Here's How We Nailed Hiring Our First Product Marketer (Me!)

Andrea Bailiff-Gush is the Product Marketing Manager at Cleverbridge, an e-commerce service providing subscription billing solutions to companies all over the world.

Read on for a transcript of her presentation from our January 16, 2018 Here’s How Startup Marketing Conference, where she describes how Cleverbridge nailed hiring its first product marketer.

Today I'm going to talk to you about product marketing, specifically about how we hired our first product marketer, which happened to be me. But first I’ll give you a little bit of background on Cleverbridge and myself.

Cleverbridge is a provider of e-commerce solutions. We work with companies who are digitally selling everything from anti-malware software to IoT to companies running B2C and B2B product models. Our sweet spot is working with companies who are looking to scale domestically or internationally but are having trouble dealing with hurdles like regulations and localization.

What's really exciting is that we're building our first subscription offering right now because that's where the market's going. People want to rent things versus buy them, so we're trying to tap into that. We're a pretty large company headquartered in Cologne, Germany, and we've been around for about 12 years, but we still try to keep the startup essence in a lot of our practices.

For some background about me, I have around 10 years of product and marketing experience. I've done everything from technical writing to being the only marketing person at a four-person startup. I like to call myself a translator because I love taking really technical, dry subjects and making them a little more conversational and easy to understand. It’s my favorite thing to do.

I've also been involved in 1871 and Catapult Chicago. I think you can benefit a lot as a marketer through getting involved in places like this and giving back.Kenna Security TeamThis picture is of the team at my previous company called Kenna Security. I put this picture in here because this is how I found product marketing. I joined the startup very early on as they were growing, finding product market fits and hiring a sales team and additional marketers who were all located in San Francisco while I was here in Chicago.

I was sitting next to the development team and, just by the nature of osmosis, I was absorbing a lot of what they were doing. I started attending stand-ups, planning meetings and all of their product development meetings. When we were ready to hire our first product marketer, it was natural that the person should be sitting in Chicago, hence, I got the job.

It was a great fit for me and a great point in my career to move on to something a little more specialized. I fell in love with it. It was the right fit at the right time, which is why I included this picture.

But my talk today is not about my time at Kenna, it's about my time at Cleverbridge. Cleverbridge is a unique company because we were established but didn't have any product marketing, and I thought that was unique. There were seven product managers but no product marketer to help with customer adoption, which is what I do now.

I'm going to talk about how I started the function from scratch and some lessons that I learned and the mistakes I made. Starting out, we were an established international company but had no one to really help and support with customer adoption. That's when they realized they needed to hire a product marketer.

1.  I determined where product marketing could make the biggest impact.

When I was hired, the first thing I did was think about how I could really make an impact. There's a lot to navigate in this position, and our product is really dense. But I knew that there are three strategic things you should do first as a product marketer.

The first is market validation. You have to look at competitors, the market, and your customer base, really understanding that that's the foundation. The second part is framing the message. That's all coming up with a positioning document.

These are great because they really set the stage for a product, a platform, or a service. The positioning document has all of your messaging, so it's your value prop, your USPs, your personas and outlining their day-to-day, their challenges that they face, your differentiators, etc.

The third thing we did was put together a go-to-market strategy. A go-to-market strategy is really the blueprint for how you're going to take that messaging with your product and deliver it to the market. That's the first thing that I thought in my head. The second was, "I'm coming in to a new company and I don't want to just come in guns a blazing and start making decisions." I needed to take a step back and do what I like to call the research phase.

2.  I researched and interviewed clients to understand how people really use and view the product.

The research phase involved me reading as much as I could about the industry. I sat in on client and prospect calls with sales and client management because I wanted to understand who these people were, what their challenges were, what their day-to-day was like and how they view our product. Do they have a positive perception or a negative perception? Do they really understand what we do?

3.  I practiced demoing product to show that I understood how it works.

Then I thought, "Well, as the product marketer I should probably know what this product does." So I sat down with the sales engineers and the product managers to understand how their product works so I could demo it myself if I had to. I set up a series of mock product demos with my team, just to be tested on my understanding and identify any gaps.

4.  I talked to everyone I’d be working with.

Next, I thought, "I work with every team within this company. I should probably build relationships and make sure that I like them and they like me." So I simply talked to everyone that I could.

There are two traps you can find yourself in at this point. You could be at your desk all the time with your nose buried in documents and SharePoint, giving a negative perception to your team because you don't seem invested or like you like to be there.

