The #1 Defining Skill of Great Product Marketers (What it is and How to Master it)

Product Marketing Communication Skills

Latest research on the State of Product Marketing highlights the defining skills of great Product Marketers:

  • Strong communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity and problem solving
  • Strategic planning and business skills
  • Empathy and ability to connect with customers
  • Research and analytical skills
  • Content creation and copywriting

Above all other skills, strong communication was ranked as the most important skill a Product Marketer needs to possess.

As cross-functional connectors, Product Marketers must be able to effectively persuade, negotiate, and present information in a way that motivates meaningful action.

If a Product Marketer fails at effective communication, collaboration across product development, lead generation, sales enablement, service delivery, onboarding, and advocacy fall apart. This internal friction means fragmented customer experiences and an inability to innovate quickly based on the greatest customer needs.

For Product Marketers, strong communication means listening to and understanding customers at scale, using data to craft the product story and vision, rallying teams around the critical steps needed to deliver on changing market needs, and empowering frontline teams with the messaging they need to guide customers along their journey.

Developing strong communication requires several key things:

  • Deep listening
  • Empathy for customers and internal partners
  • An understanding of business impact
  • An acute focus on the audience
  • The ability to translate complex problems and needs into concise messages

What does strong communication look like in practice for Product Marketers?

For a Product Marketer to fulfill the full potential of their role, there has to be an emphasis on strengthening communication with stakeholders, peers, and customers.

What does strong communication look like in practice?

  • Speaking to Groups as Individuals
  • Active Listening
  • Translation of Messages Across Teams
  • Practicing Empathy
  • Articulating Business Impact

Speaking to Groups as Individuals

Product Marketers spend a lot of time in meetings. In many of these meetings, they’re synthesizing customer insights for teams to apply back to their projects or initiatives.

For these insights and recommendations to land, Product Marketers must deliver a message that resonates with each person in the room.

Example: Ideas for Speaking to Sales Teams

It’s not always easy keeping sales teams engaged, especially now that most of these meetings happen virtually. The distractions and opportunities to tune-out are amplified. But developing a collaboration strategy between Marketing and Sales is critical to growth.

This puts even more pressure on Product Marketers to ensure that their delivery is engaging from start to finish. The key? Keep the content focused on how you’re helping them meet their sales goals rather than on how great the new offer is.

  • Get their input ahead of time — what questions do they have? What have they found most helpful in the past or things they’d like to see? Start by demonstrating your understanding of what they’re up against.
  • Focus content on their goals — showcase the specific ways the new product, positioning, or compete messaging will help them close more deals.
  • Ask for their feedback and partnership — what are the channels they can use to communicate back what they’re hearing from prospects and customers?
  • Incorporate participation throughout your presentation — let them know that people will be called on for pop quizzes, examples, or ideas.
  • Incentivize the participation — incorporating gamification elements in your presentation. Think about a reward structure that encourages their attention during the presentation as well as adoption after.

When your content is structured to keep everyone engaged — and caters to a specific audience — you’ll be better equipped to keep their attention and drive intended outcomes.

Practicing Active Listening

Being a Product Marketer requires you to listen to customers as well as cross-functional teams to understand pain points and priorities.

Active listening is critical to gathering the information you need to inform and execute strategies.

Critical elements of active listening include:

  • Approaching the conversation from a place of neutrality
  • Practicing patience (not feeling the need to fill silence)
  • Providing verbal and nonverbal signs that you’re listening (smiling, nodding, eye contact, words of affirmation)
  • Asking clarifying questions
  • Reflecting back what is said
  • Summarizing the conversation and setting clear next steps

Not only is active listening important in making sure that the person you’re speaking with feels heard, but it’s also fundamental in ensuring that you leave the conversation with a clear understanding of what they need and the role you play in delivering on that need.

Example: How to Practice Active Listening in Customer Interviews

Customer interviews are a big part of the Product Marketer’s customer research process. These interviews uncover critical insights that drive growth decisions. Ensuring that these interviews are conducted in a way that uncovers the most important information and leaves the customer feeling heard is important.

  • Set clear expectations upfront. Make it clear that the objective is to learn about their experience so that you can identify the gaps that need to be addressed.
  • Don’t ask leading questions (leave out any bias). Keep your questions clear and simple, and give them time to think if they need to.
  • Don’t try to fill the silence. Give them time to think or provide more context before saying something – this allows them to go deeper because they feel like the floor is still their’s or because they want to fill the void. Either way, don’t rush to move on or take control of the conversation.
  • Stay engaged. Whether through body language or words of affirmation. Make sure the customer knows that you’re listening and that what they’re saying is important.
  • Repeat back to them. Reiterate the things they’ve said that you have found significant or interesting. Use this as an opportunity to ask for more context or detail and to ensure that you’ve appropriately understood what they said.
  • Finish with a follow-up. How will their feedback or interview be used? How can they be assured that their investment will spark change or be incorporated into business strategy?

Translating Customer Insights Across Teams

Product Marketers are constantly required to translate data and messages across teams.

