So you’re looking to hire a product marketer…
If you’re looking to fill a product marketing role in Kitchener-Waterloo, then you might have noticed a problem: there aren’t enough product marketers to go around.
In Kitchener-Waterloo, there aren’t enough product marketers to go around
I suppose you can take some solace in the fact that you’re not alone, and it’s not personal—in just the past couple of weeks I’ve spoken directly with a number of marketing leaders who find themselves in the same situation (and I’ve indirectly heard of about as many).
Some have had product marketing positions posted for months, with nary a qualified applicant—and these are well-known companies with good reputations.
In this post, I’ll cover why you’re having problems attracting qualified product marketing candidates and I’ll outline some options available to you to address your product marketing needs in both the short and long term.
So, what gives?
The simple truth is that there’s a market gap in KW: the demand for product marketers outstrips the supply.
This situation is the natural consequence of the long-overdue collective realization that product marketing matters. Seemingly all at once, the region’s companies realized that they need something that isn’t quite product management, and isn’t quite marketing communications…but not enough product marketers have come through the ranks to balance supply with demand.
Not enough product marketers have come through the ranks to balance supply with demand.
And, unfortunately, it’ll take anywhere from a few years to a decade or so to reach equilibrium (I mean, barring some sort of tech ‘bubble’ ‘bursting’, but that would never happen (again)).
Fine, but why should we listen to you?
Before I go on, here’s a bit of context for those of you who don’t know me: for a number of years, I built and led Sandvine’s product marketing team. Excluding BlackBerry and OpenText, we were possibly (maybe probably?) the largest B2B product marketing team in the region. For a few years we averaged 6-7 people, and we served a truly global market for a publicly traded company:
- with something like 100 salespeople distributed around the world
- hundreds of customers
- dozens (maybe hundreds? my recollection is fuzzy) of channel partners
- whose annual revenue topped $200 million USD before I left
Over the years, I did a lot of hiring, and I wanted to share some insights gained from that experience.
OK, so what are my options?
Let’s recap the situation: you’ve had a job post up for months and aren’t getting enough—sometimes any—’qualified’ candidates.
You’ve got a few options (some of which can be combined…we’ll touch on that).
Option #1: Keep waiting…and waiting
Unless you’re a fan of not getting any product marketing work done, or you’re hiring in anticipation of a distant future need, then this strategy—in isolation—is not a good one.
Why? Because the supply-demand balance in the region won’t reach equilibrium in your hiring timeframe.
The supply-demand balance in the region won’t reach equilibrium in your hiring timeframe.
Option #2: Don’t do product marketing functions
This approach is dumb, and I shan’t even humour it with an explanation.
Option #3: Have other people in your organization handle product marketing functions
OK, at least you want the work done, which is good. But presumably your people are already quite busy, so asking them to take on these additional functions has two unfortunate consequences:
- Their existing functions suffer
- The product marketing work is poor
If you’re just starting to build a product marketing function, then this second consequence can have long-lasting ramifications. Instead of accepting that the results are poor because of poor implementation, the organization might just go “Oh, I guess product marketing isn’t all that” and decide it’s not needed, which is dumb and short-sighted (see Option #2, above).
Also, over anything longer than a short burst, you’ll only burn your people out…either their work will suffer and/or they’ll leave. Neither’s a good result.
So here’s what I’d say: at best (intentional bold, underline, italics!), this approach is a very short-term, stop-gap ‘strategy’ with potentially destructive unforeseen consequences.
Option #4: Leverage some outside help
Without getting all sales-pitchy (Cromulent has a long history of not doing sales pitches!), I’ll say that, yes, this approach really is an option. And, frankly, it’s an option more companies should consider. Standing alone, it’s much better than the first three options, but—more importantly—it can augment whatever option you choose.
Yes, leveraging outside help for product marketing functions really is an option. And, frankly, it’s an option more companies should consider.
While some things are certainly a bit tougher to outsource than others, here are some functions and tasks for which outsourcing is a completely reasonable and realistic option:
- Developing marketing strategies: launch, go-to-market, competitive, etc.
- Crafting product and solution positioning and messaging
- Formalizing value propositions
- Developing marketecture
- Creating content plans
- Producing technical marketing programs and resources, including whitepapers and technology showcases
- Producing collateral (e.g., presentations, brochures, infosheets, etc.)
- Planning and executing thought leadership programs
- Developing sales enablement strategies and resources
- Blogs, articles, and so on
Those are all things we’ve done for our clients (if you’re skeptical, then I encourage you to go poke through our success stories).
Option #5: Adjust your hiring criteria
Let me relay my own experience.
One day I had a job opening and I thought, “Y’know what? This whole technical degree restriction is stupid. Why the hell are we doing it? It’s nothing but classic self-aggrandizing tech BS!”
