Who should own product marketing?

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For software companies, it’s no longer viable for designers and engineers to build a product, then toss it over the wall for marketers to sell it.  Product positioning and go-to-market strategy needs to adapt as fast as customer needs and product features do, so pretty much constantly.  Enter product marketing.

Product marketing is hard to define, because it tends to fill the gaps in any given organization.  If could help marketing better highlight product differentiation that customers aren’t understanding, it could help product build the features that customers will pay the most for, or it could provide sales enablement to pick up sales velocity.  No matter what shape it ends up taking, product marketing can be tricky because its goals are almost always shared with other functions, most notably product and marketing.  Big technology companies may have entire product marketing departments, but for a small and growing business, where should product marketing sit?

If you DON’T have dedicated product marketing managers…

Owner: Marketing

In a small company, much of marketing’s job is product marketing, so marketing leaders need to have deep knowledge of their product.  If bandwidth is limited, the most important activities include packaging product value and positioning, identifying and targeting personas, and defining the go-to-market plan.  Product can and should help with articulating the value of the features and products they’re releasing.

Watch out for: Traditional marketers who mechanically drive volume without thoughtful focus.  If your marketing leader is wearing the product marketing hat, make sure that they are assessing their market, and positioning your product intentionally, rather than just driving volume at the top of the funnel generally. 

If it’s working, you should see:

  • Evidence of depth of product knowledge from your marketing leader—marketing should be able to help produce great sales decks, collateral, and demos without having to hand those activities back to product (if they do, it’s a sign that they lack that deep product knowledge.)
  • Measurements that positioning is working—don’t rely on funnel conversion metrics alone, evidence of successful product marketing can be seen in engagement (active users) and the space your company creates for itself in the market (keywords you’re most associated with).

If you DO have dedicated product marketing managers…

Owner: Product

Product marketing managers (PMMs) should be very similar to product managers in that they can simultaneously appreciate high-level company strategy and in-the-weeds product and customer detail (ideally, hire someone who could also be a product manager).  PMMs need deep product knowledge and customer visibility, which tend to be easiest to get if they sit within the product organization.  When a major release is coming up and PMs are chest-deep in final development and last-minute bugs, dedicated PMMs help the product stay connected to business goals.  In addition to product positioning and go-to-market planning, PMMs identify and prioritize strategic features, help set pricing, understand market dynamics and competition, and provide more robust sales enablement.

Watch out for: PMMs spread too thin.  If you have one PMM dabbling across multiple products or product teams (especially if the products or their buyers are very different) you run the risk of diluting the deep knowledge that makes a PMM be insightful and additive.  If you start with just one PMM, have them focus on your largest or most strategic product or buyer.

If it’s working, you should see:

  • Strong unit economics—product marketers can help you target and win with the right customers. These customers should be easier to sell, churn less, and upsell more, all of which should positively impact your unit economics.
  • Great product launches—bringing products to market is a logistically complicated thing, especially when coordinating across development teams, sales, marketing, and customer success. PMMs can be the dedicated point person to help make sure you bring the right product to market, at the right time, and that it happens as smoothly as possible.

How do you know if you need PMMs?

There’s no hard and fast rule, but if you can’t say which market segments you’re targeting and why (with data) or you’ve recently had a shaky or underwhelming launch of a new product, it might be time.  Typically companies hire both strong marketing and product people first (who do product marketing activities), and then add in product marketing specialists.

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