All too often, product marketing teams feel that their work has devolved to tactics and execution. Rather than playing a key role in strategic decisions that help steer the company, they sometimes feel like a boat without a rudder. Decisions made or heavily influenced by Development, Sales or other teams sometimes are implemented in a hurry, without regard to the impact they could have on the company, revenues, brand image and viability. The adage “Ready, Aim, Fire” may feel like it has been turned on its head. We see this in a number of common situations:
- Example 1: Sales of XYZ product are not where we want them to be. Let’s do some social media campaigns. Not ready (no plan). No aim (where is the problem, and what’s the best way to solve it?) Fire – unfortunately, yes.
- Example 2: We’re told by product management that our latest release is ready to launch. Let’s do a press release and get the sales team spun up on the new features. Not ready (no plan). No aim (no clear messaging to support strategy). Fire – yes, unfortunately.
- Example 3: There’s an analyst briefing coming up. Let’s pull together a presentation and assign someone to deliver it. Not ready (no plan). No aim (what is the messaging? How are we building on past relationships?) Fire – yes, probably without the desired result.
Ready, Aim, Fire the PMM way
Done right, Product Marketing can ensure that the right actions are taken, at the right time, using the right methods, and targeting the right audience. Ready, Aim, Fire.
READY starts with a plan. Product Marketing has its finger on the pulse of the market and should know the customer as well as – or better than – anyone else. PMM bases the plan on trends in the market, synchronized with corporate objectives and informed customer input. It lays out, on a timeline, what position the company wants to have in the market. One easy way to phrase this is: “What big fat claim do we want to make a year from now? Two years?”
AIM is based on the target market identified in the plan, the buying behaviors of customers, the decision processes of prospects, the role and impact of pundits and industry influencers. There are literally hundreds of things that could be done to increase sales, improve the close rate, shorten the sales cycle, build brand awareness, etc. Which should you use in which situations? PMM can choose based on the expected outcome and alignment with the plan. That’s a lot more scientific (and yields better results) than simply choosing the most obvious approach. Sales playbooks are a good way to codify this type of information, with sales enablement to ensure it is front-and-center. Learn more about Unleashing the Power of the Sales Playbook in my previous blog post.
FIRE is not just a simple act. It’s executing to plan, with a clear focus on the target audience and expected results. But it also means transparency, synthesis, empowering the direct and channel sales and market influencers with a clear, believable, provable message.
Four Ways to Ensure PMM is Strategic
Building the plan, aiming efforts at the right target and executing well calls for four activities: know the customer, know the market, take a leadership position and watch the metrics.
1) Know the Customer
This means going beyond platitudes. Talk to them – early and often. From conversations, develop models of markets and customer types, as well as the speed at which they move and adapt. Test assumptions and continuously assess the market size, your share, and customer lifetime value. Importantly, document your assumptions and areas where you are simply guessing. Building relationships with customers is never a waste of time, and can lead to a lifetime of insights – and more satisfied customers as well.
2) Know the Market
Be the expert on what is happening, trends and important factors, and bring that expertise to the rest of the company. This market knowledge can and should drive solution requirements, determine product life cycles and fuel innovation. Keep in mind the “whole product” philosophy, because it’s not just products and services. It’s awareness, purchasing, deployment, usage, lifetime value. As with customers, build solid relationships with industry analysts. Because of their reach, they can see things that are invisible to even a large PMM team; they can help explain trends and give color to what is happening in your market.
3) Don’t be Reluctant to Take (and Keep) Center Stage
Driving the “Read-Aim-Fire” approach means enlisting the entire organization. Customer support, development, finance, marketing, operations and sales (direct and indirect) need to be involved in the product definition process and stay involved throughout development and launch. While involvement levels will vary depending on the department and the stage of development, it’s important to ensure that no relevant group is left out. This includes the C-Suite. Managing upwards can be intimidating for some, so read 8 Ways to Manage Upwards for tips on building trust with the C-Suite to help your marketing team succeed.
4) Don’t Ignore the Metrics
Keep a watchful eye on market size and share, customer satisfaction, perceived value, process effectiveness, and of course, product-specific metrics. If possible, track specific product or service capabilities and tie them to revenue goal achievement. It’s important to track the right metrics as discussed in Product Marketing: Measuring Outcomes that Matter. This will help ensure alignment in the future and will assist in removing emotion from business decisions.
Sounds like a lot to do, but it’s all at the heart of the Product Marketing function. It’s easy to get caught up in tactical, day-to-day activities, but unless you focus on the underlying value you can bring to the organization, you’ll never be given a chance to be truly strategic.