Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Breaking Into Product Marketing or Product Management, Part 3

Part 1 Here - How others got in
Part 2 Here - Some core skills needed

This is Part 3 - Big Company or Small Company?

I will publish a few more parts shortly.

On Saturday, 24-March, 2012, I had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion at the Silicon Valley Product Camp on how to break into product marketing and product management.  Jennifer Doctor and Faisal Nisar were my co-panelists and I can <hand over my heart> say that it was a successful session.  The room was set for 60 and about 80 or more people crowded into the room or watched from the hallway.  It was supposed to end at noon and I finally shook hands with the last attendee at about 12:30.

Here are the slides I presented on SlidesShare. 

Here's some market research I did - oh if only it were true...

Before you think there is a magic path or simple, clearly defined way to get into the product professions, let me just state this disclaimer: ACTUAL RESULTS MAY VARY.  If it were that easy, then there wouldn't be so many discussions on how to get into the profession.  Some people fall into it, others diligently work their way into it. 

So on to the main topic this week: Is it easier to get into the product professions at big companies or small companies?

Well, that depends.

Big Companies

Big companies tend to have more entry-level or assistant-X positions available as they have more things to do or lower-level corners of the their product portfolios where the PM or PMM requirements aren't as stringent.  The pay rate for these roles is going to be lower than full-fledged positions so be aware before you leap.  Also, there are more opportunities to transfer into the role within a big company as there tend to be more 'adjacent' roles where you interact with PM or PMM regularly and can help out directly on relevant projects.  Jumping departments can be a matter of an internal recommendation and away you go. 

However, there are several caveats to transferring from another department in big companies.  First, will you be burning any bridges by moving?  Simply asking your boss for a transfer may be a career limiting move in and of itself.  Be clear on this one.  The seond concern is the danger of only being known for what you currently do - the dreaded pidgeonholing.  "Bob's a great guy but he's just a tech support wonk or <fill in the blank>."  You are so good at what you do that they can't imagine you in any other role.  If either of these situations is real, then you'll have to look outside your current company.

Small Companies

Small companies are great for creating PM and PMM opportunities just be being there.  Oftentimes you can just work your way into the slot simply by picking up an oar and rowing.  The smaller the company, the less likely core product activities get done and anyone who just does them because they need doing will be well suited to creating the role for themselves.  If you can stand the pace and volatility and have the extra time to do a proper job on product activities.

The downside is that you may not have enough time to do extra jobs or do them properly.  You might also get asked, "Do you really have the time to do this when we've hired you to do X?" Also a potentially career limiting move.

Both options are viable ways to work yourself into the professions - and they both have their drawbacks, too. 

Key Take-Aways:
  • There's always options to move your product career forward, some better than others.
  • Jen and Faisal are great folks to be with on a panel.
Next Up: Getting experience at the professions without having experience.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why VC's Need Marketing

I heard about a marketing position at a venture capital firm and it got me thinking about why any venture capital firm would need marketing.  Doesn't everybody know who they are and why they would want to do business with them?  I put on my product marketing hat and took a look at some of the better known ones around and it became fairly apparent why they could use some marketing help.


By and large, most firms have very nice, clean websites with well-executed and dynamic photos of their partners and founders at many of their portfolio firms.  Great.  At least they don't scrimp on image. 

There's also clear and easy to find examples of their portfolio companies so you know who they are funding.  Fine.

They also list the sectors where they choose to invest.  If they don't invest in my sector, I know to move on.

But it falls off after that. 

I have a friend who's at the stage where he is seeking either angel funding or venture funding, so I started looking at these firms from his standpoint - I started thinking like a buyer to analyze these firms. 

  1. Why should he buy from any of the firms?
    Hmm.  Don't see anything on any of their web sites that tells me why he'd want to choose any of them over another.  They talk a lot about themselves and other features like amount of capital under management, etc. but little about why they are different.  Not much to differentiate there.
  2. How does he buy from any of them?
    Good question.  They all have a Contact page but very few go beyond that.  Does he ring them up and hope?  Is email a better way to start? 

