Product Marketing Fails

Product Marketing Fails 1500 1000 Jeff Minich

Product marketing is one of the hardest functions to establish in a growing marketing organization. Part of the reason it’s so difficult is because product marketing is a function that serves many masters across sales, product, and marketing, all of whom have a different conception of what “is” is when it comes to product marketing. Sales wants decks and deal support, marketing wants messaging and content, and product wants marketing requirements and product documentation. Product marketers, especially in smaller organizations, start to feel like Plastic Man, being stretched in every direction at all times.

Meeting the diverse product marketing needs of a growing organization requires thinking carefully about how to prioritize and deliver authentic, high-quality content that drives a repeatable, systematic approach to market. Sloppy execution will result in sloppy results. Even worse, when product marketing isn’t revered as the technical discipline that it is, good product marketers leave and move to marketing organizations where they feel supported to do their best work. This leaves many companies in the lurch, resulting in a loss of confidence in product marketing as a whole.

Unfortunately, product marketing fails are all too common– I’ve seen several companies, some in the post-9-figure revenue range, that have tried and failed multiple times to establish product marketing teams before getting it right. A failed product marketing model usually stems from an ad hoc approach wherein a failure to set priorities, expectations, and boundaries results in a PMM function that satisfies no one. Here are a few models that can lead to failure:

The "Service Desk" Model

In the service desk model, sales calls on product marketing anytime they have a big deal and need a new “deck” to close the big whale. If you’re a sales-led organization, you probably recognize this one. Your sales team is heavily reliant on product marketing for targeted air strikes to help close new accounts. Now, from a sales point of view, this model might seem efficient. But if you’re a small product marketing team trying to serve dozens or hundreds of salespeople, it won’t work. The reality is, the sales team should have materials from product marketing that can get every deal to the 80% mark, with the sellers (or their sales engineers) taking the pitch the last mile to meet each deal’s specific needs.

If your sales decks and content aren’t at the level where they can be re-purposed for virtually every sales situation, then something is wrong. Either your product marketing team hasn’t had the time to do a full articulation of your product messaging (because they are busy building one-off decks) or they don’t know how to do it. You have to figure out which it is and fix it, fast. The service-desk model leads to messaging sprawl and pipeline chaos. I can almost guarantee that if this is your model, you will have an extremely high variance in performance between your best and worst sales reps, and that high-variance is the enemy of profitability and growth.

The "Crash Launch" Model

This one is lots of fun. Every time the CEO or CMO has a crazy idea, product marketing is done with whatever marketing plan they had and it’s time to do a “launch” by Tuesday. Real launches… those that have substantive messaging, creative, branding, content, and in-market execution take about 4-6 weeks. I don’t care what your launch is for, if you want it to cut through and have impact, your marketing team needs 4-6 weeks. The deliver by next Tuesday “crash launch” model is a complete waste of everyone’s time and resources because the launch will be filled with superficial content that customers can detect as such from a mile away. If it’s superficial it’s unlikely to have impact, so you just hijacked your whole marketing team from doing good work for nothing.

The "Wild-West" Model

In this version, every product marketing manager runs his or her product marketing like a fiefdom. No best practices, no plan, no calendar, no nothing. Your brand taxonomy and product messaging looks like a Chinese puzzle and your customers have no idea what your product story is as a result. There are best practices for how to do product marketing well. These are well understood models like the Sirius Decisions Product Marketing & Management model and the Pragmatic Marketing Framework. If you don’t know what these frameworks are, please, click the links and learn. Save your product marketing team the pain of you not knowing what product marketing best practices are. Implementing best-practices doesn’t mean you throw away your right to be agile and light in execution. You can take from them what works best for you. But ignoring best practices in a well-defined field like product marketing is like saying you’re going to learn how to do brain surgery through trial and error. Do you really want to bet your company’s success on that kind of approach?

Putting Product Marketing on a Path to Success

The goal of product marketing should be to create messaging and content that is an authentic reflection of the best your company and products have to offer. It should be a complete articulation of your brand and product promise and be designed in a modular way so that every go-to-market stakeholder gets seamless, impactful content needed to do their best work. At STELR we employ a three-phased approach to putting product marketing on path to success. These phases are:

  • AlignBuilding a unified messaging framework and core content that binds product, sales, and marketing to a common product and market vision.
  • AccelerateMapping core messaging with buyer mindset to create a content marketing framework that predictably propels prospects through the buyer journey
  • Scale – Developing a sales and marketing enablement process that promotes repeatability in sourcing and closing new business.


Now you might ask, “Why aren’t my product marketers already doing this?” Because you gave them a launch to do next Tuesday, and they don’t have time! When you force your product marketers to spend all their time on activities that have one-time value, they’ll never be able to build for repeatability and scale. You know the Pareto principle right? 80% of your results are driven by 20% of your people. Product marketing has to be empowered and given the headspace it needs to extract the best ideas from the top 20% of your sales and go-to-market teams and package them up for the other 80% that make up your average (mostly because they vary too much in what they say/do in-market). It’s a simple concept really. But taking the time do this packaging is what makes great product marketing, well, great. When done correctly, it can help you avoid the dreaded product marketing fail, build confidence in the PMM function, and ultimately provide a significant boost to your overall marketing and sales effectiveness.

Good luck and happy marketing!