When you’re the first product marketer at a growing company… how do you choose what needs to get done? In this episode, Nick Ziech-Lopez sits down with Anand Patel, Director of Product Marketing at Appcues, to dive deep on:
- How product marketing can feel less ‘political’ than product management
- The difficulties and opportunity of being the first PMM in a growing organization
- The importance of contributing to the team, even as a ‘strategic’ product marketer
Nick: Hello everyone and welcome to Mind the Gap, Enablix’s only podcast seeking sales and marketing alignment. I’m your host Nick Ziech-Lopez and today I’m joined with Anand Patel
Anand, how’s it going?
Anand: It’s going well. Can’t complain, Nick.
Thanks for having me.
Nick: All right.
Now Anand, you were recently listed, you said Forbes 30, under 30. Right?
Nick: But for those of us that don’t read Forbes, can you tell us who you are? Could you give us an intro?
Anand: Yes, I can.
My name is Anand and I’m the director of product marketing at Appcues which is an awesome in-app product experience builder. It allows you to onboard and engage with users and get them on the right track to see value in your product. I was an ex-user of Appcues, so it’s awesome being on the other side and being one of the marketers to people that were just like me. I can have empathy.
My career has been kind of back and forth between product management, marketing (mostly always in the tech SAS world), and then I luckily got into product marketing. I’ve been here ever since in the middle of both marketing and product management.
Nick: That’s sharing right out of my book. I think so many people come from product marketing either directly from sales or directly from…but listen, I took the traditional product management product marketing route as well and highly recommended it for anybody asking.
Anand: Yeah, it was great. I enjoyed product management. Honestly when I went into product marketing, I thought I would go back to being in product management. But then I fell in love with product marketing, so I don’t see that happening anymore.
Nick: Yeah, I definitely felt that too. Because once you’re in product management for so many people it’s like oh, this is like the best job to have. Right?
You sit in between and then you realize there’s this other space where you could sit between even more groups and do even more things.
Anand: And it’s less political.
Nick: Oh, less political. Oh man. Okay. We’re gonna get into that because I have the opposite experience.
But let’s get into that. So you came from product management into product marketing.
Can you tell me a little bit of what brought you into product marketing and why you stayed?
Anand: Yeah. So as I mentioned, my background was I had a kind of zigzag between marketing roles. So I was an electric engineer from a schooling perspective, and hated it.
So I went into marketing like digital, online, and social media marketing. I did a lot of things like digital, online marketing, and traditional tech marketing. Then I had gone back and forth between that and product management. I kept wolf waffling back and forth.
I was at a small payment technology company as a product manager and I knew it was my time to leave. This is actually a funny story, but like literally a week before my wedding the head of marketing at this company called Paysafe, which is a large global payment technology company. They reached out to me on LinkedIn and said there was a product marketing role that they are hiring for, and maybe someone to fill the gap between marketing and product.
I’ve done both, so she was like it feels like you’d be a good fit. So I quickly had a call with her a couple of days before my wedding, and then on my honeymoon I got this job offer. So I was like okay, I don’t know if product marketing is what I want to do, but it seems like a great global company.
I’ve always been at startups, so it was a change for me to go to a 4,000 person company. But like I mentioned, I thought I would go back to product management and I honestly really enjoyed product marketing. I’ve stuck with it and it’s awesome because yes, you may not have as much influence on the roadmap and all that kind of stuff, but you still do have some influence, right?
You can still play a strategic role, but you really get to be close to the customer and be close to so many different teams internally as well.
Nick: You had mentioned and you said product marketing feels less political than product management. We’d love to just quickly get your thoughts on that.
I mean, I guess it depends on which way, right?
For me, the biggest thing as a PM at a startup or a small organization was when it came to prioritization and roadmap, there were so many voices. Some were customers, some were sales folks, some were C level individuals, and it was your job to balance all of that.
As a product marketer, I don’t have as much of that stress anymore. I think from that perspective, when I say political, I mean that I’ve tried to be kind to everyone’s suggestions and requests while knowing that you can’t do everything and can’t fit everything onto the roadmap.
