating against competitive offerings, setting price points, and outlining the full Go-To-Market (GTM) Strategy. GTM strategy means working out the promotion, place and distribution elements, channels, incentives, training programs, and so on. Remember to ask what the value proposition is at each channel stage. Naturally, Profit and Loss (P&L) considerations and thorough financial analyses must be completed by the Product Marketing leader – as well. A full business plan is a baseline for the strategy phase.
Beyond the business plan, full marketing focused on the product and brand – is a product marketing responsibility. An outbound marketing plan is another baseline expectation. This means planning for all stages of driving customers through the buyers journey, and how various content elements play into each stage (think AIDA / ACPP). Aside from developing the marketing plan, the PMM must also drive plan execution. This means rolling up their sleeves to put the plan in motion as the key project manager orchestrating all marketing elements. Typically this will mean making hundreds of decisions on what the product means, managing the brand, how to market it, what wording to use for the web, promotions and events, and so on. Basically, it is about driving all elements of social, digital and integrated marketing. This also involves making sure all parties within the organisation who touch the product in some way (services, implementation, inside sales, …) are trained, and understand the brand promise, and it must be fulfilled. All told, the whole organisation must understand the brand promise, and their part in keeping it.
When choosing a candidate for a Product Marketing role – background is important. Three elements came up in the brainstorming sessions. Candidates for PMM roles MUST have a technical background to understand the offering (product). They must also have a solid marketing background, preferably from a combination of studies and experience. Common minimum requirements for PMM’s includes an MBA or Master’s level management studies, augmented by further studies or certifications in marketing management, social strategy, and digital marketing. Finally, one of the brainstorming sessions articulated the need for PMMs to have an established reputation and track record of success. This reputation comes from a network of other PMMs, speaking engagements, and involvement in professional associations.
Although background emerged as a dimension in assessing a PMM, it is best suited for assessing a PMM’s candidacy for a role in the organisation. Recruiters and hiring managers would consider reputation as a component of hiring a prospective candidate. However, this dimension would not normally be a consideration in a scorecard meant to assess excellence in actions and results.
Beyond creating the initial launch strategy, the PMM must also continually sense the market, its needs, shifts in demand, and new customer perspectives. Market sensing means continually acquiring market knowledge (trends, shift, key directions), understand competitive pressures and strategic maneuvers, and having a relentless focus on the customer. Customer focus means regular meetings with clients for that continual pulse on shifting demands and needs. It also means understanding the level of brand awareness and grasping the elements of marketing making an impact. It is a continual process.
Unlike other marketing specializations, PMM’s must understand their product to effectively write about it, create marketing collateral, position against competitors, blog, and discuss the offering online in social fora. It is NOT critical that a PMM have the technical depth of a Technical Product Manager who is intimately involved in development. However, the PMM must be steeped enough in the product details to translate technical features into customer benefits. Since intimately knowing the customer is a key component of a PMM’s job, they need to be versed enough in the technical aspects to comfortably and regularly participate in sales calls involving product oriented discussions.
PMMs are the key driving force behind the success of a new product introduction, and behind the success of a category of products in market. PMMs often work largely behind the scenes. Despite this PMMs must be the driving evangelist of the product, brand or category. It means focusing on both internal and external communications. From a product perspective the PMM must be the principle company spokesperson when the discussion focuses on the product. Having put together the full business strategy – PMMs should create and drive the “Why-Mission.” In other word, they must champion the reason for the product’s existence, how it fills a needed market gap, and how it succeeds at helping drive the organisation in brand awareness, revenue, market share and thought leadership.
Not all PMMs or Category Managers are called to revolutionize an industry, company or division. Sometimes the key function involves managing the business. Sometimes that focus is on incrementally improvements like a new minor release, version, or line extension.
