Tuesday, July 26, 2022

5 Missteps New CMOs Should Avoid at Early-Stage B2B Companies

You’ve just landed a marketing leadership role at a Series-A or -B tech company – offering a SaaS product in the B2B space. 

During the interview process you’re told how great the product is, how unique it is in the market, how it blows-away the competition, and how it fills an un-yet met need. But, if you believe it all, be prepared to fail.  

I have to openly admit to having made just about all of the missteps below at some point in my career. So, I’m sharing these personal observations from 20+ years of leading marketing, product marketing, and product management teams in a number of small (and large) Enterprise B2B software/SaaS companies.  Think of this as a Getting-Started Playbook as an early-stage hire... or for that matter, as any type of marketing leadership hire.....


Sunday, May 2, 2021

Rethinking The Resume: How Marketers Should Market Themselves

If your resume doesn’t market you well, then expectations
of how you’ll do marketing for an employer will be just as low.  

I’ve interviewed countless marketing (and sales) candidates. And probably reviewed 50x as many resumes. 

What has struck me is how totally bland and generic 95% of them are.  For all the work people put into writing their CVs, it’s confounding how many are downright undifferentiated.

Then I thought: “Shit, I’m trying to hire a Marketing professional…  if they can’t market themself well, then they sure won’t be good at marketing for me”.

It struck me: Could it help to offer a Marketer’s interpretation on how to write a resume? It would be based on using basic marketing principles.  Gone would be all the BS we were told about using exciting verbs, acronyms, claims about team-orientation and collaborative skills, eagerness and energy.  

Instead, consider thinking about the CV as a “marketing data sheet” about you: You’re selling a unique, differentiated individual, with a career arc and set of achievements that will uniquely solve the hiring (and functional) need of the buyer (hiring manager). Plus, that document should use words and proof-points to catch the eye of the right buyer and pull them deeper into the details.

So I’ll propose an approach to (re)designing the CV the way a marketer would: 

  1. Positioning narrative and headline

  2. Articulate differentiation and uniqueness

  3. Focus on your buyers’ needs and persona

  4. Use proof-points and data… not claims

  5. Use keywords and think SEO

1. Positioning Narrative and Headline

Let me start at the beginning: The mindset you want to adopt when thinking about rewriting your resume is to start with the classic approach to writing a positioning statement (which you should adapt to your own situation) e.g. 

For companies in the xx category needing yy skills, <yournamehere> provides an exceptional zz record of accomplishments. Unlike the average Jane/Joe, <yournamehere> has shown they have and can deliver, and is likely to show increasing promise for you in the future… 

And if you don’t have a sense of how you want to position yourself, you’ll immediately fall into the trap of sounding generic. Frankly, I can’t stand seeing 2 things: Resumes that *don’t* have a line or two of summary, and resumes that say completely generic garbage, e.g.

Motivated marketing professional and team-player looking for a challenging opportunity with a growing company.

That approach tells the reviewer absolutely nothing.  Instead, consider using the summary as communicating the “brand” you want to give yourself, and the specializations you have, i.e. under the umbrella of your positioning: 

A proven demand generation professional specializing in business-to-business software sales for hard-to-reach SMBs

The other thing I like to see at the top of a resume - just as with a data sheet - are a few bullets summarizing Background, Skills, and/or Highlights.  Did you personally achieve something great? Win an award? Specialize in certain tools or techniques?   These bullets should be eye-catchers for the lazy/tired professional scanning dozens of resumes each day.

2. Articulate Your Differentiation and Uniqueness

Any good marketer should know that - counterintuitively - narrower focus is better than generality. Being everything to all audiences means you’ll identify with none.  The more focused your message is, the more it will resonate with your intended audience. You actually don’t want responses from *every* audience, you want a response from an intended one. Why? Because hiring managers rarely want a jack-of-all-trades with zero specializations. Rather, they look to fill a specific role/need with someone who’ll fill it well and grow with the needs of the function. 

