On Episode 64, we’re knee-deep in product marketing with Josh Martin. Josh and I spoke in an early episode of Confessions of a Marketer. And today we expand on that in the first of two episodes. We start off by talking about the ideal background for a product marketer, Josh’s career path, understanding the audience, and the value of working hard.
Mark: Josh, welcome back to Confessions of a Marketer.
Josh: Thanks for having me. Great to speak to you again, Mark.
Mark: Yeah, it's good to have you here. This might be a kind of "what kind of tree would you be" type question, but what is the ideal background for a product marketer?
Josh: I think being a product marketer, because it's so cross functional, having exposure to lots of different areas. So you may not think of a marketer needing sales experience for example, but having an understanding and an empathy for sales is really important. I would think that one of the key things is having a lot of different experiences professionally. Maybe not many, many, many, many years, but real exposure to the three primary areas that you'll be supporting.
Josh: Number one is sales, number two is marketing, and number three is product. So understanding what those three groups are, what they do, what the motivations are of the people is important. And you don't necessarily need to work in each of those groups for a very long period of time, but I think without really understanding the different pressures that they feel, it's difficult to prioritize as a product marketer because you are in that cross functional type of role.
Josh: For me, having experience across those areas certainly did help because I did work in all three aspects. But one of the areas that I think surprisingly was most useful is my background as an analyst because a lot of the work that you have to do in product marketing is understanding the market. Who are your competitors? What are they saying? Who are they talking to? How can you carve out a unique competitive niche that's different? And that requires you to evaluate and assess lots of disaggregated data sources and make sense of it in a way that is not as clean as pulling an email open report from Marketo.
Mark: Right. So I know your background, and you kind of alluded to it there, but tell my listeners about your career path and how you ended up in product marketing.
Josh: Sure, so I spent about ten years as an industry analyst. That's where you and I obviously met, Mark, back many years ago working for Yankee Group. And being an industry analyst, your job and responsibility is to advise some of the world's largest companies and some of the world's smallest companies about strategic decisions they need to make based on various economic conditions and market development initiatives that are happening.
Josh: So for me, I always covered consumer technology and over about a ten year period, I recognized that there were gaps in the market from some of the areas that I was covering. And after about ten years doing that, I moved into a quasi-product role building research products because I went to the CEO of the company I was with at the time and said, "Hey, this mobile application space looks like it's going to be a really big area. It doesn't feel like a lot of people are covering it." Built a business plan, worked with them on developing the product requirements, worked with an IT development team, and spent a lot of years building that product out, talking to customers, enabling the sales organization. So without really realizing it, I was doing a product and product marketing type of a role.
Josh: And then moved on from there, took a pure sales role, which again gave me that level of empathy for sales because that is a hard job. And ultimately wound up in an official product marketing capacity helping the company I was working for then and the companies I work for now identify their ideal customer profile and their buyer personas and their user personas, and that unique competitive advantage that they find in market.
Mark: Do you use personas in the current work that you're doing?
Josh: We use personas a lot. Personas are really important. And what's interesting is when I was at [Logi 00:04:43], my last employer, we had one primary persona, which was a product manager. And as a result we were able to go really, really deep on who that person was and understand everything about them. We had 150 slide deck [inaudible 00:04:56] company institutionalized who this person was. And I would go to pragmatic marketing training and other courses and they would talk about ways that they institutionalized things. Some of them even went so far as to have a birthday cake for their persona, which we never did. It feels a little wacky to me, but everyone has to do their own thing.
Josh: But here at Perfect Sense, we sell to lots of different personas. So we went from having this super deep dive into this one persona to having higher level kind of dossier style views of the five or ten people that primarily use our content management system. So it's nice to get perspective on both sides of the coin. But the one key thing that's the same for both organizations is informing the sales and marketing team to say things that are more meaningful to those audiences, and you can't really do that without personas, understanding what their motivations are.
Mark: Well, I think they're really critical. Even if they're not very detailed, that you understand who you are communicating with about your products. It's really important for everyone to understand that.
Josh: Especially in the hyper-competitive world that we live in. You and I probably get emails all the time, I certainly do, I'm sure you do too, where someone sends you an email, and you know that the challenges that you're facing are not related to it at all, if you even open the email. And it says something like, "Are you having trouble generating leads?" And it's like, well, I'm in product marketing so kind of, but not really what I do. So unless someone's really speaking to you in a very specific manner about your actual problems, that one second of attention you're willing to give it just lapses and you delete it and you send it to spam and you never look at it again. So you really get very few bites of the apple.
Mark: What's funny though is that I get lots of those messages on LinkedIn where it's really obvious what I do for a living. And the people who send those messages don't understand who they're communicating with there. So that's what I find extraordinary about the experience on LinkedIn these days.
