State of Product Marketing Update: PMA Summit Recap

State of Product Marketing Update: PMA Summit Recap

Last month, I was lucky enough to attend the Product Marketing Alliance Summit in Chicago on behalf of Aventi Group. It was great to be back in person, feeling the buzz of excitement while connecting (and reconnecting!) with fellow product marketers, and to get a feel for what is currently top-of-mind for leaders and practitioners alike as we head into the new year. 

There were a ton of great speakers and thought-provoking material presented, some of which I want to save for future in-depth blog posts, but here are my top-level takeaways from the summit: 

Changing how we use personas

We’ve all done the work of creating user personas for our solutions or products, but what are ways to maximize their use with our buyers?  

Minimizing inherent bias in product marketing personas

Best practices are now shifting away from associating specific pictures and names with each persona so as to avoid the risk of introducing bias. Remember, B2B buyers are people too, and subject to all the same psychological tendencies as the rest of us. By focusing on a specific aspect of a persona (say gender or race), you might unconsciously be excluding buyers who are different from the person you had in mind. 

As an example, studies have shown that people with easier-to-pronounce names are judged more favorably than others with harder-to-pronounce names––and, depending on the culture, a name that sounds familiar to you might be completely unfamiliar to others. Keep these biases in mind when designing personas, and try to avoid assigning individual characteristics as much as possible. 

→ Tip: Give your personas a neutral name focused on their pain points and needs as it relates to your product. 

Group multiple roles into each persona 

Your personas should be more than a laundry list of facts. You do want to give a detailed view of your target buyer, but you also need to prioritize what really matters. Each persona should represent multiple titles within an organization followed by qualitative and quantitative data to help contextualize the individual and their role. 

I find this practice to be really helpful when there’s so many titles that can represent a similar function. Instead of drilling down on a specific title or role, the goal here is to create an anchor persona, then build off that by adding more granularity as needed. 

→  Example: Head of Customer Service. Areas to include in the persona are: basic background, behavioral attributes, motivations, technology stack interest/responsibilities. 

Creating a winning product marketing team 

Ernest Anunciacion, Senior Director of Product Marketing for Workiva, had a great analogy to describe the importance of product marketing within the organization: it’s like a spider, sitting in the middle of a complex web that spans vital areas across an organization, including: 

  • Organizational strategy
  • Competitive analysis 
  • Sales enablement
  • Product launches
  • Packaging and pricing
  • Programs to drive pipeline
  • Customer retention 

Given this level of complexity, building a successful product marketing team involves more than just finding individuals with experience in the industry or the right skillset. Product marketers need to be able to work across organizational levels and between stakeholders to achieve their goals, driving alignment with other departments to help chart an overall direction. 

So what are product marketing leaders focusing on when it comes to new hires? 

Soft skills win the day 

Achieving success under these complex and highly collaborative circumstances requires product marketers to possess outstanding soft skills, including: 

  • Humility
  • Empathy 
  • Executive presence 
  • Inquisitiveness
  • Objectivity
  • Communication (82% of people surveyed by PMA identified strong communication as the leading skill PMMs need to succeed!)
  • Self-starter
  • Lack of an ego 
  • Customer-first mentality

Above all, product marketers have to be passionate advocates on behalf of both their product and the customer. They also need to be willing to act as change gurus within their organization, pushing the status quo and asking the difficult questions. 

While difficult to put into a job description, prioritizing these intangibles in new hires or helping your existing employees uplevel their soft skills (by starting a mentoring program, for example) can take your product marketing team from good to great.  

Winning a seat at the table for product marketing  

Only 4.3% of product marketing professionals surveyed said that their role is fully understood at their company. This lack of understanding around what product marketing brings to the table often makes it difficult to get a seat at the table at all. How can you as a product marketing leader ensure that your team’s work is being seen, understood, and valued? 

Establish your credibility  

Start off by gaining credibility: focus on quick wins, such as generating sales enablement materials. This provides credibility and momentum within the company, which can lead to a seat at the table when it comes to strategy making. In many ways, that seat is earned by product marketing. 

Do your homework 

Next, make sure that your team has a deep understanding of your products and your customers. It has to be immediately clear that you’re not just phoning it in––you really understand what’s important to C-level and other executives across your target market, and can use that knowledge to develop a POV. 

Use that same deep understanding to help the organization establish consistent KPIs and goals across the board, keeping them closely in line with your marketing and product goals. Make sure everyone has bought into those goals and are marching together to achieve them. 

Create a roadmap 

A lot of us already know this, but I think it’s worth a reminder: as product marketing leaders, our focus needs to be on activities that drive impact instead of just churning out one-sheeters. A great way to reinforce that focus across the board is to build a product marketing charter, or playbook, which does the following:

  • Defines the north star for product marketing for full transparency across the organization
  • Educates stakeholders on the value of product marketing and where our priorities lie
  • Keeps stakeholders updated on what’s to come, reducing their anxiety 
  • Helps align partners and stakeholders on responsibilities
  • Streamlines requests for product marketing 

The product marketing charter is a crucial piece to both defining what you are and then upleveling your part in the organization going forward. 

Raising visibility for product marketing 

Another part of the problem is that product marketing does a lot of things behind the scenes. Our work isn’t as visible as, say, demand gen, so we need to be very transparent and communicate frequently about what we are doing. In addition, more leadership cadence is required to make sure everyone is aware of what’s going on and on the same page. Make sure you’re staying hands on and communicating early and often. 

→ Tip: Use team Slack channels to pin what product marketing activities are for the coming weeks as well as processes, deliverables, and frameworks. 

Wrapping up 2022

As we head into a new year, I feel heartened by the people-first focus that I felt was a real take away from the Chicago PMA summit. As professionals, we are continuing to let connections lead the way, as evidenced by the emphasis I heard on soft skills and the use of personas to understand and draw a stronger connection to our target audiences. I also really enjoyed the conversation about how we can increase our stakes and visibility at an organizational level, since I know that’s a frequent refrain from many product marketers. I hope we can all take these tips forward into a happy, healthy new year! 

Looking for ways to create the skills for a best-in-class product marketing team? Contact us for your free 30-minute consultation.

Written By

Dave Panek

Dave has over 25 years in various marketing and product marketing leadership roles with high growth MarTech and AdTech companies. As the Global VP of Product Marketing for Epsilon, he led go-to-market and portfolio marketing growth for their data, media, and marketing solutions. Previously, he was SVP Marketing at Aprimo where he built marketing from the ground up as a content-driven, customer-centric growth engine. He has also held product marketing leadership roles at Teradata, IBM, Oracle as well as high growth startups.