The relevance and import of Product Marketing lie in these two words themselves - Product and Marketing. It’s a lot about objectively understanding the foundational technology, strengths, limitations, time to value, and magnitude of the impact of your product and marketing it accordingly to the right Ideal Customer Persona (ICP); across its entire lifecycle.
So, it encompasses everything from identifying the Total Addressable Market (TAM), mapping out the ICP, developing the product’s positioning and messaging (more around problems, features, and benefits), bringing the product to market (GTM), and making sure both internal (Sales, Customer Success, Support) and external (customers, prospects, relevant partners/resellers) stakeholders understand it.
Many enterprise SaaS companies have separate Product Marketing and GTM teams. But, leaner setups may not have this luxury. Which is why it’s important to understand that Product Marketing goes above and beyond merely launching a product. At the end of the day, it’s about fueling demand and adoption of the product or hero features within it. Hence, marketing across the product’s entire lifecycle - from launch to adoption to upgrade or discard - assumes even greater significance. It is a product-led function and requires seeking periodic answers to pressing questions like - “are they aware of the product and its capabilities?”, “do they know how to use it and integrate it within their existing tech stack?”, “Is there a gap between your product promise and actual on-ground customer pain-points?”, “Is your product adding value and worth the investment?”, “are customers happy with your product and do they have suggestions on how it can be improved to better suit their needs?”.
Solutions Marketing as compared to the other is a more customer-centric function. It requires an in-depth understanding and context of how a product can be used by your ICP across different industries; i.e. industry-level use case mapping and communication. Generalizing pain points gets you only that far. For there are specific challenges associated with specific businesses within disparate industries (or even sub-categories).
For instance, a customer engagement SaaS product may promise to increase conversions by 15% and customer retention by 12% for mobile app-first brands (Product Marketing). But, understanding how the definition of “conversion” changes for different customers...how specific features (Visual Journey Builder, Rich Push Notifications, Geofencing etc.) within the product can help e-commerce, fantasy gaming, or fintech app achieve this - at different stages of the user journey - is something that Solutions Marketing would dive deeper into.
It’s more about identifying and bringing the customer’s vision and definition of success to life, with your product; i.e. tailor-making the application and relevance of your product. Very often, Solutions Marketing could become a subset of a Product Marketer’s strategy - no harm in that. But, it’s important to delineate the difference so positioning and messaging pillars don’t get confused, both internally and externally.
The answer to this depends on a basket of scale and speed factors - company’s growth stage and size, quantum and recency of funding, TAM and GTM strategy, the performance of existing marketing setup, current sales pipeline, future growth goals, etc.
In my experience, there are 4 main situations when a SaaS company should look to set up a PMM team (or at least make 1 senior hire):
- If the product is highly technical or operates in a very competitive market, communicating even the minutest of differentiations with conviction requires a PMM’s involvement in the mix.
- If the company already has a demand generation and customer acquisition engine that has gathered momentum, it would make sense to take the next step up and refine your positioning and messaging to usher consistency across the board and double down on growth goals. This is typically true for pre-Series A or Series A funded SaaS startups that need to showcase predictable MRR and ARR pipelines
-If the company, operating with budgets to spare, have cross-functional resources that are already stretched. There might be a case where Product Managers are managing launches and release notes. Sales are creating sales enablement content or product pitch decks. And, Marketing is devoting undue bandwidth towards half-baked product explainer videos. Why fall prey to that opportunity cost and not bring onboard a PMM who can galvanize the internal ecosystem while also driving external product demand?
- If the legacy enterprise tech company is pivoting to or finetuning its growth strategy to keep pace with existing competition and emerging startups eating into their mind and market share. Mind you - such companies may not always have a traditional SaaS Marketing team and PMM should ideally be one of the first sub-functions set up to cater to these changes
The size and composition of a product marketing team depend on the size and scale of the company, the growth stage it is at, its existing product lines, the firm’s future product roadmap, and on their TAM and GTM strategy. It is very subjective and is usually tailored to fit the needs of the company.
For instance, a startup may have just 1-2 generalist PMMs that directly report to the Head of Marketing.
A mid-growth stage company may have 6-7 PMMs that report to a Director of PMM with more specialized roles. I’ve had the experience of working on both sides of the fence at CleverTap and Netcore Cloud.
For enterprise tech firms like Freshworks or Zoho, the team size consists of 10+ PMMs, a specialist approach might see PMMs aligned across specific KRAs such as Positioning and Messaging, Competitive Analysis and Intelligence, Product Launch, Sales Enablement, Community Engagement/Thought Leadership, etc. But, one size doesn’t fit all and a PMM team may also be aligned vertically, based on product lines or business units.
