Product marketing experts offer examples and ideas to elevate the role in the enterprise

product marketing experts
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It’s going to take a combination of “world-class messaging,” creative new use cases and  focusing more on solving problems than merely aiding sales people to reposition product marketing as a strategic function, according to experts in the field.

Speaking at the Toronto stop of the Product Marketing Community conference late last week, consultants, trainers and others urged their peers to fight harder for a seat the decision-making table within the enterprise. At Aventi Group, for example, a San Francisco-based agency that focuses on product marketing, there have been too many clients who were merely looked upon by their coworkers as those who “make goodies for trade shows,” according to its COO Sridhar Ramanathan. In other cases product marketers are seen as the ones responsible for creating data sheets or similar kinds of assets.

Ramanathan cited people like Mark Alba, vice-president of product marketing at IT firm Unisys, as the sort of person who is changing perceptions about the role. He said Alba helped Unisys by developing messaging that was similar in quality to the likes of global giants such as IBM, spelling out customer pain points and establishing a clear value proposition. He also called an executive-level meeting to educate the team about product marketing’s value, which was followed up by one-on-one sessions with various lines of business.  Finally, he also developed a framework that clarified who needed to decide, approve, be consulted or informed (DACI) about product marketing decisions.

As a result, Ramanathan said, Alba’s efforts helped contribute to an increase of 600 marketing qualified leads (MQLs) in only two months, as well as industry analyst mentions and recognition from the sales team.

“When was the last time anyone here got a thank-you from the sales team?” he asked rhetorically. “The CEO also said it set a new bar (for product marketing).”

Other role models cited in Ramanathan’s presentation included Nima Baiti, senior director at Absolute software, who helped the firm come out of the shadows of the PC manufacturers who embedded its software by helping identify other areas where its products brought direct value. This all led, at least indirectly, to an increased share price and kudos from the board.

A more challenging example of product marketing involved Bamboo HR, which needed to begin marketing itself less as a typical software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering and more of an advisory service. He credited Jeb Smith, Bamboo’s VP of sales for moving to a “commissionless” model and leading a more consultative approach to the way it engaged with customers.

“This was not data sheets, it wasn’t messaging. It was transforming the sales DNA,” he said.

While product marketing arose within organizations over time, institutions such as Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Pragmatic Marketing have emerged to offer more formal training for those in the role.

Steve Johnson, Pragmatic Marketing’s vice-president of product said product marketers need to avoid getting stuck in what he called the “divorced parent problem,” where sales or other functions turn to product marketers as a go-between when they are at loggerheads with colleagues. Instead, he likened the job of product marketing to a health-care provider checking a patient’s body temperature, heart rate and blood sugar.

In this case, for example, product marketers need to ask questions like, Are we growing efficiently? Are we spending too much? Are we selling as much as we can? Are there warning signs we’re missing?”

“Product marketing is in the problem business. It’s not necessarily (just about) how to help the sales guy, but how to achieve growth,” he said. “A lot of the things we’re counting are the wrong things.”

Product Marketing Community has been holding similar sessions in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Austin and will be planning to add more cities in 2019, the organizers said.

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Shane Schick

Shane Schick

Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.