Scaling and Positioning Sprout Social Product Marketing Team

Sprout Social, which develops social media management, advocacy and analytics software for businesses, has mushroomed to 500 employees in its short, nine-year history.

Patrick Cuttica, the public-held company’s director of product marketing, discussed scaling and positioning a product market team, especially in a growing organization, during an AMA that originally appeared on Sharebird—the place to see how people at top companies do product marketing.

No matter where the product marketing team stands in the organizational chart, “being thoughtful about how you position the team is paramount to earning trust and establishing clear expectations,” said Cuttica, whose team was part of the Product team for more than three years and has been part of the Marketing team for almost two years during his time at Chicago-based Sprout Social.

Cuttica positions his team by instilling from the beginning the ethos of “Do great work and be great partners to work with.”

“This may sound like a platitude (it sorta is) but it implicitly highlights the cross-functional nature of the product marketer’s job,” Cuttica said. “I’ve been intentional in socializing this ethos across the company through all-hands meetings, cross-departmental emails/newsletters, etc., to make it incredibly clear that our success as a product marketing team is inextricably linked to the success of the teams with which we partner.”

He also positions the team to be product experts. “In our job descriptions, we explicitly state: ‘You possess the desire and capacity to garner a deep product knowledge while understanding the need to zoom out and tell concrete, compelling, benefit-focused stories about our platform and solutions. Your skills are part creative, part analytical and always centered around delivering relevant content that enhances our brand,” said Cuttica, adding, “Being an expert on the product doesn’t mean having all the answers, but it does mean knowing where to go to get the answer.”

Collaboration with those partners becomes more important as the organization grows. “It’s easy as product marketers to want to see the process all the way through from end-to-end,” Cuttica said. “As your business scales, that becomes almost impossible. The challenges in collaboration come down to two things: explicit role clarity and clearly defining where the handoff point is for a given responsibility or initiative.”

Growth also means adding shareholders. At Sprout Social, Product Marketing’s key stakeholders have remained Product Management, Sales and Marketing.

But as the organization expands, it becomes necessary to develop key partnerships with other teams to effectively support these stakeholders, Cuttica said. “This is partially true simply because Product Marketing traditionally does not scale in headcount at the same rate that the rest of the Product and Sales Orgs do,” he said. “For example, we’ve gone from two product managers and a few product designers when I started at Sprout Social nearly six years ago to having nearly 20 PMs and 20 product designers supporting a much bigger product portfolio today. Even more impressive, we’ve scaled a 50-person Sales team that was almost entirely inbound when I started to a proper inbound/outbound Sales Org with well over 300 people, comprised of Acquisition, Customer Success, Growth and Onboarding.

“In order to continue to provide the level of support and service we’ve developed key partnerships with the following teams:

  • Solutions Engineers have become an incredible partner in technical know-how and truly understanding the needs of the buyer. We partner closely to execute betas, maintain our demo environments, better understand pain points and gaps in the product and facilitate product feedback mechanisms to our Product Team.
  • Sales Enablement has helped us scale our sales training efforts by taking on much of the tactical execution and providing great insight into the varied needs of each sales team — something that was incredibly time intensive for us prior to them coming onboard.
  • Product Ops is a newer discipline for our company but one that has been invaluable in bridging the communication and partnership gap between Product and the rest of the company. This is something that Product Marketing historically took on in the absence of a dedicated Product Ops person/team. This is more of a nascent discipline.”

Retaining and attracting top talent, especially in the high-demand PMM role, is also vital to positioning a team.

Cuttica, who says it’s easy to overthink talent retention, tries to continuously provide new opportunities and make sure his team members know they are valued.

“It’s easy to get stuck in a rut if you feel you’ve been assigned to support a specific product or product area and all you do is manage launches and releases,” he said. “There is so much more to the commercialization of product strategy, which is how I would define product marketing in a nutshell. Giving your PMMs a chance to go deep on things like pricing strategy, market research, branding and naming exercises, and even seemingly negative things like sunsetting a product or facilitating a sticky change management release — these are all ways to keep the work interesting.”

Product marketing can often be a thankless job, Cuttica pointed out. “Finding ways to celebrate the seemingly little moments and efforts is important. Call out when your PMM finds a way to communicate a particularly tricky release in an understandable way, or when they propose a name or word choice change that aligns better with the product value or user experience.

“Staying open to having your team shape the culture is important and providing the right environment and opportunities for them to do so is key.”

As you hire more talent, keep in mind the core needs of your main stakeholders in Product, Sales and Marketing, he said. “If you can identify the highest impact work across those groups, which can be difficult, then you can start to build a blueprint for how the various functions within the Product Marketing umbrella start to take shape.

“For what it’s worth, the way the team structure unfolded for us at Sprout in terms of role types and focus areas was roughly:

  • Product experts and go-to-market generalists
  • General sales support
  • Competitive/market intel
  • Sales content
  • Analyst relations

“Moving forward, I have my eye on things like strategic customer insights, partner marketing and pricing strategy/intel.

No matter how big you grow, keep in mind basic product marketing principles. “Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” Cuttica said. “It’s easy for Product Marketing to be the catch-all for any content, strategy or initiative that the Product, Sales and Marketing teams need supported. Be intentional in where you dedicate your time/effort and work with your stakeholders to prioritize which areas you can expand into as you grow.”

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