Five months ago I realised that Product Marketing was the career path for me. And it was both the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. Ok, it was the best – but it certainly wasn’t an easy ride.
I’d been working in marketing for 5 years, with a BSc in Consumer Behaviour and Marketing. I always knew I wanted to work in marketing, but was slowly figuring out which part of the industry I fit into. Then I fell in love with strategic marketing while at university, and was working in a cross-functional Content Marketing role that I enjoyed but felt I was missing out on exposure to the commercial side. I had also developed a keen interest in the world of tech. Once I discovered that Product Marketing existed, I instantly realised that was where I was meant to be.
I figured the combination of my skills, experience and interests would make me an ideal candidate to make a quick and seamless transition – but this wasn’t necessarily what happened. Instead, it seems I fell into the trap of ‘you need the experience to get experience’, and because I didn’t have a Product Marketing title on my CV I found it tricky to break through.
All the while, as an avid consumer of all the Product Marketing related content, I felt like I’ve heard the same story of other people’s journey to PMM a hundred of times over. It seemed like everyone else ‘fell’ into the role; never intending to do so, an opportunity opened up and they took it. That’s not to discredit the success of these PMMs! Building a network takes work, and being willing to grab opportunities that present themselves is a testament to a person’s work ethic – and is also great advice in the long run.
It’s just not particularly actionable advice for people who don’t have an established network and actively want to move into the field. I find this to be especially true for more junior marketers like myself who simply haven’t had the chance to establish such a rich network.
But I found a way through! And I’m glad to say I made notes of my learnings along the way. All of which, I’d be honoured to share with any other aspiring PMM.
Download editable template accompanies this step-by-step guide to help you map your experience onto your aspiring product marketing role.
Step 1: Get Product Marketing Experience
If you don’t currently have any Product Marketing experience, I’m here to tell you that you can gain some overnight – and it will be the most important project you ever work on. You must start with yourself.
Approach the task of applying for a new job as you would any other product marketing project. Except you are the product, and potential employers are your customer. When you think of it this way, you’ll unlock a whole world of tactics and strategies that will help you get through to the right customers (employers), in the right place, at the right time – just like any great marketer.
So, what are the components of a product marketing strategy? First, you must understand the product, the customer, and the market.
Understand the Product
As a PMM, your role is to align with a Product Manager and a team of engineers to understand how the product has been built, why, and what this means for the consumer. This knowledge allows you to position the product in a way that sets it apart from the competition and helps you win. And so it is with you.
Admittedly it is quite strange to refer to yourself as a product. I use this analogy simply to get the point across, but of course there are fundamental differences between a human and a product. First and foremost humans are wonderful, strange complex beings who are definitely not built to a spec. One cannot simply turn to an engineer and ask how you’ve been built and what this makes you good at. If only it were that simple.
Understanding yourself as the ‘product’ means getting super clear on what your skills and strengths are. This requires a lot of introspection and self-awareness.
Of course, you can turn to those around you. Ask your managers, colleagues, friends and family what they think your strengths are. This means both hard skills and soft skills, which can sometimes be harder to identify. In my case, I actually invested in a professional career coach to help me identify and translate my skills – which is something I’d highly recommend if possible.
Develop Customer Insight
Getting to know other PMMs is absolutely crucial.
While you may not have access to traditional market research methods like surveys and focus groups, you can certainly get your hands on a lot of rich data from online communities, content and social media.
I can’t tell you how many podcasts I listened to while researching Product Marketing roles; it must have been hundreds. You can’t put a price on the value of listening to experienced PMMs speak about their jobs, how they got to where they are and the day-to-day challenges they face.
Gathering this information first helps you identify the common conversation points that keep coming up, but also the language they use to describe them. Using terms such as ‘cross-functional collaboration’ will resonate with PMMs much more than ‘interpersonal relationship management’, for example.
Similarly, imagine how powerful it would be to outline how you’d help solve a common PMM problem – that level of awareness and proactivity will make you stand out by a mile. For example, you could say “From my research I’m aware that Product Marketers often struggle with getting stakeholders to see the strategic value in what they do, which is something I take very seriously. In fact, my background in Finance means that I’m always considering the bottom line impact, which would empower me as a PMM to get involved in these conversations across the business”.
