“How do I get into product marketing?”
That’s a question I see almost every single week, and it’s no surprise. According to a survey by Robert Half, product marketing is one of the top 3 marketing roles growing in 2018.
And yet, even though there is a lot written about the importance of product marketing, it still remains a mystery to many looking to make the transition into a product marketing role. While the responsibilities of a product marketing role can vary by company and industry, often you will find this role in many B2B companies that are in a competitive market with a sales team. Product marketing is a prevalent role throughout technology companies, but also exists across other industries as well.
In this post, I’ll walk through my perspective as a product marketer across years of launching products, and as hiring manager on how you can take your first-step towards becoming a product marketing manager.
What is product marketing responsible for?
In order to understand how to get your first job in product marketing, it’s important to first briefly cover what product marketers do. Every company will differ a little bit on the responsibilities of product marketing, but fundamentally product marketers are responsible for three things:
- Creating and telling the story of your products. The foundation of this is typically referred to as positioning.
- Defining the buyer or buyers for your product and enabling sales to effectively sell to them.
- Creating and executing a product-centric marketing plan. While an overall marketing team is likely focused on broader goals -- like lead generation or SEO -- as a product marketer you need to consider the steps people will take to purchase your product then build and execute campaigns to support this.
What makes for a great product marketing candidate?
With the core responsibilities above in mind, strong candidates will generally have a number of the traits listed below.
Storytelling: Product marketing isn’t just about telling potential buyers what your product is, it’s about telling them why it matters and creating a story that resonates with that individual or business. If you’re a product marketer at a business that sells to the Fortune 500, the stories you tell will be very different than if you’re targeting small to medium-sized businesses. At the heart of storytelling is positioning which became famous through Al Ries & Jack Trout’s book appropriately named, Positioning.
A good product story frames the problem the buyer may be experiencing, or a change that is happening in the broader world, the value your product provides and how it’s the solution. One of my favorite quotes from Positioning describes this well:
“The basic approach of positioning is not to create something new and different, but to manipulate what's already up there in the mind, to retie the connections that already exist.”
Understand the product, buyer, and overall market: It goes without saying, but as a product marketer you need to understand your own product, the buyer, and what the overall market looks like. This may mean starting a free trial of the product to get familiar with it, or looking if there are free versions available.
To understand the buyer, and overall market, you can turn to analyst research and review sites, like G2 Crowd, to see what actual customers are saying. If you’re applying for your first product marketing role, this is one way you can stand out from other applicants and do a lot of this research ahead of time and ensure it comes through in your application.
Be adaptable & work cross functionally: Priorities within most organizations can change fast, as a product marketer you need to be adaptable. For example, when a critical update needs to be made 72 hours before launch and delays your launch by a few days, you need to be able to react quickly and make the necessary changes.
In addition, because product marketing works cross-functionally if you have experience working with other teams in your company to achieve an objective, that’s an important skillset to bring to the table.
Creative & campaign-driven: As I mentioned earlier in this post, as a product marketer you will be responsible for creating and executing product-centric campaigns. Depending on the organization, this may mean working with different teams in marketing -- like content, social, video -- or it may mean handling a lot of this work yourself. Either way, you should have creative skills to create the marketing plan surrounding a launch and then drive execution of that campaign.
Leadership through influence, not authority: Product marketing is one of the most cross-functional roles within an organization, but as a product marketer, you'll often find that you need to work with and leverage the skills of people who don't directly report to you. Because of this, it’s important to lead through influence and show how you can lead others to an objective, even if they didn’t formally report to you.
Experience with quantitative and qualitative analysis: Last but certainly not least, if you have experience running research projects, talking to customers, and digging through data it will be incredibly helpful. Oftentimes as product marketers we rely on product, market, and buyer data from a variety of sources both internal and external to fully tell the story of a product.
At HubSpot, we don’t believe in “requirements” for a job such as a specific degree. But if product marketing interests you, the skills above will give you a strong head start and differentiate you from other candidates. Not sure if you have all of these skills? Talk to someone who knows you well -- you might be more prepared than you think.
How to get your first product marketing job
If you’re working for a company that already has an established product marketing team, then grab coffee with a few members of that team. The fact is, there’s no one “path” to product marketing.
We have 7 people on our product marketing team at HubSpot, and everyone got here through a slightly different path. One came from our support team, another from services, while others came from product marketing roles at other organizations. The common thread here is that each of us acquired some of the traits above through other roles, self-education, and a lot of hard work.
So if you’re considering applying to your first product marketing role, here’s what I would recommend as a hiring manager:
- Attend a ProductCamp or marketing meetup in your area. This is a great opportunity to meet product managers, and other product marketers and learn about open opportunities.
- Learn as much as you can about the product, and customers. You can do this by attending online or in-person events like webinars or conferences. In addition you can search for news articles, look at what the company is posting on social networks, and read reviews. Lastly, I would recommend you look at competitors as well. If you look on G2Crowd, read news articles, visit their website and read about their product, and look at what their posting on social it gives you an informed point of view about the market. Make sure all of this effort to research the company, and the product, shines through in your application.
- Start (or keep) writing. When I’m reviewing applications I always look for writing samples. Your writing doesn’t necessarily need to be product-centric, but it is important to see that you can tell a story about a topic that someone may have difficulty understanding and simplify it. If you have a great example of storytelling through other campaigns you’ve worked on, or content you’ve written, make sure to emphasize this in your application.
- Work on a side project, or volunteer to help your product marketing team out. If you have a side project that involves bringing a new product to market, it’s a great opportunity to work on content and a launch campaign. Even if that’s not the case though, try to volunteer on your product marketing team or get in touch with a product marketer and see if you can take a task or two off their plate.
- Have a strong opinion that’s loosely held. Storytelling relies on creating a strong point of view, so you need to have a creative and data-backed way of coming up with that narrative. That said, data should inform decisions and if a data point disproves your opinion, you need to be able to adapt. You can make this shine through in your application by showing market research you’ve already done, how competitors are positioning their products, or even what review sites are saying.
- Know what product marketing entails, and what it doesn’t. Product marketing is conflated with product management all-the-time. While we work very closely with our colleagues in product management, they are fundamentally two different roles. I’d suggest reading materials like what is product marketing, and doing a simple search on the topic. If you already work at a software company with Product Managers and Product Marketing Managers, reach out and try to grab coffee with individuals in these roles. Doing so will help you understand their day-to-day and how your company frames these roles. Even if you don’t have this option though, there’s plenty of content available to read and understand differences between each role.
Getting your first job in product marketing is tough. It’s competitive, and a demanding role, but from my perspective it’s the most rewarding and fun opportunity in an organization. If you’re thinking about applying to a product marketing role, think about some of the traits above and see if you can shadow a product marketer for a few hours to see if it’s for you. Good luck in your search, and happy product marketing!