How do you effectively create a culture of collaboration between product marketing and sales? Nick sits down with Phillip Brougham, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Unbabel, as they discuss why customer empathy and understanding are your secret weapons when helping the sales team, and dive deep into crafting product marketing OKR’s.
How do you effectively create a culture of collaboration between product marketing and sales? Nick sits down with Phill Brougham, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Unbabel, and they discuss:
- As a PMM, customer empathy and understanding are your secret weapons when helping the sales team – and if you’re new in the industry, don’t feel pressure to contribute right away!
- Effective product marketing OKR’s and the framework for measuring product marketing’s contributions at any company
- Why product marketing may not always need to own sales enablement, and the right time to split sales enablement out as a separate discipline
If you’re wondering how to effectively craft product marketing OKR’s, or don’t know how PMM’s should be fueling your sales team – this episode is for you.
Nick: Hello and welcome to another episode of Mind The Gap, the only podcast where you get sales and marketing alignment by Enablix. I’m your host Nick Ziech- Lopez and joining us this week is Phillip Brougham.
Phillip, how’s it going?
Phillip: I’m good, Nick. Great to be with you.
Nick: Awesome. So, Phill, everybody knows you. I think you were on the cover of People magazine. For people that don’t know Phil, can you give us some background on who you are and what you do?
Phillip: Yeah, no, for sure.
So, I am a senior PMM, part of the marketing manager at Unbabel. We are a machine translation business focusing on translating customer service at scale. So basically helping companies interact with all sorts of customers, wherever they are, and build trust and build relationships in a way to kind of meet wherever those people are culturally and linguistically.
So I’ve been at Unbabel for almost a year. Scraping a year is just shy of that, and I’ve been in product marketing for about four years now.
Before that was in sales, in SAS, I’m hitting my fifth anniversary in the SAS space, which is kind of scary and satisfying at the same time.
Living in Madrid, I spent a long time in London, but originally from the states.
Nick: Yeah, you’re kind of living the dream over in Europe. Right? By the way, that’s going to be our other podcast is how to successfully pull that off I think.
Phillip: Well, I mean it’s a funny thing. I mean the pandemic has opened up so many different opportunities. As a PMM, I really had this idea in my head that I had to be in the office and kind of gain those water cooler conversations and so on, and I think there’s definitely some value to that for sure.
But, I think the pandemic has made it clear that remote working is more of a possibility, no matter what your role. That’s obviously also the benefit of working in SAS. It allows for that. So definitely very lucky, but it’s fun to be able to test it out.
Nick: Yeah. You were sharing some really interesting thoughts on the pandemic prior to the podcast. I’m joking. I’m joking.
Where I actually want to start is the fact that you came to PMM through sales, right? So like you said, SDR and then Account Executive. And the interaction between product marketing and sales can be fractious or it could be more collaborative. I think creating, being a PMM is all about when you start, when you’re in that position, you have nothing but your ability to kind of influence people and create a creative process.
Can you talk a little bit, having been on both sides, about creating a culture of working together and not product marketing telling sales what to do in sales saying the product marketing isn’t helping them? How do you get, how do you get a better back and forth movement?
Phillip: Yeah. I mean and as you said, having come from that background that’s, for me that’s been really helpful. First of all, just because it helps kind of develop some pretty instant credibility with commercial teams because they sort of, it’s like a secret handshake or something. When you say I used to be in sales, they look at you differently somehow.
So that’s helpful.
Nick: You can add the quota handshake. Oh you carried quota, I carried quota. That’s what you got.
Phillip: Exactly. Yeah, I definitely get it, but it’s more after work drinks, once they know that I used to be in sales. So that’s a benefit, but no. I think the key thing, I think for anyone who doesn’t work in sales to understand is that, the sales team is especially in B2B organizations. The sales team is really the only function in a company that has to work with people to try to get them to do something that is maybe not necessarily obvious to the organization’s benefit.
