Product marketing is today’s most critical marketing function. And yet, it’s unfamiliar and confusing to many. The best way to think about it: product marketing is strategy.
Product marketers work to understand the market and what motivates customers. They choose the market segments to target. They determine what attributes the product needs to win against the competition. They design an effective go-to-market plan along with the required positioning and messaging.
In this article, we brought together 17 of the best product marketers from companies like Gong, Privy, HighSpot and Vanguard (most of them are your instructors in CXL’s Product Marketing Minidegree) and asked them for their best advice for those who want to rise through the ranks of the most in-demand marketing role today.
Table of contents
- 1. Start with product features
- 2. Understand that B2B buyers are still humans
- 3. Integrate across the business
- 4. Create stories backed by data, not opinions
- 5. Excel at both strategy and execution
- 6. Work in sync with product managers
- 7. Know your strengths and keep building them
- 8. Use curiosity to dig into products and clients
- 9. Become customer-obsessed
- 10. Own the most impactful areas
- 11. Drive strategy proactively
- 12. Learn the three languages of product marketing
- 13. Validate your messaging and positioning
- 14. Be an all-around player
- 15. Focus on the Why
- 16. Get deep into product management
- 17. Know how to listen and synthesize
1. Start with product features
“I’m always trying to turn seemingly technically inaccessible concepts into not only accessible ones, but to score the three Es: enticing, engaging, and exciting,” says Andrew Stinger, product & corporate marketing lead at Coda.
The full understanding of your product’s features is the first step to turning those features into valuable benefits your customers will experience after acquiring your product.
Sure, sometimes it’s not a hard task since some products are simple by their nature and bare clear benefits. But if you’re a product manager dealing with a complicated tech product, knowing its features becomes crucial.
2. Understand that B2B buyers are still humans
Maya Shah-Ceccotti, senior product marketing manager at ScreenCloud, claims that marketers in the B2B space often neglect that end buyers are still humans who are only representing businesses.
In her view, “an excellent product marketer understands and unlocks the human needs related to their solution.”
They center their business and targets their products around customers’ needs. Because, ”if your product or business is your main focus, you’ll probably end up neglecting your customers. And nobody wants that.:
Steve Jobs used to say that you must understand your customers’ needs and deepest desires.
There is no reason why the same shouldn’t apply to B2B customers. They are also humans with needs, and product marketers working in B2B should keep that in mind.
3. Integrate across the business
James Doman-Pipe, senior product marketing manager at Remote, has learned that “Product marketers cannot operate in silos and must integrate across the business to have the standing required to really drive change.”
As Daniel Wilson said long ago, things grow stronger when you integrate. It’s the simplest, yet most аpplicable way to understand the importance of integrating product marketing across the business.
You’ll find that great product marketers always integrate their work not just with other departments, but also with customers they’re striving to understand. Remember, no product marketer is an island.
4. Create stories backed by data, not opinions
The best product marketers are driven by an insatiable sense of curiosity about their products and customers alike.
Tamara Grominsky, chief strategy officer and the product marketing executive at Unbounce, says: “Excellent product marketers have empathy for customers, their colleagues, and internal stakeholders, based on which they tell compelling stories backed by data, not opinion.”
Henry Ford once said that the major secret of success is hidden in the ability to take another person’s point of view and observe things from that angle, in addition to your own.
Product marketers should also put themselves in other people’s shoes and find out everything relevant about them. With gathered data, they can create genuine stories that propel the product marketing function.
5. Excel at both strategy and execution
Taylor Engstrom is a product marketing manager at Auctane, a shipping & logistics software company. A staggering number of over one million e-commerce retailers have used the company’s products, with more than 3.5 billion packages sent out only in the last 12 months.
Engstrom claims that excellent product marketers must be equally successful at both strategy and execution. As he puts it:
“When considering the difference between an average product marketer and an exceptional one, the exceptional one excels at both strategy and execution, i.e., at product marketing theory and practice.”
The rate of strategy execution success is quite low. Scientific studies have indicated failure percentages ranging from 7% to 90%, with an average of around 50%. Hence, even the most successful product marketers need to keep improving their skills and following trends in both PM theory and practice to stay competitive.
6. Work in sync with product managers
Product marketers and product managers need to work together to feel the macro pulse of their industry.
As April Rassa, product marketing vice president at HackerOne, puts it:
“They work in sync to deliver the right product at the right time to the right market.”
In an article published by the Harvard Business Review, V. Kumar, a marketing professor at Georgia State University, claims that there’s an optimal pace of product launches for every brand.
However, there’s no universal rule, but when product marketers and managers join forces, they can increase their chances of hitting the right time for placing their product in the market.
7. Know your strengths and keep building them
Superb product marketers have the ability to recognize their strengths and grow them to a world-class level.
Specifically, according to Leo Castro, previously at PayPal and currently product marketing executive at Decisive Moment Marketing:
“They’ve got to have a mix of traits tied to strategic thinking, cross-functional execution, and of course, messaging acumen.”
As Fritz Shoemaker puts it, strategy is circular, not linear. So, when product marketers are conceiving a product or service, they’ll make a difference if they possess strategic versatility and extensive knowledge of their business and the market.
Then they’re able to create perfect positioning, branding, and messaging slot(s), rinse and repeat.
8. Use curiosity to dig into products and clients
Justin Topliff, senior product marketing manager at Highspot, has found that curiosity lies at the core of excellent product marketers — spiced up with a pinch of empathy. In his own words:
“By fully understanding the ‘assembly instructions’ – of their buyer, product, and market – beforehand, they are able to execute go-to-market motions with precision and excellence.”
