Product marketing is enjoying a meteoric rise, but I also know from speaking with many of you that being a product marketer can be stressful - burnout, lack of best practices, and uncertainty about how to rise up are just some of the challenges.
So today, I will show you how I went from feeling stressed and awful to getting promoted to Senior Product Marketing Manager and the Director of Product Marketing in less than three years while working less.
So let’s dive right in.
The Path to Success in Product Marketing Without Burnout
Lesson #1: Focus on one big project that will deliver an outsized impact
The biggest secret to doing any job well is to have focus. And that means letting go of the desire to do every aspect of product marketing at once, which will dissipate your energy and lead to diminishing returns.
To have focus, you need to work on the one project that will have an outside impact at a given time and then double down on that. The best way to find the project is by speaking with others.
When I start a new job, I talk to nearly everyone in the company. I try to understand the biggest challenges that no one is helping them with. I then create a plan to address that, show results, and get feedback.
For instance, when I was at my first startup, I had to enable a team of 50+ enterprise sales reps - who were the main drivers of our revenue. I had no idea where to begin helping them, but as I spoke to them individually, it because clear that all the reps said something different about our value prop. So I focused on standardizing our pitch to increase win rates. I dedicated an intense 2 months to revising our sales deck and listened to dozens of live pitches before rolling out the final product. The sales reps could see the difference right away and I was given a cultural award for the work I did to help them.
If you are struggling with figuring out your big project, ask yourself the following questions:
What is the most crucial goal of your company?
Which team is most important for influencing that goal?
What are the different levers that can affect that goal?
What lever can you most readily influence?
Lesson #2: Ruthlessly prioritize your time and energy
To focus on the projects with the most impact, you need to say no to things. This was something I had to learn the hard way. Saying no does not mean rudely telling your boss you won’t do work, but it means smartly delegating, reducing, or postponing certain tasks.
After getting burned out in my first year as a PMM, I now religiously prioritize my time every week this way:
Each Monday, I start by writing out all the tasks/commitments I have in front of me, and ask myself the following questions:
Does this task move me closer to my most important goal (from lesson #1)?
How much effort does it require to do this task?
I then lay out all my tasks in a 2x2 matrix as shown below that maps effort against impact (source: ProductPlan):
Quick wins - this is where you spend a good amount of time here.
Major project - this may be a longer-term strategic project. This could present a great collaboration opportunity.
Fill-ins - these can be delegated or reduced in scope if possible
Thankless tasks - these should be eliminated
Over the years, sticking to this principle has allowed me to excel in product marketing without burnout, producing more results while working less.
Lesson #3: Collaborate to create win-win situations
Growing up in a hyper-competitive environment, I was told to be successful, I had to be better than everyone else. But the flaw of this statement is it assumes life is a zero-sum game - that there is only a finite amount of “pie”, and my win comes from someone else’s loss. When we live life as a zero-sum game, we are always hyper-competitive and stressed out.
That is no way to live. In fact, life is more like a positive sum game - your gain can be someone else’s gain as well. And I have fortunately benefited so much in my career by collaborating with others to create win-wins. When we collaborate with others, we:
Benefit from each other’s talents and get the project done faster and better
Gain additional perspective and empathy from others’ POV
Gain constructive feedback that helps us improve
Enjoy our work more and feel a sense of camaraderie
As a product marketer, your most likely collaborators are other product marketers, other marketers (demand gen, brand, content marketers), product managers, or customer success managers. These individuals/teams have natural synergies with you, are equally aligned on the same goals, and have complementary skill sets.
In the sales enablement example above, I didn’t do it alone. I partnered with my PMM peer who provided valuable feedback on my sales decks - we even tagged team to sit in on sales calls. The collaboration allowed us to deliver our project in record time and helped establish the value of the product marketing team as a whole.
So, what project can you get help on, and what can you help someone else with?
Lesson #4: Ask with intention
So you delivered impact and accomplished some really important goals for your company. What’s next? Just delivering results and hoping you will get recognized is unlikely to get you promoted.
You have to ask for it.
In fact, this is the best advice I have received in my career. Since then, almost all of my promotions or raises are because I proactively asked for them. But how do you ask for something effectively? And how do you avoid the fear of being told no?
Here are a few tips I recommend:
Make your intentions clear - Promotions don’t happen overnight, and can sometimes take months to build a case. So plan to have a conversation with your manager at least 6 months before you want to get promoted. Layout your intention to move to the next level, and get clarity on what is required for you to achieve that.
Ask for it in the right way - When you have demonstrated progress towards achieving the requirements, it’s time to make the ask. Share specific examples of how you have met or exceeded the requirement, and the IMPACT that had on the company as a whole.
Have a low emotional attachment to the outcome - Instead of just focusing on yes or no at the moment, be open to alternative possibilities, timing, and feedback. It also shows your willingness to grow and compromise.
Lesson #5: Build career portfolios, not career ladders
Hopefully, by following Lessons 1-4, you are well on your way to getting promoted and climbing the proverbial career ladder.
However, in recent years, more people have discovered that the best careers are not always straight lines. Rather, they are non-linear “squiggly careers” ( source: HBR). Indeed, our careers (and life) are more than just a series of promotions.
Getting promoted is not the end in itself, but a means for you to stretch yourself, learn more, and grow through new types of experiences. So instead of being overly focused on a title, or salary, focus more on what new skills will you get to learn, and what new exciting challenges will present themselves.
And when you let go a little from the chains of the career ladder, you will open yourself up to explore more career possibilities - whether it is to take on a side hustle, build a passion project, or take a career break - to build a truly fulfilling career portfolio.
When I look at my own career path, I see two distinct periods. The first was when I was a transportation consultant when I fixated on just getting promoted and earning more money. The second was when I decided to quit my job and make a dramatic pivot to doing something different. Though the path was way more squiggly (and I have had many challenges and countless failures), it was the most exhilarating part of my career. Best of all, by not fixating only on getting promoted, I ended up getting promoted faster.
Thanks for reading. Whenever you are ready, I can help you:
Accelerate your career growth
Overcome impost syndrome
Master product marketing fundamentals
Transition into a new role with confidence