As the connectors of product, marketing, sales, success, and strategy, Product Marketers have to connect the dots to ensure that what is built and delivered will have the ultimate impact.

Every frontline team should feel empowered to gather and share what they’re hearing from the field. It is the Product Marketer’s responsibility to build a culture and process that encourages gathering, sharing, and acting upon this information.

The best way to ensure that there is a consistent flow of communication and collaboration around the customer is to create a centralized hub for feedback sharing as well as a standing Voice of Customer meeting.

Having one source of truth for customer feedback is a powerful way to keep teams aligned around the customer.

Example: How to Communicate Key Customer Learnings More Broadly

Product Marketers are often tasked with communicating customer insights broadly across the organization. These customer insights are critical to company culture and decision making, but could easily go ignored if not delivered in a compelling way.

Get executive buy-in and bring together cross-functional stakeholders to review the insights and learnings before it’s shared more broadly. This also helps to ensure that the insights and feedback are owned by everyone.

  • Gather feedback across the journey so that the feedback is holistic and representative of the entire experience
  • Create supporting content, like short video clips from customers, that adds a story to the insights.
  • Give an overview of specific ways the insights are being gathered and used so that there are clear actions associated with the learnings.
  • Use visuals to give context into how the feedback has trended over time and is impacting specific business goals and decisions.

Using Empathy to Drive Decision Making and Positioning

To put it simply, empathy is to recognize and understand others perspectives on a situation.

It is critical for Product Marketers to use empathy when making roadmap, positioning, and journey decisions. Understanding customer needs and perspectives is core to a Product Marketer representing and advocating for the customer at every step of the journey.

Empathy helps us understand:

  • What message will resonate with a persona
  • Where the biggest white space opportunities are
  • Which markets are underserved
  • Why deals are won or lost
  • What the greatest value drivers are for customers
  • What resources are needed to best support customers

Example: Voice of Customer Copywriting and Positioning

Whether it’s a new product, feature, package, or partnership, Product Marketers are responsible for creating the positioning to tie the offer to customer value. This is a science more than it is an art.

Updating your positioning should be focused specifically on what will resonate most with your intended audience.

  • Motivations: What are their wants and needs?
  • Pain points: What problems would they like to fix?
  • Hesitations or anxieties: What concerns could stop them from taking action?
  • Motivational triggers: What spurs them to take action?
  • Priority: What matters most to them?

When it’s time to make tough choices about which benefits or pain points to include, knowing your customers’ priorities make those decisions much easier.

When you use the exact language your customers use, it’s not surprising that those words resonate with other, similar people: your prospects.

There are a variety of reasons and psychological principles that could explain why mirroring your customers’ language is so persuasive.

Articulating Product Marketing’s Business Impact

We hear often that Product Marketing struggles to get investment in comparison to other Marketing counterparts, like Demand.

The best way to overcome this is to tie everything to business results.

Lauren Culbertson advises that you prove how more PMM investment equates to more revenue:

  • Positioning and thought leadership = more leads
  • Sales enablement = more opportunities
  • Competitive intelligence = stronger win rates
  • Pricing strategy = higher revenue per customer
  • Voice of the customer = increased retention and referrals

Effectively communicating the impact of your work is essential to you getting a seat at the table, getting the resources and investments you need, and getting buy-in for testing new strategies and initiatives.

When there is clarity in your role and your contributions to revenue, getting buy-in and support becomes a lot easier.

Example: Setting revenue targets for your product and getting investment

Step 1: Look at the baseline:

  • How many units (new logos, upsells) did you sell last year?
  • At what price/ACV (average contract value)?
  • With how many resources?
    • Engineers focused on your product?
    • Demand gen focused on product?
    • Sales reps selling your product?
    • Product marketing focused on your product?
  • With existing resources, project how much you can grow this year
    • New features with existing engineers
    • Campaigns with existing demand
    • Units solds with existing channels (sales, online, partners)?

2. Chart Growth Levers

What are the levers that could grow the business? How much do each of the levers cost?

  • Engineers = more features = more demand
  • More demand = more leads
  • More sales reps = higher conversion rates
  • More product marketers =
    more effective product launches = increased TAM
  • New offers = increase ACV
  • Stronger enablement/positioning = increased conversion

3. Model the Growth Case

  • Total units with investment
  • Total ACV with investment
  • Total revenue with investment
  • Total investment

With this level of detail, you can make the case, negotiate the tradeoff, and show how PMM can increase business.

Overcoming Product Marketing barriers with strong communication

Some of the biggest issues that Product Marketers face in their role are a result of breakdowns in communication:

  • Ambiguity of the role
  • Being left out of strategic decision-making
  • Lack of visibility into customer needs at scale
  • Cross-functional friction

Overcoming these issues starts with an emphasis on strong communication. When you turn customer insights into actionable data, and rally teams around steps to address customer and business goals, you’ll define your role, secure a seat at the table, and align all teams around the customer.

Voice of Customer Reporting Template

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin