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Hiring Your First PMM & Doing More with Less: Q&A with Ryan Goldman

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How variable is the role of a PMM and what do you look for in a hire to ensure they are a good match for your stage and product?
The user research and discovery phase sits between sales, marketing, and UX. Where does the PMM fit into this?
How can you expect a product marketer to operationalize when they overlap with product management, sales, go-to-market, customer success, etc.
Does a PMM need to have technical chops?
How can you spearfish good product marketing candidates?
How do you approach compensation for a key role that’s going to help you ramp for future growth, when you’re still an early-stage company?
What is a good way to structure the interaction between customer success, product management, and product marketing?
  • Ryan Goldman
16 min

During a recent session on hiring your first Product Marketing Manager (PMM) & doing more with less, Pendo’s VP of Product Marketing Ryan Goldman, shared what product marketing looks like for early stage organizations, and how founders can find their first product marketer. If you’ve already watched his talk, read on to learn more as he responds to some questions from the audience.

How variable is the role of a PMM and what do you look for in a hire to ensure they are a good match for your stage and product?

Let’s say you’re an early-stage company looking for someone who’s going to start with tactics and stretch into strategy. Make that clear in the job description. Make it clear to the candidate that you’re not looking for a director. You’re looking for an IC. You’re looking for a product marketer who’s going to do a lot of stuff and is okay with getting things wrong. They should expect to learn from the product managers, the engineers, and the customers.

Don’t expect them to have the solution. That’s what a VP is for, that’s what a director is for. An IC just needs to listen hard and work hard. You should be really clear in the job description that you want to see work samples. Even if they don’t have a portfolio already, I’ve seen candidates create them for the company and actually be excited about it.

The other option is, if you have the budget and the means, think about hiring two. If you’ve trying to do both a very high volume, high velocity, self-serve audience, as well as break into the enterprise, those are two different positions. Those are two different problems. They’re two different types of customers. They’re two different ways of buying.

You’re going to need to ruthlessly prioritize on behalf of the product marketer because they’re going to be trying to do these two things that can’t be done well at the same time. Or you hire two people, one who is the more experienced strategist and can do the pricing, packaging, and positioning for a specific segment and then another person who is the rough and ready type and wants to do a bunch of stuff.

The user research and discovery phase sits between sales, marketing, and UX. Where does the PMM fit into this?

For me, this is the hardest thing to hire for. Your PMM needs to understand the customer and get enough face time to get that first hand perspective. What I’ve seen in the past is, there are product marketers who are exceptionally good at this. They know how to develop a relationship with the customer success organization and sales organization so that they’re constantly on the call listening to the pitch. The problem with those types of people, and this is just from my experience across a bunch of organizations, is they get so focused on building affinity with their direct stakeholders that they step away from being able to think differently.

They empathize so strongly with the people they’re trying to serve that they stop considering that, “I’m actually not just trying to focus on urgency and repeating back the things that I hear.” They should be focusing on, “There’s a root cause here that I have to be able to figure out and speak on behalf of because nobody else is going to do it.”

If you’re a founder, this person is supposed to be helping you but I’d say help them too. Make sure that if you hire someone who’s spending a lot of time just being market oriented such that they’re making assumptions– they may be the right assumptions, they may be very strategic– but they’re not necessarily backed up by direct input from the designers and the product managers and the sales people in your organization.

Make sure that you’re helping them get there. Set up that time. Make sure that they’re getting the right kind of insight as opposed to just telling them they’re not doing this well enough and need to go do it better. If they’re the type of person who is only doing that, challenge them. Make sure they’re not just repeating back to you and to everyone else the same things that they’re hearing over and over again. That they’re not just pattern matching. Make sure they’re actually putting some structure and saying, “I’m actually trying to level up and see what is it that I’m not hearing. I have all kinds of evidence that there’s a thing. How do we actually solve the problem by thinking about what we can do at the root cause? How can we avoid the problem in the first place?”

How can you expect a product marketer to operationalize when they overlap with product management, sales, go-to-market, customer success, etc.

Product marketer is a multiplier. It has to set priorities that will change over time based on what everyone else’s priorities are. They’re going to be in the mix with the product organization to build a road map. They’re meant to be a challenger. They’re meant to think a little bit differently and say, “Actually, here’s a different perspective” and play a little bit of devil’s advocate. That’s the best thing they can do for the product organization. That’s the best thing they can do for the sales organization. They’re not necessarily delivering much, but they plan an important role as interpreter. Being able to get in the mix, be part of the process, and try and make everybody better, is very valuable.

Does a PMM need to have technical chops?

I’ve seen this before so I have an opinion on this. I’ll speak from my own experience but also speak as a person who has managed. I am not technical. I don’t have a degree in engineering but I’ve been successful in highly technical companies. I’ve also hired people who are highly technical, former engineers and they have not always been successful. They tend to be really good at doing the last mile. They tend to be a good interpreter. But they can’t always build the content. They can’t build the program.

What I’ve found is that, there is no such thing as developer marketing. It’s a concept that we’ve started talking about over the past few years. It’s kind of been made popular by a couple of companies. Engineering marketing was a thing that was talked about a lot in terms of building up a really great community and advocacy program. But I don’t think it’s a thing.

