On the heels of this post about What Really is Go-To-Market?, I have had a ton of discussions about the constant tussle between product management and product marketing, especially at later stage growth businesses or divisional teams at large companies. Between Kahuna (startup) and at SuccessFactors/SAP as GM (ginormous largeco) I’ve seen this play out from both vantage points. And it’s generally a hot mess.
Most elements of Product Management are generally clear: understand what an ICP (ideal customer profile) wants, make sure that there is a truckload of said persona, and then inform the road map and priorities to deliver new businesses, new products or new features that will drive top line growth and retention.
Most elements of Product Marketing are also clear: make it crystal clear for said persona and for the sales team to understand what problem you are really good at solving and to draw out THE differentiator and THE benefit of your product and consistently hammer the crap out of it at every touchpoint.
In reality, it never plays out this cleanly between the two camps. And the first signs of trouble that leaders and boards need to look for is when product marketing begins to take over understanding what the customer really wants and conversely when product management takes over-communicating how the product should be talked about. Right when you think you have put all the pieces and resources in place to scale up, the pipeline will begin to fall off a cliff.
Good product marketing maniacally focuses on identifying what capabilities need be at the tip of the messaging spear to pull in the first meeting. The product marketing manager is not the champion of every feature you have. Rather, the product marketing manager is the grand poohbah of evangelizing the problem statement and the most critical capability that solves that problem better than anyone else does. The day to day grind of the product marketing manager is the ruthlessly decide what to exclude from your Maga Carta of interconnected features that no doubt make your product great but will leave the prospect’s brain in a state of mush if it’s all thrown at them at once.
The job of the product marketer is not to make the product fantastic. It is to make the product infectious.
Product Management on the other hand, when done right, requires the commercial and strategic rigor to know what products will expand the market size and drive high velocity and then to subsequently get super tactical to identify the levers what will achieve market message fit to bring in the prospects.
Why this gets messy, at least at growth stage businesses is often for these three reasons that can be easy to spot in a board meeting or a management meeting if you look for it:
The CEO or GM or the broader leadership team comes from a company or business unit selling into a very mature category where the product manager is mainly building reactionary features to secure 10-20% growth. I’ve seen over and over again that these leaders tend to expect product marketing to help with what goes into the product and PMs are generally sitting in the back office working with engineering all day. All good for a mature category. Fatal if you want real growth.
Product Marketing is tucked under Product Management, literally or politically where marketers are instructed to message and position with an AND mentality and not an OR mentality. That’s when you spend an inordinate about of time marketing the different flavors of your coconut milk-based ice cream when the larger market doesn’t really understand the fundamental value prop of coconut milk being dairy-free or they think it’s an intrusively gross substitute for cream in ice cream. (you can tell how I feel about it). In these situations, your product marketing becomes a clearinghouse. And with due respect, the best product managers can think that they are world-class communicators. They are most often not and when they have hierarchal oversight, they get to flex an unhealthy muscle.
Finally, being in denial about the onset of idea bankruptcy on the part of Product Management. This happens 2-3 quarters before its clear to everyone but at some point, the company can start to look to product marketing to come up with new “stories” off the same code. This is a result of a tired product organization that has may have temporarily lost its ability to outflank the competition. Insist that your product team tells you why you will win. If your product marketer is dominating that conversation in a leadership or a board meeting about this topic, you’re in trouble.
So, is this always applicable in all types of SaaS/ Enterprise? Yes, with one exception. In those rare viral, bottoms up, network effects based products such as Slack and Zoom, the product really does a good chunk of the product marketing (see examples marked in pink). I remember Eric Yuan, founder of Zoom, telling me at one of our Sequoia Capital CEO summits that he refused marketing spend early on because every Zoom call literally exposed the product to one or more new leads by design and with zero effort. Code is always going to your cheapest marketing and has the highest velocity. Conversely, marketing is your costliest marketing.
But for every other business that is not based on network effects, you need some dose of real, objective, hands-off product marketing to let the size of the problem and the tip of the spear message breathe in the market.
As CEOs, GMs, leaders, look for these trouble spots to drive accountability for growth and reach.
More on building a weatherproof Go-to-market operating machinery:
(Cross-posted @ Pretzel Logic)