And so what I mean by that is that if you’re selling to company X as a salesperson, you’ve actually got to work with that person to kind of create a shared point of view in a shredder of sanding. If I’m contacting someone in our product team or engineering team, we all have the same company mission, the same goals and so on, but a salesperson is doing pretty special work there to try to align your organization to the company that you’re selling to. And that’s a tricky thing.
I think starting off from that respect that, and that realization is a really important way to work with sales, and to kind of create that empathy.
But when it comes to actually creating that culture of collaboration and feedback, I think it is really important to spend time with the sales team to get to know what’s on their mind, what are their challenges, what are things that they care about. But, then also to kind of deliver, you on that and to kind of meet those pain points and help the sales team to actually uncover that.
It depends on the size of the team, right? I like doing these one-on-one conversations with the sales teams, if it’s a county executive or if it’s BDRs. I think that really goes a long way, but ultimately what I’ve especially more recently is that actually if there’s not buy-in from the sales leadership it’s really hard to be honest, to get these big changes made. Because culture is something that in many ways that does start at the top.
So kind of getting that alignment with the CRO or the head of sales and trying to understand what’s important to you? What digits do you have? And then showing your work, right, like a math problem showing how you do it. Actually delivering them on those pinpoints in those needs, I think creates that sense of trust. And it is the way that I’ve always seen it, working in startups has been very important to develop that trust and relationship.
Process I guess it depends on the company and sort of where you are and how much process is needed. But, that’s kind of what I’ve seen has worked very well.
Nick: Well I think too just to what you’re saying, I think that there’s…I just spoke with Jason Oakley, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Klue. And it was all about this idea of product marketing, like anxiety or imposter syndrome?
Because I think a lot of times, what is this salesperson doing? They’re going out and they are creating revenue, hopefully. So then as a product marketer, you come in and you’re almost like, all right, so what can you do for me? And I think even setting up a lot of that for a lot of PMMS, even Senior PMMs, it can be scary because it’s like, I don’t know what I can do for you right now. What do you need?
And so it’s almost like you’re asking what they feel they don’t have without promising anything because you’re not in a place to do that at this point. Guiding that line can be tough.
Phillip: Yeah, for sure and I think the way to I mean, the ultimate silver bullet that any PMM has and should always be armed with is deep knowledge of the customer and the market. Right.
I think when you’re going to a sales person, they’re often I think about, well how did my last deal go? How did my last call go? What was wrong with that specific instance? It’s always a very kind a micro conversation or it’s you’re very much in the weeds.
I think as a PMM you’ve got to bring forward that broader context for that broad understanding of what this is all about, so that when you do have those micro conversations and you’re talking a little more tactically, you can always relate it back to the customer. But then also showcase that knowledge because ultimately salespeople are doing what they can to sell a business and to close revenue.
And the more that you can always situate the contribution that you’re making or the messaging or the whatever guidance you’re giving around, what’s important to the customer and how you’re going to help them to win that business. Then I think you’re in a place where you can really command the room and actually create that closeness with the team.
Nick: So this is a little off topic, but this is a question for you. If the PMM brings the knowledge of the customer, let’s say, I guess it’s two questions.
One. Do you feel comfortable hiring PMMs that don’t have experience in your industry or with that user, right? Perhaps you’re going from someone that used to be a product for a product marketer for databases, and you’re putting them in competitive intelligence or something like that, right? Like nothing there.
And if you are, how do PMMs get that deep knowledge of the customer if they’re coming in fresh and should they get that before talking to sales?
Phillip: Yeah. Great questions.
I mean, I do think it’s partially down to seniority and we might talk about this later around sort of how product marketing is evolving.
But, I think if you’re hiring someone junior, or even someone at the middle level, it doesn’t necessarily matter, I think. My personal view is domain expertise is probably less important. I’m really looking for people who are very curious and who are trying to uncover some patterns and who are very strong at figuring out how do we articulate value that resonates with a specific customer group? I really do think that’s industry dependent or independent. I don’t think you need to be a specialist in competitive intelligence, if you’ve come from the database world, for example. So I’m really looking for someone who is eager to solve problems and who’s curious. Really those are super important characteristics.