At the risk of doing the legwork for you (I really can’t stress how important doing this research was for me and if you take one thing away from this article it should be; go and listen to all the PMM podcasts), the key skills and recurring themes that I identified are:
- The importance of building cross-functional relationships
- Having empathy; for the customer & for your stakeholders
- The ability to tell a compelling story to not only your market, but also across your many different internal stakeholders
- Influencing through data
- Left & right brain thinking; being able to think both strategically and creatively
- Being able to distill complex concepts in a simple and concise terminology
- Generalist vs specialist; most PMMs seem to identify as a ‘generalist’ – read up on ‘Range’ by David Epstein for more on this!
You can also pick up on the examples that these experts give to talk about their skills and experience. Do you have a similar story that you could draw upon?
If you feel confident doing so, reach out to people and ask them questions about their experience too! LinkedIn is a great tool, but also the PMM Hive slack channel is a direct line to people who are willing to offer insight and help.
Understand the Market
Ok, I admit; this part actually isn’t possible in this scenario. In a normal situation you’d be able to identify your direct and indirect competitors and then position against them. When it comes to applying for jobs, you have no idea who you’re up against and you probably never will. You just have to make sure the rest of your research is strong enough, and have faith that you’ll end up wherever you’re meant to be.
Step 2: Define your Messaging and Positioning
Drawing all of the above together, you can begin to define your own messaging and positioning. Meaning, how will you position your skills and experience as being right for a PMM role, and how will you communicate this through your own personal messaging.
Your positioning is ultimately defining your ‘why’. It is storytelling; articulating why you want to move into Product Marketing and why your background makes you an ideal candidate for the job. Just like a real positioning statement, this is something you want to be very clear on, and be very well practiced at telling during every stage of the application process. Changing your story each time you talk to someone will dilute it, so you want to make sure it’s reflected in your CV bio, your cover letter and how you answer the ‘tell me about yourself’ question in an interview.
As an example, my positioning statement/story is laid out in the second paragraph of the article.
Once you’re clear on your ‘why’, it then needs to be supported and built upon in your ‘messaging framework’. This is a breakdown of your ‘features and benefits’, which in this scenario translates into listing out your relevant skills and the experience you have to back it up.
For this part of the process, I found it really useful to take a job description that I was interested in and break it down into each individual skill or responsibility that it mentions. I’d then think really carefully about how my previous experience demonstrates my ability to perform all of these tasks.
I actually used a spreadsheet for this, mapping out one responsibility per row and my experience from each job I’d had in the columns. This is really useful because it makes you think about each skill and prepares you with rich talking points for each one. The below is a real life example of a table I made:
If you look at enough job descriptions, you’ll pick up on the key skills that show up every time. For example, you’ll almost definitely see the below:
- Messaging and positioning
- Sales enablement
- Content/asset creation; writing skills
- Competitive analysis
- Voice of the customer/customer insight
- Skilled communicator
- Cross-functional collaboration
- Prioritisation/time management
It’s absolutely essential that you’re able to demonstrate these ones as they are fundamental to the role of a Product Marketer. Give careful thought to how you can provide examples of when you’ve demonstrated these core principles in other roles. There are always ways you can bring these elements to your job, even if you aren’t currently a PMM, and doing so will show your passion for the role as well as proactivity – which always goes down well!
Some of the ‘soft’ skills can be harder to demonstrate, but this exercise can get you thinking about how you can discuss it in a powerful and meaningful way.
For example, anything that relates to stakeholder management usually requires you to engage empathy in order to foster a collaborative relationship. But being able to say ‘I have completed an online course in Product Management to enable me to understand the world of the Product Manager; the goals they work towards and the challenges they face, in order to take a more empathic approach to building strong relationships’ is far stronger than ‘I take an empathetic approach to building relationships’.
Step 3: Conduct “Objection Handling”
The spreadsheet exercise will be very useful in giving you lots of examples of your experience, but may also highlight where the gaps are. Don’t panic! That’s perfectly fine.
This is an opportunity to practice your Sales Enablement skills and engage in some objection handling. This basically means that you proactively poke holes in your application, and prepare reasons why this won’t prevent you from being good in the role. If you do it well enough, you might actually find reasons why your alternative experience makes you an even better candidate.