So, as you think about how to position yourself as unique and focused, make sure that you carry through a thread that speaks specifically to what you uniquely bring.

Avoid sounding generic, or listing everything under the sun: 

  • Marketing program management

  • Product marketing for Cloud technologies

  • Demand generation, audience marketing, messaging, strategy, program management, cloud marketing

Rather, appeal to your strengths, and to the needs that a hiring manager will need:

  • Integrated marketing and campaign program management

  • Product marketing for B2B SaaS cloud-based offerings

  • Demand generation utilizing audience-based technologies, persona-based messaging, and SEO analysis

Now, you may think “Gee, this approach is too narrow for me. I’m looking in a few areas, not just a single-focus”.   That’s fine. Then you should maintain 2-3 *different* resumes that focus in distinctly different areas.  I’ll talk to more of that in the section below. 

3.  Focus on Your Buyers’ (e.g. Hiring Managers) Needs and Persona

Too many resumes are just vanilla statements that don’t target hiring managers. They’re akin to writing a product description, web page, or data sheet without a specific buyer persona(s) in mind. This pitfall (again) is like creating a general everything-to-everyone statement... but specific to none.  Remember: a hiring manager looking for a candidate profile that doesn’t speak to them will spend 12 seconds reviewing it, and then throw it aside.

Instead, approach your own positioning, language, job descriptions, and achievements in the following classic marketing manner to appeal to the buyer:

  • Their Need: Consider the role the hiring manager is trying to fill - A missing function, a new role, or an additional skill-set? Do they need  a leader, a doer, or a subject-matter expert?  Think about what YOU want to bring to the table, and “spin” your CV in that direction with words, descriptions and proof-points (across all of your previous roles) that speak directly to the need of the “buyer”. 

  • Their Persona: If you’re applying for an entry-level individual contributor role, the persona you’re speaking to is probably a departmental manager looking for a specific set of skills to add to their team. But if you’re applying for a managerial-level role, the hiring manager is likely an executive, looking for leadership and broader strategic thinking.   The message here is to write your CV keeping the buyer right persona in mind.

If you’re like most professionals, you probably have two or three skills, a few different potential roles you’d be great for, and a few different titles you’re gunning for.   So take a page from target marketing and create 2-3 *different versions* of your CV, each targeting a different need, role or position.   The classic marketing example of this is the Tylenol® brand of products, where a small number of medication formulas are actually branded and marketed as a wide variety of products (e.g. extra-strength is just more of the regular strength, which is just more than Children’s).  Focus, focus, and customize.

4. Use Proof-Points and Data… Not Claims

The most meaningful and impactful part of a data sheet or a convincing report is *proof* and *data* that the product/service performs.  Use of this approach is more common than you think… you always hear “9 out of 10 dentists recommend…”,  “cleans 90% better than the next leading brand…”  or “Kills 99.9% of germs…”   Yup, proof-points sell.

You also don’t see marketers talk about how their product merely helps…. They focus on the value of what the product *does*.   So avoid talking about how you “helped launch blah blah” or “supported the blah blah program”. Those terms are passive and meaningless.  Instead focus on what you did: 

  • Launched blah blah using an SEO campaign yielding xx% increase in new visits

  • Grew the blah blah program by yy% by scaling global outreach into zz new geographies%

You just don’t see knowledgeable marketers make empty claims or use general words - they all are specific, and show results. 

Say what you did, highlight your results, and prove the difference you made to the company. Illustrate quantitatively to show you were effective… and know how to measure your own achievements. Data is convincing. Hiring managers want that.

5. Use Keywords... and Think SEO  

More initial screening of resumes is done by machine automation than ever before. Hiring managers tell recruiters to look for specific companies, titles, skills, products and technologies.  Recruiters then literally tell resume scanning systems to search for matches and score candidates.   