Nick: It’s almost convenient.
I mean, you get to be wonderful. You were the voice of the customer. You don’t have to balance the voices anymore. You are just fighting for what that person said.
Anand: Yep. A hundred percent.
Nick: I’m not going to say it’s easier, but it simplifies your motivations to a great degree.
Anand: I agree. Yep.
Nick: So you’re at Appcues now, as I understand this is not recent, but fairly. This was your step up and you were the first PMM or the first director of the head of PM. Can you tell me about coming into that position and I want to kind of pull on this side for a little while, like what’s difficult about being the first PMM at a growing organization?
Anand: Yeah. Great question.
So I was, they did have a PMM in the past, but I think it was very short term and a lot of product marketing duties had been tackled by either the CEO, who had a marketing background, or our VP of marketing. It was being balanced by them.
I was the, besides a short-term product marketing hire they had, only one they brought in at a director level. I’ve had experience building product marketing functions at other organizations. So when I went to Paysafe again, that was a large 4,000 person company, but they had never had product marketing, which was a whole different challenge in itself. But I had to build that up from the ground up.
When I went to TeamSnap, which is a sports management software which is my company right before Appcues again they had no product marketing. So I really helped define and establish that function at TeamSnap. I think the difference for me coming to Appcues was I came in at Appcues at a director level.
It came with a little bit more of a cache and needed to be involved in strategy, collaboration across leaders and leadership. Well, when I was setting up and establishing product marketing in my other experiences, it was very tactical. Like hey, we need sales sheets, we need competitive analysis, we need to do all this stuff, and I was a PMM or a senior PMM. That’s what I needed to do.
Anand: So coming into this role at Appcues, where I was looking at from the get go, strategy stuff while at TeamSnap and PaySafe, strategy came after I proved that I can do all the tactical things.
So it was a little bit of a flip and reversal of how I have seen and approached it. I think that was like the biggest challenge for me in that I’m used to the tactical things of delivering content and collateral and competitive intelligence and enablement and everything that I need.
When I first started the other experiences at other companies, yes that was still important, but I really need to be involved in positioning and narrative and some of the larger, higher level things that really play a role across the company.
Nick: So you’re about to get a thousand questions from me about that because I’ve lived part of this journey myself. They’re going to be fairly unrelated, but I’ll go in there.
When stepping into a strategic product marketing position, having done that, where would you start? How do you know where to focus and how do you know to make your requests for either resources or tools and processes or otherwise known?
I mean I think partly is just understanding why is that company even hiring you in the first place?
When I came into Appcues, my manager, Eric, who’s our VP of marketing, rarely very clearly laid out what we needed to really figure out regarding our positioning narrative and messaging. Because we’re in a competitive space, right.
So we need to define why us and why we are different? There’s no great way of doing it. There’s no perfect answer to that. So it just takes a lot of time and research. I was lucky enough where he knew that from the get-go when hiring this position, he needed someone that could help with that.
So that was kind of like built into my onboarding process. The challenge that came from that is also realizing that other teams needed things, right? Like the sales team…
Nick: The sales team hears they’re getting a product marketer, they’re expecting the sales sheets, the one pages, and all that.
Anand: Exactly. And again, that’s stuff I’ve been really good at.
In the past, I’ve been really close with sales and my sales teams. In past experiences, I’ve been like a champion for them.
It was a little different when I came into this experience and kind of having to shift that expectation, but honestly what I would suggest going back to your question is understanding why are they especially if you’re the first product marketer and you’re director level or you’re going to be more involved in strategy, just really having an understanding of why they’re hiring that role and why they hired you. Because there are obviously gaps in needs that they had that caused them to bring you in.
Then there may be multiple different things, but they’re in their minds, I’m sure they prioritize a bit in their heads. It’s your job to really get that out of them and then figure out, where do I spend my time based on this knowledge of knowing why they brought me in, in the first place.
So let’s jump to that then.
