The Product Marketing Perspective: Breaking Through the Crowded HR Tech Market | Episode 49

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The HR tech market is extremely crowded – and many brands get lost in the sea of sameness. Defining your differentiation is a critical step to breaking through the clutter. But how do you go about it?

This is often the job of product marketing. Listen to this episode to hear from guest Noelle Bloomfield, senior director of product marketing at HR tech company, Gloat. We talk about the important role of product marketing in gathering market insights, aligning strategy and building out message positioning to differentiate form the competition. Hear why she believes a test and learn approach is important to ultimately creating more value for customers by constantly iterating based on market changes.

00:20   The important role of product marketing in the HR tech industry
01:17   Integrating product marketing and aligning with other teams
03:31   Quarterbacking the go-to-market journey to connect with buyers
08:00   How to stand out in a crowded market through differentiation
12:24   How to build a product marketing team designed to align with other teams
15:35   How to prioritize and focus
18:23   Why the buyer’s journey needs to be personal to connect more effectively
21:24   Continuous learning is key in product marketing
23:38   Why product marketing is a connector helping to drive better business results

(00:00:01) – Hey, everybody, it’s Jenni from GrowthMode Marketing. You’re listening to The Demand Gen Fix, the podcast where our team of GrowthModers and our guests discuss the ins and outs of demand generation, and why we believe it’s the key to long-term sustainable growth, especially in the HR tech industry.

(00:00:20) – Hi, everybody, Deanna here back for another episode of the The Demand Gen Fix podcast. This time we’re looking at product marketing and really talking about how to break through the crowded HR tech market, and to help me look at that I’m excited to have fellow marketer Noelle Bloomfield on the show today. She is a senior director of global marketing at HR tech company Gloat and has a lot of experience and expertise in this area, so it should be a great conversation. Noelle, welcome to the show.

(00:00:56) – Thank you, Deanna, and thank you for hosting me. I’m so excited to talk all things product marketing. It’s always a hot topic.

(00:01:03) – It is indeed. So, let’s start out obviously you have a background in product marketing.

(00:01:08) – Tell us about that. Give us a little context for the conversation around your experiences and what you’ve learned along the way.

(00:01:17) – For sure. So, I actually started my career in communications and public relations and came up through that way. I ended up supporting a product marketing team in cybersecurity solutions, and realized that I just had a love for combining the communications experience with being closer to the actual product and the go to market process. I spent a number of years in product marketing across Salesforce and now Gloat. I came on to Gloat to really build out and shape the product marketing function, and so that’s where a lot of my focus is still today, even as I’ve moved beyond product marketing.

(00:01:56) – I know in past conversations you’ve mentioned that you often get asked about building out a product marketing function. Let’s talk about how to integrate that into an organization.

(00:02:06) – Product marketing just means something different at different companies, and so it’s really important to understand the DNA of the company you’re at, how it’s structured, and how they get things done. And so, product marketing can often be organized by functional area.

(00:02:23) – You might have some product expertise, some real content and messaging expertise, and then go to market sales expertise. And you might organize your product marketing function based on those areas and how they need support, and build out real functional experts there, but then there’s also the approach of structuring by product line. If you have multiple product lines, you might actually align product marketers to different products and have a full end to end subject matter expert who can take things all the way from collaborating with the product team through enabling sales and bringing something to market. And making that decision, it’s really organization dependent. It depends how your product team is organized, how your sales team is organized, and really how you can bridge that gap between the two to create a cohesive go to market experience.

(00:03:13) – I think one of the questions that comes up for a lot of organizations is, what exactly is product marketing? Because I know there are marketers who do product marketing that don’t necessarily have that product marketing title because they’re probably more broad in the marketing support they do.

(00:03:31) – And then you go into larger organizations, and a lot of times they have a team that is dedicated to product marketing. And like you said, there can be a lot of different roles that product marketing actually plays in it. At a very high level, how would you describe product marketing to somebody else?

