Many B2B companies underappreciate the impact of quality product marketing and its critical role in helping to generate revenue. Perhaps I value it higher because I’ve had a product marketing role at several major software companies and also been responsible for the function as CMO or VP of marketing. In my opinion, the lack of quality product marketing is a big hindrance to B2B marketing and sales success.
Lindsay Kolowich, senior marketing manager at HubSpot, has a brief and spot-on definition of product marketing: “Product marketing is the process of bringing a product to market. This includes deciding the product’s positioning and messaging, launching the product and ensuring salespeople and customers understand it. Product marketing aims to drive the demand and usage of the product.”
Many great companies are led by individuals who, despite their title, are very good product marketers. Examples include Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. These individuals, as well as many superstars who aren’t so well known, understand that it is often the “best marketed” product that wins, not necessarily the best product.
7 Key Product Marketing Functions
There are many flavors of product marketing and, like your gas mileage, it varies depending on circumstances. Generally, these are the functions that your product marketing superstar will be engaged with. Note that some of the functions are co-owned by sales, product development and/or corporate marketing.
- Positioning and messaging: Working with corporate communications and the sales team to put forth a differentiated and compelling value proposition. Promoting this value proposition both to the external audience (prospects, customers, partners, media, etc.) and the internal audience (staff, executives, board members, investors). The ability to be effective with both audiences is a hallmark of good product marketing.
- Understanding the competitive landscape: More than anyone else in the organization, your product marketer has to know the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors, not only currently, but also with their anticipated future moves. This will prove a great sales enablement resource to your company’s sales teams as they face tough competitive selling situations.
- Defining the target audience: This means not only understanding potential buyers in demographic terms (industries, titles, size of company, etc.), but more importantly, the challenges they face professionally and personally, and the motivations that could cause them to be interested in your products or services.
- Guiding product direction: As someone who is primarily externally focused, the product marketer helps guide product management/development in ensuring that the next product release truly reflects the needs of the market. As Seth Godin put it: “Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.”
- Aligning the lead-to-revenue model around the buyer’s journey: Note that I am talking about the buyer’s journey, as distinct from the sales process or sales cycle. The effective product marketer knows his/her target audience well and works with the marketing and sales teams to make sure they can purchase in a way that is comfortable for them and profitable for the company. This attribute alone makes a good product marketer invaluable.
- Translating product/service features into buyer benefits: As the pseudo representative of the buyer, the product marketer must be able to translate product specifications and functions into buyer benefits — how your product or service fulfills its mission in terms the buyer actually cares about.
- Persuading multiple constituencies: Product marketers need to engage with lots of different and unique types of people, including customers, prospects, product management, sales, marketing press, analysts, the executive team and (occasionally) the board of directors.
- Launching products and services: Product marketers should be proficient at both soft (evolutionary) and hard (revolutionary) launches. The momentum from a creative and compelling launch can propel the success of a product or service for years to come. Likewise, a weak and ineffectual launch can be very difficult to overcome, regardless of the merits of what you are selling.
Great product marketers have a mix of skills including: written and personal communication; creativity; demand generation; fostering relationships; project management; sales modeling; launch strategy; and market and financial analysis (whew!). In short, product marketing can be the glue that helps hold the rest of the company’s revenue-impacting functions together.