Like many of my peers, I fell into product marketing. More specifically, I ran into product marketing.

Right before the COVID-19 pandemic, I was in the kitchen at work when I received an email on my phone from a CMO that I had been chasing for a meeting for ages. I immediately ran to my desk and bumped straight into one of the VPs at the company. I profusely apologized and took him out to coffee.

It turned out that this VP was actually a VP of product marketing, and the conversation that we had over coffee really helped me to understand that a lot of what I defined and originally thought was the future of sales, was actually a totally separate function called product marketing.

From there, my enthusiasm grew and I inevitably transitioned from a career in sales into product marketing.

Say yes to custom requests

Let's set the scene. You're hard at work when you suddenly get a Slack message from one of your sales reps detailing a huge opportunity. It's a competitive takeout with one of your main competitors.

Nothing you have built already will make sense for this deal, but they're trying to drive some urgency and need you to build out a stack that’s totally custom for them, their buyer, and for the use case.

It doesn’t help that you’re also right in the middle of a product launch. You’ve got a tier-one launch coming up and you're prepping and building a timeline that still isn’t perfect after seven edits. So you reach the existential question: do I stop what I'm doing and help this person?

The answer is always yes. But before you say yes, there are a couple of things you should always do.

Firstly, determine the level of urgency. Is a meeting already arranged with the developer audience you’re going to present all your great material to, or is this still in flux?

Secondly, you need to find out if there is an awareness problem. Is there something that you or one of your counterparts has already done that can be repurposed? Or has another rep done something similar that you can crowdsource the information from instead of starting from scratch?

Even if all those things are not true or don't apply, you should still do the custom work. But before you start, you should sit down with the rep and agree on the forum and timeline to present this information to the rest of the team. This way, the vital knowledge is shared and is never a one-off request again.

The best reps are always taking calculated risks to sell outside the ICP. They're always trying to find that next buyer, next industry, and next use case where your product doesn't quite fit.

They know it doesn’t fit, but they also know that one day they're going to strike gold and blow their quota out of the water.

Product marketers have to stay close to these reps, and doing custom work is how you can ensure you're in the room and get information in real-time.

Align incentives with your sellers

If you're just getting started, you're trying to figure out what types of collateral are out there and what you should prioritize. Or you might be trying to find out what’s best for your motion. Whether you’re sales-led or product-led, you need to determine how that influences the type of collateral you make.

Perhaps you're wondering on an organizational level if it even makes sense for you to own all of this. Should you be relying on some cross-functional partners?

Maybe products should take a role? Who else should really be thinking about this? How do you balance net new creation versus refining what’s already in the field today?

There’s also the ever-elusive question of adoption. How do you know if it’s even worth all this time and effort? How do you know if this is driving revenue for the business and that it's actually getting used?

Fundamentally, it all comes down to incentives. Your incentives as a product marketer should be directly aligned with your sellers. This is because a salesperson will never do what you expect, they will always do what you inspect. This is where your relationship with front-line managers becomes critical.

Front-line managers are consistently inspecting deals, and if your incentives are aligned, the adoption of all of your work doesn't just become a product marketing goal and OKR. In fact, it becomes the entire sales leadership asking questions and ensuring that the feedback loop is tight.

Common mistakes in sales enablement

When marketing to developers, you need to target a specific message, buyer, and pain point, or your message won’t land at all. Enablement is no different.

We often schedule one big meeting with all the SDRs, AEs, and SEs in one room thinking this will be the easiest way. Then we do training or focus too much on the enablement and don’t think about the execution aspect.

We rely on our DevRel, dev advocates, or demand gen counterparts to really hone in on the tactics and channels to get the message to the developer audience, but sales also needs this same tactical advice.

Here’s another mistake commonly made in developer marketing. If you've ever been listening to a conversation in Gong and you’ve heard one of your salespeople absolutely butcher the new pitch you just rolled out three weeks ago, you may immediately just decide that salesperson sucks.

I challenge you to think about the alternative. Where have you created a forum with this new messaging for the rep to practice? They're not going to get it right the first time, so they need an opportunity to practice outside of live conversations.

That moment you just heard on Gong is most likely them trying out your pitch for the very first time.

How to work effectively with the three types of sellers

You're going to meet three types of sellers in your career:

The know-it-all

You know they're the know-it-all because they've told you one of two things. One, no one can ever replicate what they're doing, so product marketing shouldn't even bother trying. Or two, product marketers should just focus on gathering everyone and laying them at the feet of the salesperson.