    One says, "Please
    contact us if you think that we could be the right partner for you."  Do I use my Ouija Board or choose them based on the quality of their profile photos or amount of capital undermanagement or number of winners vs losers?  Maybe it's whether or not they answer the phone.  Any guesses?

    Here's another. "All business plan submissions must include a clear description of your operations and current progress."

    To be fair, Kleiner Perkins does a great job
    here.  They spell out exactly what they are looking for from people and how to structure it.  On the down side, they have a withering array of partners in numerous sectors so it's still not clear who my friend should approach nor exactly what the first step is.

    Fred Wilson blogged about Office Hours a while ago but I'll be jiggered if I can find where they are listed on the Union Square web site.  If I hadn't read his blog, I wouldn't know he was accessible and my friend could just ring him up.
  3. How does he engage with them to learn more and help his buying decision?
    As the general perception is you only have one shot with any particular VC, I see this as a key item to figure out.  Several VCs have blogs where you can read what they are thinking or find important and Fred Wilson is pretty diligent about responding to comments in his blog.  But he seems to be the exception.

    All the partners at one of the major firms blog regularly on their web site.  There's only one problem: they are one-way blogs.  There's no facility for comments or further dialog.  You might be able to have a conversation in the Twitterverse but that has its limitations.  Strange.
Based on my highly unscientific analysis, I CAN see why a VC firm would want to have marketing help.  They all could use help in making it easier for founders to engage with them, buy their investment services and get to know them.  It could increase deal flow, help both sides get to 'No' a whole lot faster and deepen the understanding of how this component of our economy really works.

Next Up: Results from my Silicon Valley Product Camp session on how to break into product marketing and product management.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Essential Skills

Wow!  Thanks to everyone who posted (or lurked) last week on how they got into product marketing or product management.  There were some great stories.

I especially liked TimthePM's blogs on his story and his own survey about getting into product management.

This week I'd like to discuss the essential skills for these careers.  Every job posting has a bunch of things listed for the skills desired.  This excerpt is quite indicative of what I've seen in job postings:

"...a deep understanding of both the technology space and the business context, a highly intelligent and strategic mindset, a creative marketing instinct, combined with “six-sigma” execution ability."

I'm not exactly sure how anyone measures these attributes, let alone discovers them in a job interview, but this is an ideal view of either role. 

Here is my short list of essential skills anyone in either product management or product marketing needs to have.

  1. The ability to Write
    If you can't put coherent thoughts into readable sentences, then this isn't a career space for you. 
  2. The ability to Present
    You have to be comfortable, effective and engaging presenting either in front of small groups - as in a sales setting - or to executives or to analysts or to large groups.  Period.
  3. The ability to Analyze
    This can be either quantitatively or qualitatively, but you have to be able look at all the data you have and make supportable conclusions from it all.  Whether it's where leads are falling out of your pipeline (and why) or hearing the third customer say the same thing (just using different words), you have to be able to figure out what it means and take action.
  4. The ability to Question
    Asking questions - and going beyond the obvious answer to the "So what?" or "Why would anyone care?" questions is another core skill.  This gets you beyond the popularity contests to the things that really matter to your buyers or market.
  5. The ability to Listen
    We were engineered with two ears and one mouth for a reason.  Both Product Marketing and Product Management disciplines need to be able to closely listen to what people are saying to hear the truth, what's really bothering them or what's truly important to them.
Those are my essential skills for Product Marketing and Product Management.  I believe they are applied differently or for different reasons in each discipline but they remain core to being successful.

That's my considered opinion.  I'd like to hear your views on the subject.

And please vote for my session at Silicon Valley Product Camp. Many Thanks!
Next Up: The paths into Product Marketing and Product Management