How is your product marketing team organized?
Look — the traditional organizational model is on its way out. It’s no longer effective for even the largest of organizations. The top-down, command and control model doesn’t suit the knowledge workers of today. It’s too rigid to enable the speed of communication and decisions to stay competitive.
I’ve read How Google Works, Work Rules, Team of Teams, Creativity Inc., articles on organization design, etc. which all touch on leadership principles and changing org structures. While valuable to varying degrees, none of these books or articles spoke specifically to the nuances of product marketing.
There are generally five organizational designs for product marketing teams. I’ve tried a few of these models. As you’d expect, each structure has its own benefits and drawbacks. After speaking with senior product marketing leaders and CMOs in SaaS/tech and reflecting on my own experiences, here’s what I’ve learned.
“You need to organize product marketing according to where you need to win first.” — Subrata Chakrabarti, VP of Product Marketing at Anaplan
This is the most traditional model for organizing teams. And in some respects, it’s the simplest. If you have each product marketer paired with each product manager (or let’s be honest, three to four of them) the responsibilities and lines of communication are really clear. This model doesn’t fully consider customer needs. Inevitably, your go-to-market message turns into a laundry list of features, products and services. Because product marketers are assigned to features, they end up with features at the center of their world instead of customers. They end up being too focused on features and what they do instead of why those features matter. You lose customer focus. Customers don’t care how many features you have. They care about what you’re solving for them and how they benefit.
In this model, teams are organized by the four core pillars of product marketing: market intelligence, positioning/messaging, product launch, sales enablement. One team would be solely responsible for sales enablement. Another team would own all product launches. This model falls apart in practice fairly quickly because you’re separating the what (sales enablement) from the why (buyer/user research). What makes product marketing such a strategic field is the integration of the research, storytelling and go-to-market strategy. Product marketers need to leverage all aspects of the function to deliver the highest quality results to the customer (and the business).
Organizing according to sales segment is an option. In this model, product marketers are aligned to how the sales team is organized which assumes that the customer needs are clearly differentiated by size of business and/or geography. If building relationships with sales is critical (or needs repairing), this model will help strengthen those lines of communication. The downside is that it becomes difficult to figure out who owns business needs that cascade across all segments (i.e. overall competitive landscape or product launches). Do you have four different people building launch plans for the same product? It gets complex quickly.
By Line of Business
Aligning to lines of business such as Finance, Marketing, Sales, Technology, etc. is more customer-centric and probably an optimal model if you have buyers across multiple functions. A great example of this model is Salesforce. They sell different products to different buyers in the same company (i.e. CMOs, CROs, CFOs, COOs, etc.). This option is less useful if you primarily sell into one or two lines of business.
By Objective or Theme
An objective may be revenue retention, and in this case, product marketers might work on product engagement and usage. Alternatively, a business objective might be around brand awareness, perhaps activating product marketing to focus on top-of-funnel and thought leadership messages. This model enables product marketing leaders to align resources to the greatest customer or business need. It allows for the most fluidity and speed in fast-growth companies. If major product launches happen two or three times per year, product marketing teams can swarm the major launch for a quarter and then shift to deep-dive market research the next quarter. If penetrating the marketing with a key message is critical, teams can align to that objective until it’s met. The downside is that this model requires heavy coordination within the product marketing team, very intentional and proactive communication across the company when priorities are shifting (fire drills anyone?) and a set of product marketing managers with skills across the four core disciplines.
At Pluralsight, we’re operating in the objective-based model while also ensuring coverage across our platform with a 3-to-1 ratio for product managers and product marketers. It enables us to be a dynamic team that moves along with the needs of our market and the business. At the same time, we’re constantly balancing the need for agility with the need for dedicated resources for easier internal collaboration. With this model it can be more challenging for internal stakeholders to have the simplicity of one dedicated resources (one channel for communication). It also means that you don’t necessarily treat each segment, feature or persona equally. You have to prioritize. And that means saying no to a lot of things.
Each of our team members (including our Directors) have areas where they are especially skilled: writing, research, data analysis, sales training, project management, etc. We leverage these deep specialties when necessary. More importantly, we’ve hired our team for coverage across skills, communication styles and experience. See: T-shaped stars.
All of these models are somewhat dependent on the overall company org structure, stage of growth and overall market conditions. Does product marketing report up through the CMO (which is most common)? Or the Head of Product? Are you in a red ocean and need an intense focus on competitive intel? Or are you in a blue ocean and need to focus on a cohesive GTM message?
“I believe friction can be a positive signal. It shows engagement and a willingness to improve. It means you are working on a problem that matters and people care about.”
- Sean Regan, Head of Product Marketing and GTM at Atlassian
Ultimately there’s never a perfect org design for product marketing. There’s not one model that perfectly aligns for all departments. You’ll need to make intentional choices about where to optimize and how to align to the different groups you serve. I love what Sean shared because if there’s friction it means there’s connection and collaboration instead of siloed work. Product marketing can’t exist in a vacuum. Friction isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can signal progress.
If you lead a team(s) of product marketers, I’d love to hear from you. What’s the optimal model for your business? What’s the hardest org design challenge you’re facing?
Thanks to all of the incredible product marketing leaders who have been mentors and thought partners with me on this topic. Grateful to you all. Thanks to Subrata and Sean for allowing me to share your wisdom.