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How to Align Product Marketing Strategy with the Business Stage

Today, I will share my framework for building a strong product marketing strategy - the foundation you need to up-level as a product marketer or leader.

Today’s content covers part two in a multi-part series on How to Build Your Product Marketing Strategy:

What to level up in your product marketing career?

Then my Grow and Thrive programs might just be for you. Being a startup PMM can be stressful and lonely, but you don't have to do it alone. Through my 1-1 coaching programs, you can succeed in your role and level up faster and more confidently by having a trusted guide.

How To Build A PMM Strategy Part 2: Product Marketing Strategy by Business Stage

I recently advised a service-based startup that has been in business for 20 years and has thousands of customers. When they first reached out, I assumed they wanted to scale their business and optimize their GTM.

However, I quickly realized that’s not what they need. Despite being an established growth-stage company, they had one newly hired PMM and no established processes. Even though it was a mature company, its new product—its first-ever SaaS product—required significant learning and market feedback, much like an early-stage startup.

So, instead of building out processes for them or suggesting they spend months on extensive research for positioning and messaging, I guided them to leverage the collective knowledge of their entire team to create a V1 version of their positioning and messaging for the new product. I also helped them establish a quick launch process and trained the team to launch it and capture customer feedback. This saved months of work and helped them quickly capture market feedback to iterate their GTM.

I share this because while the core components of a strong product marketing strategy should be the same across companies, their applications can differ significantly by company stage.

This article highlights the differences and sets the right expectations for product marketing strategy at three different company sizes: early, growth, and mature stages.

  • For current PMMs and job seekers: I hope this newsletter helps you understand the companies most suited to your skill set.

  • For managers, founders, and team leaders: This newsletter will help you better understand how to scope out product marketing and hire the right PMM for your stage.

Early Stage: Validating Product/Market Fit and Rising Awareness

(Series A)

Early-stage startups are all about quick iterations and learning. This is not a time to obsess over processes or invest heavily in deep research—you won’t have the resources to afford it, nor do you have enough confidence in your PMF to pour money into scaling it yet.

This is about being scrappy and making educated guesses to find your best customers who will consistently choose you over others.

Research: Research at this stage should be gathered directly from any team that has direct contact with customers: Product Management, Founders, Customer Success, Sales, etc. The job of a PMM is to be able to synthesize this information quickly to provide insights. Primary research, e.g., customer interviews done at this stage, should generally take weeks and not months and focus on methods that will generate the most useful information with the smallest possible resource requirements.

Positioning and messaging: The insights from the research gathered should immediately inform the positioning and messaging. For early-stage startups, it’s important to create positioning with a strong point of view. This POV needs to capture the market's attention to drive awareness, which the company desperately needs at this stage of the business. The PMM should pay attention to market feedback on the positioning and messaging (e.g., from sales conversations) to iteratively improve it.

GTM strategy: The GTM strategy should focus on identifying a few channels that will deliver 80% of results. For instance, if you are in the LLM or developer space, prioritizing channel partnerships within the ecosystems may give you much higher returns than paid media. The PMM’s role here is to provide insights into the customer’s journey to help determine the critical channels of focus. This is also a time to create the first version of the sales playbook and sales process.

PMM profile: At this stage, there is likely a solo PMM acting as the head of product marketing. Given that this PMM needs to be scrappy, fast-moving, and able to deliver a wide range of tasks with relatively little supervision, this hire will need to be a senior PMM level hire, at minimum, with some prior entrepreneurial experience or tendency.

Example: When I was the founding PMM at a Series A startup (when AI was in its infancy), the company led with a very strong AI-focused messaging. Yet, while initial customers were excited about AI, the company had trouble capturing more “mainstream” customers. I took on a challenge to conduct some research by talking directly to salespeople and reviewing Chorus calls. I realized many customers had no technical background, didn’t understand AI, and even feared it would eliminate their jobs. This led me to create an AI demo video and shift our positioning to focus on improving their jobs and elevating their status in the company.

Growth Stage: Scaling For Rapid Growth

(Series B -> C)

Let’s say your early-stage startup found PMF. The next stage is the growth stage. This stage is “all hands on deck” and is about scaling success as quickly as possible. This is the time to build repeatable processes and ensure all three growth levers (acquisition, retention, and monetization) are on fire.

Research: At the growth stage, there should be a more standardized effort to regularly conduct market, competitive, and customer research, including investing resources in routines to conduct interviews, surveys, and other analytical methods (either through third-party agencies or internal employees). The results of the research should help refine a detailed understanding of buyer personas, market trends, and competitive dynamics.

