Learn how to create a strategic role for product marketing and get insight for dealing with the inevitable challenges and resistance.
In part one of this article, featured in Volume 5, Issue 1, I made the assertion that we, as product marketers, have an identity crisis on our hands—we’re misunderstood, misguided, and misaligned. As a result, our companies develop great products and services that are either missing their potential or failing altogether. Technology company executives have begun to establish product marketing functions that are separate from product management, but their wide-ranging expectations are rarely focused on strategy or the bottom line. Thus, we are usually confined to a tactical role supporting Sales and others, expending enormous resources on too many urgent tactics that are poorly measured and rarely appreciated. Uncertain about where our “turf” is located, we work in a state of reaction and firefighting, unable to contribute in a way that is truly meaningful to our companies or our careers.
In this article, the second of a two-part series, I’ll tell you how we were able to create a strategic role for product marketing and give you some insight into how we went through the change process and dealt with the inevitable challenges and resistance.
Change is neither quick nor painless, especially when the goal is to make a meaningful, lasting impact on a company’s structure and culture. And change doesn’t happen overnight. The first big hurdle is to admit that change needs to occur.
Here are the steps we took to influence our company and elevate the role of product marketing within our organization.
In part one of this article, I complained about the lack of decent books and schools that properly define and delineate the product marketing role. Research had provided many pieces of the puzzle, but the Pragmatic Marketing® Effective Product Marketing seminar put it all into focus with a clearly defined set of roles and responsibilities, plus the tools to collect and influence buying criteria, build a go-to-market strategy, align with the sales channels, and begin every program with the end in mind.
I also recommend reading Manage for Profit, Not for Market Share by Hermann Simon, Frank F. Bilstein, and Frank Luby (Harvard Business School Press). The premise is that corporations, in an attempt to increase profitability, must fundamentally shift their thinking to make people aware that market share does not equal profitability. Instead, they must now turn to tweaking their marketing mix—pricing in particular—instead of focusing on cost reduction or innovation.
An excerpt reads, “For decades, managers have been told that the answer [to increasing profitability] lies in pursuing high market share.” But [the authors] argue that “this misguided advice has destroyed, rather than created, an additional profit potential.” The book describes a practical, proven program for making significantly more money by reconfiguring the marketing mix to sell existing products and services in different ways. It also offers practical strategies to differentiate mature products, effectively raise prices, properly time promotional activities, better understand consumer preferences, and more.
I was fortunate because our management was responsive to my requests to re-evaluate the outbound product marketing role. I gathered together key stakeholders and delivered a PowerPoint presentation that summarized the Effective Product Marketing seminar. I saw it as a sales effort and recruited people from other teams to be part of the presentation, especially Product Management and Marketing Communications. This gave more weight to the new ideas and allowed us to set realistic expectations with management for project deliverables and timeframes.
If my management team hadn’t been so willing to listen, I think I could have achieved the same result, albeit more gradually, by selecting an existing program or high-visibility product launch and using the new ideas to get Sales, Marketing Communications, and Product Management working together.
The importance of executive-level support is reinforced in an article published in the June 2005 issue of CMO Magazine entitled “The Ultimate Bug Fix” by Rob O’Regan. The article outlines Microsoft’s plans to sustain its dominance in the digital era by working out the “kinks in its marketing machine.” The company started (and is still undergoing) a 10-year initiative to reinvent their massive worldwide marketing team in order to “institute a consistent customer value proposition across the organization.”
According to O’Regan, market conditions drove Microsoft to re-evaluate their success criteria. “As the PC software industry matured and they began branching out into new markets, the company woke up to a new reality: real competition emerged and garnered mind-share against them. The company’s marketing function, in particular, was ill-equipped to deal with the shifting landscape.” In July 2002, Steve Ballmer reorganized the company into seven business units focused on market segments, not products. Ballmer stated, “We were pretty product-centric in our marketing, which meant we weren’t always delivering a higher-level perspective on the value of technology in key areas.” However, they quickly realized there was a significant gap between the skills of existing marketing personnel and the expertise required to execute on the new, broader mandate. So in the spring of 2002, they formed a new training arm, called Microsoft Marketing Professional Development (MMPD), and challenged that group to develop their marketing competencies.
That Microsoft would undertake such a huge initiative speaks volumes about the importance of proper training and executive support for the marketing function. The results are evident. This year’s “people-ready” campaign is squarely focused on problems their customers need to solve, not products the company wants to sell.
Microsoft’s partners noted the change following their annual worldwide partner conference in October, 2006. In previous years, Microsoft had rolled out a stream of go-to-market campaigns touting Microsoft’s products for enterprise servers, infrastructure, or applications, but this year’s “customer campaigns” are reduced in number and targeted to business value. In fact, none of the 2007 campaigns includes a product name in the title.
Dave Morse is an expert in the areas of software development, product management, and marketing within high-tech companies. Having worked for successful organizations such as Aspect Communications, GetThere, CoolSign, Salesforce.com, and Made2Manage Systems, he has developed a detailed framework that can help companies reposition and revitalize the role of product marketing. To learn more, feel free to contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org.