If you’ve ever seen a company with well-choreographed events, great customer stories, well-informed sales and marketing teams, and just great pitches, they’ve probably got a great product marketing team working behind the scenes. They aren’t often seen from the outside, but product marketing teams form the bedrock of many successful companies today. If you’re a startup, you need to build a product marketing team. In the latest episode of The Orbit Shift Podcast, we unpack what the role is all about with Kevin Murray, VP of Product Marketing at Freshworks.
Kevin is an experienced marketing professional with more than 20 years of senior strategic marketing under his belt. He’s worked across functions, including product management and product marketing in the cloud, SaaS, enterprise IT infrastructure, security, and mobility markets.
In this episode, Kevin walks us through each of his four Ps of product marketing and how companies can leverage them. He talks about how companies can perfect their pitch with the right messaging, set up plays with repeatable sales motions, build analyst relations and get proof in the marketplace, and avoid random acts of marketing by having a comprehensive plan that brings all stakeholders together.
Q. Kevin, you have an interesting framework around product marketing, which is the four Ps of product marketing. Tell us about these four Ps.
Kevin: The four Ps of product marketing are designed to support an organization that is trying to sharpen its messaging, get more organized around plays and effectively orchestrate the go-to-market.
The four Ps of product marketing are simple. The first one is the ‘pitch’. That’s about your messaging. What stories do you tell? How human are they? How powerful are they? And how do they bring to life the value that customers get out of what you’re offering?
The second P is the ‘play’. This is where you have to enable the sales team and your partners to have a repeatable sales motion. In other words, delivering a story in a way that resonates with the persona that we’re trying to connect with and have them effectively move through the sales process so that it doesn’t waste anyone’s time.
The third P is the ‘proof’. The proof is about how you use the voice of the customer, and also the voice of the industry, in your storytelling and in your go-to-market.
The last P is what I call the ‘plans’. It’s the orchestration of working with the campaign and demand gen teams to build a solid pipeline or drive influence.
Q. How do you approach a story to build a pitch?
Kevin: In any great story, there’s always the establishment of some kind of hero and villainy. The hero can be in our business, it can be a customer, and the villainy is typically some adversity that manifests. Whether it challenges them to get their job done or it’s an industry challenge.
Establishing the hero and the villain is not just reserved for the Marvel comic universe. It’s something we can establish in our business as well. For example, in the world of technology – broken promises around cloud software, that’s the villain in the Freshworks story. So you can see that when you start to break it down in a simple way around simple concepts like heroes and villains, the story begins to unfold. And it can be a compelling thing for our customers to see.
Q. And what’s a great way to articulate your company’s value?
Kevin: You have to go to the very end of the story to understand the value. Features and capabilities are things that you have to introduce at the right time in the conversation. You shouldn’t lead a conversation with, ‘hey, we can do X’. You have to fast forward to the end of a great story. What is the end result of a great story?
For example, what the customer cares the most about is getting a return on their investment. Then what you want to lead with is ‘customers just like you see a 350% return on investment in the first six months. Does that sound interesting to you?’
Talk about the end result first. And then everything after that is about how they got there. That’s a powerful way to get a customer interested in talking to you.
Q. How do you go about building your plays?
Kevin: First and foremost, they start with what the priorities of the business are. I like to start with getting aligned with the leadership team on what the top business priorities are for a given product or line of business.
Let’s say in the mid-market; we want to land with a certain product. So the priority is net new logos for this particular product in this particular segment. We have to start from there and build our play around that. What value proposition do we have for this persona in that segment of the market?
Suppose you have anywhere between three products to 50 products in your portfolio. You don’t need 50 different plays. What you need is eight to 10 plays that focus on the business priorities of groupings of those products.
Ideally, you should have a portfolio-based approach where you bring multiple products into a single value proposition for a single persona. You want to make sure that your selection of plays for a given fiscal year is an achievable number.
So start with the priorities of the business, identify the persona and the segment. You’re going to need to tune it for the industry as well if that makes sense to you from a messaging perspective, but typically, you’re just going to focus on the persona and that segment you’re trying to go after.
Then after you build your value proposition and your messaging against that, you enable the sales team to effectively pitch just as well as the product marketer that created the message.
