Why Product Marketers Fail – and What Their CMOs Can Do About It

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Why Product Marketers Fail – and What Their CMOs Can Do About It

“Our new Director of Product Marketing just wasn’t a good fit.”

“Nothing ever got finished.”

“Sales loved her, but our marketing team was looking for more content.”

“I’m not sure he ever really learned the technology.”

As a product marketing ninja, I often get called into turnaround situations. A team has lost its leader or a key contributor. Sometimes the whole team has departed. These experiences have really shown me how hard it is to find good product marketing talent. However, even the best product marketers often fight strong headwinds in their quest to build and execute the right go-to-market strategies.

Some headwinds are just the nature of the job. Success in product marketing depends on the success of others in the organization—sales, demand gen teams, product management, and engineering. Here are some of the areas where those headwinds can create a blizzard of misalignment, misunderstanding, and employee turnover.

1. Too many competing priorities

The demand generation team wants clearer buyer personas. Sales wants competitive information. Sales development needs email templates and call scripts. And on top of that, it’s time to revamp the website. Doing too much at once can lead to nothing getting done at all, or to a product marketer that jumps into tactical tasks and never digs deep into product or strategy.

It would be nice to think that every organization could be neatly aligned, with a beautiful set of goals cascaded from the executive team through the CMO to product marketing. Life isn’t quite like that, though.

What PMMs can do: On a monthly basis, review your strategic plan and identify the top 3 initiatives that will have the most impact on that plan. Plot out a timeline and make sure to allocate enough time every week to get those critical things done. You may not be able to work on your top 3 every day, but a list of 3 things is easier to clear than one of of 15.

What CMOs can do: Manage expectations and proactively help your team separate important from urgent. Some tasks pay higher dividends than others. Measure your product marketers based on what’s important to you, to keep their top initiatives on track.

2. Not enough time for the one-offs

Sales support is one of the biggest time sinkholes for product marketers (preceded or followed by cross-functional meetings, depending on the company). Few product marketers want to be treated like extra SEs or proposal writers. Yet one-off tasks can build much-needed credibility with important constituencies like sales or engineering. They can also be quite educational!

What PMMs can do: Plan on spending 10-15% of your time on one-off requests. Evaluate one-off requests based on their reusability and educational value. And finally: Stay away from the hard no when people ask for help because you will need their help some time in the future.

What CMOs can do: Make sure that one-off activities like sales support get captured in regular reporting. Give them the visibility they deserve.

3. Shying away from the customer

I have seen product marketers that are so focused on internal processes or concerned about their own knowledge that they miss opportunities to hear what customers have to say. Even if you don’t know every product feature or have answers to every question a customer could ask, don’t underestimate the power of primary research. There is no substitute for going on sales calls, listening to product requirements, and even hearing complaints.

What PMMs can do: Take opportunities to interact with customers whenever they come. Be honest about your knowledge and follow up when you don’t have the answer today.

What CMOs can do: Actively encourage sales, services, and customer success teams to collaborate with product marketing throughout the customer journey, not just when there’s a product launch or one-off request. (See #5 below.)

4. Analysis paralysis 

Product marketing is a much more effective discipline when it’s based on both data and analysis. Yet it’s pretty rare for me to see a situation for which a preponderance of data exists before the product, campaign, or initiative goes into market.

What PMMs can do: Execute and learn. Balance the need for knowledge with the need for real-life data. Give the demo and so you can do it better the next time. Just do it!!

What CMOs can do: Promote a testing culture throughout the organization (that means Marketing and other functions like Sales and Engineering). To support that culture, you’ll need to staff your organization with the analyst and data science talent you need to measure everything and accept small failures as the price of knowledge.

5. Absence of a clear, loud voice.

The best product marketers don’t assume that others fully grok the value of their work. They actively debate and discuss their opinions and speak the languages of their counterparts in sales, customer success, and engineering when they do so. And, they focus on promoting their wins.

What PMMs can do: Understand how your peers from other organizations work and communicate concisely and on their terms. At the same time, be sure to channel your customers and represent their voice to your development team. Take stock of your successes as they happen. Finally, don’t be shy!

What CMOs can do: Product marketing is the lifeblood of a strategic marketing function. Become your team’s champion and amplify their voices. Coach team members on how to communicate better across the company.