Positioning for Advantage – a Q&A with Sprint.ly’s April Dunford

(Q) The Product Marketer: First & foremost, we’re interested to hear your perspective on what role a Product Marketer plays in a B2B organization today? 

(A) Maybe it’s because I work more with startups than larger companies, but I am seeing a blurring of lines across Marketing, Sales, and Product. I feel like we are moving away from an organization where teams are very siloed toward one that is more agile and fluid with respect to functions and processes. Things that were traditionally “sales only” or “product only” are now often looking like things that marketing can and should tackle. In a world where this is happening, Product Marketers have the unique opportunity to help bridge that gap. I see Product Marketers (or at least a product marketing skill set, even if the title doesn’t match) as being something that is in increasing demand.

(Q) The Product Marketer & Positioning: The godfather’s of positioning, Ries & Trout, posited that “positioning cuts through the chaos.” In the world of B2B, what’s your definition of positioning? What is it NOT? 

(A) Positioning is about providing a frame of reference for potential customers to understand what you do and why they should care. It’s not a tagline or a slogan and it definitely isn’t branding. Positioning is the context that makes sense of what your offering is, what the primary value is and who that offering is really for. Positioning is the foundation for not just marketing but sales strategy, product strategy and even support and hiring.

(Q) To ensure that Product Marketers are viewed as true Architects of Growth by the C-suite, how should Product Marketer’s position for advantage? 

(A) In my mind the fundamental value that Product Marketers bring to the table is a deep understanding of customers, including what customers hate, what they struggle with and what they really love. Marketing tactics change every week and frankly, they are easy to learn. Deep customer and market understanding however, takes time to develop and once you have it, you are an extraordinarily valuable resource to the company. The keys to unlocking growth are not located inside the offices of your company – they live inside the minds and hearts of your customers. Product Marketers should be the keepers of the maps to those keys.

(Q) Are there any parting words of wisdom you would like to leave with our Product Marketing members? 

(A) Don’t get too hung up on tactics and tricks. With all of the content being created for marketers today, it’s easy to get distracted by flavor-of-the-month lead generation tactics that may or may not drive results for your business and your market. Rely on what you know about your buyers and ignore your marketing FOMO as much as possible 🙂

An engineer by training, April’s worked as a marketing and sales exec for most of her career. She’s run marketing and sales at a number of startups. In October 2015, April acquired Sprintly – an agile project management tool for startups, along with the original founder, Joe Stump. April works mainly as a consultant to early-stage tech companies. Her specialty is on market positioning and go-to-market strategy. 

Kenneth Wong on the dynamics of a Product Marketer’s role

(Q) What do you believe are the primary responsibilities for a Product Marketer (PM)? 

(A) ” Product Marketers have a responsibility to serve as a conduit between the enterprise and its customers. That is, Product Marketers (PM) have a responsibility to insure that Product Managers understand market and competitive conditions, and a responsibility to insure that customers know and understand what and how the enterprise creates value for customers. PM’s cannot do that unless they appreciate that they have two sets of customers: internal customers (e.g. product managers) and external customers.”

“Product Marketers need to sell information and insights to Product Managers just as they do to customers. Just as in marketing to customers, a good PM understands its internal customer using the same tools and concepts they apply to marketing to external customers. Thus, while PM’s may not have, for example, bottom-line responsibility for a product, they need to be acutely aware of what drives that bottom line performance in order to understand the context under which a Product Manager will use (or decide to ignore) their advice. This raises some interesting questions: for example, if concepts like segmentation, positioning and branding are central to a PM’s responsibilities in dealing with external customers, do we apply these same concepts in dealing with INTERNAL customers? Surely these must be added to a PM’s responsibilities.”

“As scale and complexity increases, it becomes near impossible for a single person to serve both- the product manager and product marketing roles. Indeed, given the plethora of media now available, one person may not even be able to manage the Product Marketing function and other specialists may be needed. Strict definitions of roles and responsibilities may seem a logical way to allocate authority across many people but, ultimately, someone must coordinate and curate or decisions are made in silos. That “someone” is the product marketing manager.”

(Q) How can Product Marketers directly influence revenue growth, customer retention and awareness? 

