The Founder’s Guide to SaaS Product Marketing

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If you are a founder going on your startup journey, the first bunch of people you need along with you, are your engineers. After countless days and nights, you forge your vision from an idea in your head into an actual product that you can ship. Maybe it’s just a prototype, or maybe you’ve decked it out to the tip with all the bells and whistles.

However, in an age where your potential audience is all distracted, your competitors eagerly rushing to copy your features, and even your family can’t make head or tail of what your company does, you come to realize that building a product is only half the battle won. Once you have something ready to ship, you will need help sailing the choppy waters of that which we call the market. 

Enter product marketing. An indispensable role in today’s companies is what connects the dots between the product and the market. This is why we reached out to Vijay Mandeep, a Product Marketing Manager with years of experience across brands both big and small, to understand more about this field that is the impetus for a company’s growth.

Harshita: Product marketing is a relatively new function and was not as common a decade ago. Lately, it's been spoken of as the sexiest job for this decade. How did this role come about?

Vijay: Product marketing as a “function/department” is fairly new but the role has always existed. It’s just that product marketers were addressed with different titles and the responsibilities pretty much overlapped with that of a digital marketer. Most companies failed to identify the need for having a product marketing function but as they evolved, their understanding of product marketing evolved as well, especially in fast-growing B2B SaaS startups. 

Harshita: How would you describe the role played by Product Marketing?

Vijay: The role of the Product Marketing function is to translate complicated product information into a simple message that the customers can easily understand. In some cases, product marketing also contributes to the development of the product strategy along with the product management function. They are also responsible for becoming familiar with customers, building different customer personas, and creating programs to help the company introduce the product to the right target audience in the right market.

Product marketing enables sales, customer success and the marketing teams. Product Marketers are often looked up for all the information related to the product, which often includes the messaging, user personas, value proposition, features, positioning, use cases, product training and competitive intelligence. They are also responsible for communicating the product benefits to prospective customers, the industry (analysts and executives), and to the world in general.

Harshita: When do you hire your first product marketer, is there a universal right time to hire one?

Vijay: I’d like to say that it is never too early to hire a product marketer but trust me, your first marketing hire should be a product marketer. Most companies, especially the new age B2B startups, often go scouting for a growth marketer. In my opinion you don’t need a growth marketer, you need a product marketer. When you are starting your company would be wasting a lot of money on-demand generation, paid ads, and other marketing activities if you do not understand how your tactics fit into the larger marketing strategy with the product, engineering, and sales. Growth marketing is a misunderstood word and one that many companies, especially early stage, completely get wrong. 

Demand generation and growth marketing are extremely important, but they are often hired too soon before a company truly understands how to position the product and frame its message to their customers.

Harshita: What are the first few questions a product marketer should ask in a new role? In other words, what are a few things you'd expect them to do when they first come on board?

Vijay: Every company has a different onboarding plan for their PMMs but I’d recommend you to create your own 30-60-90 day plan. Whenever you are starting a new role, it's critical to understand the objectives of your organization and what's important to your team, so that you can align yourself well with them. I follow the 3E principle:

Educate (0-30) - Engage (30-60) - Execute (60-90)

Educate: Learn about the company, the product, the sales function, the customer and as much information as you can in the first 30 days.

Engage: Engage with your internal and external customers to understand the product fallacies and outline a strategy to set them right in the next 30 days.

Execute: Execute your outlined strategies that sync with your team’s objectives and overall company’s success.

Harshita: Is there a critical metric (or a set of many) that can represent the business impact of a product marketer? In other words, how do you know if a product marketer is doing a good job at product marketing?

Vijay: The role of a product marketer within the company is very diverse and to attribute the effectiveness of the work they do in itself is a bigger challenge. However, measuring the performance of a product marketer depends on what stage of the company they are focused at, such as pre-product-market fit or post-product-market fit, and how your company is driven - is it product-driven, marketing-driven or sales driven? Once you have a clear picture of where your product marketer is stationed, you’ll have an idea about the basis for their performance. For example, you could measure a product marketer’s work by tracking  the metrics like:

  • Product Signups
  • Win Rates
  • Sales Enablement Effectiveness
  • Product Adoption
  • Inbound Marketing Conversion Rates

Harshita: In your opinion, who should write the OKRs for a product marketer? Should it be the product team or the marketing team (or others)?

Vijay: Product marketers rarely work in isolation. Be it a marketing campaign, a launch or a project, you’ll always find them working with at least two other internal functions, like marketing, sales, product, customer success or finance. In my opinion, product marketing functions should be responsible for defining their own OKRs. It is understood that product marketing in most organizations reports either to product or marketing, but one also needs to know that defining OKRs based on the team they report to can lead to misaligned OKRs.

Harshita: What does the most mature product marketing team look like in terms of team structure, roles, competencies? Any examples of SaaS companies we can look at for inspiration?

Vijay: Honestly, it depends on what stage your company is focused on, such as pre, mid and post product-market fit, and where your product marketing function reports to - marketing, product or is independent. What also matters is how your organization structure is built and how much autonomy is vested by the C-level executives in respective individual functions. I have come across some companies where the PMMs directly report to the CEO, so it all depends. 

Some companies you can look at for inspiration are G2 Crowd, Intercom, Drift, Privy, Miro, and Gong.

Harshita: How can a young team work towards this structure? Could you give us any pointers on when and how to go about scaling teams?

Vijay: A young product marketing team in a startup is typically spearheaded by a marketing head, with one or two product marketers reporting to them. The team structure again depends on the depth of your product portfolio. The above structure should work fine for a single product, but as the company evolves into multiple product lines, you will need to hire more PMMs to be able to own each product from all aspects such as messaging, positioning, launches, enablement, product communication etc. Scaling your product marketing team also depends on how the workload is managed by the current team and the need for distributing them.

Summing Up

If you’re a founder, moving from building your MVP to a stage where you’re ready to start marketing your product is wonderful, yet fraught with the complications of entering uncharted territory. We hope that this guide to all things product marketing, by a veteran expert in the industry, would prove to be helpful to you on your quest.

Also read: The What, Why, and How of Product Marketing