If you’re anything like me, you may suffer from Imposter Syndrome – 7 in 10 of us do! This step can be just as important for your own self confidence as it is for the application process itself. It allowed me to prove to myself that I was a viable candidate for the job with real value to bring. Imposter Syndrome can affect everyone, but it’s also well documented that women will only apply for a role if they can fulfil 100% of the criteria while men are more likely to apply even if they only fulfil 60% of them. This exercise can help to combat that – it definitely did for me!
I actually found it so powerful that I was convinced my background in B2C Content Marketing with a focus on SEO would actually make me a better PMM than someone with direct Product Marketing experience! Here’re examples of how I got there:
- Content Marketing: Information is the greatest asset in B2B SaaS marketing. Given my experience as a Content Marketer, I’m an expert at communicating complex concepts with simple and engaging copy. In fact, I’ve found that my writing style is extremely concise, which makes me believe my skills are actually better suited to a PMM role.
- B2C: A recent Salesforce study identified the consumerisation of B2B expectations. The traditional take on B2B marketing needs to shift accordingly, particularly within the SaaS space. In fact, 67% of businesses have already switched vendors to receive a more consumer-like experience. My B2C background can provide valuable insight into how you can get ahead of this curve.
- SEO: I bring SEO best practices to all the online content created for the product, which will provide a tactical advantage over competitors. I can also bring an additional skill set that may not be accounted for in a small, startup team.
There may be some gaps that can’t be filled or spun like the above. That’s also fine, no one will expect you to tick every box so it may not be a deal breaker. In these instances, you can simply show what you’re doing to address it – such as taking an online course. At the very least you should express how excited you are to up-skill and demonstrate that you have the aptitude to learn quickly.
Also remember that as a PMM you will work largely cross-functionally, and one of the best ways to empathise with all these stakeholders is to have been one – so experience in sales/product management/customer success and the like is very valuable and should be highlighted.
Finally, if you’re breaking into a new industry, try to find a way that your previous experience may help you to bring a valuable perspective. For example, I moved from the hiring/recruitment space into hospitality and travel. My understanding of employment trends has allowed me to bring a different way of empathising with our customers, given the turbulent conditions in hospitality employment at the moment – particularly in the US. This perspective is not one that had been considered before but is extremely valuable and gives our company a new way of connecting with our customers.
It may seem like overkill, but all this work should be done before you even send your first application. This is some of the most important advice I’ve been given!
Having a really clear idea of what you bring to the table, how you’ll present it and then back it up with evidence will give you a major advantage, and also give you so much confidence. Of course each application should be tailored to the specific job you’re applying for, but if you look at enough job descriptions you’ll pick up the recurring themes and then you can simply tailor the smaller details.
Having this prep work done before the application will also carry you through first, second, third stage interviews – combined with the SAIL framework of course!
As another more general piece of advice; if you are asked to complete a project, of course the quality of your work will be the most important part, but going the extra mile with the details will also help you stand out. Small things such as finding a super slick way to present or record your presentation, using the company’s brand colours (which can always be found using a ‘colour picker’ Chrome extension), and making sure you send it over punctually won’t ever go unnoticed.
All of the above should always be combined with evidence of your eagerness & willingness to learn, attitude & cultural fit; it’s true that these do go a long way, particularly in ‘young’ tech companies who often work very hard to maintain cultural fit.
And there we have it! That is a full rundown of all the strategies I used to land my first Product Marketing role. I am confident that following these steps will move you closer to being a PMM. I’m always happy to hear from anyone who may have further questions, so feel free to reach out on LinkedIn. Finally, remember if I can do it, anyone can!
1. Treat it as a product marketing project, with you as the product and your future employer as your customer
2. Do 99% of the prep work before you send your first application
3. Identify your relevant skills; don’t be afraid to ask for help from those who know you well
4. Do your research – PMM podcasts are truly your best friend!
5. Map out your skills, backed up with examples, against a real-life job description – be very specific!
6. Identify the gaps and proactively plan out how you’ll counteract them
7. Always stress how willing and able you are to learn
8. Go the extra mile – attention to detail will make you stand out
9. Don’t overlook the importance of demonstrating cultural fit