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How To Climb The Product Marketing Career Ladder Faster

climb the product marketing career ladder

If you’re looking to climb the product marketing career ladder faster, here are five things you can do that’ll accelerate your climb.

How you do these things may differ depending on your products and your sales model, but they’re otherwise timeless. I had great success with them in both individual contributor roles and leadership roles.

1. Develop a Track Record of Year-Over-Year Product Revenue Growth

Not to state the obvious here, but product revenue is always top the priority. You already know that. As a product marketer though, this is more about your strategy and execution tactics that lead to year-over-year revenue growth.

Start by looking at specific market segments, preferably vertical industry segments. Figure out which segments are experiencing the most success with your product and determine how much runway is remaining and the revenue potential. 

Do this for your top 3-5 market segments and then develop lead generation campaigns with messaging that’s industry specific. It’ll do wonders for the sales pipeline and the results will show in your product revenue numbers.

2. Be a Positive Person That Salespeople Love To Work With 

There’s a lot to unpack here, but DO NOT interpret this as “do whatever sales asks.” It’s more about demonstrating stronger leadership.

For starters, you have to be a likable person with a glass-half-full attitude. Product marketing is not for prickly people with a “can’t-do” attitude! You’re working with a bunch of eternal optimists in salespeople. It’s about alignment! While you certainly have to be practical, you can’t come across as a pessimist. 

The number one thing you can do that will forever endear salespeople to you is make your product easier to sell without requiring them to have deeper product knowledge.

I came into a product marketing role from pre-sales. Perhaps I’m biased here, but I think it’s the easiest transition into product marketing because you understand the sales process in depth and you have intimate knowledge of your target customers and the salesforce.

As a product marketing manager, the most valuable thing I did for our worldwide sales team was educate them on the market segments where demand for my product was highest. All I did was give them a handful of talking points around industry dynamics and how they constituted a greater need for my product. It was easy for salespeople to understand, internalize and repeat in their own communication style.

The reason they loved it is because it made them more credible in front of prospects. That credibility is often what differentiates you in the end. 

Perhaps even more important, it inspired them to sell my product because they felt like they had a winner, and they did. Our sales numbers backed it up!

The Most Basic Rule of Product Positioning

3. Think Outside The Box and Try Something Different

In my first product marketing job, our company had a system extensions group. They custom developed one-off modules on a contract basis for customers that needed functionality not yet in demand by the broader market. At the time, this was a regular practice as all enterprise software was installed at the customer site.

Our company had a number of these one-off modules sitting on the shelf collecting dust after they were initially delivered to customers that funded them. 

One of my fellow product marketing managers and I figured we could generate a worthwhile amount of revenue from these custom modules. We decided to do something no other enterprise software company had ever done at the time. 

We launched a “try & buy” promotion to existing customers that were candidates…and we wanted to do it via coupons! Promo codes weren’t a thing yet.

We pitched the idea to our corporate marketing team as they had the demand generation budget. They looked at us like we had three heads! “It seems cheesy.” “It’ll tarnish our brand.” We really had to sell it so we kept pushing.

As a compromise, we agreed to start small and send the campaign to just a few states. Response rates were over the top, so we went full scale to the entire USA. The fact that we were offering a trial period meant almost no demos or sales cycles.

The campaign didn’t launch until mid-year. In the remaining 6 months, we generated $1.2 million in revenue from that promotion.

The point here is don’t be afraid to try something different! The fact that we started small meant our exposure was limited, and if it failed, it would fail fast. There wasn’t a whole lot of risk as far as we were concerned.

4. Make The Salesperson’s Job Easier

More is not better, especially when it comes to sales tools! I know the drill well. Salespeople always think they need more stuff because they’re afraid they’ll get into a situation where they don’t know something important. Lots of sales tools (that rarely get used) are their answer but maybe not the best answer.

If you were to go through a day in the life of a salesperson, you’d encounter about 10 common situations. As a product marketer, figure out how to make these common scenarios easier for salespeople to navigate with a handful of simple sales tools.

The Situational Sales Playbook – Less is More!

5. Keep It Simple

Good salespeople by nature, have a “path-of-least-resistance” mindset. That’s what makes them good at their job. As product marketers, we need to keep that in mind at all times. 

Here are a few areas that are ripe for simplification.

Product Positioning vs. Sales Narratives

Some people think these two things need to be different. I couldn’t disagree more. Making them different just adds an element of difficulty because you end up with two versions of the same story. Make your product positioning conversational and your sales narratives are done! Consistency in your value story is paramount to success.

Competitive Differentiation

The lead story here is not a feature comparison matrix. The most valuable competitive tool you can give your salespeople is a shortlist of 3-5 customer business outcomes and the reasons you can help them achieve those outcomes better than the competition. 

Prospects are always going to ask what makes you different than [competitor X]. Instead of going down a feature rabbit hole at the risk of splitting hairs, just focus on what customers can accomplish with your product and why they can’t get there as easily with the competitor’s product.

Creating a Revenue Plan

It’s pretty easy to figure out the total addressable market for your product, how much of the pie is up for grabs between you and your competitors, and a reasonable revenue target for your sales team based on their size and productivity.

With that in hand, create a marketing execution plan that shows how you’re going to find the low-hanging fruit, fill the pipeline and help them win the business. 

Climbing the Product Marketing Career Ladder in Summary

As a product marketing manager, your primary customer is the salesforce. When they’re consistently having success selling your product, you deserve half the credit. 

As far as climbing the product marketing career ladder, it’s first and foremost about sales success (#1 above) and your ability to influence it (#2-5 above). 

Demonstrating leadership is just as important. As we all know, great technicians don’t always make great managers. That’s where thinking outside the box and trying different things work in your favor. It demonstrates your ability to lead by example. 

If you can paint a picture of what sales success looks like for your product and then lead your sales team to it, your career will go as far as you want to take it.

Click here if you want to experience the easiest way to learn product management, product marketing, pre-sales demos and customer success with our unique hands-on learning format. Be sure to check out our Product Management Framework that simplifies everything by making customer outcomes the starting point for building, marketing, selling and delivering strategic value.

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by John Mansour on February 12, 2024.