In this article, I'm going to answer some of the most important questions when it comes to the relationship between demand gen and product marketing, including:

  • How I got started in product marketing,
  • My definition of product marketing and demand generation,
  • How PMMs can learn from a demand gen team,
  • How product marketing and demand gen should work together,
  • Measuring collaborative success,
  • Advice for PMMs without a strict demand gen function, and
  • Final product marketing thoughts.

How I got started in product marketing

My career started in the sales world – specifically in the trenches as a Sales Development Representative (SDR). I realized that if I spent time learning about how various buyers are measured in terms of success, then I could have much more high-quality conversations connecting our solution to that pain.

I wanted to go deep here, and then one day, product marketing led a ‘day in the life’ training session for the sales team and I immediately knew that’s where I wanted to go next. I sat down with the Director of Product Marketing the next day, who started off giving me a few projects like competitive analysis for a new product or messaging training for the team while carrying a quota. We met bi-weekly to review my progress and get feedback as well as meet others on the team/learn more about the day-to-day.

I ended up starting up a PMM function at a different company shortly after since there weren’t any openings to transition internally.

My definition of product marketing and demand generation

If we oversimplify the marketing funnel into three stages – attract, consider, and close – demand gen focuses on stage one (attract) and product marketing focuses on stage three (close). Product marketing should inform both attracting and informing buyers through their consideration stages but should ultimately be responsible for the ‘closing’ stage.

Said differently, product marketing should define the 'Who' – ideal customer profile including target titles, rough buyer’s journey (how many people are involved in the buying process and what they care about), and recommendations on messages that would resonate well with each of them given the value proposition of the product/service.

Demand gen can then focus on the 'Where' or the 'How' — The activation of those individuals. Demand gen identifies watering holes where people frequent and builds nurture programs that ultimately create top-of-funnel demand. PMMs should serve as gut checks along the way as titles and messages are being tested. E.g. what types of execs are involved in the buying process and what problems are they responsible for in their day-to-day.

Product marketing can then focus more direct efforts on closing this business we know to be qualified through enablement, messaging/positioning, and market intelligence.

Good product marketers take the guesswork out of sales which include all revenue-generating teams (marketing, success, account management, etc).

How PMMs can learn from a demand gen team

Just as you test messaging for key titles with sales, there are a lot of opportunities to do the same with demand gen. For example, what are the paid channels where you're getting a high conversion? Is there a key message that’s performing well? Or is there a key message that’s converting well for your competitor that can help inform how your messaging needs to evolve?

Demand gen is also the only other role in marketing that works very closely with sales on a day-to-day basis validating the right leads are coming in and distributed at the right time to the right folks. There's lots of room for error but at the same time, good demand marketers can lead a masterclass on cross-functional influence and alignment.

Lastly, a large-scale activation like an ABM campaign is extremely difficult to do well as you think about the channels that make sense and various tactics. It’s important to learn about the strengths and limitations of these just as you would about the product so when launch time comes around you can make strategic recommendations on campaign structure or tactics.

I am a big believer in drawing a clear line to a financial impact for everything that you do. If you can’t answer the question “how does this help us meet or exceed revenue targets?” you should seriously question the priority of what you are doing.

How product marketing and demand gen should work together

Testing and validation should never stop. There is no ‘throw it over the fence’- every interaction should start with what’s working well and include the things that need to be improved. This isn’t finger-pointing but rather acknowledgment of where we can do better with a clear focus on the problem vs. the person.

A measure of success for product marketers for all their teams is not how much they can do with you but rather how much they can do without you. Answering this question will tell you how much you are spending on tactics vs. strategy.

In an ideal scenario, PMM defines the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and confirms the info helps develop a target account list and a clear picture of the buyer(s), work together with DG to enable SDR/sales team in account activation strategy, and then win/loss reviews, competitive analysis, and future roadmap understanding should inform what types of campaigns are being planned for the next quarter – closed-won revenue in Q1 comes from activation in Q3-4 of the year prior, so while you are focusing on bringing deals across the line today your DG partners are building the demand for tomorrow.

Measuring collaborative success

Product marketing should be accountable for revenue metrics. I am a big believer in drawing a clear line to a financial impact for everything that you do. If you can’t answer the question “how does this help us meet or exceed revenue targets?”, you should seriously question the priority of what you are doing.

For those that use OKRs or something similar, I like to use two types of goal themes:

  1. Revenue-focused goals both top of the funnel, like the number of qualified leads you are generating (should be directly aligned with DG) as well as bottom of the funnel, like the number of new logos and win rate (directly aligned with sales leaders).
  2. Product adoption goals/revenue generated via launching products (these are also directly aligned with product/demand gen so everyone is working toward the same goal).

Advice for PMMs without a strict demand gen function

Most of my experience is in early-stage startups. The main difference is that you don’t have functions in the title but the work is still getting done – you likely have ‘full-stack’ marketers or even PMM who is responsible for some of these things. Your cross-functional relationships are critical here as you are likely going to be experimenting on what’s working and need that feedback loop across the board.

Don’t assume content or collateral is getting read or working because you made it and think it’s great. Join standups and meet regularly with managers and reps and get their feedback across all teams. Join sales calls and feel the pressure before saying no to something.

Your goal should be to figure out a way to get what you want to be done by making someone else look good. Product Marketing is responsible for everything but owns nothing. The way we get things done is 60% cross-functional influence and 40% strategy. If you can consistently involve your partners in your priorities as well as the results you will build a reputation of being effective and be brought on for more strategic projects. We all have to elevate the role of PMM as it’s still widely misunderstood.

Final product marketing thoughts

Leading with empathy is a critical component of sales and marketing is no exception. Apply your selling methodology to your day to work with marketing. Start with what does this person cares about/what are their goals and then build a proposal that helps them win and get what you want. There are rarely functions designed to be so cross-functional to have enough context/perspective to design an ‘everyone wins’ scenario so always take advantage of it.