Josh: Yeah, it's become a bit of a meat market at LinkedIn in terms of getting connections from people. But your point is well founded and I totally agree. These are just, because of this B to B, SAS model that we live in, and volume is everything, most sales organizations or many sales organizations would rather overcome having a good message with just volume. They just call and email and call and email and call and email without thoughtfully trying to craft a message that might actually result in something because the ASPs are so low. What I've done historically in the companies I worked for our ASPs are higher, so we have the ability to be a little bit more thoughtful, to spend a little bit more time contemplating what our buyer may actually be suffering from and introduce solutions that address those issues.
Mark: Spray and pray.
Josh: Spray and pray, yep. A marketer's best friend and worst enemy at the same time.
Mark: So how did you figure out some parts of the job that you either weren't comfortable with or didn't expect or didn't anticipate you'd have to deal with right away? How did you deal with that when you went into product marketing from being an analyst or in sales?
Josh: Yeah, one of the biggest transitions for me, and I think anyone in product marketing will find this is that understanding the priorities is really difficult because you are no longer an individual contributor. If you're in sales, sure you're part of a team, but ultimately your numbers are your numbers and if you hit them, you're going to do well, and if you don't hit them, you'll probably get fired. But as a product marketer, everything basically has to go through somebody else. If you're working on giving feedback through win loss reports to your product organization, and you're feeding that information to them. If you're building messaging, you're going to want to work with the executives to make sure that it meets brand guidelines and standards. So there's a lot more red tape and bureaucracy associated with being in product marketing.
Josh: A lot of the layers that are there exist for a reason because you're there to serve lots of different constituents. But for me as someone that was able to create content, get one review from an editor who would either say, "Thumbs up, thumbs down. Here are some changes to make," and many times you were that person, Mark, for me. There's a lot more hoops to jump through to get things done, I've found. Even in smaller organizations because the people that you are helping to serve really, really care about the product that they're selling. They really, really care about the brand that you're representing, so they do want to have a say and an opinion on those things.
Mark: Yeah. I've had a lot of mentors in my career and still have them. Did you find a mentor that you could lean on when you had questions?
Josh: For me I've always struggled with that quite honestly. And it's something that I've looked for and haven't been able to find. I've taken a lot of different roads in my career as most people do. As an analyst you have the opportunity to either cover something and get really, really deep in a space and become an expert in it, cover it for a long time and then you become kind of a household name. Or you have the alternative option, which is to understand the methodologies behind research and understanding markets and assessing data and cover lots of different things. And that's the path I took, and I think as a result, I didn't get exposure to the people at the level that would have been able to be a mentor for me.
Josh: So I personally haven't. I've had the good fortune of having a lot of great colleagues and a lot of great bosses that have helped guide and shape my career, but unfortunately, nobody that I've talked to through the last 15 years that I've been a professional that's helped me.
Mark: Well, one thing that I remember about you when we worked together is that you're really hard working and I think that's 90% of the battle, isn't it? Just working hard and figuring things out.
Josh: Trying to figure it out. One of the key things I think for me that is different is I'm willing to make mistakes and try things and I'd rather try something and have it fail and then we fix it. There's nothing that we're doing that's so insurmountable that you can't come back from it, probably a couple of things, but I probably wouldn't do those things. But in marketing-
Mark: The fail fast kind of idea, right?
Josh: Fail fast and fail big. If you're going to do it [crosstalk 00:10:57].
Mark: If you're going to fail, do it... Yeah, do it, but do something.
Josh: And the data will tell you if you're doing the right thing or the wrong thing, and that's the great part about that. But you also need to have an environment and a company and a culture that understands that marketing requires you to take risks. Marketing requires that you, not just product marketing, but marketing in general, requires you to try new things. And those things may not always work, so maybe you're going to have a month where your open rates are down or your site traffic is going to decline or you're not going to be on the first page of your AdWords because you're trying something new and different. And that might yield positive results in the longterm.
Josh: So I think having that short term and longterm vision is really important. And it's easy to say, but it is hard to manage, and I think that's one of the other things that modern marketers face is trying to deal with the short and long term because that data is a blessing and a curse at the same time. Whereas, sure you can track everything and see if it's working, but you may do something for two or three days and see the metrics are turning sour and decide to stop a program that you're running that could have yielded positive results. Maybe people were out of the office because there was spring break in part of the country or maybe there was a storm and people were working from... There are thousands of reasons why things might not work, but you also may wind up stopping before something becomes successful as a result of that data.
Josh: I don't really watch a lot of TV anymore, unfortunately, but there are all those stories about... When Seinfeld was first released and the ratings were abysmal or The Office was first released and the ratings were terrible, but they had people that believed that those were good programs and they wound up becoming some of the most successful ever on TV.