Interview with a Product Marketer: Steven Pelham, Podium
As marketers and product marketers, you can research endlessly. From articles, to eBooks, to templates, the flow of information is unlimited. However, to get a lens on what is happening, it’s helpful to hear first-hand, what other leading product marketers are doing. So to help provide some insight into the mind of a product marketer our team sat down with Steven Pelham, Product Marketing Manager at Podium.
Podium is one of the fastest growing tech companies in recent years. The work has awarded them recognition on top industry lists, such as Forbes’ Next Billion Dollar Startups, Forbes’ Cloud 100, the Inc. 5000 (#13), and Fast Company’s World’s Most Innovative Companies — in the last year alone.
Steven shared his product marketing journey, lessons he learned along the way, and advice to aspiring product marketers and insight managers.
1. How do you get into product marketing?
For each person it’s different. Traditionally, though, product marketing is a more senior function so you’ll likely start in some other role and then move into it. For me, I studied public relations and advertising in school and then began my career in customer marketing and market research. Through school and my first couple of jobs I learned that I have a sweet spot for being between right in the middle of the research and data side of marketing as well as being able to be creative and to write and design. I also learned that I was really good at living in a world where I bridged these two different types of work. From there I was recruited into a traditional product marketing role. I started doing product marketing consulting at an agency where I helped a diverse portfolio of clients with their product marketing and brand. During this consulting phase, I learned that I’m really passionate about tech. I’ve now worked at several different tech companies doing product marketing. It’s extremely satisfying for me because I’m able to indulge both the data-driven and creative-driven sides of my brain on a daily basis.
2. Why is product marketing so important?
Product marketing is a cross-department strategic function that’s vital to any business’s success. It is the driving force behind getting products to market—and keeping them there. One saying that I heard that has really rung true with me is that: as product marketers, we are the overarching voices of the customer, masterminds of messaging, enablers of sales, and accelerators of adoption—all at the same time. One of the most important things that product marketers do is to identify the problem that consumers are facing in the market and then work with teams internally to build a product that solves those problems. Then as product marketers we own the go-to-market strategy, which is the strategy for helping the business to get the product to those consumers and conveying that this is the product that solves their problems. When this happens, lots of people buy the product and the business thrives.
3. What skills are necessary to stay on top of the product marketing world? How do you help balance? How do you manage different stakeholder relationships and drive efficiencies/prioritization?
Product marketing touches literally every part of the business. Because of this, it’s paramount to have an understanding of how all the business units work together and what role they play in helping to get products to market and keeping them there. Beyond an understanding of all business units, it’s also important to have a really good grasp on what product marketing is and the role it should play. Unfortunately, most people don’t know what product marketing is and the role it plays. As a product marketer, you need to do a lot of education to all of your stakeholders to help them know what you need from them to be successful and what they need from you to be successful. I’ve had to do a lot of marketing of product marketing to those I work with. To be successful at this, you really need to know your role and their role to help the business to be successful. A lot of the time it’s like quarterbacking a play or project managing to ensure that things come together how they need.
Because product marketing is so cross-functional you have to have a really good understanding of many things. Aside from being really good at many things, you have to be an expert at a few things. For example, I’m not an expert in demand generation or in digital marketing, but I know enough about these functions that I know what I need to do to help them to be successful in marketing and creating leads for the products that I’m over.
Some top skills for product marketers include organization, communication, presentation, being able to collect and interpret data, being a strong writer, and you have to be able to lead people. As product marketers, we’re responsible for leading efforts and strategies. We have to be able to lead and communicate clearly.
Product marketers have stakeholders across marketing, product, engineering, sales, customer success, business strategy, and finance. On any given day, I have meetings with all of these different people. Balancing all of that can be tough but prioritization is key. At Podium we work in the OKR framework. For those who aren’t familiar with that, it stands for Objective and Key Results. We have company, department, and team level OKRs where we plan out what the most important things that we need to accomplish during a given quarter. We prioritize work based on how it ties back to OKRs. It’s super easy to take on too much as a product marketer – I find that I’m frequently asking myself, is what I’m being asked for help on really tying back to the big objective that I want to accomplish. You could spend all your time as a product marketer just responding to requests from stakeholders. You need to learn how to become a strategic product marketer that is focused on those objectives that will make the largest impact for your business.
4. What skills or tools will product marketers need to stand out from the rest?
Starting with skills – first prioritization. Like I mentioned earlier, what makes a great product marketer is one who knows how to prioritize to drive forward an objective that will have a massive impact. Aside from prioritization, research and communication are paramount. You have to know how to find meaningful insights that will help you to create impactful go-to-market strategies for your business. Then you have to be able to effectively communicate through writing, oral communication, presentations, etc. the insights you find, interpret how these insights impact your strategy, and what you need from others to accomplish that strategy.
Speaking specifically on tools – you need the type of tools that will (1) help you to be more organized and (2) help you to be more efficient. A good project/work management tool is huge, the right communications tool, and the tools that help you to easily collect insights. That’s why Kompyte is so great. Competitor insights are absolutely vital to the success of your business. If you don’t know what your competitors are doing you won’t know how to position your business and products against them so that you can communicate effectively the value that your business provides over your competitor’s business. In my role as a product marketer, it’s literally impossible for me to keep up with all the various types of insights and to adequately convey those insights to those that need them without having a tool like Kompyte to help me to do that. Great tools like Kompyte help me do more than I otherwise would be able to.
5. How has an insight-driven mindset to product marketing shaped your career experiences or projected path?
Being insights driven has changed everything for me. As a product marketer there can be a lot of pressure to effectively get products to market and to keep them there. The best way to ensure that you do this, is to be driven by insights. Having insights takes the guesswork out of things by allowing you to confidently build and launch products that solve problems. You can get insights in many different ways but it’s vital that you have them. Because I’m a bit of a data geek, I’ve always focused on deriving different types of insights throughout my career. However, I remember a shift in my career where I learned how to make insights more actionable, when that happened, I went from being a good product marketer to being a great product marketer.
There are a few things you can do to start shifting your mindset to become more insights driven:
- (1) getting out of your seat and talking with others across your company,.
- (2) being on calls with customers,.
- (3) being on calls with Sales reps, Customer Success Managers, Support teams, and Product Managers,.
- (4) send surveys,.
- (5) look at all the data your business has,.
- (6) watch people use your products,.
- (7) read and subscribe to various different industry publications that show market trends,.
- (8) watch what your competitors are doing. All of these things will help shift your mindset to be more data-driven and action oriented on those insights.
6. What best practices would you recommend for aspiring PMMs apply?
Piggy backing off of that last question, make sure that you are driven by insights. If you do this, you will be successful in your current role and you’ll be a successful PMM. In addition to that, really familiarize yourself with the various parts of the business. Because product marketing is so cross functional, it’s vital that you know how the various parts of the business work together so you know where and how to insert yourself to drive initiatives forward. There are a lot of aspects to product marketing that you need to know how to do well (writing, researching, leading initiatives, organization, launching products, etc.) but my advice would be, figure out what you’re great at. Each product marketer brings various strengths to the team – identify what your strength is and really lean into that. One of the best managers that I ever had helped me to identify what my strengths are and then he coached me on how to lean into my strengths. Not that you shouldn’t work on your weaknesses too, but really know your strengths. Your strengths will be why people hire you.
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