In terms of kind of going to the team. I think it depends on sort of where they’re starting at. I think every PMM, when they start in a new company should talk to as many people as they can, obviously, especially on the revenue side and the end, the sales side to understand what their world is like and just get a very clear view of what problems keep coming up and what are persistent challenges?
I think when it comes to the point of giving advice or giving training or giving enablement of some kind, you really at that stage need to be somewhat expert on the customer, on the market, or at least getting there. You need to know enough to be dangerous at that stage because it is where we’re going to shine through.
How to do that? I mean, there’s so many different sources and in terms of recruiting that knowledge. Obviously you’ve got informal conversations internally with different stakeholders is important. There’s a number of amazing tools out there, like Gone or Korous where you can actually listen to sales conversations.
That’s an amazing resource to kind of understand how customers are reacting in real time to the messaging or to the God propositions. Then ultimately, interacting with customers is the best. And actually having these conversations with them, what’s working, what’s not working? Why did you buy,? What else are you thinking about? What are your specific pain points? You can have as many conversations with customers on a regular basis. That’s going to kind of keep up enriching your view of the market. And again, this comes back to curiosity, right?
If you’re not going to be curious, you’re going to ask the same questions and maybe get the same responses and these customer conversations will be a bit rote and they won’t really help you. I think coming to that sort of being hungry every time, what does the customer care about? Why should they care about your solution is a great way to uncover those specific points.
Nick: I personally found a really cute shortcut to all that, which is go from being the customer to being the marketer like I did with Enablix. Results, not proven, but you build up that you feel like that was one of the good and bad parts about coming is, I felt like I was the buyer. Right. Like I know exactly what the buyers are thinking. And that’s also a trap because I was one buyer and I was not like all of them, right? And so you kind of learned that you kind of get through that. But that’s been an entirely different experience.
Let’s talk about how you measure the contribution that the product marketing is making to the sales team. So, off the top of your head, how would you measure if what you just described is working well, if it’s helping, is revenue going up? Is it leads?
Well, what does that look like?
Phillip: Yeah, I think it’s always great.
If you can say I started in June and by the time that I finished these three programs in December revenue increased this much. I think that’s a kind of a fantasy land for many marketers that we’d love to get to, but it’s never that simple.
I would be monitoring revenue, and how that’s evolved over time. But, I would be very cautious about tying your performance directly to revenue because ultimately your salespeople are the ones who are on the hook for closing revenue.
Everyone else’s there to either build a product or provide messaging or training or materials or assets to kind of put them in a position to succeed and to win. Right. And so they need to be accountable for the actual revenue target. So, that’s kind of how I would come down on the revenue side.
But then I think there’s certainly things that, if you’re specifically B to B product marketing if you could look at things like, what’s the average deal cycle length, what’s the overall sort of level of confidence in the sales team, and kind of looking at how the time from stage to stage is evolving. Because I think we obviously want to close businesses as quickly as possible, and we want to kind of move from stage to stage again in good time.
So. I would look at almost second-order effects of revenue improving and then maybe tying yourself more to that in having those kinds of goals. We in Unbevel kind of use a lot of stuff around okay ours and so it’s more than delivering on specific outcomes or specific goals that are maybe missing. We need a launch, a specific product.
We need to make sure the team is enabled in this way. We need to build a competitive landing page. These things we know are contributing, but it’s very risky to tie those things to revenue I think.
Nick: Yeah. It’s interesting how the OKR is objectives and key results. When you look it’s almost two different mindsets and an objective mindset of, if we do these things, we will expect good outcomes to the outcomes of these are the outcomes we need to see and I don’t care how we get there. It can be different, especially the size of your team. I am interested though.
