Making the Transition: From Product Marketing to Platform Marketing

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Evolving from product to solution and platform marketing produces a whole new set of challenges. 

Krithika Muthukumar, marketing team lead at Stripe, described how the San Francisco-based technology company helps clients open “new doors to the same house” during an AMA on solutions and platform marketing. It originally appeared on Sharebird—the place to see how people at top companies do product marketing. 

Stripe, a 2,240-employee, privately held business, builds economic infrastructure for the internet. Businesses use Stripe software to accept payments and manage their businesses online. 

“At Stripe, we’re firm believers in a layered approach with a broad product footprint,” Muthukumar said. “We can’t segment our customers on a single axis—say by size or country or even vertical.”

Take Lyft, for instance. “You may categorize Lyft as a marketplace or transportation company, but as just one example of how they are innovating, they recently also added subscriptions to foster loyalty,” Muthukumar said. “So, targeting Lyft with just a marketplace product (Stripe Connect) is not sufficient. We think of solution marketing as a layer on top of product-based marketing, offering a guided tour for certain use cases on the best ways to use the entire Stripe product platform.” 

Solutions can also showcase best practices. “As the complexity of our product increases, offering blueprints for success can help drive adoption and usage. We incubated and piloted solutions marketing this year with a dedicated PMM looking across all the products and working with product-specific PMMs to extract the value prop for different use cases,” said Muthukumar, pointing to Stripe landing pages for SaaS businesses, software platforms and marketplaces.

“Each of these landing pages is accompanied by sales enablement materials like decks, case studies, etc.,” she said. “In the next year, we plan to hire specific solutions marketers for the use cases that are proven as investment areas for the company.” 

Selling solutions or platforms requires getting clients to think beyond the product lineup. (Muthukumar describes a platform as “a set of products that are interoperable and which build on top of a shared, interconnected layer.” These products are typically composable and share at least a common database. 

“The big product marketing challenge is getting customers to buy into the promise of what the unified system can offer over piecing together a solution,” she said. “While you can have really compelling per-product pitches, the real challenge of selling a platform is getting prospects and customers to buy into a vision that unifying their systems is going to be a force multiplier for their company. The value is that 1 + 1 > 2. 

“In selling a platform, it’s imperative the messaging is above-the-line focused because you’re trying to convince customers about the vision. There may be cases where a platform only has 80% of the features that a combination of point solutions have, but still wins out because the sales team was able to align the customer with the idea that a unified platform is better. 

Tactically, this means shifting your core narrative from having a narrow products focus to having a vision and use case focus.” 

Selling a vision also means adopting metrics that can gauge potential, not just actual, sales. 

“For Stripe, we have a robust self-serve channel in addition to sold deals,” Muthukumar explained. “Startups that start by processing very small amounts of volume can grow up to be quite big. Our long-term bet hinges on this cohort-based approach, so we prioritize both channels equally. 

“Page views and impressions can be useful proxies to understand the impact a launch had on awareness, but the North Star is usage and engagement. As a PMM group, we try our best to align our metrics with the product and engineering groups, which means we’re looking at metrics that are further down funnel than most other marketing teams.” 

Because Stripe has a variety of software products that address use cases and user personas differently, it defines usage and engagement on a per-product basis. Stripe sets annual usage and revenue targets and tracks progress monthly and quarterly for each product area. 

Platform marketing brings with it a growing complexity in such areas of messaging hierarchy. For example, the Stripe platform now has about a dozen products that go beyond its basic payments processing function. It uses an old brick-and-mortar retail concept—anchor tenants (that attract consumers to a shopping mall)—to manage operations. 

“For us, those anchors are our core products: Payments (payments acceptance), Connect (marketplaces and platforms) and Billing (recurring revenue and invoicing),” Muthukumar said. “These products serve the most common use cases that customers and prospects approach Stripe with. The rest of our products serve as add-ons to optional tools to help streamline your business operations. Getting this alignment is critical because we’ll focus our go-to-market efforts accordingly. It also helps reduce the cognitive overhead for customers to start on Stripe. 

“We still have a ways to go on this, but I’m excited by the directional approach we’ve begun to take.” 

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