(00:03:48) – It’s a great question, and, to me, product marketers are really a quarterback of taking a product through the go to market journey. They’re not necessarily responsible for every piece along the way, but they’re helping move the ball down the field, to use a sports analogy there. And they are conduit, they’re connector, they’re collaborating with the product team, understanding what’s new, what are we building, what’s coming out, what are we bringing to market, and how is it differentiated, and how do we translate that into something that effectively captures the attention of your target customer and drives the action that we want them to take, which is usually to purchase, or to take a meeting, or whatever that may be. And so, product marketing, ultimately they’re connectors, and they’re going to own different parts of this process and collaborate along the way to make sure that you’re understanding what’s on the roadmap, how something’s being built, why it’s different.

(00:04:44) – You’re able to translate that into effective messaging and positioning. You’re able to collaborate and activate that across different marketing and sales channels. You’re able to enable and really make sure that a sales team has the right information. They need to bring this to market, and you’re helping launch and share externally with customers what you’ve developed, what the product is, what value it can deliver, and why it might help them.

(00:05:11) – For organizations that have never really focused on product marketing as a separate and specific role, what do you think organizations need to think about when are they ready to have a product marketing role? Because honestly, if you’re going to market and you’re launching a product for the first time, or new features functionality, yes, a general marketer can help do some of that, but they don’t necessarily get it deep, I think, a lot of times as a product marketer was because those individuals are laser focused on the messaging, and how do we connect with the audience, right?

(00:05:48) – I think it’s an important question of when are we ready and what you prioritize, and it might be different for different companies. I think it depends a lot on your go to market process. I think it depends on what you’re selling. My experience is primarily in B2B enterprise sales, and I think the real value that product marketing can bring is it’s someone who can get in the leads and understand maybe some of the technical elements, or the nuances of the product and why it’s designed the way it is. They can poke out and understand that, but figure out then how to use communication and marketing skills to translate that to an audience that may not be as technical, or may not have the insight on all the little pieces and parts. They just need to understand what the value is and what it can deliver. And so, I think a product marketer can really help you maximize the impact of your marketing channels and pull through. Here’s the real insight and the real pain a buyer is experiencing. And here’s really the differentiation that our product and our capability can deliver. So, the advice might be just depending on the complexity of what you’re trying to bring to market.

(00:06:57) – Having someone with product marketing expertise earlier on can be a real value, because in many ways, product marketers, they have some generalist marketing experience, but they’re able to help you really pull through and be a connector there. If your product is a little bit more intuitive to understand, you might be able to wait a little bit later and start with more general marketing and content marketing and build up to that as your organization scales.

(00:07:24) – I think that’s a really good perspective. And as I think about the HR tech space as a whole and a lot of the companies I end up running into and talking and working with, a lot of times I think the product marketing piece may be a disconnect for them because they’re going out to market, they’re trying to be everything to everyone, and let’s be real, standing out in the crowded HR tech market is not easy. It’s not just a specific product category necessarily. It’s like if you are a recruiting software, for example, there’s many different types of software within recruiting software.

(00:08:00) – So, you’re competing against all of these different organizations. And I think, what I see 90% of the time with these companies is they’re not bringing that deeper product expertise, and not narrowing down that ideal customer profile, and really connecting the emotional pain to what their product does. They talk about it so high level that trying to be everything to everyone doesn’t resonate with anyone. And it’s really hard, I think, for these organizations to embrace that and understand that without the right marketer in place to help guide them because they’re looking at their product and they’re saying, okay, but this solution that we have really could help companies with 50 employees, up to 50,000 employees, and it really is industry agnostic. Yes, that’s true. It can work for them, but your message is getting lost in the crowd. It’s a sea of sameness out in the HR tech space.

(00:08:58) – I think when it comes to a competitive market, when it comes to the real need to differentiate, a huge part of product marketing is the understanding of what’s happening across the market and not just within your own company, but what are other organizations doing? What are they building? How are they positioning that? Who is it for? And getting a little bit deeper into that insight and competitive differentiation, and pulling that back to the extended marketing and sales team.

