In the Trenches: Product Marketing with Daneen Heislitz
As marketers, we’re constantly looking for The Next Big Thing. Staying ahead is critical to staying competitive – in fact, one of the goals of this newsletter, Core, is to provide you with insights and creative inspiration to accelerate growth (for you and your business).
But a lot of B2B marketing is rooted in the here and now. The blocking and tackling. The nitty gritty of features and benefits, conversions, leads and media hits. That's what our new series, In the Trenches, is all about: real-world B2B marketers doing hands-on marketing that generates revenue and enables growth.
To kick off our series, and to coincide with the launch of Arketi’s product marketing practice, we turned to seasoned product marketer and long-time agency friend Daneen Heislitz, Director of Product Marketing for Navisite, to walk us through the nuts and bolts of this important but often unsung discipline.
Led by Vice President Judson Phillips, our product marketing practice provides B2B technology companies with product marketing strategy, solution positioning and messaging, sales enablement, content development and optimal go-to-market execution.
Daneen, thanks for being so generous and sharing your thoughts and experiences in product marketing with us. How did you get started in this field?
What drew me to product marketing, which I now have 20+ years of experience in, was the unique role it plays bridging the gap between Product, Sales and Marketing. It’s deeply rewarding to influence the success of a product in the market – especially when that product achieves its sales and revenue goals!
The product marketing role is unique. You can almost think of us as translators. We take the language of features and functions our product managers and developers speak, and we convert that lingo so it is relatable to the broader market. We create the language around our products’ value propositions so prospects and customers understand what the product does, why it’s unique, how it benefits them and, ultimately, why they should buy it.
How has product marketing evolved over these last couple of decades?
Product marketing has evolved in sync with the technology landscape. Early in my career, we were focused on packaged software – think big, flashy product launches. If you can remember Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer dancing at the launch of Windows 95, you know exactly what I mean.
With SaaS, everything is different. Software is continually updated, and new features can feel like an everyday non-event. If we held a launch for every new feature, life would be one long party! Not that I’m against some fun, but this is one reason product marketing today is less an extension of product management, and increasingly integrated within a revenue-driven marketing organization.
When I started, the role was fairly new; few people understood a product marketer’s responsibilities. Today, beyond a certain growth point, almost every company has some form of product marketing to shape the positioning and strategy of selling their technology solutions.
That’s an interesting point: where does product marketing fit within an organization?
Product marketing can sit within either the Marketing or the Product team. It’s definitely a cross-functional role, but if there is little collaboration between these groups, it belongs in Marketing. In my experience, this ensures product marketing is better aligned with the revenue and sales goals of an organization.
That said, product marketers sometimes get pulled into supporting Marketing Ops – demand gen, customer success stories, brand awareness, and so on – or supporting Product operations – launches, competitive research, pricing models, roadmap prioritization, customer feedback, etc. I’d advise any product marketer to avoid getting too “in the weeds” and, instead, focus on bridging gaps and addressing the common objectives of both teams, regardless of reporting structure.
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In the end, product marketing should provide useful sales enablement tools such as positioning guides, competitive product analysis, customer profiles, personas, go-to-market plans, pitch decks and collateral. Tools, materials and content like these ensure consistent positioning and pitching throughout an organization.
Without an independent product marketing function, Sales tends to create its own value props, pitch decks and collateral – out of necessity. This results in inconsistent and sometimes inaccurate representations of the products being sold.
Likewise, without product marketing, the product management team risks being stretched between managing the product roadmap, supporting sales and demand generation activities – it’s simply too much for a product management team to accomplish on their own – especially as their talents and skills should be focused on building fantastic, market-ready products.
What points of friction can arise between these teams, and how can that be avoided?
It’s a question of incentives and goals. In recent years, Sales and Marketing teams have increasingly adopted revenue as their primary performance indicator. That’s a fairly straightforward, and systematically important, metric to keep up with.
Product teams, on the other hand, are not usually measured or incentivized by revenue goals; their focus is more on the product roadmap and upcoming deadlines. This misalignment can be a source of friction. Both are important, but they need to work in tandem.
Sometimes, product management roles also encompass product marketing functions – typically in early-stage companies where the product manager is also the creator or founder, or when resources are tight. The two roles work best when they are delineated so each can maximize their impact within their area of expertise.
What are the main challenges for product marketers and the brands they support?
The top challenges I see include:
- Supporting too many products across too many service lines or verticals.
- Rapid or constant shifts in prioritization by management.
- Sales or Marketing getting ahead of Product, especially when it comes to availability or enhancements.
- Unwillingness to launch a pilot before bringing new products to market.
Ever the positive thinker, here are a few ways I’ve found to overcome these challenges:
- Staff equal numbers of product managers and product marketers by specific product lines.
- Communicate clear, consistent priorities from management.
- Ensure Sales is clear on product availability and the roadmap.
- Get support from senior leadership about the best launch process and prioritization of products to focus on.
The ladies of Arketi are on a roll! You may have heard Senior Designer Katie Bryl was recognized by the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network for its 30 Under 30 Class of 2022, but did you know Vice President Erica England was also selected by Ragan Communications as a Top Woman in Communications?
Are you seeing a trend for B2B tech companies to adopt product-led marketing strategies?
Yes and no. If senior leadership has a product management background, then the company will be more product-led in its product management and product marketing strategies and activities. The company is better placed to deliver continuous innovation and outpace its competitors.
On the other hand, if leadership has more of a sales background and is driven by revenue alone, the focus shifts. Product management and product marketing tend to be more reactive, focusing more on deliverables intended to meet a near-term sales goal.
Realize the full potential of product marketing
Product marketing is an integral part of any organization’s growth and success, particularly those looking to scale their business. As Daneen highlighted, product marketers serve as the connective tissue who ensure Product, Sales and Marketing are working in lockstep towards their common goals.
Thank you, Daneen, for sharing your insights and expertise with us! And if you’re interested in learning more about Arketi’s own product marketing practice, contact our CEO Mike Neumeier at firstname.lastname@example.org or our practice leader Vice President Judson Phillips at email@example.com.
Stay tuned for our next edition of In the Trenches as we share stories and experiences from real-world B2B marketers who are driving revenue and accelerating growth.