You had mentioned prioritization, a fair bit of what you have to do. Coming into that position, let’s imagine maybe they haven’t prioritized for you or it’s loosely prioritized.
How do you, of the 17 things product marketing is responsible for, how do you prioritize what needs to get done and how do you even try to understand what you need to actually deliver on what the organization needs?
Anand: Yeah. That’s a good question.
I think one of the biggest challenges of being a product marker is privatization, right?
As you mentioned this, so many things you’re trying to juggle all of them on sometimes, always equally important. How do you figure out where to spend your time?
I think I’ll just speak from experience. We know it from Appcues. I’ve been at Appcues for six months. As I mentioned, when I came in here I was told positioning narrative messaging is really important for us.
That’s a high priority, but at the same time being in a competitive market and then having a sales team that needs assets and collateral, I had to juggle that.
So for me, the way that I approached it was realizing that positioning and narrative could play a huge role in what I deliver when it comes to collateral and content and the competition like battlecards and everything.
Yes, we can do them in silo, but honestly they should ladder back to your positioning and it should ladder back to your narrative.
To me, it just felt right and it made sense that we can figure out and finalize our narrative and our positioning. Then from there start building out the resources that our teams need, but they’re still tied back to this overall kind of context we’re trying to create in the market.
A thing that kind of gets me in many ways is speaking to marketing leaders, sales leaders, there’s this idea of a positioning, strategy, narrative. There’s these three words that to a lot of people can mean anything.
Let’s say, oh we just got to fix our positioning. What does that even mean to you? Like that could mean so many things.
I spoke with Rory Woodbridge a few weeks ago on the idea of message-based differentiation and I think it’s good for a lot of businesses saying your sales team could get by so far with a product that just delivers on what you say is going to do.
But at a certain point, you have to be different based on your core message, because anybody can build anything right now.
There’s seven or eight companies that do something that’s 10% away from what you do. So what does that message?
So let me ask you, having come into a strategic position where the request was positioning narrative, how do you know when you’re done? How do you know when you’ve delivered what you need to do?
How do you even gage those things?
Anand: Well, I will say you are never done because it’s an ongoing iterative kind of evolving thing.
For this specific exercise, the way that we went, we spent like a month/month and a half really diving into data and customer insights and having multiple workshops that were hours and hours long with our CEO and our head of product and a head of marketing and other key stakeholders.
Our positioning, obviously what we came out with, it wasn’t like it was a 180 from what we were already at. Honestly it was a refinement of what the company had already been positioning itself as, but it was more of like we defined it.
So I think that was not necessarily there before. So we cleaned it up, refined it, and although it wasn’t anything groundbreaking, we knew it was something that was tangible at this point.
In terms of, are we done with that?
No. Is that what our positioning is going to be for the next six to 12 months? Most likely. Right.
But, the market will change. The customers will have different needs. We are going to deliver and launch new products and features that will potentially change how we are positioning ourselves. It’s an evolving thing, but I think what allowed us to do is say, here’s our position. Let’s make sure that our current roadmap is aligned with that. Let’s make sure the way that we are interacting with customers through sales and our customer success and support teams provides proof of this positioning that we have in the market.
So yeah, it’s not a done deal and we’re always continuing to work on it.
I’ve read somewhere or saw on Twitter or somewhere your positioning, your narrative is like the story. But everything that you do as a company, whether that’s a new release, a new feature or every interaction that you have with the customer is like a new chapter in that story that provides proof of that narrative.
Nick: That’s beautiful.
Anand: Yeah, exactly. It wasn’t me. I found that somewhere else, but I’ll take credit for it.
Nick: It’s power somewhere. It’s just like…
Anand: That’s honestly what it is. It’s an ever evolving thing.
Now that we have something defined, at least we can all internally come together around it and try to do our best to bring that to life in the market.
Nick: When you talking about bringing it to life in the market, I think that extends. I see you’re growing your team over there.
Is it really as straightforward as saying, figure out what we want to say, now we have to get people to create the stuff that says it.