So, distinguished product marketers will first adequately interpret the customer, the product, and the market. If they decide to look up to sales leaders and add a certain level of empathy and curiosity to the equation, this comprehensive approach will ensure a fruitful PM experience for all included parties.
9. Become customer-obsessed
Top-class product marketers understand that the customer is the hero of their story, not their company’s product.
Jordan Greene, senior director of product marketing at Outreach, explains further:
“An excellent product marketer is customer-obsessed. They’ve built a set of practices that keep them regularly in touch with customers and ultimately produce significantly more effective messaging and content.”
Product marketers need to have continuous insight into customers’ desires and preferences. You have to know them well enough to understand what messages and content will move them.
10. Own the most impactful areas
Leading product marketers never stop researching and asking questions to help their companies sell products and grow.
Daniel J. Murphy, VP of marketing at Privy (and former product marketing direct at Privy and Drift) says great product marketers know the industry, the market, the customer, and the product. And, internal expertise is key:
“Only take ownership of go-to-market areas where product marketing is uniquely suited to drive results: product launches, campaigns, lifecycle, and messaging.”
The more product marketers know about the key product marketing areas, the more likely they are to bring the desired results to their business and customers. And where they feel they lack the necessary knowledge, continuous research, learning, and communication are the three key prerequisites for steady advancement in product marketing.
11. Drive strategy proactively
Morgan Molnar, director of product marketing at Momentive.ai, has defined how great product marketers put themselves in the driver’s seat:
“An excellent product marketer will be proactive in driving the strategy towards the highest impact and they will know what activities will truly drive business results.”
It’s a good idea for product marketers to use predictive analytics. That way, they can gather even more information for their future campaigns. Timely communication with other in-house experts and customers is equally important.
The more information flows between you, your partners, and your customers, the more fuel you have to back your PM decisions and campaigns.
12. Learn the three languages of product marketing
Stephen Kane, product marketing strategist at Vanguard, says “The best PMMs are trilingual: they can speak: product, client needs, and sales.”
Product marketers must, of course, understand the product better than anyone. They must also write in the language their clients use to understand their own needs. And they must understand the sales process well enough to continually refine product positioning to boost demand and usage of their products. Stephen elaborates this way:
“In other words, exceptional product marketers know how to process customers’ needs and present products. They use those insights to boost sales, while constantly repositioning products to ensure high demand.”
13. Validate your messaging and positioning
A solid product marketing strategy includes step-by-step product demos, thorough research to grasp the ideal customer profile, and competitive research to understand the market environment. Yoni advises:
“Carry out internal validation of your messaging/positioning, ICPs, and overarching go-to-market strategy within your CRM—all based on real-world examples of customers/accounts you service today.”
And don’t just go with your gut. Here at CXL, we also validate our messaging and positioning using Wynter.
14. Be an all-around player
Rory Woodbridge, head of product marketing at Pleo, says an outstanding product marketer is an all-around player. They’re a talented copywriter, obsessed expert on their products and a strategic thinker, who collaborates with stakeholders, coworkers, and customers.
And, he adds, they balance getting things done with high-level strategic thinking:
“The get-things-done mindset is vital for product marketers. It’s rare that you find someone who can do both the strategy side and the execution piece. But this combo gives you a top-tier product marketer.”
If you want to join the top 1%, you must excel in both strategy and execution. And to achieve that, apply the get-things-done mindset to learning everything you can about every discipline involved in great product marketing.
15. Focus on the Why
When drawing the line between a great and average product marketer, Anand Patel at Appcues points out that excellent product marketers focus on the why, not just the what of their products. This is his philosophy:
“Understand the why. It’s natural to focus on the “what”. Here’s what we’ve built. Here’s what it does. Yes, the “what” matters but start with understanding why it matters. If you figure that out, you’ll be just fine.”
He highlights the importance of effective storytelling, continuous learning about customers, and flexibility to market changes as desired traits of grand product marketers.
That’s going beyond why your product matters. Understand both the strategic aspects of your product and why the strategic product marketing elements, from storytelling to positioning and market research, work with your audience.
16. Get deep into product management
Brilliant product marketers need to get to know every aspect of product management, not just product marketing. As Andrea Saez, senior product marketing manager at airfocus, puts it:
“If you don’t know what product management is, how it works, and what those processes look like, you’re only halfway there.”
Keep in mind that a fully optimized product manager could increase company profits by 34.2%. Accordingly, product marketers who participate in product management from day one will have a better understanding of the product itself. It will help them find the right target audience and communicate the product to that segment.
17. Know how to listen and synthesize
Julien Sauvage, vice president of product marketing at Gong, listens to customers and business executives and synthesizes the input data afterward.
He adds: “Great product marketers are collaborative, accountable, and impactful.”
You have to know which questions to ask. Synthesize massive amounts of quantitative and qualitative data into cohesive points of view and actionably strategies. Set clear goals and bring an action plan to implement them. That’s how you make a real impact — for the business and for your customers.
Product marketing is complex, requires multidisciplinary knowledge, and is one of the most impactful marketing functions today. Businesses rely on it too much to allow ‘learning as you go’. To really excel at product marketing, learn from the best in the field.
If you want to dive deeper into product marketing, check out CXL’s Product Marketing Minidegree.
We brought the top 1% product marketing practitioners from companies like HubSpot, Outreach, Profit Well, Drift and Shopify to teach you both the strategic and the tactical. It is the most in-depth product marketing course out there, and you can check the entire curriculum here.