(A) “There are only four ways to enhance profitability: Get prices up; keep costs down; get a bigger share of existing customers and expanding the base of existing customers. This is not opinion but basic accounting definitions. Thus, the question could also be phrased in four parts:

  1. How to support premium pricing and/or avoid price cutting (Answer: By meaningful and relevant differentiation)
  2. How to contain or reduce costs (Answer: Through scale, scope, organization and process innovation – the same as every other function)
  3. How to increase market share (Answer: Choose the right customers to serve; minimize waste/ lean marketing; better understand the path to purchase; know where we lose customers along that pathway
  4. How to expand market size (Answer: Refer to the Blue Ocean strategy).”

(Q) What role does a Product Marketer play towards helping an organization become market-driven?

(A) “Product marketers manage the interface between customers and the firm. This does not mean they are advocates for the customer but rather that they start their decision-making process, regardless of the decision area by asking, “What would the customer prefer?” Once known, economics will dictate how much of that preference can be accommodated.”

(Q) What challenges do Product Marketers face both within their organizations and externally as they look to help their companies become market-driven?

(A) “We court customers but we record our success with customers on financial statements like P&L. Within the firm, Product Marketers need to understand how their decisions impact those statements, including an understanding that, sometimes, firms will do whatever is required to support their bottom line regardless of whether the decisions reflect customer focus. Showing the long term implications of such shorter term thinking is vital.”

“Second, convincing the world that Product Marketing is NOT the same as advertising or personal selling.”

(Q) What metrics should a Product Marketer use to measure success? 

(A) “It all depends on what PM’s are trying to accomplish. You cannot manage what you cannot measure but since we adjust what we do, depending upon results achieved, following the wrong metric for your strategy means you only succeed via blind, dumb luck.”

Ken Wong is a faculty member and the Distinguished Professor of Marketing at Smith School of Business, where he has held both teaching and administrative positions. He was the principal architect of the first full-time degree program in Canada to operate completely outside of government subsidy: a distinction that earned him the cover of Canadian Business in April 1994. (The new Program has been rated by Business Week as #1 worldwide among non-US MBAs in the last four bi-annual rankings). Ken is also the Vice President, Knowledge Development for Level 5, a marketing consulting firm focused on brand strategy and execution.

Are you a modern Product Marketer?

Sirius - 5 Key Traits ImageProduct marketing is undergoing a massive sea change as the functional role adapts to changing internal and external conditions, such as the product to solution transformation, shifts to greater customer-centricity, an increasing need to rationalize robust and outgrown offering portfolios to the marketplace and most notably, changes in b-to-b buying behavior.

As a research analyst at SiriusDecisions and the director of the Portfolio Marketing service, I have the unique privilege of observing the amazing transformational trends occurring in product marketing.  Here are the five key traits of a best-in-class product marketer who thrives and succeeds in the midst of all the change.

  1. They design audience-centric go-to-market (GTM) strategies. Modern product marketers devise the GTM strategy and architecture for how offerings will be expressed to the marketplace, and determine the market requirements and competitive analysis to fuel innovation.
  2. They know their customers and buyers – deeply.Modern product marketers understand buyer personas and how these personas buy. This information informs campaigns, content and innovation. They have exceptional skills and techniques that enable them to segment, size and gain alignment on the buyer audiences to target.
  3. They create messaging that resonates. Modern product marketers can craft effective audience-centric messaging and value propositions. They are adept at interfacing with enterprise-wide content processes for both sellers and buyers and are focused on content effectiveness.
  4. They drive alignment across product, marketing and sales. Modern product marketers incubate or improve the go-to-market workflow process for bringing new or existing offerings to market. They are passionate about driving clarity of roles and alignment between marketing, product management and business units.
  5. They help sales sell. Period. Modern product marketers enable sellers to sell more via knowledge transfer, content and programs that increase sales productivity within the offering portfolio. They care about sellers; driving sales productivity is what keeps them up at night. They break down barriers and stop at nothing to ensure sales has the knowledge they need to inform buyers, as well as the content and tools they need to create demand, compete and win new business.

Author: Marisa Kopec