However, in most cases where a PMM’s role is called for in an organisation, the express purpose is to introduce new technology, significant improvements, or entirely new technology categories. These cases mean that new PMM roles emerge with a high level of change management needed. It means facing the internal challenges of changing processes that may not have changed in many years. It means creating new processes that the organisation can understand and follow. It also means stepping up to take responsibility to ensure new processes are internalized, and work effectively. Finally, the PMM also has to be politically savvy and influential within the organisation to get initiatives implemented. Political savvy does not mean the evil, sociopathic element of politics that damages so many organizations. Political savvy for PMMs helps circumvent challenges. It uses influence to smooth the change initiatives and adoption of new methods. Without it, PMMs may find themselves becoming isolated and ineffective.
Called out only vaguely in the job descriptions (aggregation of 25 Product Marketing job postings) – sales enablement is a key component of determining whether a product will be successful in market, or if it will join the 95% of failures. When launching a new product, ‘priming the pipeline’ is a common reference to making sure a few key or starter accounts are ready to sell on or directly after the launch date. To do this means working with a select few sales people to land a early win accounts, or enabling the entire sales team. Not only does it mean creating the digital and traditional marketing content, web and social collateral needed, but also ensuring that sales is well versed in the new offering. Even if your firm has a training department, it means working to develop, deliver and engage the sales teams’ focus and hearts. Surprisingly, this is seldom discussed in Product circles. PMMs who excel at their work excel at aligning all success factors – INCLUDING sales enablement.
Even if the organisation is not clear about business metrics ownership – it is the PMM’s responsibility to take business metrics ownership! Today’s PMMs must have a business management mindset. Even if P&L ownership is not an option (some companies are disfunctional), PMMs must use an analytic mindset to monitor and assess the success of the product, category or offering. This means assessing metrics like sales, pipeline, Average Revenue per Unit sold (ARPU), revenue growth, gross margins, discounting levels, Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC), and the crucial metrics of Customer Lifetime Value (CLV). Naturally a set of corresponding marketing metrics are equally important to assess the effectiveness of the marketing programs meant to drive product sales. Analytics here include site visits, white-paper / ebook downloads, subscription email growth, product page bounce rates, time on site metrics, product blog visits, social growth metrics, and so on. Marketing analytics must be monitored and balanced along the buyers’ journey paradigm. For example a PMM is NOT doing their job if all they are getting is many product page visit, tons of social engagement – yet ZERO content downloads, ZERO engagement & subscription signups, and ZERO conversions to warm leads for sales followup. The core metric and result is units sold, gross margins and revenue growth in the product category. In other words, profitable sales.
An analytic mindset, and desire to experiment is important to a PMM’s business success.
“Strategy without execution is Hallucination” (Forbes, May 2012). This often quoted saying is equally true of a PMM’s work. A key element of assessing a PMM on a scorecard is whether they are able to translate the strategy into actionable tactics, define metrics to monitor progress, get help to execute the tactics and roll up their sleeves to get the work done. PMMs who succeed at execution will ultimately succeed at driving their products and categories.
Defining a scorecard for PMMs means focusing on excellence. It means seeking PMMs who have not only done their job effectively, not only helped their own product line grow, and driven an increase in market share and awareness to their category; but also have given back to the profession. It means helping their peers and colleagues, and sharing their learned prowess. Excellence includes what a PMM has done to share their skills and experiential learnings. With an often quoted failure rate of 95% – the profession needs much more sharing of best practices, strategies and tactics. Examples include mentoring, helping train other professionals, and actively engaging in their professional associations. When most business professionals are focused on their own success – a recognition of excellence must include the outward contributions made to give-back to the development of others – in their society of practice.
From all the above discussions it is no surprise that leadership is a key element in the scorecard. Should a PMM be actively focused on each scorecard element – then they are inherently also driving the elements with a firm sense of leadership.
Why a Product Marketing Scorecard?
This scorecarding exercise will help PMM managers assess candidates and their own team capabilities. The twelve dimensions succinctly outline the core of every Product Marketing role. Excellence means driving each element well. Focused effort on improving each element will help the profession improve its poor reputation at market launches, at the very least. In fact, a step in the direction of helping improve the profession is the creation of an award for Excellence in Product Marketing. This will be left as a next step exercise.
Should you need help with assessing your own team, or are interested in designing such an award system for your own organisation – please reach out to me in person at CharlesDimov@GMail.com.
Author: Charles Dimov