So write your CV using meaningful keywords.  Repeat the words/terms that you *want* to be recognized for, and specific industry terms that a savvy hiring manager will look for.   Oh… and while you may have been told not to use abbreviations or acronyms, that’s all changed in the Tech Era.  Nobody in their right mind says they program HyperText Markup Language; you wouldn’t say you’re a specialist in Search Engine Optimization; a security would never say they work with the Open ID Connect standard.  Just say HTML, SEO and OIDC -- that’s what your hiring managers (and algorithms) are looking for. 

In Closing: 

If you can’t market yourself as a marketer, how can you expect someone to hire you for that? If you can’t sell yourself as a salesman, why would you expect to be chosen?

Take a step back from your resume, and re-think: Is it a dry historical summary of jobs, or is it a compelling illustration of accomplishments and future promise? 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The How (not the what) of Product-Led Growth

5 organizations and 14 metrics that make PLG work

There is an explosion of articles focusing on the popularity of the PLG growth model, analyses of company valuation, and quite a bit written about growth metrics for this new model. 

But I want to parse the problem a bit differently, focusing not only on the goals an aspiring PLG company should set at each stage of the sales cycle... but also on how to organize delivery of a successful PLG product.  IMO, these are the real keys to PLG success.

Most Important: How to *Organize* for Successful PLG Execution

I’ve found that most PLG articles stop at this point. But to be successful and designing and executing on the strategy, the company has to think and act in new ways. And that means core organizations need to be structured specifically in a PLG-related fashion.

Consider that the product itself needs to be designed so it’s more easily adopted and onboarded; that it needs to be instrumented differently so as to track speed bumps in the customer journey; that it generates triggers when it’s time to send-in the ‘big guns” to close large deals. 

At least 5 organizations need to be part of this company-wide effort, and each should be accountable to the overall PLG/DLG plan.  Leaders of these 5 organizations must choose which PLG metrics they can impact, and be willing to adjust/experiment/adapt to improve.  

Full article published on LinkedIn

Friday, January 22, 2021

Three SuperPowers Every Marketer Should Develop

Why Paranoia, Customer Intimacy, and Peripheral Vision are key skills for Product Marketing Management

If you’re going to be in Product Marketing - or in any company leadership position - I’ve found that the same 3 “superpowers” keep recurring in successful careers. These aren’t operational or functional skills per se. Rather, they are persistent perspectives that leaders with insight always keep in the back of their minds.

First, there’s always maintaining a healthy dose of Paranoia.  That is, you haven’t drunk the product Cool-Aide, that your product/company must be the best. Second, there is the requirement for customer closeness and intimacy - knowing your core buyers inside-and-out. Then finally, there is what I call Product Peripheral Vision - understanding your product/service in a greater customer and competitive context.

Embody these, and you’ll always add value to the company, to your product, and to your customers.  

1. A Super-Healthy Sense of Paranoia

Andy Grove - of Intel fame - literally wrote the book:Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company.”  In this he famously pointed out that "Business success contains the seeds of its own destruction... Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive”.  He narrowed-down this statement to 6 Forces, but in my opinion, a good PMM focuses on the following paranoia:

  • Competition - assume they’re always trying to be better than you - and perhaps they already are. Don’t be complacent or simply dismiss the competition. Take them seriously, and always question whether you’re really more compelling to customers.
  • Alternatives - your biggest disruption won’t necessarily hit you head-on. Customers always look for alternatives, including “good-enough” solutions that can invisibly displace you.  Always be on the look-out for the closest alternatives customers use… and why.
  • Differentiation - while you probably *think* you’re differentiated, you’re likely not (at least, not as much as you think).   Take a cold-hard look at how really different you are from a customer’s perspective, and push to modify your offer as well as your marketing.
  • Industry changes - while you’re focused on segment or category “A”, there’s always the possibility that a completely different industry imperative will shift customers to different categories. Be ready to adapt.

2. Super Closeness to the Customer, Customer intimacy

As a marketing leader - ensuring that your product has proper market fit with your target customers, you Must be the SuperPower expert about your customers. And you need to communicate these learnings back into the company, specifically back to marketing, product management, and sales.  