Q. Talk to us about proof and how a startup can display proof.
Kevin: I would start with the notion that most prospects are skeptical of vendor claims. If you operate under that assumption, you can’t just tell a prospect what you do and how you do it. You need some validation or legitimacy behind that. That proof is most convincing when it’s in the voice of a customer that is a lot like that prospect.
Ideally, you should have a robust reference management system where you’re pairing up customers and prospects, and they’re sharing their challenges and stories. But it’s hard to do that if you’re a growing business. So you have to cultivate some great heroic stories told by customers that love telling their story.
Sometimes it’s great for the customer to tell that story because they want to talk about their company and how their company is doing well and growing. And they’ll attribute some of that success to working with a trusted vendor. They also see the value in sharing their story because they have career aspirations as well, and they want to be known in the industry as a thought leader and a high performer. So there’s a win-win associated with this.
Q. How do you go about setting a plan?
Kevin: In American football, we have the role of the quarterback. This is the person that gets the snap of the football and then has to either pass the ball downfield or hand it off to someone to run the ball. There’s a set of orchestrated plays that the quarterback follows in collaboration with the coaching staff. The coaching staff says, we’re going to run this play at this time, and the quarterback is responsible for executing it. Sometimes the play works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
But what happens is, the more prepared you are, the more you understand who you’re competing against. If you can execute your go-to-market plans in collaboration with the other players on the field, like the campaign team, the PR and communications team, the partner marketing team, etc., suddenly you’ve got this well-oiled orchestrated machine.
That’s all the plans are. They’re this collaborative execution of the plays across multiple functions inside and outside of marketing so that you can ultimately get to the goal.
Q. How do you measure success when it comes to these four Ps
Kevin: Measurement is critical to constant improvement and reporting back to the organization. Without it, marketing can get into this subjective grading. You want specific data points that help you understand whether your messages resonate or your plays are working.
I’ll start with the pitch. If you’ve got a team of salespeople that are out there delivering these pitches, you better understand whether or not they’re comfortable delivering it or if it’s resonating with the customer. If you have a large number of salespeople, you can use a survey. If you’ve got a smaller set of salespeople, that’s a quick conversation. So survey the field, check in with them, see if that message is landing, and you’ll know whether or not you’ve got a great pitch.
For the plays, if you’re instituting repeatable plays, you have to ask yourself, why are you doing it? Typically, they want two things in a sales organization: bigger deal sizes and quicker deal velocity. So you need to measure this with your average deal size and the time taken for a prospect to travel all the way down the funnel to become a customer.
Q. What about proof? How do you measure proof?
Kevin: The measurement of the proof is about those heroic customer stories I talked about earlier. That’s how you measure whether or not your customers are truly happy. You can go even deeper into things like customer satisfaction and NPS, but I look at do we have great stories to tell in events or on our website?
On the analyst side, there are very well-known analyst firms out there like Gartner and Forrester. And what you want to do is you want to embark on a relationship with those analysts; that is two-way. You don’t always want to be trying to influence the analyst and say how great you are. You want to mine them for feedback and co-create your messaging in the field. Analysts are typically experienced and informed professionals. Therefore, if you make your relationship two-way with these folks, you wind up benefiting both ways.
So heroic customer stories and analysts’ sentiment is how I would measure the proof.
Q. How should founders look at building a product marketing team?
Kevin: It depends. Sometimes, the founder has a background in product marketing. So they don’t necessarily need to hire a product marketing leader.
But if the founder is unfamiliar with some of the things I’ve talked about today, it’s good to bring in a head of marketing that has a background in product marketing, that can do a lot of these things and create a great story and pitch deck and can orchestrate a couple of key sales plays.
Critically, as the company grows and you start getting into the hundreds of employees, that’s where you have to get organized, or else the energy and the fervor of the business’s success are going to create fragmentation. And it’s going to create random acts of marketing. When you have a lot of people doing a bunch of random things, you become much less efficient. You become noisy in the market, where you’re hammering your customer base, you’re hammering social media, and you’ve got a bunch of different brand identities and a bunch of different messages.
So as you grow, the more quickly you bring in a single person to lead that effort and focus your growth on effective and efficient plays, messaging, and your brand identity.
Q. If our listeners want to follow your work, how can they do that?