When I took over the product marketing team, our job requirements insisted that applicants have a technical degree, and we specifically called out computer engineering and computer science. We’d also write out a long, boring list of additional requirements, many of which were extremely technically oriented (I see similar lists in the posts for jobs around the region today).
For my first couple of forays into hiring, I blindly followed this approach, and I really struggled to find candidates who would succeed in what is ultimately a communications role. I even hired a few who had all the technical pedigree, but then couldn’t handle the non-technical functions of the job—and, let’s face it, most of the functions are non-technical. Or, at least, they should be if you’re operating in a market-oriented, outside-in manner.
Then one day I had a job opening and I thought, “Y’know what? This whole technical degree restriction is stupid. Why the hell are we doing it? It’s nothing but classic self-aggrandizing tech BS!”
I asked myself, based on my observations and experience, what characteristics best prepare people for success in a product marketing role?
I identified three things:
- The ability to communicate: prepare a narrative, be able to write, and be a competent speaker/presenter (it’s a hell of a lot more likely that a great communicator can learn your tech than it is that a strong engineer will become a great communicator)
- The ability to understand and explain complex subjects: can you develop an understanding, and can you break something down and explain it to a non-expert (one candidate explained the mechanics of motorcycles, comparing and contrasting different designs)
- Interest in what we do: many aspects of the job aren’t easy, for various reasons, and an intrinsic interest will drive you forward; plus, it’ll lead you to learn about the market and our customers, and champion their problems and goals within our organization
What characteristics actually best prepare people for success in a product marketing role?
Specifics, like Pragmatic Marketing certification, industry knowledge, and an understanding of your products and technology can all be learned on the job. Again, it’s a lot easier for an adult to learn these specifics than it is for an adult to suddenly develop great communication skills.
I also realized that it was unrealistic—at the time, in this region—to expect candidates to have three-to-five, five-to-seven, or whatever-to-whatever years of product marketing experience. Instead, I valued experience which would translate/transfer into product marketing, and I trusted that I could help new hires ramp-up.
Practically, I opened up my loose ‘experience’ criterion to include roles which were adjacent to or interacted with product marketing.
I knew first-hand the value of adjacent experience: for whatever it’s worth, I worked in product management for 5-ish years (can’t be bothered to look it up) before I moved into product marketing.
In particular, I looked for:
- Marketing communications
- Product management
- Sales engineering
…but I didn’t rule out people who didn’t have experience in those domains.
This region’s actually got a lot of marketing talent, but many folks work in other industries—if you think their skills won’t translate, then you still don’t truly appreciate what marketing is.
Also, I didn’t require tech company domain experience, and that increased my supply. This region’s actually got a lot of marketing talent, but many folks work in other industries—if you think their skills won’t translate, then you still don’t truly appreciate what marketing is. Again, it’s classic techie “But we’re sooo different and sooo special” thinking, and it’s self-destructive.
These changes meant that, quite literally, my job posts went from being two long, boring, unremarkable, overly prescriptive pages—you know the ones I mean, they’re what almost every company uses today—to being three clear paragraphs:
- Here are the objectives of the product marketing at Sandvine, and here are the other teams with whom we work directly
- Here are the three things we’re looking for: ability to communicate, ability to explain technical subjects, passion for what we do
- Here are a few things we consider assets, but which we don’t require
The result? I’d solved my supply problem, instantly! Instead of attracting only a couple of realistic candidates, I started getting inundated—the change in hiring criteria opened a much larger candidate pool, full of talented people who I never would’ve met or considered, otherwise.
I’d solved my supply problem, instantly! Instead of attracting only a couple of realistic candidates, I started getting inundated.
Crucially, this change in approach let me continue to build out the team with capable and high-potential hires even as other companies were waking up to the need for product marketing—which, of course, increased demand and limited supply.
First, I think we need to recognize the underlying dynamics of the product marketer supply-demand situation: the demand is at least a few years ahead of the supply, and that’s not gonna suddenly change.
Second, I suggest you pick an approach—one or more of the options outlined above—which lets you best address your product marketing needs, both now and in the future (i.e., without sacrificing either).
Personally, I recommend a combination of Option #5 and Option #4: adjust your hiring criteria, so you can fill your openings for the long term, but be open to bringing in an outsider to help in the short term.
For whatever it’s worth, we’ve had quite a few clients take this approach: they use our services in parallel with recruiting/hiring; many even continue to rely on us for specialized, difficult, or time-sensitive projects as their new hires are ramping up or when the team’s already operating at full capacity.
Agree with the above? Disagree? Just like leaving angry comments on the Internet? Then use our comment function, below.
Or (excluding the angry people), feel free to ping me to set up a conversation over coffee.