Historically, product marketing has been responsible for championing product positioning and value along with developing go-to-market (GTM) strategies for successful selling. The role also has managed some strategic work, overseen revenue drivers, been product-centered and cross-functionally focused.
But, by and large, product marketers have spent more time on tactical activities rather than bigger-picture market-based strategic execution. In fact, respondents to Pragmatic Institute’s “2019 Annual Product Management and Product Marketing Survey” said they spend 75% of their time on tactics.
At the same time, the speed of change in how we build and deliver products is causing the world to shrink faster than ever before. More than half of survey respondents said their product offerings include hosted or cloud-service products. By definition, a cloud service is multi-market and, for most, also multi-geography.
Additionally, many of these services are subscription-based and, while subscription models offer more predictable revenue and often require less traditional setup, there is a flip side: The buying process never really ends. With every monthly, quarterly or annual payment, customers have an opportunity to consider the product’s value and compare it to what they pay.
Many marketing teams step back from the buyer experience at the point of purchase, but that isn’t when the buyer experience ends—particularly with a hosted and cloud-service product. As such, the product marketer’s role transitions from positioning and selling to deriving value. Yet, limited exposure to changing markets reduces product marketers’ ability to develop and build confidence in GTM strategies and influence others.
The combination of these dynamics, both at the organization- and market-level, makes it imperative for product marketers to evolve their GTM plans for products that span markets and geographies. Leading companies have already caught onto this and are running with a renewed focus on defining the product marketing role and its distinction from other downstream marketing activities.
In moving through this evolution, forward-thinking organizations are developing their marketing plans based on who they are targeting rather than by the products they manage. And there are three steps that support this transition.
Step 1: Assert Your Role
Clarity around roles and responsibilities has been a universal bane for product professionals but, moving forward, clear understanding will be crucial. For example, does your company have a clear understanding of what product marketing should focus on with its GTM activities and how that affects field marketers and salespeople? The overwhelming answer in the 2019 survey results was, “no.”
More than 80% of respondents said they spend their GTM time creating sales tools, presentations, and customer-facing content. Less than one-third of their time is spent on credible GTM market plans for both acquisition and retention—a significant imbalance of less time understanding the market results in product teams having lower credibility with sales.
It’s true that the sales team often understands the market better than anyone in the company. And sales is an even better asset when product marketing is managing products across geographies that they themselves don’t have direct access to. By listening to the sales team and incorporating feedback when it makes sense, product marketing has a greater chance of having sales’ buy-in and support for executing the GTM strategy.
But there’s an important distinction between listening to sales and being directed by sales. Sales should not drive marketing’s strategy or tactics. While it’s is a great resource, at the end of the day even the sales team doesn’t have a great view of the big picture—they have a great view of their region. So, who does have that big picture understanding of the market?
Product marketers must establish themselves as the strategic lead across the product portfolio, markets, and regions. By doing this, product marketers can effectively lead the GTM strategy creation as well as leverage the information they receive from both inside the organization and from the market.
To establish this position as strategic lead, product marketers must shift their focus from other downstream marketing activities to six core activities found in the Pragmatic Institute Framework. Fundamentally, this is about product marketers shifting from doing a lot of the execution to providing others across the marketing and sales team with what they need to excel at their jobs. To earn respect as a strategist, stop talking about tactics.
- Establish the strategic marketing plan: Build confidence within the organization with a market-driven marketing plan that aligns with the business and outlines the GTM roadmap to success.
- Define buyer personas: Which buyers should be your focus? How well do you know them?
- Develop positioning: Create positioning that focuses on key buyers in the GTM plan.
- Support the entire buyer experience: What is your markets’ preferred buyer experience? What support is needed to progress buyers through that experience?
- Predict revenue growth: Which buyers in which markets are your fastest route to achieving revenue?
- Plan for revenue retention: Do you have goals for retention? Which customers should you target to achieve those goals?
Step 2: Shift to Persona-Based GTM Plans
Trying to focus on marketing every product and service your company offers to every channel team across markets and geographies is signing up for failure. First, you don’t have the time in a week to do it (and do it well) and, second, you also won’t get your channel teams to commit to understanding every product and value proposition well. More importantly, you will dilute your efforts among your buyers by delivering one product and message one day and another product and message the next.
