Wondering how to become a PMM? Product marketing is one of the newest and most impactful roles within an organization. As a product marketing manager (PMM), you influence most areas of the organization including product, design, sales, support, and, of course, marketing.
Given how new and versatile the role is, product marketing management is also probably the least standardized role in tech companies, which makes the process of becoming a PMM quite obtuse and vague.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll help to illuminate your path of breaking into product marketing management.
What kind of education do you need to be a PMM?
Almost all companies require product marketing managers to have at least an undergraduate degree. That degree doesn’t have to be in marketing, but it certainly helps. Product marketing is actually the function for which a traditional marketing degree most prepares you since it covers many of the core marketing responsibilities including messaging, positioning, pricing, and market research.
The part that makes product marketing management different from other marketing roles is the technical (aka “product”) piece to the equation. Because the profession is technical, often successful product marketing managers have technical skills, like backgrounds in computer science or data analysis. Some other common degrees for PMMs include journalism or English.
Should I get an MBA?
While not required, an MBA does provide an advantage for breaking into product marketing since business schools help develop strategic thinking and marketing fundamentals. Big tech companies, who look for more differentiated candidates, are especially likely to prefer MBA candidates for PMM roles.
That said, the decision about getting an MBA or not isn’t the critical one. The most valuable aspect of a PMM candidate’s background is relevant, on-the-job experience.
What skills do I need as a product marketing manager?
Product marketers need a mix of interpersonal, communication, creative, and analytical skills in order to be successful.
Interpersonal skills are important because product marketing is likely one of the most collaborative roles within an organization. PMMs work alongside and influence product managers, designers, sales representatives, customer support representatives, and other marketing functions. Successful product marketing managers understand the needs of those different functions and how to work with them.
Product marketers are expected to clearly communicate, whether through writing copy for the marketing website or blog posts for product launches. Within some organizations, product marketing managers are also expected to give press interviews or present at conferences.
Product marketers are also expected to be creative. PMMs work alongside others in the marketing organization to create marketing campaigns to drive product adoption, and an ability to think creatively is vital. Creative thinking enables product marketers to provide valuable input during the product design process, an important cross-functional collaborative partnership.
Finally, the analytical skills are probably what set product marketing management apart the most from other marketing functions. Product marketers need to be able to review data from research, product tests, and marketing campaigns, and then synthesize it to share the most valuable insights with the broader team. Product marketing managers understand technical aspects of how the product works and share that information in a way that the marketing team, sales team, and customers can understand. This background knowledge is helpful when evaluating and analyzing competitive risk, a core product marketing function.
How do I get product marketing experience?
The best way to get PMM experience is by taking on more relevant responsibilities within your current organization, if possible. That task tends to be much easier within a smaller organization. A smaller organization is less likely to have a fully developed marketing team which means they may not have a product marketer yet or their product marketing team (many times just one person) is too busy to handle all of the work. That gives you the opportunity to “pick up the slack” a bit and learn while doing.
Start by having a conversation with your manager to seek their advice on the transition. Most effective managers want to help you along in your career path even if that means changing roles, teams, or even companies. Before your meeting with your manager, think about some skills and projects that might help build your PMM skillset. This advice works best if you’re already performing well in your current job function.
What type of extra responsibilities should I take on?
If you’re able to get direct experience with the core tenants of product marketing such as messaging, positioning, pricing, market research, and go-to-market strategy, then I would definitely start there. Usually, that’s not an option, so instead, try to get experience in related activities.
For growth marketers, use ad and landing page testing to help product marketing by testing messaging and positioning. Start developing expertise in search engine optimization (SEO) - this is often an invaluable addition to the team, since your company’s website is the most important place for product messaging. Also, as a growth marketer, you are likely already involved in executing the go-to-market plan - start offering your thoughts and opinions from a strategic perspective.
If you’re more of a social, content marketing, or public relations specialist, try to get more involved in product launches. Offer to write the blogs or press releases announcing new features. Especially if your product marketer is not as strong of a writer, they may be open to providing you with talking points to include in a blog post and letting you take a first pass with them. If product marketing currently writes social media posts for launches and other product-related communication, you can also proactively give suggestions.
If you’re in a social media, customer support, or sales role, you’re on the front lines of the company. This gives you the ability to gather customer feedback which is essentially qualitative market research. You may also be able to do a bit of competitor research. Both of these are valuable to product marketing. Take it one step further by asking questions to get more detail than general feedback from your customers. Dig into the “why” behind their perspective, and report back to the team with unique, valuable insight from the front lines.
For those in consulting, try to find projects working with companies in an industry with product marketing managers such as tech. Most of the work that consultants do actually translates really well to product marketing. For instance, working on pricing for a consumer packaged goods (CPG) company gives you the pricing experience that others trying to break into product marketing don’t have. Even better, experience with creating a SaaS pricing model would be directly applicable to a PMM role.
How do I learn more about product marketing without changing my job?
Many organizations, especially larger organizations, also have training budgets for online or in-person classes and/or attending conferences. Even if your organization doesn’t have a formal policy, you may still be able to ask, especially if the cost is small. This is another great conversation to have with your manager.
Even without a training budget, you can expand your product marketing knowledge through organizations like Product Marketing Alliance (PMA) and Product Marketing Community. Product Marketing Alliance and Product Marketing Community both have multiple ways for you to learn more about product marketing including blogs and events. PMA also has a podcast and Slack Community. Your city may also have a local organization such as San Francisco Product Marketing Meetup for more frequent and free local events which are great for networking.
Are there any other ways to make it easier to break into product marketing?
Just like the name says, product marketing management is the marriage of both product and marketing (hence why the function is found in either the marketing or product departments). That means that in addition to expanding your marketing experience and skills, you also need to expand your understanding of the product and engineering side.
The best way to become knowledgeable in the more technical aspects of product marketing is to get more face time with the engineering team. A great way to do this is to attend product demos, use the beta version of your product, and/or participate in bug bashes to gain a deeper understanding of how the product works and what updates are coming. Consider talking to members of the engineering team about the product including asking questions about how things work or what features they’re personally working on. In addition to expanding your technical knowledge, you’re also building a stronger relationship with the engineering and product teams. The ability to build strong relationships with cross-functional team members is a requirement to be an effective product marketer.
If you don’t currently work at a technology company, then you won’t have an engineering team to help you gain the more technical knowledge. In that case, I’d suggest finding meetups and events for the technology industry you’re into. You probably won’t understand everything that’s going on, but you’ll learn that over time. For instance, if you’re interested in mobile app companies, then start finding mobile app meetups. Start by watching live streams of the developer conferences that big companies like Apple (WWDC), Facebook (F8), Microsoft (Build), and Google (I/O) host every year.
Anything else I can do?
My last suggestion is a pretty universal one, and that’s to network with people in the role that you want, especially within your current organization. Learn about their path to becoming a product marketer and see what you can learn. If there isn’t anyone at your current company, look for people on LinkedIn to whom you’re connected or who attended your university, and reach out to them. I’m also more than happy to field any follow up questions to this blog if you comment below!
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