Product marketing positions are notoriously tough to fill. The job responsibilities are both broad and strategic; essentially, the product marketer is the owner of a business within your business. There’s no single course or curriculum that teaches all of the skills. And on top of skills, a product marketer succeeds because of his or her personality and stamina.
Over the years, I have worked with dozens of product marketing professionals. I have interviewed hundreds, recruited some great ones, and made some hiring mistakes. Here are some of my key lessons learned about what it takes to hire the right product marketer.
- Put cultural fit at the top of your requirements list.
Even in larger organizations, product marketers need to marshal diverse cross-functional teams to get their work done successfully. If they can’t navigate the nuances of your org structure, find the right lines of communication, and win over people in product management, corporate marketing, demand generation, sales, engineering, legal, and even finance, no amount of skills or technical expertise will close the gap for them.
Be open about your corporate culture. Have potential hires get to know people in different functional areas. Observe how they react to real situations that crop up during the interview process and hypotheticals that you present. Finally, be honest with yourself. If any bit of you is telling you that there might not be a fit, you’re probably right.
: Focus on the corporate aspects of your corporate culture, not the social ones. Just because a company is full of younger professionals or growing families doesn’t mean that an older person or an unmarried person can’t fit in. In fact, diversifying the workforce and bringing in new perspectives has a lot of benefits. On the other hand, a person who has been successful in a confrontational environment may not know how to navigate a company where most decisions require consensus.
- Have candidates dig into a real-life problem.
Solicit suggestions about a current challenge you’re facing or an upcoming campaign or launch. You’ll get insight into how your candidate thinks. In addition, a case study is a great way to see how a product marketer approaches problems, how much creativity she brings to the table, and how well she can communicate her opinions.
: Be realistic about how much time a case study will add to your interview cycles. Great candidates are often the busiest ones.
- Watch your potential candidates present.
Great product marketers possess rock-star presentation skills. A case study is a good way to see your candidate’s skills in action. Or ask them to pitch their own product or another one they should be comfortable with.
Don’t necessarily frame the exercise as a PowerPoint presentation. Many of the best presenters can tell their story even more effectively on a white board.
- Ask questions about an adjacent market.
Great product marketers like to think about the underlying dynamics of a market and look at the world through the customer’s eyes. Getting a candidate’s opinions about something she hasn’t studied will reveal her thought processes and show how she handles ambiguity. Or ask why a competitor is successful to see how the world looks from a lens other than his or her own.
- Check as many references as possible.
Product marketing is about ownership, and it’s hard to assess how much ownership a person will take in an interview setting.
- Take your time.
It’s hard to be patient, but good hires usually take a long time. Much longer than you want. However, the consequences of a bad product marketing hire are even more painful because product marketing affects so many parts of the business.
So hang in there and don’t settle for less than you want. If you really need the help, try out a promising candidate as a contractor. Or bring in a consulting firm like Giant Stride Marketing to deliver critical projects while you’re hiring. But believe me – waiting is worth it!
Posted on Tue, December 1, 2015
by Linda Sonne