  • Know the customer at every level - Know the decision-makers vs. buyers vs. users. The tactical reasons they buy, as well as the strategic business reasons. 
  • Why they bought - You’ll need to get inside their heads regarding why they chose your product, how they evaluated it, how they use it - on a daily basis.
  • Know Alternatives - Similar to the Paranoia topic above, you’ll need to know what alternative (and competitors) they considered during the process - and *why*. What was attractive to them, how they got the names, whether they’re *still* considering the alternatives.
  • Ask the critical question - “How would you feel if you *didn’t* have this product?” The answer will be telling - indicating how well your “fit” is to the customer, how much they value the uniqueness, and how critical your product is to the customer’s outcomes. 
  • Intimacy vs. Focus - There are subtle differences between customer intimacy and customer closeness.  Ensure you develop the right insights and relationships so you can serve -- and even better -- anticipate their needs. 

3. Maintaining Super Peripheral Vision

One of the best SuperPowers you can develop as a marketer or businessperson is the ability to see out beyond the myopia of your own product, technology, and even industry segment.  Always be looking for (worrying about?)  adjacencies, routes-to-market, partnerships, and the “Whole Product” aspect of your offering. 

  • Think “Whole Product” - That is, partners, ecosystems, channels. Most B2B products simply don’t exist in a vacuum. They are bought with, or through, other technology partners, value-add ecosystems and channels. Every product exists and abuts other products and technologies.  Every decision you make has to take these realities into account.
  • Focus on indirect competition / alternatives - The notion of maintaining peripheral vision also applies to alternatives and competition.   What other distant adjacencies are (or will be) intersecting with your own market? Are any of them potential partners - before they become competition? 
  • Consider similar (but different) market plays - I always like to think about product and marketing analogies in different markets that either worked or failed… and whether those analogies apply to product /market.  Do they help reframe product positioning? Value propositions? Routes-to-market? 
Got any other suggestions on critical "Super Powers" ? let me know!

Monday, January 11, 2021

Digital Agility Gets a Boost with Identity Management

(A version of this Blog originally published on Auth0 Blogs

Apps are becoming componentized and API-based to facilitate reuse and agility; Identity management cloud services will help.

"In today's online-first, intensely competitive environment, creating a monolithic, inflexible CIAM system will quickly put the firm on the path toward extinction." ~ Forrester's Customer-Obsessed IAM Operating Model April 2020

There is an "old-school" view of Identity and Access Management (IAM) that sees it purely as a security requirement for apps and websites. Simply, IAM is there to keep the bad guys out and let the good ones in.

A more progressive view recognizes how IAM helps provide a better level of user convenience and app-level personalization, as well as lower-friction interactions. Plus, it can offer the business better CRM data, a lever for managing data privacy and compliance controls, and (if implemented properly) a consistent context-sensitive security perimeter across all apps/properties.

But there's a third level of benefit of IAM that IT often overlooks: A consistent, flexible IAM foundation can contribute to the firm's overall digital agility.

Here's why: IAM systems have traditionally been embedded into apps and frameworks (think: React, Angular, JS, etc.). Using that approach, each app runs the risk of becoming an IAM silo unto itself. And when it comes time to integrate those apps with other identity-driven systems, the approach can create a massively inflexible infrastructure.

Worse, firms should expect that many of their custom apps will have to work alongside other enterprise apps — e.g., marketing, digital experience, privacy/governance, business systems, and of course, security and analytics. However, the reality is that the logical topology surrounding your IAM system will always be dynamic and distributed — plan for it. The nature of enterprise systems IAM needs to interface with will always change. But when business leaders don't plan a consistent IAM foundation, digital agility will be one of the big losers.

Identity Has Become a Foundational Component of Digital Transformation, IT Agility, and Infrastructure Modernization

Digital transformation initiatives are when progressive software-driven companies shift from rigid, monolithic IT infrastructures and apps into more componentized API-first architectures. These are more easily reassembled/rearchitected and reused (see this great blog about API strategies by Informatica). Component software also means that app updating can be done on a piece-part basis, without requiring the entire application to be retested and QA'd.