You talked about dealing, you talked about closing time from stage to stage. Nothing gets people to fight over quicker than what stage deals in it, but it’s definitely a lot into the sales enablement realm, which is Mind The Gap.
So we were squarely in a product marketing sales enablement world. Do you see product marketing, owning sales enablement? How do you see those playing together?
Phillip: Yeah. This is something that when I first transitioned to becoming a PMM, and I was always very adamant about sales enablement. I think it was because it was a natural kind of comfort zone for me.
I kind of knew our customers. I was very excited about doing that kind of macro analysis and then translating gains to enablement and so on. But, I really think that the more that I’ve seen product marketers, and also myself trying to use sales enablement, the more that I realized that it really is a specific function.
I think you could have a sales enablement person working alongside or reporting into product marketing, but I really believe that this is a full-time job for you to be successful and to do it properly, and to be really good at it.
Just in the same way, a general marketing manager could do aspects of product marketing and then they might do some messaging, they might launch some campaigns, but they’re actually not doing product marketing at large, the same way as true for a product marketer or doing sales enablement. They might do a few training sessions. They might provide a bit of guidance on how to sell or how to what messages are really critical, but to do sales is it really ongoing?
It’s an ongoing job, you’re constantly in the trenches working with a sales team, making tweaks, doing learning and development is a huge undertaking. The more that I’ve looked at it, the more I understand it, I really see these as it’s a handshake function, right?
Product marketers are always working in sales enablement, but I don’t think that PMM should be doing a full spectrum set of sales enablement activities because that is just a separate job in my opinion.
Nick: I see what you’re saying. So it’s not that. So you’re saying a person shouldn’t be responsible for product marketing and then the sales enablement side of desk sales. Sales enablement is his own thing; it’s not like a part of product marketing.
How those things rolled up is going to be different from organization to organization. The term sales could roll up to marketing, whatever that is. But when you’re saying like, don’t do it, like it’s you’re going to call it sales enablement that you really gotta be doing it.
Don’t be calling like hey, here’s a case study. Like that’s not sales enablement.
Phillip: Yeah. I could run a half an hour session on our new product that we’re releasing and invite salespeople and walk them through it and answer questions and run through objection handles, but that’s kind of scratching the surface when it comes to sales enablement and I’m not really. I think that’s a very rudimentary level of sales enablement.
I think a real sales enablement manager is working with sales to obviously ingest all this stuff. That product marketing is giving them, bringing it into their overall pitch, and training and their approach to customers.
Then doing the ongoing kind of measurement and monitoring and scoring the sales team on their work. Prior to marketing, I could do that. People in marketing tend to be very analytical and engaged on how things are performing, but your sales enablement person really is in my opinion, a kind of an appendage of sales.
They have to really understand the intricacies of sales and what it takes to go from stage one, to stage two, to stage three and how to get the team performance to a level that’s going to be required to kind of keep deals moving and go to get to close. I think that’s a very separate, not separate, but it’s a distinctive science to product marketing.
Nick: It’s funny, you’re saying this, we recently were talking with Erin Sarris. She was a Senior Sales Content strategist. She was saying almost exactly what you were saying, where sales enablement people like they’re basically more like project management, project management within deals, like thinking about that.
And she even said, you can’t expect people in sales enablement to also create good content. Because similar to what you were saying, they’re too into like, they are handling so many things to then be like oh, also make the content of the salesperson is unfair to them and is taking away how much they’re doing.
She was saying that the people responsible for the enablement should be paired with people responsible for sales content. Because enablement in itself is recognizing the need for, but then not having the time, energy, or strength to say hey, here’s this amazing piece of content or this. And you’re kind of in agreement with say, don’t also then try to make them responsible for product marketing because they can’t.
Phillip: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And also, yeah, just not fair to them because why should they have this deep knowledge of the product and deep knowledge of competitors. How do they, how do their solutions match up? It’s not their full-time job where they can add value is really in making sure that the wheels are greased and the team is really kicking ass.