(00:09:25) – And how you cut through? There are a number of approaches that you can take. It could be just tactically in your marketing strategy or like, let’s do something different. Everybody’s doing this webinar and these paid advertisements and these kinds of marketing launches. Do we do something differently? It could be a tactical play. It could be in your messaging and really nailing down, here’s how we are different. And being very explicit, or competitive in the message you put in market to make sure that you’re showcasing how you’re different. And then a huge part of product marketing is really supporting mid and bottom of funnel messaging and content. And that’s where you can really bring in that more technical expertise of product marketing to create assets and tools that enable your buyer with the insights they need to understand what’s different because even as a marketer, you know your product isn’t for everyone. And so, if somebody wants a candy bar, you can try and sell the broccoli, but ultimately, if they’re just not going to be satiated with something healthy and that’s not what they’re looking for, you’d rather them know.

(00:10:30) – That’s a little bit of a broad analogy, but I think in product marketing you have the educational resources to say, realistically, here’s how you might differentiate between these things, and based on the problem you’re trying to solve, here’s what we might recommend, but if you need something different, here’s how you can understand the market.

(00:10:47) – Yeah, I love that analogy of the candy bar versus broccoli. I think it really makes it easy to understand and maybe educate the stakeholders internally in an organization that sometimes you’re not going to convince a buyer who’s not already in market to buy, to go spend hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars on a technology right now, but how do you position your messaging and go out in the market to resonate with those that know they need it and are ready? And I think about something you said last time we talked, Noelle, about product marketing being further down in the buying funnel. So, you’re really looking at the perspective of, okay, these are the in-market people. What’s going to resonate with them? It’s not necessarily your job to go create the brand awareness in the market, right?

(00:11:38) – Exactly. You have, probably, some talented folks who understand how to generate awareness, and capture the attention and the hearts and minds of the right people, but ultimately, when you’re trying to help them differentiate between solutions that are relatively similar or in the same space, that’s really where product marketing can lend a big advantage.

(00:11:59) – So, I know when you came to Gloat, you built the pride marketing team from the ground up. It was a new function for them, correct? Well, let’s talk a little bit about how you went about approaching that in the beginning, and getting the other teams aligned, and making sure that they embraced what you were doing and understood from an internal perspective what could be done in the market.

(00:12:24) – When I came into Gloat, it was myself, we brought in a product marketing manager at the same time to really kick things off, and I think what was really important for me and what I’d recommend is starting with a lot of conversations and listening and learning. When you’re coming in and there’s not something that’s really predefined, it takes a little bit of one understanding the organization you’re in, what’s working.

(00:12:47) – You don’t want to change something that’s already in motion and effective. So, how do you augment the existing processes of the organization, and how do you start building a relationship, first, understanding the goals of different teams to make sure that you can then achieve your own goals in a way that bolsters all ships. Coming in and just throwing your frameworks and your processes and your models isn’t going to work if people aren’t really bought in on the concept, and they don’t know you’re switching up something that might already be working. So, I spent a lot of time just trying to get to know the product team, trying to understand their processes, trying to understand the sales process, and work with the sales leaders to understand how they’re going to market, how they get information and whatnot. Working across the marketing team and seeing how do things work today? Where are the gaps that you need to plug? And I think from there, you start finding a way to bring in the experiences, the best practices you have, but apply them in a way that works for the organization.

(00:13:47) – So, finding the right cadence with the team, setting shared goals that align to how the product goals are working and the product process work, setting processes that align to the way the the sellers are getting enabled, getting up to speed, getting information, and really going from there. And I think there’s a little bit of education to do. As we’ve discussed already, if product marketing means something different everywhere, if you come in with a goal of here’s how I can be helpful product, I am trying to make sure that there’s incredible adoption excitement. We’re trying to get your product in the hands of qualified users, and I’m your champion there to help do that. Sales, we’re trying to give you the tools that help you be successful in your conversations, help you achieve your goals. We’re all on the same team, and you want to really take a team based goal approach in building out a function, so that they understand why it’s a benefit to partner to you, why it’s a benefit to maybe have to join more meetings, or have more conversations, or loop more people in.