When shifting to an API-based strategy, there is often a simultaneous replatforming initiative for some (or all) of the components, shifting them into the cloud and/or onto serverless cloud platforms. These initiatives also help businesses respond more rapidly to fast-moving opportunities and/or competitive issues. The growth of API-first architectures and use of serverless execution platforms has been nearly geometric during the past few years.

Distributed and loosely coupled

In software design, a loosely coupled system is one where each component has, or makes use of, little or no knowledge of the other components. This could include the coupling of software classes, interfaces, data, and other SaaS services. Loose coupling is important because it allows you to rearchitect specific components in the future with minimal impact to other components.

Often, one of the loosely-coupled underpinning layers of these digital transformation initiatives is security and access management — certainly found at the application level, but also even at the component level. With potentially millions of such API-first distributed components being deployed, each component, app, and composite application must be reliably and consistently secured, embracing the capacity to be identity-aware.

Decoupling identity from the application and/or app component means avoiding inconsistent IAM stores/DBs, yet ensuring a consistent privacy model, reliable access, and a strong security perimeter.

An Identity-Centric Point-of-View: 

Your Identity Management functions should be componentized, programmable, and cloud-neutral

Many of today's IAM technologies are embedded in programming frameworks and therefore hardwired to apps. I believe these IAM functions must — and will — become decoupled from the apps they support. Decoupling IAM helps release customers from the bonds of vertical integration stacks that are inherently siloed, brittle, and fundamentally non-optimized for the complexity of today's identity needs.

IAM functions should also be released from mega-cloud lock-in. The market requires an IAM foundation that's open and customizable — rather than a foundation that binds customers to an Amazon, Azure, or Google agenda.

This matters because an IAM approach that's API-first, application-decoupled, and componentized also allows developers and their enterprises to rearchitect and dynamically deploy new updates, features, and functionality without disrupting the underlying identity infrastructure. That results in the ability to respond to business conditions and competitive situations more quickly and reliably.

“Using microservices in containers has also allowed us greater flexibility when deploying IAM solutions. Typically IAM solutions have featured larger, more monolithic services that are harder to scale and upgrade. Microservices allow the structuring of an application as a collection of loosely coupled services. This architecture then enables the continuous deployment of complex applications, as it is less complicated to update smaller services incrementally than larger ones. It also allows the scaling of particular components (e.g. databases, LDAP servers, etc.) to meet demand as required.”  ~ IAM DevOps in Capgemini, Terence Stamp

Some closing recommendations

For executives, technology agility equates to business agility. Work with your technical colleagues to understand what IAM underpinnings you currently have and how those will need to evolve to work alongside adjacent systems for marketing, digital experience, privacy/governance, business systems, and security and analytics. Urge technical partners to: 

  • Seek to componentize applications, and underpin them with a consistent IAM infrastructure. Treat IAM as a reusable component service the way you use other reusable SaaS services (e.g., payments, databases).
  • Measure and justify the benefits of IAM across your infrastructure. Collaborate with colleagues in security, customer experience, web, and CRM teams; assess where identity can yield quantifiable top-line revenue and competitiveness.
  • Prioritize customer outcomes within digital transformation initiatives. Digital agility and transformation program outcomes must be driven by a focus on responsiveness to customer needs and expectations. Identity management foundations not only contribute to a consistent/reusable infrastructure but also help build a comprehensive customer 360°.
  • Neutralize cloud vendor lock-in risk with an independent, cloud-neutral IAM system. Long-term agility and avoidance of high switching costs are further enabled by using an independent, cloud-neutral IAM service.

For technologists, it's time to apply IAM like other loosely-coupled SaaS services you commonly use. For example: 

  • Use familiar API and microservices principles when adding IAM into your platform. Select a reusable, easily-integrated cloud IAM service that's compatible with a broad set of programming languages and frameworks.
  • Reduce IAM time to production; simplify app reuse. Get your team started quickly with a solution offering SDKs, quickstarts, and implementation guidance.
  • Consolidate user IAM systems and databases. Use an IAM solution offering a range of migration tools and customer DB connections to fit the user migration scenario best for you.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Product/Market Fit As a Organizing Principle for PMMs

“Product-market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.