If I’m allowed to say that on this podcast…
Nick: We’ll see if it stays on Spotify.
No No, so you’re getting into something that I think about a lot, right. So in a lot of organizations, they hire a product marker or they hire several. They say cool, so you’re the people that do everything. That’s what we hired you for. The people that know everything about the product and the customer and the sales, so you’re going to do it.
And they’re the great hope. Like maybe there are people that can do that. I don’t know if you could do that. Maybe you could do that. I don’t know, but I think it’s endemic of the way people look at the product today, and I think for the past three years. Obviously, I think that’s going to change.
And if you go back, I think people looked at product managers the same way. Oh, you’re finally the one that knows the user and the buyer and how it works. I think we keep trying to connect a lot of different things.
And one, where do you think that’s going for the product marketing? Is that sustainable? Is that what product marketing is?
Let me get your thoughts there.
Phillip: Yeah. I mean, what you mentioned about PMM doing everything, it sounds like my first job interview as a PMM. It’s giving me flashbacks. No, because I think this is really a challenge that is improving in terms of organizations, better understanding what a PMM is meant to do and where they focus.
However, if you read any of these reports, The Product Marketing Alliance does a great one every few months, or may think it’s once a year, perhaps about sort of how part of marketing is viewed in an organization. Pretty much every year, I’ve seen a bit of improvement, but it’s still, there’s still a lot of ambiguity about what product marketing is doing, and it obviously varies company to company.
But we’re making progress, but it’s still not great. Companies still have these hyper inflated views of what PMMs are meant to do in the business. We’re getting there. I do see that product marketers broadly speaking are becoming more specialists.
I was in the job market about nine months ago before I started Unbabel. I was seeing a lot of PMM titles that were really focused on pricing or a competitive analysis product marketer or those kinds of things where you’re just sort of breaking apart different modules or components of product marketing. You’re creating a full-time role around it.
There’s definitely something about getting that depth of experience that I think is great for a PMM, but I think part of the fun and part of the value of having a PMM is someone who can actually juggle many different things at once and kind of connect all the dots together.
So I think it’s great if you can bring specific skills to the table, that’s helped me certainly in my career when I’ve moved from role to role. But I think ultimately, keeping that broad is healthy. I think for the kinds of people you want to try and get product marketing also, they’re kind of the strategic value that product marketing can offer.
Having said that, I do think there’s a few of those components and few of those buckets that product marketing can probably stand to shed. It’s kind of like we just talked about sales enablement, right? Kind of reassessing some of these things because the PMM just can’t do everything. Right. And even, yeah, I’m seeing more stuck getting kind of like market intelligence. I think that’s fair market intelligence and market analysis.
Sure. A PMM could do it, but to really do it well, you might want to hire an agency or you might want to hire a full-time person or a consultant to do kind of very specific market intelligence for you.
I almost have to see kind of doubling down on the table stakes of product marketing. Like really focusing on positioning and messaging and doing amazing go to market, doing some enablement, I suppose, or kind of broadly speaking across the company and things like pricing and packaging certainly.
But, I think really keeping that core focus on what product marketing is meant to deliver, deeply understanding the product, deeply understanding the customer and the market that they’re in, and hopefully keeping some of that variety in there too.
Nick: It almost reminds me of like, it has the potential or so product marketing, or you just listed to a ton of stuff. Right? So, if you look at all the different teams that product marketing interfaces with, it almost feels like you have 12 options, you get to choose four.
So like you said, if you choose competitive intelligence, you’re not going to be creating case studies like nope, you can only turn on so many. And so product marketing sayings and I think it is trying to get to, how can we be the job that a person can do that is that, is that like, we are this.
As you were talking, I was thinking about how, I don’t know if you ever had this, but as a kid they’re like oh, you take a test or they look at your grades or whatever. They’re like, you’d be good at being a lawyer or you’d be a good doctor or whatever that is. Right. A firefighter, whatever that is and I’m wondering like okay, what set of skills could you have where they’re oh, you’d be a good product marketer.