Having set up the PMM function and team from scratch at Netcore Cloud, I aligned my team’s KRAs based on a specific product or a business unit to suit business requirements. So, each PMM leads a specific product as a custodian.
I’ll outline the “starter” PMM team tech stack. These include must-have free or moderately priced tools that other teams already have access to or something that a Product Marketing leader can make a business case for:
- Keyword Research: Ahrefs or SEMrush is very handy - especially while naming new features, identifying demand for existing and future features, developing positioning and messaging pillars across website assets, identifying competitive differentiators - all tailored to what your ICP is searching for and in what context
Competitive Intelligence: A platform like Kompyte helps PMM teams automate competitive research by getting a (nearly) 360-degree view of their selected competitors’ offerings in any SaaS vertical. Less time spent in scouring for information and more time spent on fine-tuning GTM strategies. Their free sales battle card templates have been a major personal help in my journey
Website Analytics: Google Analytics to give PMM teams visibility on what’s working and what’s not - in terms of traffic, engagement, and conversions. A Product Marketer doesn’t need to personally monitor these metrics, but it is important to understand how PMM content is influencing larger website goals and SERP rankings and the role of such content in lead generation. Hotjar offers insights on browsing and navigation behavior to further improve copy, creatives, or CTAs.
Landing Page A/B Testing: PMM teams need to revel in agility. At times, this often means reducing dependence on Design and Website teams by using tools like Unbounce, Optimizely, or Instapage to quickly develop and deploy landing pages for social media ads. Testing layouts, copy, and CTAs through these no-code/low-code tools while optimizing for conversion is a great way to test your messaging and target audience responses to the same.
In-Product Engagement: This is a recent addition to the PMM tech stack, buying into the prevalent philosophy of driving product-led Growth (PLG). Tools like Beamer and Appcues help PMMs create a more immersive usage experience via contextual walkthroughs or tooltips directly within the product - to update customers on newly released features, highlight the key or underutilized features that most affect their metrics, or educate them on how to use the entire product. The idea is to help newly onboarded customers experience value faster and existing customers to continue experiencing value through a better UI/UX and access to features that impact the metrics that matter the most to them (TMTMTM)
Sales Enablement Content Consumption: Tools like Paperflite and Highspot allow PMM teams to track the use and impact of various content assets developed by them - blog posts, battle cards, pitch decks, use case decks, industry benchmark reports, videos, podcasts, etc. These platforms also have the ability to recommend content that works best for specific products, sales teams, or geographies while influencing deal closures. For instance, Region-specific success stories for a particular industry
Product Explainer Videos: Creating product-focused explainer videos - outlining new features, steps of use, industry-specific use cases, etc. - with limited Design dependence can be accelerated through tools like Loom or Vyond. These can be used for internal training purposes or external consumption (with some more finesse, of course!)
Workflow/Project Management: Something as simple as a Trello may suffice - to manage product launches, manage content release calendars, and track macro-project progress. Airtable works better when collaborating with Inbound or Design teams. PMM teams can align with go-to Product Management tools like Jira, but this isn’t as seamless as expected. In that case, experimenting with a tool like Productboard is worth a shot. There are other cross-functional tools like CRM systems such as Hubspot or Pardot that will be important to other SaaS marketing sub-functions as well and fit right into a PMM’s tech stack. But, that would be stating the obvious!
Product marketing may have a universal definition, but it means different things to different companies. Depending on their requirements and priorities. But, measuring impact and performance is key. Flying blind by stacking activities and checklists is a myopic, counter-productive approach. Keeping all that in mind, there are 3 topline OKRs - aligned by KRAs - that we’ve put in place to keep the PMM flywheel running, quarter-on-quarter.
- Engagement and Conversion metrics of website assets: launch blog post, feature landing page, product explainer video, etc. While this borders on a vanity metric, it gives you valuable insights when testing your positioning and messaging; especially with your Target Account List (TAL)
- Win or Loss Rate: This is basically your Opportunities Won or Lost / Total Opportunities X 100. It’s not enough just to move the win rate (or reduce the loss rate) for each product. It’s also important to understand the factors contributing to each win or loss to unearth gaps in the product, sales training, integration, or onboarding.
- Influenced Conversion Rate: Provided that there aren’t too many variables in the mix, it’s important to map the impact of introducing PMM content or campaigns on the eventual deal closure or conversion rates. For instance, did releasing a sales battle card against a specific competitor at the start of the quarter, increase the conversion rate by 3% for prospects evaluating the same competitor, by the end of the quarter? What was the average deal size for these closures? This metric can be tricky to peg down, but it helps shape future action plans, based on inputs from Sales or Customer Success.
