It’s safe to say that Indian SaaS companies have started making some waves in the global market in recent times – SaaS revenue for the Indian ecosystem has been pegged at ~$ 3B, growing at >30% CAGR; few companies have crossed the $ 100M ARR threshold, and many more are waiting in the wings. We have started to see a correspondingly increased sophistication of functional skills that Indian SaaS companies bring to the table – world-class products get shipped in world-class times, GTM motions get established sooner, and businesses scale faster. However, one function that continues to be a bit of a black box is product marketing. More often than not, it ends up falling in the category of too little, too late as companies grow.
As the erstwhile Global Head of Marketing for InMobi, and the present VP of Product Marketing at Whatfix, Supriya Goswami can speak with some authority on this topic. We were fortunate to have her join us as the anchor guest on a recent session of SaaS Talks, and learnt so much that we were compelled to write this post to share our learnings with the wider ecosystem.
Read on to know more about
- What is product marketing
- Starting the product marketing function
- Managing product marketing teams
- Product marketing within your organization
Just What is Product Marketing?
Supriya felt it was important to first distinguish product marketing from growth marketing. “Growth marketing is essentially demand generation, and responsible for running programs across distribution channels to move prospects and customers along your funnel.” Tactically, the growth marketing function owns a variety of things – ad budgets, inbound channels, marketing tech stack and analytics, relationships with SDRs (who often report to growth marketing).
“Product marketing is about communicating the product and its benefits to your audience. Expanding on each of these three keywords – product, benefits, audience – will give you what this function means for your specific organization.”
As a function, product marketing owns five key deliverables
- Messaging and positioning
- Customer feedback
- Competitive analysis
- Pricing (along with finance and operations)
- Product launches
Starting the Product Marketing Function
When to Start
Just because there is no dedicated person doesn’t mean product marketing isn’t happening in the company. “Product marketing is happening right from when you decide to start the company. Someone is always playing the role of a Product Marketer – a proxy PMM, if you will. In the early stages, it is most likely a founder or founding team member, and don’t be surprised that it’s the person leading the product / technology function. From the time you first write code you are thinking about a customer and how you will tell a story about what you are doing and why it is different. It’s just that it may not be very structured.”
As a result of this relative lack of structure, most founders realize the need for a dedicated product marketing function when things start breaking. There are some tell-tale signs which indicate the need to make your first PMM hire. “Scale is one key driver – the proxy PMM starts burning out and just cannot be part of every pitch any longer. Other signs include inconsistent messaging on the website and sales collateral. While there is no right answer to this question, it’s a good idea to have a dedicated product marketing team when one starts to see signs of PMF, if not sooner.”
Getting Started – Hiring
Now that you have decided to have a dedicated team, getting the early staffing right is critical. Given the highly cross-functional nature of the role, Supriya recommends hiring hybrids – people very good at one thing, and good at another – as the first members of this team. “Ideally, try to hire a combination of a product marketer and a growth marketer. Another option could be a combination of product marketer and content marketer.” Hybrids aren’t easy to find, however, and organizations are moving towards having two different types of marketing leaders – one focused on growth, the other focused on everything else.
While specifically calling out hybrids for early hires, Supriya pointed out some personality traits, and some skills, that can help drive success in this role in general. “Personality-wise, you need people who are curious, relationship-builders, and who are passionate about your brand. Product marketers need to be people who want to learn all the time – about prospects, customers, product, changes in the market. Because they work with a long list of functions – sales, marketing, product, sales enablement, engineering, customers, prospects, influencers, partners… – maintaining healthy relationships with a diverse set of individuals is key. Empathy – the ability to look at things from the shoes of a different person – is a specific trait that goes a long way in this context. And last, PMMs need to LOVE your product, your company, your brand – only then will you get great output”
Writing and storytelling are core skills that good PMMs must possess, and Supriya went to some length to highlight these can be learned. “As an example, I know many people who became much better writers during their tenure at Amazon, because Amazon places a premium on writing crisp and clear memos for internal meetings.”
Getting Started – Focus Areas
Product marketers typically have 5 key areas of responsibility
- Discovery: source of market and competitive intelligence
- Planning and strategizing: user persona definition, use case mapping, messaging, pricing
- Enabling and growing: helping sales and growth marketing teams
- Continuous improvement: listening to customers and collating feedback, conducting win / loss analysis
- Product launches
When you start the function and are setting initial goals, it’s a good idea to identify one thing from the above that really matters e.g. getting to parity with competition; that way, the team (or individual) has a short-term priority to deliver on, while building processes for the other areas.