Is it curiosity? Is it intangibles? Sure, curiosity and understanding. What does that look like for you? Is it Matt? You said he’s analytical. What is that?
Or is it easier to say who aren’t product marketers? What is that?
Phillip: Yeah, that’s an awesome question. The answer. Yeah. The answer might be actually who isn’t right for it. I think a good product marketer is someone who is curious, as I mentioned earlier, I think that’s a critical part of it.
I think it’s someone who is going to be uncomfortable, sorry, is going to be comfortable with having a variety of work and sometimes to the extreme level where you’re kind of just constantly moving between different types of projects, different kinds of work. Some people don’t want to do that. Right.
They want to get into the weeds on one project at a time and just really focus on that. I think someone who’s very comfortable with ambiguity ultimately. But, you’ve got to be a good communicator. You’ve got to be a people person. I think obviously there’s exceptions.
I think it depends on the kind of part of marketing you’re doing. But, every one of my jobs I’ve always worked for startups. My ability to be successful at these companies and my ability to help the company has been very much predicated on my ability to communicate well, to work with a lot of different kinds of teams to develop professional friendships in a sense.
So I’m getting a lot of information from other people, and just being comfortable to kind of keep on jumping through these different, switching focus and switching modes from competitive intelligence to the next customer call to a training session. There are a lot of intangibles, but I think it can be frustrating.
Even, I’m frustrated as I’m saying that, because I point to some more skills. But I do think there is sort of a mindset that you want to have going into the job.
Nick: And that’s, by the way, when I start my self help podcast, it’s going to be about that ambiguity.
Because it’s so hard. I think one of the things some of the most successful, talented people I have seen are being okay with things being bad. I think very few people are okay with things being like, yeah these things are bad and I’m going to leave this bad thing and go to another bad thing. But, because we don’t have the time or energy or money to fix thing by thing by thing, which would be so much more satisfying probably. But, to leave ambiguity because we’re plugging all the walls in the dam, but that’s the best way to do it.
Because I know we can afford to keep things at 60%, but this thing can’t be. I think understanding that ambiguity and understanding what can’t fall. Keeping the plates that you need to keep in the air.
Phillip: Yeah. And yeah, as you said, being happy with good enough. I’m a bit of a perfectionist sometimes, but I think you do have to sometimes just walk away and say that the outcome was achieved. End of story.
Nick: Yeah. Before we wrap up here, anything to plug or anything you’d like to talk about?
Phillip: No look, I think the only thing I want to say is just I love to keep in touch with the community. Product marketing is such a fun, friendly bunch. I love connecting with people who are kind of working on product marketing problems or either part of a marketing career or thinking about getting into product marketing.
It’s such a fun conversation, and I find a lot of people are just very unconfident about getting into product marketing. So if that’s you please reach out to me on LinkedIn, or if you just want to talk about product marketing. If you just want to connect, hit me up on LinkedIn.
Maybe you can post my LinkedIn profile in the show notes.
But, yeah. Just to keep in touch.
Nick: We will have a link to your LinkedIn profile on the show page. Something I want to mention is you have one of those LinkedIn profiles where you get access to more information about Phil after you connect with them.
So you get the picture. I don’t know if you have that, but it’s a nice little privacy feature I like. See here, and that’s what originally threw me about you being in Madrid. I was like oh, is this Phil?
Phillip: To keep it mysterious, you know?
Nick: Yeah exactly, keep it mysterious. It’s actually the tagline under your profile. Talks about #keepitmysterious. All right.
Well, so that is all for this episode. Thank you so much for joining us. It’s been wonderful talking to you. I thank you very much for coming on the pod. Ladies and gentlemen, Phillip Brougham.
Phillip: Thanks Nick, that was fun.
Nick: This has been Mind The Gap, a podcast about sales and marketing alignment put on by Enablix. My name is Nick Ziech-Lopez.
Thanks for listening.