I think that product marketing’s responsibility is to understand the market, understand the user, understand the use-case, and understand objectives. If the user is a developer? Fantastic, they still have to build an understanding. They have to be able to speak that language. They have to get not only the empathy but the fluency to do it really well. So, that’s how you can tell a good product marketer from someone else. But if they’re just talking about, “I’m great at financial services marketing,” or “I’m great at developer marketing,” those aren’t things. They might have an advantage because they have that education already, sure. But they’re not necessarily going to be fluent or fluid.

How can you spearfish good product marketing candidates?

LinkedIn is the best place to start. There are other communities but LinkedIn is your best bet. The challenge with those communities is that they’re less and less distinguished between the different types of product marketers. They think of product marketing as a title as opposed to role. There’s a big difference between B2B and B2C product marketing. Like a world’s difference. I could never do a B2C product marketing role. Those communities treat them as the same. LinkedIn allows you to look based on the types of company they worked for in the past.

The other approach that I’ve seen in the past that works really well especially for very technical product companies is to have an advisory board. Have people who have been successful as marketing leaders or sales leaders or customer success leaders at other companies, help with the outreach.

How do you approach compensation for a key role that’s going to help you ramp for future growth, when you’re still an early-stage company?

Product marketing, like product management, is a little challenging because you have a mix of people who are guiding the little practitioners as well as people who are coming to that role from Master’s degrees. So you see a lot of really great product managers who have always been product managers or maybe were a software engineer in the past, but you also have product managers who recently graduated with an MBA. Same thing with product marketers. You have to decide, what kind of candidate you’re going after. The people with the advanced degree tend to be quite a bit more expensive. They also tend to be on a different kind of track or they tend to be a Silicon Valley refugee [referencing slide in deck]. Like they’ve worked for a large company and now they’re looking for a smaller gig.

It’s always helpful to talk to your community and to your funders. You might consider paying less and giving more equity. That could determine if you’re finding the right candidates. If they’re willing to take less money in favor of more equity, maybe they’re right for you. They’re in it for the right reasons for an early-stage company.

One thing you do have to keep in mind is that product marketing, for whatever reason, within the marketing organization is considered a premium role. So, if you already have a demand generation or digital marketing person, you should expect– and it’s super confusing, but you should expect to pay the product marketer more than you pay a demand generation person because their ‘output’ will look different. It will not come as fast as a demand gen’s ‘output.’

What is a good way to structure the interaction between customer success, product management, and product marketing?

For an early stage organization, the challenge tends to be customer success and sales coming in with some level of urgency around everything. Product managements tends to be a little bit more independent in that, if they’re doing things right before they build or before they go to a roadmap, they’re saying, “Okay, what is the launch narrative, before we even start to build anything?” So there’s a little bit less dependency.

Product marketing’s responsibility is to make sure that that’s not the end of it, that they’re getting involved early enough so that they’re preparing customer success and sales, if you have a sales organization, for what’s coming next and why. The best thing that a sales person or customer success person can do is, even if you haven’t launched, start talking about the problems that they’re going to help the customer or the user solve in the coming quarters, even if the product isn’t available yet, and kind of seeding either like the awareness of pain or the awareness of an oncoming solution.

In terms of tactics and how the organization should work– for one thing, product marketing should be in the weekly product organization’s meetings. If there is a once-a-week standup, have at least one PMM attend those just so they’re aware of what’s happening, and also report back. The product marketer should be telling the product organization what they’re working on briefly in like three or four bullets. So, that there is a sense of trust that the product marketing team is actually executing against the right things.

Number two, when we’re getting ready to launch something, the product marketing team should communicate the launch plan to their go-to-market stakeholders, both on sales and customer success, far in advance . They shouldn’t just be saying, “On your calendar you’ll see this meeting where we’re going to do an enablement session around what the features of this new product line are.” That’s not enough.

They should actually at least a month, if not more, in advance say, “Here are all the things that I’m working on.” You can think of this as a customer success or a sales play because here is the time at which enablement is happening. It’s the time at which a product manager is brought in to do their own enablement around the feature set and the technical feature set. It’s when the assets and messaging doc are going to be delivered.

One of the core things that a product marketer does operationally, is deliver a messaging doc that will never be seen by anybody outside the company. It’s basically the short but important Bible of, “What’s the problem that this product or feature is trying to address? Who is the person or the user or the type of organization that, for whom it addresses it? Why do they care? Who are the competitors who have developed a solution in the past that may compare to it, and why is this one superior in some way? What is the adoption process? What is the messaging? What are the use cases and the work flows?”

All of that stuff has to be told way in advance and then returned to over and over and over again. So, operationally, I’d say more is better. Then follow it up with some kind of deliverable. There is a lot of product marketers who don’t like to write, who don’t like to deliver anything. You have to remember, customers success and sales, they’re not meeting with the product organization nearly as much as the product marketing team is. There are things that are lost in translation. So, the product marketer has to create assets that the customer success team can actually use.

The best product marketers will understand it from both a pre-sales and post-sales perspective. They’re developing or they’re improving the core positioning assets that talk about the company product and solution, as well as having more directed things that are after the sale, for customer success to say, “Here’s how we’re going to set up expansion. Here’s how we’re going to set up new usership for your organization because we have stuff that we haven’t talked about in the past that is very very directive.”

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