The best way to work with the know-it-all is early and one-on-one. During the early stages of an enablement session where you only have the rough outline and basic outcomes figured out, ask for their opinion and strategic guidance on the best way to drive outcomes.

The 21 questions

When you're leading a training session, this is the type of person that asks a bunch of questions. Half of the questions might be related to the topic you're presenting, but the other half are just irrelevant.

The best way to work with this type of seller is to conduct a meeting with both your front-line managers and 21 questions to preview the content.

Then after the meeting, liaise with your front-line managers and sales managers to better understand how many of the questions asked were representative of the broader team and should be influenced in the direction of the enablement, and how many should be dismissed.

The beginners

The beginners are those who have recently been promoted from the SDR world, or came into the role without having any prior sales experience. These are people who are going to need extra reps for the content to really land, and where going that extra mile makes the most impact.

Send your content to the beginners beforehand so they can go through and read the material, and send key takeaways, recaps, and recordings afterwards. Being able to have that forum to practice is really important.

Your sales managers are going to be the ones doing a lot of the heavy lifting, so your partnership with them is critical. It’s also really important to document the plan in place before your enablement even happens. This ensures they get those extra reps and are not left behind.

Enablement vs. execution

Enablement is focused on the what, but the piece that’s often missing is the how.

Take a one pager for example. When you go through the process of making a one pager, you talk to customers, and go through a couple of iterations. You then post it in a Slack channel filled with hundreds of people and move on to your next project. The chances are that no one is going to use the one pager, and here's why.

If I'm an SDR, I'm looking at that one pager and thinking: this is awesome, but how do I use it? Should I be putting this in my first touch to help me increase open rates? Is this something I should send once I book a meeting to help me increase my hold rate or ensure people actually show up?

As a sales rep, I'm wondering: is this something that I should use instead of the slide deck? Which type of buyer is going to resonate most with this one pager?

Fundamentally, SDRs and sales reps are coin operated individuals. This means that they deem every change as a risk. So if you don't do the work of de-risking or helping individuals understand how to use your materials in day-to-day workflows, you’ll see a lack of adoption.

The difference between okay and great enablement

Enablement is not just about honing in your message, but also about the mouthpiece. Today’s product launches include an early adoption program, finding a customer, and plastering their face, quotes, and company logos everywhere.

We know it's more impactful to hear from real-life customers than a biased company that clearly just wants to make money, and the same is true for enablement.

Before you go into any team-wide presentation, you should be dogfooding your new pitch or collateral. Have your reps use it on live deals, get reactions in real-time, obtain feedback early on, and make some small iterations.

By the time you get to that team-wide presentation, you should be able to have your sales reps present on your behalf.

Let the sales reps ask questions for the more nuanced specifics of their own deals; it's much more impactful to hear from them than hear from Mr or Mrs Marketer who has never had the pressure of filling the quota.

A framework for sales enablement success

Any good product marketer worth their salt has a framework for success. The following framework is one I've been using to run enablement at organizations and scales for all types of buyers.

The first part is retention. You might be conducting a check for understanding when you finish an enablement session and ask if it made sense or if anyone had any questions.

The retention part is one to two weeks later: how much of that pit certification you just rolled out is sticking today? How many people are actually adopting it, and what's the feedback?

This ties directly into repetition. Whenever deals finish or are in progress, sales managers are already inspecting the health of the deals and asking questions such as: ‘do we have contact with the executive buyer? Have we met with the relevant persons? Do we have a plan about pricing?’

If you're partnering with sales managers early on, they can include some questions specific to you such as: what types of content or collateral have been presented that product marketing has released recently? If you’re not retaining it and no one is able to repeat it, you have to be able to research it, but in context.

Picture this, you've made a three-page dossier on one of your competitors which has their history, founders, and revenue included.

But if I'm a salesperson meeting a decision maker for the first time and there are only two minutes left of the meeting when they mention something about a competitor, my goal is not to be a fountain of knowledge.

In fact, my goal is to figure out how to say one or two things that make me sound really smart and educated so that I get 30 more minutes on this person's calendar, and so I can prep more intensely for this conversation.

A three-page dossier doesn't help me achieve this goal. I'm just looking for the most relevant bullet points to get to the next meeting, not to necessarily find out everything about a competitor. You have to account for both of the use cases: live in call versus prep beforehand.

The way to stop product marketing from being a content generating machine and start being a trusted strategic partner to sales is by using a framework like this.

You'll never have to wonder what the adoption is in ROI, because you'll consistently see a direct line between your work and the revenue numbers that the business really cares about, such as pipeline goals, ACV and win rate.