What SaaS companies need from product marketing

Image Credit: Tran Mau Tri Tam
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In my recent job search I realized that all the way to the top, executives in SaaS companies don’t know what to do with product marketing. One CEO thought product marketing was release notes. Another thought it was requirements gathering. Another had 500+ employees, targeting an IPO in 2017, and had only recently hired their first product marketer.


It’s no surprise this deck that takes a stab at defining product marketing (What is Product Marketing?) has been viewed 35,000 times. Many people don’t know what product marketing is, and leaders don’t know what to do with it.


Having spent the majority of my career in product marketing roles, and the past two years scaling a team from 2 to 9 product marketers, I’ve learned what startups need from product marketing.


What To Look For In A Product Marketing Manager


    1. Qualitative and quantitative market research skills. Understanding markets involves data analysis. Sizing markets does, too. Look to poach someone who got their start at a market research company (Forrester, Gartner, IDC, etc.) if you’re hiring junior. These skills drastically accelerate a PMM’s ability to consume and share trends, and contribute product roadmap & strategy ideas.


  • Writing skills. Your product marketer is likely to be your content strategist, or at least a main extension to your content strategy team. They need to be able to write. None of this ghost writing crap; it’s a waste of money and delays production. Make them write. You can’t be a true thought leader if you don’t write your own content.


  1. Messaging skills. These are different from writing skills. Can your product marketer summarize value prop in a concise way? Are they bold? Do they understand cognitive biases, and how to play into them? Messaging is basically psychology at work. Can they understand their target buyer and write in a way that compels the audience? Test them. This is an absolute deal-breaker.
  2. Presentation skills. Your product marketer should be your company’s voice. Do you like it? Do they project confidence and charisma? Test them. Do not hire a product marketer without asking them to present.
  3. Relationship building. Watch out for the product marketer who doesn’t like to go to events. Look for the product marketer who’s been in sales. Your product marketer needs to be the tightest link between your product and the customer and if they are introverted and can’t build relationships, deal-breaker.


The Day-To-Day Role Of Product Marketing


Expect your product marketer to operate in a dynamic capacity, able to pivot based on the days needs. Generally, they should be able to do any of these things: messaging & positioning, product launch management, setting the go-to-market strategy, engaging customers in the product, working on pricing strategy & execution, creating sales support materials, enabling sales, speaking at industry events, pitching in front of prospects, creating value-based assessment tools (ROI calculators), conducting quarterly analysis of product health, assessing new market/audience opportunities and informing product strategy, writing, briefing analysis, and creating contributed content for your PR strategy.


It’s a dynamic position, and although they won’t do all of these things in a single day, they should be able to do all of these things.


Personality Traits That Matter For Product Marketers


Everything on paper is adding up – they have the experience, and you tested their writing, messaging, and presentation skills. All is looking good. I’ll caution you to pay close attention to a few personality traits that you need, and if they don’t have, it won’t work:


  1. A sense of humor. This person will always be asking colleagues to do things for them, who don’t work for them. I can’t underestimate the importance of your PMM being likable. Come product launch time, when they’re doling out orders and deadlines, people need to want to help, and not just because it’s their job.
  2. A sense of urgency. The sales support & enablement aspect of the job can’t be underestimated. It’s in supporting sales where a lack of urgency will kill deals and lose dollars. When people working for me complain that the sales team is taking too much of their time, I point out that’s the best possible use of their time. Sales support comes first. Deals come first. The blog can wait a day.
  3. Real confidence. I’ve seen product marketers project confidence who are actually very insecure. It’s not good enough. You need real confidence. If they’re to evangelize your company and products to the market, and sales team, they need to be confident. It doesn’t mean they have to have all the answers all the time; but it does mean they need to speak confidently when they do and don’t. That said, too many “I don’t knows…” in front of the sales team will destroy their confidence in your PMM, which is unrecoverable.
  4. Humility. The product marketer needs to have a low ego. Why? Their speaking responsibility sets the tone for the company internally and externally. If they’re all ego, your sales force will be too. This isn’t Glengarry Glen Ross. People are gravitating away from hard sales tactics, and towards self-service experiences where ideally they never talk to a sales rep. It’s ok to shout your successes, but make sure they’re backed by the voice-of-the customer.
  5. A competitive edge. If your product marketer rolls with the punches and doesn’t get worked up over losses, that’s a bad sign. They need a fire in their belly, and to hate losing, and love #winning. They need to take action when losses to specific competitors start adding up. Former and/or current athletes tend to make great product marketers if you’re in a competitive space.


Hopefully these tips from the trenches help you understand the dynamic role, and person needed to be successful with your next product marketing hire.



Jess Iandiorio is VP of Marketing at Drift, a Boston-based startup focused on helping product marketers know, grow, and amaze their customers. Follow Jess on Twitter: @JessIandiorio.

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