Navigating Uncharted Territory: How We Developed a Strategic Marketing Role (part 2)

By Dave Morse July 02, 2007

In part one of this article, featured in Volume 5, Issue 1, I made the assertion that we, as product marketers, have an identity crisis on our hands—we’re misunderstood, misguided, and misaligned. As a result, our companies develop great products and services that are either missing their potential or failing altogether. Technology company executives have begun to establish product marketing functions that are separate from product management, but their wide-ranging expectations are rarely focused on strategy or the bottom line. Thus, we are usually confined to a tactical role supporting Sales and others, expending enormous resources on too many urgent tactics that are poorly measured and rarely appreciated. Uncertain about where our “turf” is located, we work in a state of reaction and firefighting, unable to contribute in a way that is truly meaningful to our companies or our careers.

In this article, the second of a two-part series, I’ll tell you how we were able to create a strategic role for product marketing and give you some insight into how we went through the change process and dealt with the inevitable challenges and resistance.

Change is neither quick nor painless, especially when the goal is to make a meaningful, lasting impact on a company’s structure and culture. And change doesn’t happen overnight. The first big hurdle is to admit that change needs to occur.
Here are the steps we took to influence our company and elevate the role of product marketing within our organization.

Step 1: Get grounded in a process

In part one of this article, I complained about the lack of decent books and schools that properly define and delineate the product marketing role. Research had provided many pieces of the puzzle, but the Pragmatic Institute® Effective Product Marketing seminar put it all into focus with a clearly defined set of roles and responsibilities, plus the tools to collect and influence buying criteria, build a go-to-market strategy, align with the sales channels, and begin every program with the end in mind.

I also recommend reading Manage for Profit, Not for Market Share by Hermann Simon, Frank F. Bilstein, and Frank Luby (Harvard Business School Press). The premise is that corporations, in an attempt to increase profitability, must fundamentally shift their thinking to make people aware that market share does not equal profitability. Instead, they must now turn to tweaking their marketing mix—pricing in particular—instead of focusing on cost reduction or innovation.

An excerpt reads, “For decades, managers have been told that the answer [to increasing profitability] lies in pursuing high market share.” But [the authors] argue that “this misguided advice has destroyed, rather than created, an additional profit potential.” The book describes a practical, proven program for making significantly more money by reconfiguring the marketing mix to sell existing products and services in different ways. It also offers practical strategies to differentiate mature products, effectively raise prices, properly time promotional activities, better understand consumer preferences, and more.

Step 2: Enroll key stakeholders in your vision

I was fortunate because our management was responsive to my requests to re-evaluate the outbound product marketing role. I gathered together key stakeholders and delivered a PowerPoint presentation that summarized the Effective Product Marketing seminar. I saw it as a sales effort and recruited people from other teams to be part of the presentation, especially Product Management and Marketing Communications. This gave more weight to the new ideas and allowed us to set realistic expectations with management for project deliverables and timeframes.

If my management team hadn’t been so willing to listen, I think I could have achieved the same result, albeit more gradually, by selecting an existing program or high-visibility product launch and using the new ideas to get Sales, Marketing Communications, and Product Management working together.

The importance of executive-level support is reinforced in an article published in the June 2005 issue of CMO Magazine entitled “The Ultimate Bug Fix” by Rob O’Regan. The article outlines Microsoft’s plans to sustain its dominance in the digital era by working out the “kinks in its marketing machine.” The company started (and is still undergoing) a 10-year initiative to reinvent their massive worldwide marketing team in order to “institute a consistent customer value proposition across the organization.”

According to O’Regan, market conditions drove Microsoft to re-evaluate their success criteria. “As the PC software industry matured and they began branching out into new markets, the company woke up to a new reality: real competition emerged and garnered mind-share against them. The company’s marketing function, in particular, was ill-equipped to deal with the shifting landscape.” In July 2002, Steve Ballmer reorganized the company into seven business units focused on market segments, not products. Ballmer stated, “We were pretty product-centric in our marketing, which meant we weren’t always delivering a higher-level perspective on the value of technology in key areas.” However, they quickly realized there was a significant gap between the skills of existing marketing personnel and the expertise required to execute on the new, broader mandate. So in the spring of 2002, they formed a new training arm, called Microsoft Marketing Professional Development (MMPD), and challenged that group to develop their marketing competencies.

That Microsoft would undertake such a huge initiative speaks volumes about the importance of proper training and executive support for the marketing function. The results are evident. This year’s “people-ready” campaign is squarely focused on problems their customers need to solve, not products the company wants to sell.

Microsoft’s partners noted the change following their annual worldwide partner conference in October, 2006. In previous years, Microsoft had rolled out a stream of go-to-market campaigns touting Microsoft’s products for enterprise servers, infrastructure, or applications, but this year’s “customer campaigns” are reduced in number and targeted to business value. In fact, none of the 2007 campaigns includes a product name in the title.

Redmond Channel Partner magazine reported the partner’s gratitude for campaign-messaging frameworks that address specific job roles and industries, allowing partners to “leverage one set of talking points when presenting to a manufacturer’s COO and another when meeting with a retail firm’s CFO.” Pam Salzer, Microsoft’s worldwide partner marketing director, was quoted as saying “We’re trying to think about people, and give the channel the materials they need to support those people.”

Step 3: Define the right structure

The next step was to identify responsibilities and timing for each phase in the go-to-market process. I sequestered key individuals involved in the delivery of our products and services in a series of sessions to evaluate and discuss the structure. I certainly needed their input but also knew that including them would encourage the ownership attitudes essential to a successful roll out.