Managing the Product Marketing Function
KRAs for product marketing fall in 3 buckets – revenue, product and customer.
Some important revenue KRAs are win rate – “a great metric to have if you can measure it clearly”; and market share – “unique to product marketing, important to have, and each company will need to figure out how to measure it for itself”. Product goals are typically related to adoption; these could be linked to feature adoption – both existing and new – that the product function is looking to drive, as well as driving customer engagement. Customer happiness is usually measured by NPS scores, specific surveys and interviews. “This becomes a more important area to focus on in case customer marketing falls within the ambit of product marketing.”
Scaling Product Marketing Teams
Expansion is the usual trigger for increasing the size of the product marketing function. Expansion can occur across multiple dimensions e.g. your product has steadily increased in complexity with an ever-increasing number of features, and you need to stitch these together into a seamless pitch that can stand the test of time. Other examples of expansion are launch of a new product altogether, focus on additional geographies, focus on a different customer segment.
There is no right answer to the structure of a larger team, but organizations usually follow one of two approaches. “You can choose to either have a team of full-stack product marketers, or a team of specialists. In the former, you typically assign a cluster of features / products / geographies to an individual, whereas in the latter you have individuals own a specific area of responsibility within product marketing. Usually, early-stage means full-stack, with a gradual move towards specialization with scale.”
Product Marketing Within Your Organization
Supriya first addressed a very commonly asked question – should product marketing be part of the product org or the marketing org?
“This was a question I faced at Adobe and InMobi. A few years ago, it was very common for product marketing to be part of the product org, whereas today it’s moved much more towards marketing. When product marketing is part of the product team, you often end up getting talent where the long-term goal is to become a product manager, and you run the risk of losing outside-in storytelling and working with demand gen / sales teams. For that reason, it is better to have product marketing as part of the marketing org, as one needs marketers at heart for this function. Importantly, that is not to say product marketing-ish roles are not needed in product organizations – they continue to be important, and you see these being done by product analysts, who often end up interfacing with product marketing teams.”
It’s also useful to understand the relationship between product marketing and two functions it frequently interacts with – content and sales.
Regarding content, a design principle worth following is that overall messaging – at all points e.g. case studies, collaterals, website – needs to be owned by product marketing. Going one step further, ideally the content function should roll up into product marketing. “One then has the ability to groom content marketers to look at overall messaging and take a holistic look at content across the funnel. In addition to people who focus on driving links / leads for the top of the funnel, it’s important to have someone who is paranoid about messaging being on point at all stages in the funnel. This will help drive consistency in collateral.”
Supriya likened working with sales to working with a partner or spouse. “There’s no easy answer; one needs to do a lot of things, and do them with discipline.” In particular, three things worth focusing on were
(a) establishing individual relationships, which hopefully improve over time as both sides build credibility with each other
(b) having a disciplined mechanism for ongoing expectation setting, where the cadence may vary by stage of the company or the individual that you deal with e.g. monthly review cycles in early stage companies, which move to quarterly cycles as the business scales
(c) using technology to measure effectiveness of collateral e.g. how many times was something opened / shared, and using this data to take calls as opposed to gut
“Positioning is some science, and some art. The science involved is in figuring out what customer problem is being solved, are we better in some specific way, and are we differentiated in some specific way. The art involved is in communicating these to buyers and users (who often end up being different to buyers). It’s worth noting that you need a version that resonates with your buyers, and a modified version – as opposed to a radically different one – that resonates with your users.” As one can imagine, this starts increasing in complexity – often very quickly – as the nuances of a business change e.g. while moving from mid-market buyers to enterprise buyers.
Positioning is also something that needs to be revisited frequently. The frequency of revisiting is a function of competition – the higher the competition, the faster one needs to revisit positioning e.g. if you put out X messaging today, which is copied by Y competitor in two months, then you have no option but to revisit X at that point. It’s worth highlighting that revisiting by itself does not imply change, and very often all you need is a tweak. In general, the more me-too a product, the harder it is to differentiate, and therefore the more frequently does positioning need changing.
“A good way to test the strength of your positioning is how frequently you need to change it – the less frequently you need to change, the stronger your positioning.”