Marc Andreessen, co-founder and General Partner, Andreessen Horowitz, Guide to Startups

When I’m asked “What does Product Marketing do?” I respond that it’s the core role that drives product-market fit, matching the product to the right buyers. All markets are made up of buyers and sellers… and when the needs of buyers are met by the offers of sellers, there’s a transaction. For me, it’s the role of Product Marketing Management (PMM) to drive this for the company that is, to influence product development to meet the market needs, and to help find the right market buyers that need the product being offered. When both of those conditions are met (and it’s a continual process!) there’s great fit and a successful business. (Really, this is just a variation of Bid/Ask). So, PMMs are the core role rationalizing Product Management, Sales, and Go-to-Market motions. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Advice to the Aspiring Employee

I’ve spent the past few weeks busy evaluating team performance for our semi-annual review process. And every year, I take it more seriously because every year I realize how much more important *people* are to the company. 

I used to think this was a throw-away comment - but hiring, developing, promoting and rewarding the “A” players is the difference between a high-performing company, and all the other average players.

Anyone reading this might ask, “Well, what do you mean by an ‘A’ player? I work really hard. I have great ideas. I’ve got experience. Doesn’t that make me an ‘A’ player too? How do I get promoted?” 

Well, from a manager’s perspective, here’s the advice I give, and what I look for in “A” players - and believe most other management does too.

  1. Table-Stakes: Do your core job well. You’re expected to be competent, handle your responsibilities, know your skills, execute on-time, and keep your accountabilities on-track.  And for all of that, you’ll achieve being a solid “average” player.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this - unless you’re looking to grow, get a promotion, and excel at the company. But you have to start here.

  2. Next: Your willingness and ability to go above-and-beyond. This means that if/when there is a “crunch-time”, when there is an aggressive project, an emergency, a “special assignment” etc., you’re willing to put in the extra hours to get it done. These extra hours might be over a period of days -- and occasionally over weeks. But you’ve got to be willing to show your commitment to do this. It means that you’re able to identify the important projects (maybe only 1-2 a year) and rally to deliver them on time. Your management will notice, because it shows an awareness and commitment to do what needs to get done. BTW, a word of caution: This does NOT mean you are constantly working 80 hour weeks! (you’ll burn yourself out).  

  3. The hard one: Learn to push the envelope of your Job Description: Here’s the aspect of your job that signals your most “promotable” aspect: I like to think of it as “pushing the envelope” of the job. Others might call it “working at the next level above you”. Either way, it means you are thinking outside the box that’s called your job description.

    Is there an idea you have that management hasn’t thought of? An opportunity nobody’s identified yet? A strategy that hasn’t been pursued? Whatever the instance, it should be incremental to your role (but not so “blue-sky” as to be immediately dismissed).  But here’s the key: Management *loves* new ideas - and execution of those ideas - coming from employees. It means the employee is interested, motivated, ambitious. Who wouldn’t like someone like that on their team?

    One other perspective in which to hold “pushing the envelope”: It’s all about your attitude. Try this thought experiment - if you got a promotion tomorrow, what would you do differently? How would you act? What goals would you set for yourself? How would you team/partner differently? How would you communicate differently with management?  So start acting/doing all of that NOW! Promotions most frequently happen to people who are ALREADY acting and executing at the next level. 

What if you don’t know what “outside the box” means for you?  Then my recommendation is to brainstorm with your manager… or with their manager. You don’t need to have all the answers, but you should show the eagerness to inquire and discover. 

There are tons of other skills, attitudes, and attributes that’ll help you be a star. And sometimes, it’s just-plain experience that helps too. 

But if you’re wondering “how will I get that great review” or “am I promotable”, my suggestion is to first focus on the 3 points above.