Is it kind of A then B? You had mentioned laddering back between giving the salespeople what they need that evokes the narrative while figuring out the narrative.
Can you talk me through where your mindset is there knowing that positioning is both how everybody at the company feels, but also what is the stuff that sales and marketing is saying to the rest of the world that evokes that position?
It’s kind of a combination of a lot of things.
Yes. As a marketing team, we’re going to be intentional about how we utilize messaging across collateral, across emails, and our website to make sure that what we’re saying aligns with how we want to be positioning ourselves in the market.
As I mentioned, it’s like every interaction a customer has whether that’s with our AEs or with our CSMs or with me on a random webinar or our CEO. That in itself is an interpretation of how we want to be seen in the market.
Yes, there’s going to be things from a marketing perspective that we want, utilize our messaging to try and tell that story. But unless everyone in the company has this kind of context in the back of their minds, it’s hard to bring it to life because again everything you are doing out in the market is a proof point of this positioning and this narrative.
Nick: That’s right.
If you know what you said before every new customer, every other thing is a chapter.
When I think about the number of things we had Enablix do, I feel our company evolved. Yeah, getting clients, but when you speak at a conference, when you sponsor an event or something like that, so many of those things spring from the position, where do we want to be?
Anand: A hundred percent.
Nick: I want to go back to something you had said earlier, you’d said you had been a really good performance piano.
I don’t know and I forget the word that you would use.
Anand: Tactical Pmm.
Nick: Tactical, tactical, tactical PMM. Thank you. How do you pivot?
Because I think this is a legitimately hard thing to do for many people.
How do you pivot from a tactical PMM to a strategic PMM? What are the ways you go about doing that and what should you be focusing on?
How do you even know when you’re doing it?
I would say it was easier in my past experiences where I went from tactical and over time, as I got kind of built my reputation at the company, I was involved in more strategic things.
Because normally we build trust with other internal folks, but because of all of the tactical things you’ve done, you have so much insight and knowledge already to then make those strategic decisions off of.
In the case where Appcues were buying off the bat, I had to start thinking strategically. Honestly, I don’t know if I necessarily have the right answer of how do you make that transition well? Because I just did it and I wouldn’t say I did it great. I think it’s trying to balance understanding where you’ve had strategic success before and making sure that role that you’ve taken allows you to really dip into that expertise.
I’ve done a lot of positioning and messaging and brand building in my past experience, so it tied in well for me here.
But I also like not getting too far away from some of the tactical things. I’ve done probably like 20 or so, 30, 25 maybe like a win-loss interviews since I’ve come to Appcues. I’ve done a lot of digging into HubSpot to look at data and all that kind of stuff because at the end of the day that is like the foundation of what’s going to allow you to make the right strategic positions.
You can’t just be high up in the clouds all the time because your decisions are going to be coming from thin air in that situation. You have to figure out how to find the right balance.
I don’t know if I’ve found that or if I’ve done a good job with that. It’s still a struggle that I’m going through myself.
Nick: Yeah and it makes me wonder is there such a thing as a strategic product marketer, right?
Well to a certain degree there is, but it is a product marketing discipline where you have to be constantly doing, to even… When I say doing things like in the trenches.
Like you said, like a foot in the dirt to be able to make those decisions?
Anand: I mean, I would say definitely at a small organization. Yes.
You can’t be so far away from the tactical and your customer and be a good product marketer.
I’ve never been at an organization that has 10, 15, 20 PMMS and they have a VP of product marketing. That might be a different story. I just don’t know because I have never been in that situation.
But when you’re at a scaling, growing software company like I’ve been at most of my career, you have to be on the ground level as much as you can.
Nick: I’ve often thought and I’m going to lay out a blueprint.
You tell me how much you hate it. For a reasonable amount of product markers, like you said let’s call it under 12, under 15, that should be a centralized role that reports into marketing because a lot of what you’re doing is enabling the sales team.
You’re doing very tangible things. As your organization starts to grow, my perspective, a lot of times that role of the product marketer can shift under product now. Where product marketers and product managers team up either one to one or two to one or three to one.
More of your job as centralized in the product function is to make these product teams more responsible and more effective.
Thoughts on that kind of blueprint for organizational growth?
Anand: I’m not sure what my reaction to that would be like.
Actually at TeamSnap, there was a short period of time where we moved from being under marketing to being under product and there’s definitely benefits to that.
Sometimes that product, product marketing relationship is one of the hardest ones to build. Being on the same team makes that easier, hopefully.
At a high level, you think you should at least. But at the same time, this is just a personal thing. I love marketing. So being a little bit further away from that kind of sucks, so I don’t know what the right approach is.
One thing I’ve seen, even at team snap, this was right before I left. So product marketing went from being under marketing, to being under product for a very short amount of time and our VP of product ended up taking on and kind of shifting to the head of strategy role and product market fit under that.
And I’ve seen other companies too like Unbounced where product marketing now fits under strategy. So it’s like a completely separate function. I mean, you have to be at a certain size to be able to achieve that maybe, but essentially what product marketing is not product, it’s not marketing. It’s not sales. It’s none of that. It’s a blend of all that too and having a high level strategy across the board.
So maybe that being under a function on its own called strategy, maybe that’s the right approach. I think it really depends on your company, your situation, etc.
Nick: To me, I think we’re seeing I thought we’d see more that we’re not seeing coalesced in the market from my vantage point.
I thought we would pick all right, what is this thing that product marketing does and how do we manage how it’s successful? Maybe it’s too soon, but we’re not seeing it.
To me, what do you want from your product marketing team? So to what you said, hey it sits between these teams and it’s responsible for making them successful. Cool sit under strategy, but then your success metrics at the end of the day, your OKR, what I’m going to measure you on is going to come from those teams.
In many worlds, product marketing is responsible for revenue. Revenue goes up, I assume you’re doing your job. They own sales enablement, perhaps. In that world, maybe you need to sit under marketing and sit next to sales and the degree to which you’re attached to product management is less relevant.
I was just going to say that in other places, you are relevant for how features are being adopted? This is at larger organizations.
How is our actual product being received by the market? If that’s going well there, well then maybe you should sit right into the product because you’re evangelizing the product all day.
That’s exactly what I was going to say.
For me as a product marketer, I’ve always kind of said this. I had this belief we don’t build products to sell them.
We build products that people can use and get value from them. So as a product marketer, our job is not just to help our company get folks in the door; it’s to help these customers see the value of our solution. See the promise that we made them through all this messaging and marketing that we’ve done and so adoption is a piece of that, right?
That’s what you mentioned is more of a product thing. Driving leads and revenue and increasing wind rates and all that kind of stuff is marketing and sales. It’s a weird balance.
I think it becomes even blurrier and this whole product led kind of growth, a world where you’re, you’re balancing both like the whole point of product lead is to drive. Acquisition through a different kind of model, but the acquisition relies on adoption and activation of your product.
It’s a weird kind of blend that new kind of world brings. It’s an interesting, weird place to be in a product market.
You don’t sit anywhere specifically and you’re across the board, so it’s tough at times I would say.
Nick: Yeah no, I definitely agree.
Obviously, no one’s nailed it.
I think that there are other institutions, but we talk about product marketing, talk about things like sales enablement, revenue operations, sales operations. I see so many conflicting points of view that I’m like, yeah no one’s got it.
So the question, this is Mind the Gap. I do have a question. Any surefire tips on how to close the sales, marketing gap?
What are the things that you have found valuable in your time, either as an app user before that you think not enough people are doing this? Or if I had one thing to say, this would be it.
Anand: I would say just from my learnings at being an app curious the last six months, just do a better job of setting those expectations, right?
These other teams, including sales that they have needs and they have things that they’re looking for because at the end of the day, they need to meet their goals. They need to close deals. They need to have revenue numbers or whatever the case may be.
But as a product marketer, as we’ve mentioned, multiple times you are juggling a lot, but the sales team doesn’t necessarily always know this. They don’t know what you’re focused on or what’s your priority for you right now. The only way they will know that is if you are just transparent and you set the expectations and let them kind of come into your world a little bit.
Because then maybe they can have some empathy for what you’re going through and they’ll understand, hey he hasn’t delivered this sale sheet or this product video yet. But, I know it will come and it will be there eventually because he’s juggling all these other things or she’s juggling all of these other things.
So at the end of the day, I think the best tip I have is just try to be as transparent and set the expectations as best as you can. There’s no perfect answer. There’s no perfect way to juggle things, but all you can do is be as honest and be transparent with the teams that you are helping and supporting.
Nick: Gosh, that sounds good.
We just, I just talked to the director of marketing infrastructure who said that the key to minding the gap is empathy. If we all have an accurate understanding of what each other’s doing, there is no gap.
Nick: But finding that accurate understanding of what we’re all doing because what we’re doing is changing so quickly is almost impossible.
I relate to that very much. Before we break here, we’re almost at time, is there anything else you’d like to mention or any other questions? Any questions for me you’d like to get out there? I feel like I’ve been asking you 20 questions here.
Anand: I’d love to kind of, a question for you in terms of anything to plod note, nothing to plug, checkout Appcues. We are a great tool for product managers, product marketers, customer success, all these key individuals within your company who you use to really drive engagement over your users.
Especially in this product led world, a question I would have for you is just like being at Enablix, sitting in the tool sets between sales sometimes in marketing or product marketing, right?
What are you seeing when it comes to making that relationship a success?
Nick: I am seeing that incentives have to be aligned with where people believe success is.
So at Enablix we do sales content management, and even if you don’t have it enabled, I think a lot of product marketers and sales enablement people there’s this back and forth, and sales is saying, I need this, I need this, I need this.
Then it kind of gets lost, like, did you use it? Did you want it? Hey, I think you need this, but you’re not using that. And there’s like all these little rifts. So then, you have these weekly meetings. Hey guys, here’s all the stuff we came out with last week, but then sales doesn’t pay attention. And then sales is saying yeah, but that’s not usable to me.
I think the need for whether it be content, information, leads, whatever that is, where that request is, it has to be incentivized to everybody. So that we’re all on the same page, we all really agree down to the core. This is either how we sell, this is how we raise adoption, this is…
I think that on a large scale 80 to 90% of organizations have that. But on small things like hey, what’s going to help you close more deals. What’s gonna help you sell a little faster? What do you need next week? I see so many organizations kind of miss.
What it does is it’s kind of the I won’t say the broken window theory, but when I asked you for a sales sheet and you told me either no, or you didn’t get it to me or didn’t get it in time or something, it just starts to erode that trust of I’m sure what you’re doing is valuable. Just not valuable to me. And I think that is the biggest killer of them all.
Anand: The one final tip I would give like kind of spread to the top of my mind. When you do deliver new things, but as blog posts or a piece of collateral or a video, it’s our responsibility to make sure the sales team or the customer facing team understands the value of that thing that we’re delivering and why it should matter to them and how they should be utilizing it in their conversations.
It’s not enough to just throw it over the wall and hope that the sales team or any customer facing team uses it correctly.
Nick: This is where we go down the line if you would ask me for my one thing. So I’m going to get smaller and smaller here, but I’ve seen an echo the opposite way to where we marketers will make very big deals over the relative value of a blog post or something like that.
It’s not useful to the sales team. Sales didn’t want it. They didn’t ask for that, but it gets to the point of yeah, but make that an open discussion. Because I’ve seen a lot of people be like hey, aren’t you glad I gave you this amazing thing. And then they are like now I hate you more.
Hey, it’s been awesome to talk with you. This is echoed very closely in my experience as well, so I appreciate it.
Anand: Yeah, thanks for having me. It’s been great!
Nick: Absolutely. Ladies and gentlemen, Anand Patel.
Anand: Thanks all.
Nick: That’s a podcast.
Anand: Awesome. Perfect.