With product-led growth becoming more and more popular, product marketing managers (PMMs) currently occupy the hottest role in startup marketing, and for good reason: the process of product marketing begins much, much earlier than demand generation and/or campaign-based integrated marketing communications (the work a Director of Marketing would typically oversee).

Demand generation marketing tends to begin with the launch, and Directors or VPs of Marketing who are hired pre-launch will busy themselves with brand development, but most will need to work with a consultant or agency with deep expertise in this area. Product marketing, however, begins pre-launch, as it owns product positioning, pricing, messaging, competitor analysis and monitoring, media monitoring, sales support and enablement, the Voice of the Customer, the user experience (UX), product adoption, and user retention (note that all but the last two begin pre-launch). Product marketing aims to drive product adoption and user retention.

So if that’s what product marketing owns, what does marketing own? Marketing owns marketing operations and is focused solely on customer acquisition. Often marketing is tasked with brand development as well, but this function requires dedicated expertise, and as most startup marketing directors have only a passing familiarity, they will hire a consultant or agency to assist with brand strategy.

Now you may be thinking Marketing only owns marketing operations and branding? Product Marketing has a much longer list, so does it contribute more value?

Pre-launch, product marketing absolutely contributes more value (because there is more to do), but post-launch, marketing is going to even the score. Why? Because marketing operations (which marketing owns) is the function of overseeing an organization’s marketing program: campaign planning and annual strategic planning activities; marketing technology procurement and oversight; and analytics measurement and reporting.

Marketing operations personnel specialize in either one or more marketing channels (email marketing, SEO, paid search, online ads, social media marketing, SMS marketing, chatbot marketing, webinars, affiliate marketing, trade shows, events, traditional print advertising, billboards, marketing partnerships, etc.), or support those that do (copywriters, graphic artists, video producers, and other creatives). A skilled Head of Marketing will know which channels are most appropriate to reach a given target market; can source employees or contractors to leverage those channels; and can plan, execute, and measure the marketing campaigns.

Bringing on a PMM as your first marketing hire, well before launch, gets your ducks in a row and sets your startup up for success. When you bring on a head of marketing closer to launch, they will be tasked with disseminating the PMM’s messaging, using the awesome power of marketing operations to ensure it reaches your target market.

If you’re a startup founder and you’ve already launched, bring a PMM on board, quick! This is the very best person to:

  • Develop and update the Master Sales Deck – A good salesperson might be able to put your product positioning into a sales presentation, but sales staff are most valuable when they are selling. Increase their value by tasking a PMM with creating a sales master which sales staff can then use to create a customized deck for every client by selecting slides that are relevant to that particular client. Since the PMM receives no client feedback on what is or is not particularly persuasive, the sales master should be developed in collaboration with the Head of Sales and a PMM should regularly attend sales meetings and calls.
  • Set up product demos – A competent PMM will ensure that all the benefit scenarios described in each client persona can be demonstrated in the demo.
  • Improve the messaging and build the product knowledge base – Sales and Customer Success both answer a lot of questions. Each largely answers the same questions as the other. A PMM will capture these questions and feed the answers into the sales and marketing messaging so that many questions are answered before they are asked. They’ll also build an internal knowledge base, which is a collection of questions and answers from clients that can be searched by anyone within the company. The idea is to do the work only once, by first answering the question and then copying the answer into the knowledge base.
  • Manage client feedback groups – PMMs use these to collect feedback and gain insights. These can be traditional focus groups, but PMMs have had a lot of success with setting up advisory boards that meet quarterly. Clients get in-depth insights, the opportunity to influence product development, and exclusive product pipeline access.
  • Hold product trainings – PMMs train the salespeople on the product: new versions, new features, new product updates. They also bring new sales hires up to speed on product knowledge, and train channel partners.
  • Monitor the competition – PMMs keep an eye on the competition, so that 1) your sales team can explain the difference to clients when they are asked; 2) your product team becomes aware of new features you should copy, and 3) you learn from their marketing efforts to become better yourself.

Product marketers are experts on the product that are also professional communicators. As such, they sit at the intersection of marketing, sales, customer success, and product/engineering. If you run a startup, you could use one early, but there is still a need for them later.

Tony Ahn is an agency-trained marketing head with over 15 years of experience. He specializes in leading the marketing function at tech startups offering Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) or mobile apps, and is highly skilled at both standing up new marketing departments and scaling growing ones quickly. Rogue Magazine reported in 2015 that “Tony Ahn has established himself as a driving force in the industry…This digital pioneer [is] the unseen hand that shapes public perception of some of the biggest names in the Philippines.” He returned to the US in 2019. When not working, he can be found hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or volunteering with disaster relief organizations.

This article was originally publsihed on LinkedIn and was submitted to TechNode global INSIDER as a contribution. TechNode Global INSIDER publishes contributions relevant to entrepreneurship and innovation. You may submit your own original or published contributions subject to editorial discretion.

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