Or the other trap you can find yourself in is what I like to call "coming in hot". That’s coming in without any previous knowledge of how the dynamics of the teamwork and making decisions anyway. This is no way to earn respect and authority in your field, especially when it's a new field. I set up as many meetings as I could with other people I know I'd be working with and listened, asked questions, and really focused on building relationships before I came in with my strategy.

5.  I developed a thorough internal and customer communication strategy.

Now I'm ready to actually do work, add value. So I developed an internal and customer communication strategy, and this is where the positioning doc really came in. What's really cool about product marketing is you're in charge of how things are communicated both internally to other teams, and externally to the marketplace.

So taking that positioning doc and making sure I understood the channels that we could use so we could deliver the message, and what that message would be.

6.  I earned buy-in from leadership.

Next, I focused on earning buy-in from leadership. They can be your biggest cheerleaders, especially when it's something big like a product launch. They're the ones who can rally behind you and take a message or an announcement and amplify it. I shared my communication strategy with them so they knew what was going on with full transparency.

7.  I educated external-facing teams on product marketing.

I made sure that everyone who was externally facing, sales, account management and client management, understood what product marketing is.

Product marketing is a newer type of marketing. It's been around for about 20 years, ever since development became really popular. People still don't know how to define it. Is it branding? Is it digital marketing? Is it PR? There's actually a lot of confusion between product marketing and product management, so it’s important to make sure everyone who's externally facing understands what it is and knows when to utilize the product marketer.

8.  I collaborated on how to build growth & customer adoption into the product.

After that, I collaborated with my colleagues on making sure we were building growth and customer adoption into the product. That means looking at the roadmap and what we're planning to build and making sure that it's actually adding value to our customer relationships so we can increase adoption. We made sure to really build that into our DNA as a company.

9.  I co-created a go-to-market strategy.

Then it was time to work on the go-to-market strategy. Again, this is the blueprint for how we're going to take that messaging we worked on during the internal and customer communication strategy phase and deliver it to the market.

There is a great tool called a Lean Canvas Model. It's just a one-page table broken down into segments. It’s really easy to use. It basically asks you to identify who your client is, what their challenges are like, what your solution is, how it's actually going to solve their day-to-day problems, and how you're going to price your product or service. We use it when we put together a go-to-market strategy.

10.  Built a KPI dashboard & vision of the future.

So we had done all this groundwork for product marketing and at the very end I thought "Okay, I'm in this new role. It's going well but I'm not even sure I'm actually contributing to moving the needle at all."

Product marketing is such a funny role because you don't see the immediate effects of what you do right away. It takes time. It's very dictated by the sales cycle. So I built out this KPI dashboard, which is actually just an Excel spreadsheet. It wasn't anything fancier than that, just metrics that I was going to track quarterly.

These metrics were things like customer retention and customer adoption to see if we were able to upsell our existing customer base on some of these really cool product features and functionalities of the product.

The Results

I've been with Cleverbridge for two and a half years doing product marketing and I’ve seen a difference in four ways.

The first is validating that product marketing is needed. It's a bit scary to come into a brand new role for a company that has never had this function before. They didn't even know if it was needed or if it was going to add value at all. It was a sigh of relief to validate that.

The next result I saw was an enhancement of the client-facing tools we already had. We now have all these new channels that we're using to communicate with clients. For example, we have a quarterly newsletter, a webinar series, and our first roadmap. And it's all client facing so client managers can share them with clients quarterly. Roadmaps are great because they show customers what we're planning and developing so they can look at it and make sure that what we’re building is in line with their philosophy and goals.

I’ve also seen clients adapting the new features and functionalities that we're building. There has been a lot of upselling for us.

The last result, which is probably the most important, is just having a positive effect on NPS, our Net Promoter Score. NPS is basically how likely a customer is to refer you to someone else. It's probably one of the most powerful things you can measure.

We put out two surveys to clients, twice a year, and in those surveys, we ask about their experience with their client manager and the product. We ask what they would add, what would they change, and if they would refer us. We've seen a positive effect over the last two years. It's gone up 40 percent, but I want to preface to the fact that it was very low to begin with so that 40 percent is huge.

So that's been my story and my experience. One thing I did want to mention is that you may not be ready to hire a product marketer. Hopefully, my story today has gotten you thinking about whether or not it's needed and when you might do it. I think the best time to hire a product marketer is either when you've found a product market or when you've hired a product manager. They're like Batman and Robin, they work together so closely.