Why You Should Consider a Career as a Product Marketing Manager

Written for schools.com on December 7, 2009

Most graduates from top schools tend to gravitate toward management consulting or finance.  Although few graduates pursue (or are even aware of) product marketing, a product marketing manager position can offer one of the most rewarding and valuable professional experiences for recent graduates.  I have been a product marketing manager (PMM) at a rapidly-growing software company for over two years.  I want to take this opportunity to explain the role in more detail to provide coaching to recent graduates who may be considering various careers.

What Is A Product Marketing Manager Responsible For?

A product marketing manager is responsible for defining and executing the Go-To-Market (GTM) plan for various products and solutions.

Responsibilities for a PMM include:

  • Determining the target audience and market opportunity for a product
  • Developing the positioning, pricing, packaging and marketing plan for a product
  • Helping train sales representatives and partners to sell the product

As a product marketing manager:

1.  You learn to think strategically.  Before taking a product to market, PMMs have to determine where their product fits in the market and the most effective way to introduce the product into the marketplace.  PMMs have to understand their market, competitors, and potential buyers to determine the best route to market.  As a result, PMMs learn to become strategic, big-picture thinkers.  As a PMM, I have evaluated many strategic opportunities such as introducing new products to market, entering tangential markets, and closing strategic deals with our OEM partners.

2. You learn what it takes to successfully execute against a strategy.  PMMs cannot stop after defining a good strategy, as they are also responsible for successfully executing that strategy.  Although most of my projects as a PMM involve a great deal of strategic thinking, I can't think of a single project in which my metrics for success were related to the quality of the initial strategy.  On the contrary, all of my projects have been evaluated by the success of the execution plan, such as revenue, leads generated, or the number of customers reached.  What works in theory can differ drastically from what works in experience.  A pure focus on strategy puts you at risk of becoming too naive about what can actually be achieved and how it can be achieved.  Being involved in execution helps you become a better strategist; you come to understand the real-life limitations of your strategy and refine your strategy to achieve better results in the future.   

3.  You learn how to sell products and influence people.  PMMs are ultimately responsible for generating revenue, which requires selling.  You have to know how to sell your product by speaking to customers often in large forums.  You also have to train a large sales field how to sell your product, since the sales field ultimately closes all deals.  In addition, PMMs learn how to influence other people.  Once PMMs develop the right product strategy, they have to influence various business functions to align with that strategy and lend their group's resources to execute against the strategy.  Therefore, PMMs gain experience selling their products to the end buyer as well as influencing other people to help sell their product.  After having been a PMM for over two years, I can see a notable improvement in my sales skills -- skills that I will undoubtedly use in any future leadership role.  

4.  You learn about all aspects of business.  PMMs have to work with many organizational functions to define and execute a Go-To-Market (GTM) plan.  Even a mid-size business will have dedicated teams responsible for field marketing (lead generation), sales training, partner training, alliances, product support, web marketing, etc.  To successfully take a product to market, PMMs have to interface with each of these organizations to help define their relevant portion of the GTM plan and execute against it.  As a result, PMMs intimately understand most aspects of business involved in turning a product into revenue.  This type of broad business understanding can take several years to acquire in most other positions; however, PMMs can gain this experience in a relatively short period of time due to the nature of their role.     

5.  You learn to think like a business owner.  PMMs are often responsible for defining and delivering on a given product's revenue targets.  Due to the broad nature of this responsibility, PMMs have to really own the business to be successful.  In essence, PMMs learn to think like general managers for their products.  

How to Prepare for A Product Marketing Manager Interview

A product marketing manager position can prepare you for a leadership role in the future.  However, it is not easy for recent graduates to acquire even entry level product marketing manager positions.  If you secure an interview for a PMM role, make sure you are prepared.  Here is my advice on how to prepare:

1.  Understand basic marketing concepts by reading a marketing book or taking a marketing class.

2.  Do your homework to fully understand what the company does and sells and with whom they compete.  Study the company website in  great detail to gain a basic understanding of the company's products and value proposition.  It would also be useful to read a few articles and industry analyst reports about your company and market of interest.  Reports from financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs or analyst firms such as Gartner can give you a broad market perspective and help you understand the opportunities and risks for a given company.

3.  Be prepared for a case interview as many firms conduct case interviews, although I found the case interview experience to be less intense than that of management consulting firms, such as McKinsey or Bain.  You can find some useful cases if you visit management consulting firm websites or read case study books such as the ones listed in the MIT Case Interview Resoucess guide.  Be prepared for questions such as "how can we enter xyz market" or "pick a product and talk me through the steps involved in bringing that product to market" or "how can we improve xyz product's website and / or messaging?"

4.  Being a product marketing manager involves constant interaction with partners and customers. You will also be expected to deliver public presentations.  If you have a friendly personality and honed social skills, don't be afraid to let them come across in the interview!

5.  Finally, PMM roles and responsibilities can vary widely across companies and industries.  Make sure that you fully understand the product marketing function in your desired company.  Doing so will help you effectively prepare for the interview and ensure that the position is aligned with your career goals.