We first conducted a “gap analysis” on the Pragmatic Institute Framework, evaluating each of the activities (boxes) with respect to their current owner, proposed owner, importance, how well the activity is performed, and hours per week currently invested. By the end of these sessions we had adapted the Pragmatic framework to our own needs.

We didn’t change the function of any of the boxes, but made a clear delineation of responsibilities, by color-coding product management functions in orange and red, and product marketing functions in turquoise and blue. We also adapted to the limitations of our staff with priority-level designations on all of the functions—we color-coded “High Priority” items in red for product management and blue for product marketing, and “Low-Medium Priority” items in orange for product management and turquoise for product marketing.

The gap analysis and customized framework served as the foundation for our “Solutions Delivery Framework.” This document became a roadmap for individual assignments within the functional groups.

Step 4: Impact the culture through education and awareness

While it’s time-consuming and challenging to convince others that change is needed, it’s even more difficult to implement those changes.

The awareness presentation was organized around the steps in the Effective Product Marketing process (below). This allowed us to quickly and easily put everyone’s role into perspective for each of the internal audiences who were impacted by the new organization.

Our implementation of the Effective Product Marketing process assigns responsibility for each of these steps:

  1. Gather management/executive goals (executives)
  2. Perform marketing analysis (Product Management)
  3. Gather persona and other data (Product Marketing)
  4. Focus efforts on go-to-market and channel training strategies (Product Marketing)
  5. Build & execute strategies (Marketing Communications)
  6. Measure & improve (everyone)
In figure below:
  • Executives—Provide direction (1)
  • Product Management—Product and problem experts (2)
  • Product Marketing—Audience persona experts (3-4)
  • Marcom—Program experts (5)
  • Everyone focused on measurement & improvement (6)

Step 5: Align with the sales channels

Aligning with the sales channels sounds easy but it certainly wasn’t. Before we took anyone to lunch or began mandating anything to Sales (*gasp*), we identified these realities:

  • Like most companies, our marketing and sales teams were disconnected. In the book, Escaping the Black Hole, author Bob Schmonsees says, “in far too many companies, the branding and positioning activities are in conflict with the lead generation activities, and both of these are inconsistent with what sales and sales support people are telling their prospects and customers. Marketing and sales rarely speak with a single voice, and this causes a lot of wasted motion that often confuses prospects, customers, and partners, not to mention the sales people.”
  • Most sales teams are out-of-touch with today’s self-directed buyer. Emmett Holt, an independent consultant based in Boston, Massachusetts, recently wrote an excellent article entitled, “Web Enabled Sales Process: Competing for the Mindset of Today’s Self-Directed Buyer,” which asserts that in today’s prospect, “the information available on the Web has eliminated both the need and the desire to engage directly with sales people until much later in the evaluation process.”[1]

We decided to overcome these challenges by working with our sales channels to document each step in their process, identifying the types of buyers that influence decisions and the information buyers needed before advancing to the next step.

 Step 6: Apply these activities to a current initiative

The final and most important step in the change process was to demonstrate our value with a measurable win. Based on the company’s goals and what we learned about the buying and selling processes, we focused on the rate at which opportunities converted from website leads to closed business.

A lot of our lead generation activities already directed responses to website landing pages. In the past, we approached this project with a bit of creative brainstorming followed by a quick affirmation from Sales. Sure, we tracked the total number of leads and cost per lead by activity, but we never invested the effort to measure what visitors did on our landing page or what drove them there in the first place. Most important, we never evaluated what we could do on the website to assert more influence over the visitors’ next steps or ultimate purchase decision. Sales management had appreciated (or merely tolerated) our reports on the total number of leads provided, but we knew that we could have a bigger impact on the ultimate goal to generate more revenue.

We presented our plan to management using the steps in our new process, focusing on detailed buyer persona data and the results we expected to achieve under the new program. This business-case convinced management to invest in a professional web analytics package and a custom in-house web editor, giving us new capabilities to develop control pages that test and continually improve our conversion rates.

Focus on metrics

Product marketing is the focal point for the initiatives, but every member of the go-to-market team benefits from very specific data points that ensure a new level of proficiency and confidence. Marketing is now seen as a managed investment rather than a barely justified expense. We were able to achieve this outcome because every goal is associated with specific success metrics. Our focus on metrics continuously guides the marketing team to observe what is and is not working, while giving the executives tangible evidence of our success.

When confronted with any request for a marketing activity—data sheets, sales training, etc.—our new process requires us to focus on the goal. We know that any activity that can’t be tied back to a management goal is not a priority.

Having worked through this process to define the product marketing role, our entire marketing team is beginning to taste what winning is really like. The objectives we established in the beginning are being realized, including:

  • Delivering the information that influences buyers and sales people as they move through each step in the buying and selling process
  • Completely understanding the messages, tools and programs that will influence both buyer and sales channel personas
  • Making a positive, measurable impact on cost of sales through a more effective marketing investment
  • Clarifying roles and improving morale—people know how to prioritize their time and can see the results of their contributions
  • Decreasing time-to-market for all of our products and services

I now know that the right role definition and processes can position product marketing at the center of the company’s strategy to achieve its critical goals.

Categories: Go-to-Market
Dave Morse

Dave Morse

Dave Morse is an expert in the areas of software development, product management, and marketing within high-tech companies. Having worked for successful organizations such as Aspect Communications, GetThere, CoolSign, Salesforce.com, and Made2Manage Systems, he has developed a detailed framework that can help companies reposition and revitalize the role of product marketing. To learn more, feel free to contact Dave at dave.morse@gmail.com.

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