Positioning and messaging: At this stage, PMM should have created clear, tested, and differentiated positioning. Multiple products could also be present at this point, so an aligned product portfolio and brand-level messaging will also be important. The positioning and messaging should also be revisited and reviewed frequently to reflect changing market dynamics and customer insights.

GTM strategy: In addition to core channels, product marketers should provide insights to cultivate additional channels for growth and support multi-channel marketing campaigns throughout the funnel, from awareness campaigns to retention campaigns. There should also be a fully built-out sales enablement process to support a growing salesforce, as well as a repeatable and tested product launch process.

PMM profile: The PMMs who will succeed here are business strategists with proven experience executing. Given that many of the responsibilities here are focused on enabling field teams to scale their efforts, the PMM must also have exceptional skills in building relationships, influencing without authority, and making convincing business cases. The head of PMM, in this case, is usually a director-level person who is a strong coach-player.

A strong early-stage founding PMM may NOT make a great director at this stage, as the key strengths differ. Founding PMMs trying to get promoted here must reframe their roles to be focused on scaling, building processes, and enabling others instead of being the Swiss Army knife do-it-all.

Example: As the director of product marketing at Teachable, my main mission was to build and scale product marketing to enable the rest of the organization. As Teachable is product-led, one of my main focuses was piloting a product launch process. I then scaled our team to launch products effectively to the market to maximize each launch effort and support four separate product teams.

Mature Stage: Maintain Sustained Growth And Market Share

(Series D+)

When a company has reached the mature stage, it’s likely to have a significant market share and be a category leader. At this stage, product marketing activities are more specialized to provide more advanced and deeper support. The goal for this stage is to maintain sustained growth and find new market entry opportunities for expansion.

Research: At a mature company, there are usually fully dedicated insights teams that provide detailed customer, competitive, market, and product-level insights. Product marketing aims to uncover insights to drive business growth (e.g., reducing churn, expanding to a new market, and optimizing pricing). The data here has robust depths and breadths, and PMMs should have the skillsets to analyze and interpret the data and use it to influence the product roadmap regularly.

Positioning and messaging: While the core positioning should be well established, this stage will likely focus on strengthening the positioning to prevent competitors and challengers from taking over market share. This could also involve repositioning efforts that respond to major product developments, mergers and acquisitions, or expansions into new markets and verticals. Positioning for product suites and portfolios will continue to be important, given the scope of products at this point.

GTM strategy: In addition to dominating every channel, PMMs here generally need to support and lead large-scale, global, and regional launches and campaigns to reach business goals. Sales enablement here will also have reached its most mature state, with dedicated sales enablement roles that provide even more in-depth support.

PMM profile:—The PMMs at large mature companies are generally more specialized and have a narrower scope but much larger impact from a business perspective. This means they need to be able to think extremely critically about the proposals they put forth, as each will have major financial consequences. In addition, they need to be comfortable presenting business cases, getting buy-in, and knowing how to navigate the organizational culture deftly.

Example: When I was a newbie marketer at Autodesk, the flagship AutoCAD brand faced increasing competition from cheaper imitation brands. So, my team created a global campaign to strengthen AutoCAD's positioning as the original brand for original thinkers. I led the development of major customer stories around the world that became a main pillar of the campaign. This helped re-establish and reinforce AutoCAD's value in customers' minds.

chart and table showing product marketing strategy by business stage
Product Marketing Strategies by Business Stage

Wrapping up

The point here is that while the foundations of PMM are the same, its scope, application, and complexity change by stage. The best PMMs should be able to adapt to the growth stage, clearly communicate that to others in the company, and act as evangelists for the function.

Of course, these are guidelines (not hard rules), and as some of my examples demonstrated, mature companies can have the product marketing maturity of a small start-up.

The most important thing is that you understand which stage your company is at and act accordingly.

There’s so much confusion around what a modern go-to-market is, and what marketing’s role is in developing and executing against a successful GTM strategy.

Are you a modern marketer? Check out my Episode with the Marchitect

In the first episode of The Marchitect, Sangram Vajre, Founder at GTM Partners, Trinity Nguyen, VP Marketing at UserGems, and Yi Lin Pei, Founder at Courageous Careers share:

  • The modern go-to-market, and the role of the CMO and their PMM leader

  • The difference between marketing the business and the business of marketing

  • The key characteristics of a modern CMO & PMM leader

  • What GTM motions should be top of mind for modern marketers

That's all for today.

See you next time!

Yi Lin

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