(00:14:46) – They understand the benefit. You’re going to be really successful, and honestly, finding a few ways to get some quick wins on how you can spin up a clear sales repository, or a couple of easy sales collateral pieces that demonstrate the value up front of working with you and using your tools similarly, with product. Spinning up a few cadences, or working on a few projects that really help them show how you can augment the value of their existing process, that’s going to really help you be successful in building out an operation.

(00:15:19) – Noelle, I think obviously it’s important for the product marketing team to really have their ear on the ground in all the right places. What are areas that you recommend being well informed in, and digging in, and really doing the research for?

(00:15:35) – We’ve covered everything, and as a product marketer, you can’t do everything. You’re not going to be able to get detail on every single competitor, every single analyst, every single product detail, every single sales detail. You’re just not. So, that’s going to have to be an internal prioritization exercise that you do. Based on the goals we have as a business and the goals that our product marketing function is helping to hit, be that improving win loss rate, just accelerating deal closure, supporting and improving conversion rates at certain stages.

(00:16:07) – Whatever the big goal might be, you have to do some prioritization on where do you need to focus your time, and within that it could be a number of things, but it’s being serious, staying open. I think no matter what, as a product marketer, you have to keep a lens open of what’s happening out there, even what are other companies doing in product marketing? That could be a cool thing to bring in, even if it’s a completely different product. It’s always good to just have some basic things like setting up Google alerts on different competitors, different analysts subscribing to the right kinds of newsletters. Looking at different kinds of podcasts. Following folks, influencers on LinkedIn in your space and your industry, in marketing to just get some inspiration and wherever you need to spend your focus. We really devote time and prioritize that and dig in. I think when it comes to understanding buyers, there’s so many resources maybe inside your company. You can talk to sellers, you can talk to customers, you can run focus groups and really get some subject matter expertise.

(00:17:09) – Wherever you need to spend your time, just be really curious and almost red team yourself on what am I not thinking of? What else could I do? What are other people doing? And that’ll bring the best data into your operation that you can hope for.

(00:17:22) – Being curious is really great advice because I think a lot of organizations where they, maybe, fall down from a marketing standpoint and identifying and constantly evolving their ideal customer profile in their buyer personas if they’re not going out and getting enough feedback often enough on the prospects. And I think it’s so common for organizations to think we know our buyers, we know how they think because they’re constantly having conversations with them. They’re making speculations about things, but they’re maybe not having those conversations outside of sales conversations to dig in and ask the questions differently and to get that unbiased feedback. To understand, actually, they’re thinking about it this way, and here the whole time we’ve been marketing it this way, because that was our internal perception.

(00:18:16) – I think that’s well said. People are often in an echo chamber, and I think you’ve got to break out of it.

(00:18:23) – Sometimes I like to step back and even think about the products that I have purchased or would purchase, not only as a product marketer, but even as a person. And what made me take that action? What captured my attention? How did I start understanding the market, and how can I apply the way I buy to even just get a sense of the experience my buyer is going through in the personas I’m going after? It’s never apples to apples, but I think it just refreshes your thinking, and it’s not just about what we know as an organization. If we knew everything, we’d be winning every single deal, which if you are well done, and if you’re not, you’re probably in good company. And there’s got to be some other ways to get out there and get a sense of what your buyers are experiencing, where they’re going for information, and how to better communicate in a value based way to help them understand what your organization can do to help them.

(00:19:18) – The knowledge really is power, and the more you know, the more you can shape and that will resonate in the market, but of course, you don’t want to have analysis paralysis. And I think that’s also something that some organizations have where they try to gather so much data, and keep building on it that they never actually make progress. And from my perspective, you still going to have progress over perfection. And messaging is not one of those things. Positioning is not one of those things where you create it and then you run with it and you never change it, right? The market evolves the way buyers think about things evolve, your product evolves, and there wouldn’t be full time product marketing professionals if it was a once set it and forget it type of thing, right? There’s a reason that some organizations have the product marketing team, and it’s so that they can follow and shape to the evolving market and the evolving product.

