The 10 Commandments of Product Marketing

10 Commandments LogoWhether you’re a fan of Charlton Heston or Mel Brooks, you likely understand the concept of a commandment: It is a foundational command or directive or an essential requirement with no compromise. In the course of managing today’s crises and worrying about tomorrow’s problems, we as product-marketing professionals can lose focus on the essentials needed to be an effective product marketer.

Having been at the product-marketing game for about a dozen years at three different companies (more if you count how many times I was acquired) and having had the distinct honor of working for a master of product marketing, I submit to you this list of the essentials, which we call “The 10 Commandments of Product Marketing.” I hope they help guide new product marketers or reintroduce core product-marketing fundamentals to veteran practitioners.

The 10 commandments are built around the constituencies we as product marketers serve: sales, product management and business, press and analysts, competitors, partners and most importantly, customers.

1. Have an up-to-date positioning document and buyer persona for your product. How often do you start developing product or marketing materials without fully knowing who the target buyers are and what their pains are? It happens more than it should when we are going too fast, but without this fundamental understanding you run the risk of losing control of your message. Never forget: YOU own the message.

2. Know the business plan for your product and have a measurable go-to-market plan for it. Regularly perform a marketing activity analysis against budget to measure this. You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and you can’t achieve an objective without understanding what it takes to get there. I recommend setting a regular cadence of operational reviews with your functional marketing counterparts, where you can review a standard set of results to measure what’s working and what’s not. And when marketing issues come up during quarterly business reviews, make sure your business leader is prepared with the numbers. It’s your responsibility as steward of the marketing budget for the business.

3. Know how customers are using your product. Observing customers in their native habitats need not be intimidating. Ask for a ride-along with a sales rep, or talk to an established customer willing to give you honest feedback. (Customer reference program members are an ideal source for this.) Use these conversations to determine if how you’re positioning your product is real or just hype. Be prepared for an opinion different from what you were expecting and take it in context with other conversations. Just because you have one conversation with one customer who says something completely divergent from what your buyer personas say doesn’t mean you have to shift how you market your product. Keep it real by speaking to a real customer at least once per month. This is also a non-threatening way to gather win/loss data.

4. Know where your product’s customers and users are coming from. This one can be tricky, especially if your business lacks the operational maturity to have consolidated business metrics. There will be someone—likely multiple people—who are able to tell you how many active customers you have for a product (maintenance or support records); the sizes and industry verticals of your customers (Hoover’s et al); average sales price, discount and margin (bookings database from finance); and new customers vs. existing (finance). The trick is to consolidate this information so you have the right information when you need it. For example, wouldn’t it be great if—when your business leader indicated you needed to focus on selling to existing customers to drive penetration—you had that data at your fingertips and could weigh in on the addressable market?

5. Know your product’s license and maintenance revenue targets and progress toward those targets. As a product marketer, you are the VP of marketing for your product. The main focus of your role as a marketer is contributing to revenue. How are you influencing license bookings? Pretend for a moment you work for a “company-is-the-product” startup. You own marketing for that product—and therefore the company—soup to nuts. What do you need to know to be successful? Knowing your progress toward targets helps you move your marketing investments to meet current business objectives.

6. Know who sells your product. Also know what their comp plans look like. Sales reps are coin operated; their behavior follows the money. Knowing how your reps are compensated helps you know what to focus on in sales-enablement discussions. For example, if reps have their comp plan tied to growth in enterprise-level accounts in their region, they’re not going to respond to products and training that address a small- to mid-market customer. Hand-in-hand with this is an understanding of quotas, average deal sizes, whether they’re comped on other parts of the portfolio, professional services, etc. This helps you better understand the folks who are taking your product to market and how to talk their language. You can then be better positioned to influence comp-based incentives or spiffs for your product. 

7. Ensure sales, partners, field marketing and others can successfully evangelize for your product with accurate and up-to-date sales tools. Gather feedback from the field and provide regular updates. This seems like a no-brainer and will likely be 75 percent of your job. Notice the nuance here, though. Your role as a product marketer likely revolves around building messaging, enabling the sales force and influencing campaigns to drive leads and awareness. But turning other marketing shared-services personnel into advocates for your product increases internal mindshare and ultimately improves focus and results. It’s not just about the blocking and tackling of producing sales tools and a good website, but also ensuring the folks building those tools and that website or managing that event can tell the story well. Part of your success will be dependent on turning others, not just sales, into evangelists. Remember, you’re likely competing with other products for mental shelf space across the company. Be aggressive: It’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

8. Know your product’s top three competitors and be able to explain how your product is different. I bet this is the No. 1 request you get from sales. But if you’re like many companies, analyzing competitors is a tricky undertaking. It’s frowned upon to download a competitor’s product under false pretenses or break the law in any way, so you rely on publicly available materials that are either authored by the competitor or from an expensive third-party source. My advice is to stay above it and simply provide strengths and advantages of your products.

9. Know who the key analysts and market influencers are and how they position your product in the market. Don’t rely exclusively on the analyst relations, public relations or social media teams to give you regular updates on analyst reports or industry articles. You need to take responsibility for knowing who your top influencers are and how they feel about your product, and you can do that by subscribing to their blogs and Twitter feeds. Also, establish a quarterly cadence with those influencers to talk business strategy, product updates, etc. It doesn’t even have to be formal, and some of the best influencing I’ve done is over coffee or standing on a tradeshow floor. Begin with the end in mind: How do you want this conversation to end? Courting these influencers is as critical to your success as educating your sales force. Ever had a deal go south when a customer said that Analyst Firm X hadn’t heard about your product before?

10. Know your product’s release schedule and roadmap and execute product releases on time. Another “duh” moment. But seriously, how many times have you been surprised that a product is ready to release, and you nearly caused a delay in its release? At the company I work for, product management owns the release to marketing/manufacturing date, but product marketing owns the generally available (GA) date when the product is actually live and sellable. There are typically 10 business days between these two dates (with some flexibility on either end), which gives product marketers 10 days to shepherd sales tool updates, marketing programs and sales training through the processes needed to post it all live. To keep up on when the release is coming, attend your product or program manager’s regular release meetings and be prepared with a plan on how you will market the product.

Breaking It Down

Remember the old maxim that you either are in sales or sales support? Master these 10 commandments, and you will be better connected to the business, be able to measure your results with what really matters (bookings), be closer to the customer than you ever thought possible and less likely to have to answer to sales.

Remember, you have execution teams to help you. Leverage them so you can be a marketing representative to the business. Overlaying these commandments on top of the Pragmatic Marketing process—and using the templates and tools available to you—adds rigor, discipline and a professional quality to your role as product marketing and business representative to the marketing department.

Author: Scott Lang