- Asset Consumption or Utilization: Tools like Paperflite and Highspot allow you to track the use and impact of various content assets developed by PMM teams - blog posts, battle cards, pitch decks, use case decks, industry benchmark reports, videos, podcasts, etc.
- Sales Confidence: Couple this with a short monthly survey to gain feedback on the quality and impact of content and you’ll unearth an NPS (ideally to be maintained above 85%) and inputs on the future content pipeline. This should ideally be done quarterly or 6-monthly, depending upon the sales cycle for each product and time to value
- Feature Adoption: Within each product, existing features are periodically upgraded or new features are released. Depending upon the magnitude of the feature upgrade/release; monitoring adoption, quarter-on-quarter is key. Tactically this is driven through targeted email or ABM campaigns, in-product walkthroughs and nudges, or cross-sell focused messaging. But, there will still be times when supposedly hero features just don’t find traction in the first 4-6 months of release for various reasons; that’s when these metrics will need rethinking or recalibration. Featuring in the Gartner Magic Quadrant or Forrester Wave Report (from an Analyst Relations PMM KRA PoV) may turn the tables in the next quarter.
- Churn or Retention Rate: This is a shared OKR between Customer Success, Support, and PMM. But, understanding what’s making existing customers stick or abandon the product is crucial PMM intelligence that funnels right back to the product. When managing a PMM team for different products; these OKRs are set keeping in mind the ICP, market maturity, company growth focus, and existing sales pipelines. Which means that these may need to be tweaked, quarter-on-quarter. Blanket, arbitrary OKRs from a purely demand and revenue generation PoV don’t help the cause.
That’s one of the things that makes setting and measuring OKRs (then honing down on realistic benchmarks) - across products - a fine balancing act. Translating KRAs into hard-coded OKRs for new PMM teams can take 3-4 months from the time of set up. Accordingly, strategy and tactics will be based on the same.
The key skills that I usually look out for are:
(i) Verbal Communication: Cliched but very relevant. It’s easy to confound and confuse through excessive jargonization and vague responses through the gift of the gab. But, to succinctly and simply break down what one has done and the impact created in such a role, for another product in a similar or unrelated industry, is a finer skill. This also gives you an idea of the candidate’s ability to communicate effectively in a heavily cross-functional dependent role.
(ii) Storytelling: This comes out through existing blog post samples, webinars, explainer videos, or the case study presentation. Copywriting is only a subset of this larger skill. It’s important to gauge whether the individual can put together and convey a coherent and authentic story - going above and beyond just problems, features, and benefits. Whether the individual can simplify complex technical industry-speak into believable content that resonates with the ICP.
(iii) Critical thinking and Problem solving: This can be gauged through pointed situational interview questions or when quizzed on the logic behind aspects of the case study presentation. As a PMM, things are seldom likely to be black and white. Operating in a grey zone with limited information, thinking through complex problems without an SOP, or ironing out cross-functional bottlenecks will be par for the course. And, that’s something that I look for.
(iv) Tools-driven analytical skills: Has an individual used basic tech stack tools like Google Analytics, Instapage/Optimizely/Unbounce, Hotjar, Hubspot/Pardot? Are they able to make sense of data-points and derive insights that drive the overall agenda? Also, can they conduct market, industry-specific, and competitive intelligence research to a sufficient degree? This can be gauged to some level during the case study presentation round.
(v) Curiosity and Coachability: Rarely will you find PMMs from the same or similar SaaS industry. But, I look for individuals who ask intelligent questions about the product, industry, TAM, customer profile, company growth prospects (market expansion, ARR, etc.), team composition, etc. You can also gauge how coachable and receptive an individual is to feedback during the course of the interview process. A candidate who is both curious and coachable brings flexibility and an evergreen learner’s mindset - a potent combination and valuable addition - to the PMM team.
Hiring for PMM, in the Indian SaaS ecosystem particularly, is a challenge. Especially when you take into account the ad hoc KRAs that get added to an average PMM’s bucket list at each company. This adds another layer of complexity while evaluating candidates. Let me outline what’s worked for me. Upon resume-based shortlisting, usually, it is a 3-round interview and evaluation process that has filters at each stage
-Round 1: 45-minute personal conversation to understand the background, role fitment, past track record (KRAs + KPIs), growth trajectory, core competencies, on ground examples of success, salary expectations, etc. Shortlisted individuals are then given a hypothetical PMM case study to work on. Nothing too complex, but nothing overly simplistic either to test their application and understanding of PMM concepts and activities
-Round 2: 45-minute case study discussion around their proposed solution to the problem statement. This would usually encompass crafting positioning and messaging frameworks (and the rationale behind this), product launch strategy and tactics (based on a 30-60-90 day plan), and outlining the competitive landscape. The focus is on understanding the logic and actual feasibility behind the solutions presented. Those that get shortlisted at this stage, then move to the final round
-Round 3: 30-minute discussion to further gauge team sub-culture and company macro-culture fit, personal and professional goals, their vision and expectations from the role, etc.