Identify Common Buying Criteria
Align your GTM and regional teams to your target buyers. Developing a view on who the archetype buyers are for your company helps you create profiles of them with the common attributes you see when you meet representative buyers in different companies—this is the buyer persona.
The better you understand these buyers, the more effectively you can develop programs for them. Researching and developing buyer personas is a key first step for product marketers. To switch to persona-driven marketing, identify common buying criteria across multiple products. Doing this will help you collaborate across product areas at a strategic level while also meeting the needs of a common buyer persona.
Decide Who to Target
You may notice across regions that the buyer landscape varies between markets and geographies. Take note of variations (e.g., how many buyers are involved in a buying decision? How influential is your buyer on the decision?).
Also, remember that the final purchase decision can be affected when more than one buyer persona is doing the deciding. For example, perhaps your buyer persona is a secondary school teacher teaching a core subject. In one market, teachers may rank professional development and adoption of new standards as their top obstacles. Meanwhile, teachers in a different market and geography may list understanding supplemental and intervention solutions as their top obstacle.
Respect Individual Markets
There is no single global persona. Yes, product marketers must leverage a common buyer profile to market effectively across products and markets. At the same time, these profiles should be extended to include the significant localized attributes that help product marketers recognize personas in each market. Conduct research and document buyer personas, then localize them by extending the descriptions and prioritizing their obstacles by market.
Across markets and geographies, we often see common demographics and core job responsibilities, and we can document the key obstacles that get in the way of our buyer personas achieving these key responsibilities. But market and geography differences become apparent when we rank-order these obstacles and the drivers that make them important.
Step 3: Develop a Common Language
A key challenge with marketing in multinational companies is finding the right balance between common products across regions and a localized approach to selling. It would be great to have a single product plan across markets, but this introduces the risk of alienating local selling teams. It may also ignore the problems of local customers.
How often has your sales team told you that their buyers are different? There’s a good chance they’re right, and what they’re telling you is that the buyers you’re describing aren’t in their territories. Remember: When marketing doesn’t provide a credible GTM plan for a region, sales will step in and make requests—and their list is usually long.
Start with the Buyer Experience
Coming together to support the needs of buyers across the buyer experience is a key collaboration driver between someone working in a GTM role and a field marketer. Product marketing must define for the organization (including in-region teams) a common understanding of who key buyers are and which buyer experiences need to be supported. Providing this to in-market teams becomes a filter on downstream marketing activities and enables the in-market teams to be more independent but still work within and be supported by a shared GTM plan.
Stay Tuned to Local Markets
In-market teams have an important role in helping product marketers stay tuned in to local markets by driving market insights upstream. Leading teams accomplish this by
- Identifying customer candidates for win/loss interviews
- Assisting with NIHITO interviews, documenting and sharing market knowledge with their GTM teams
- Performing periodic research updates to buyer-persona profiles, especially the prioritization of persona obstacles
Understand Willingness to Pay
Selling a product for the same price in every market limits the potential for that product to earn higher revenues in more demanding locations. We leave money on the table when there’s a higher willingness to pay. But, when pricing pressures are high, we risk lower market penetration when we don’t lower prices. Conduct a pricing study to understand the definition of value for the same buyer persona in different markets. This insight into value provides a starting point for setting price in different regions and markets.
Understanding buyer and user personas and knowing which personas in markets and geographies are your key targets affect pricing decisions. Use price segmentation techniques to price what personas are willing to pay. Price segmentation techniques (e.g., customer characteristics, behaviors) enable you to charge different prices to different buyer personas. Culture, taste, competitive pressure, and brand awareness are just a few factors in buyers’ willingness to pay across different regions.
A Changing Role for a Changing Environment
Leading, forward-thinking companies are already on the path to redefining the role of product marketers in their organizations, and they’re doing this by shifting their focus from being internal (on their products) to external (what buyers need). And a big part of this evolution involves shifting product marketing’s focus away from downstream tactics—where most product marketers say they spend their time today. Not a small task to be sure.
Successful product marketers are taking an iterative approach to this shift, spotlighting results and in the process building their own credibility. As the world becomes smaller and products become global, it is imperative for product marketers to develop GTM plans that span geographic boundaries and buyer perspectives—or risk being left behind.