(00:20:13) – Completely agree. It’s got to be adapt at a balance of data, experimentation, and intuition, so to your point, you just can’t get every data point. Even if you did, you wouldn’t know how to parse that into something valuable

(00:20:26) – And you’re losing time in collecting too much information. You want enough information to maybe make some informed experiments, but ultimately you have to try new things to see what sticks. And maybe you don’t have all of the information, but that’s what a test is for. That’s why you try to put some messaging in market, or try a new format, or try a new asset, or put some new intro slides in front of different customers and see what works. And then there’s always going to be an element of intuition. It’s why you hire qualified, talented people who are going to challenge and say, I have some conviction that this might work. Obviously, if there’s data against it, there’s got to be a balance there, but ultimately you have to make a decision based on what your experience in your gut is telling you. And the balance of those three things hopefully helps you be successful.

(00:21:15) – What are pieces of advice that you have for marketers out there that are working on mastering product marketing in the HR tech space?

(00:21:24) – Do we ever really master product marketing? I think that’s part of the fun of it.

(00:21:28) – There’s always something new. As you’re learning and growing in this space, it’s helpful to look at great companies who are really successful, see what they’re doing for things like product launch, see what they’re doing for messaging and positioning. Almost go through the exercise of what is their value proposition, what messaging framework are they working on, and how can I emulate the best practice? I think they’re really helpful frameworks out there and tools to use for everything from messaging and positioning to a product launch to enablement toolkits. It’s helpful not to reinvent the wheel. So, start there and then evolve based on what your organization needs. Ultimately, I think it’s really important to build your expertise and understanding who a product is for. Why did you build the product? Why is the way your organization built and designed its offering different from those things in market, and how do you connect the dots? There are tons of great writers and communicators and whatnot, but the skill you can’t really master product marketing without is finding a way to dig in to the core differences, because that’s really the value that you’re bringing to the rest of the marketing organization and the sales organization.

(00:22:43) – That’s really the skill you’re getting behind. And I think also, don’t be afraid of speaking up. It’s a really cross-functional role. So ask questions, keep going, gather information. Like, a product marketing role is a connecting role. That’s a huge amount of the value that you’re bringing and saying, here’s what customers are doing that’s successful. How can we take that and turn that into a sales play? Or how can we take this thing that’s going really well in part of our marketing and almost extend it further down the funnel? This message is really capturing attention top of the funnel. Why is that? What’s behind that pain that we can really speak to and dig into in more depth? How can I bring that back to the product team to inform how they’re building and prioritizing their roadmap? You’re really a connector, and the more information you can share and gather, the better you’re going to be able to be in terms of taking that and actioning it and driving results for the organization. I think the final piece, I would say, is always think about the bigger goal.

(00:23:38) – It can be very easy to get in the woodworks that we’re trying to get this customer case study, or this message, or this launch of this. What are you trying to do? What is the big goal for the business and what is product marketing? What is the goal that you’re trying to deliver against? Always be prioritizing your actions and your questions against that.

(00:23:57) – Well said, I couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s clear that you have a lot of experience in product marketing, and you articulated really well the value that it can bring to an organization. I think those key takeaways are you’ve got to really dig in and understand the market and your prospects and your product, and be able to connect the dots internally to get everyone aligned and help create that positioning in the market. And with that, when it’s done well, it can really make a difference for an organization.

(00:24:33) – Absolutely, no, it really can make a difference. I would caveat that in many ways, you can’t always do it all, but I think understanding how you partner with other organizations across the business to fill in all those gaps and again, be that stakeholder who helps drive things through that go to market process, you really can have an impact.

(00:24:55) – Well said. Noelle, thank you so much for joining us on today’s episode. That’s a wrap. We hope all the listeners found some value in the conversation today. And tune in again next time.

(00:25:07) – Thank you Deanna. Thank you for having me.

(00:25:09) – Thank you.

(00:25:12) – Thanks for joining us on The Demand Gen Fix, a podcast for HR tech marketers brought to you by GrowthMode Marketing. I sure hope you enjoyed it. Don’t forget to subscribe for more perspectives on demand generation and B2B marketing strategies. Plus, give us a like, tell your friends. We’ll see you next time.

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