Let me tackle this through the lens of my own experience building and scaling product marketing teams.
(i) Senior leadership buy-in: Traditional companies that are pivoting their SaaS marketing function may not outrightly understand the scope and impact of a PMM function. A product marketing leader will need to build a solid business impact case for the same - outlining the structure, KRAs, KPIs, and future value it lends to the company. This also involves getting budget approval for hiring and building a tech stack. Realistic expectations need to be set.
(ii) Hiring: As a Product Marketing leader, the onus is on you to develop the right job description and supply it to the Talent Acquisition team within HR. The quality of the resumes you get supplied with depends on this time-consuming, yet critical task. And, when I say “developing”, I mean actually thinking it through, writing it down, and revising it when necessary. Not a clumsy “copy-paste” job from one of the industry giants!
Scheduling and taking Round 1 interviews is also a carefully crafted art and science. I usually schedule these at the start of the day with a fresh mind or at the end of the day when free of daily pre-occupations. These last for 45 minutes, followed by penning down and sharing feedback immediately in the next 15 minutes. A practice that Kim Scott outlines in “Radical Candour” as well.
There’s no point in scheduling back-to-back interviews. That allows mental fatigue or biases to take root, clouding objectivity.
Ideally, the product marketing lead should be involved in the salary discussion when things progress to ensure there’s greater transparency and uniformity in communication.
(iii) Internal awareness and evangelism: Once the outlines of a team start taking shape, it is important to communicate the scope of PMM to key internal stakeholders (Product, Inbound Marketing, Sales, Sales Engineering, Customer Success). PMM shouldn’t be thought of as “just another” glorified Content team and expectations will have to be properly communicated - via email or virtual calls. The sooner these different functions understand where Product Marketing fits in the larger strategic jigsaw puzzle, the better.
(iv) Setting cross-functional SOPs and SPOC touchpoints: Depending on how the PMM team is structured, key cross-functional stakeholders will need to be identified and mapped accordingly. Getting such stakeholders aligned is critical to set up weekly/monthly sync calls to ensure things run on an acceptable timeline and crucial information doesn’t sit in silos.
(v) Onboarding and training: A generic new-employee onboarding isn’t enough. A Product Marketing leader needs to institute a 21-day onboarding program for new PMM hires that covers key functions such as Product, Sales, Customer Success, Support, and other Marketing team alignment. Merely sharing a content repository to gather “context” to get “up to speed” is only a starting point. Beyond that, bi-weekly 1 hour 1:1 syncs with new hires to offer systemic and learning direction, focus areas of deep knowledge, and charting out a realistic 30-60-90 day plan have been tactical moves that have worked for me.
Shadowing Sales folks on live demo calls, reading through Sales conversation transcripts, getting a handle on ABM and SDR outreach, and encouraging self-analysis of competition (websites, products, etc.) also need to figure in the onboarding program.
(vi) Building internal confidence: Getting quick wins under your belt by acing a product launch or creating impactful sales enablement content is the key to building confidence across teams - in Product Marketing - quickly. Confidence breeds momentum and open channels of communication. And, that’s eventually the intra-ecosystem one should strive to build.
On the contrary, constantly flagging systemic loopholes or bottlenecks or offering the same updates on sync calls is unlikely to help this objective. This places greater emphasis on the PMM team navigating choppy operational waters at the start.
These are generally the teething challenges and gaps that a Product Marketing leader needs to account for and have an action plan against in the first 6 months of setting up a team.
Read how the concept of Relativity & Oxytocin can help you improve your PR strategy
Read about how No-code is trending in India, market adoption and how it's impacting small and large businesses.
Learn how to use videos to engage the customers at various points of the sales funnel.
While the fundamentals of good design apply, there are key differences to consider in the approach taken when designing for each.
With in-person events coming to a halt due to the pandemic, read what Nikhil Mirashi thinks about the role of events in a SaaS marketer's life.
Looking to set up a product marketing team for your SaaS company? An industry expert tells you everything you need to know as the founder
Learn frameworks on how to grow and scale your Enterprise marketing for India SaaS.
Get Founder’s Framework from Lakshmanan Raman. From choosing an agency to how to internalize SaaS marketing agencies with your in-house team