Why your first marketing hire should be a product marketer

Positioning comes before acquisition-ing

Marketers at startups often find themselves in the role of jack/jill of all trades, and master of none. There's too much to do, and no time to focus on just one channel.

But what if we said specializing early is the exact thing marketers should do?

A lot of SaaS founders think early on, "Well, if we just build an amazing product, people will come." That was the ethos at Slite early on. But after almost three years, it became clear we needed someone to build a bridge between product and people. And our marketing team of one, became a product marketing team.

Don't make the same mistake we did. Hire a product marketer early on.  

Product marketing is a major part of our strategy, and has helped our team move forward both on product and brand development. Here's what we wish we'd known six years ago, when we got started.

Our long road to product-market fit

In October 2017, we launched the first version of our product. It was a frenzied time.

Basically, we were too focused on building to even look at the market. And our first marketing hire, Laure, who had joined Slite just a few months before, didn't know what product marketing was.

Instead, she was furiously focused on acquisition. She tried a bit of everything - made cold calls, wrote blog posts, tried out paid ads, hired an agency to do SEO, consulted with the product team, redesigned the homepage, wrote feature announcements and site copy, and created Slite templates. It wasn't until that winter, when she met product marketers in SF during Y Combinator, that she was able to see that a product marketing specialist was the role that best fit Slite's needs.

Marketing ≠ user acquisition

Growth hacking used to be the trend in marketing. Now, it's all about positioning, and product-led growth. These are just jargon-ish ways to say that you need to decide what your product is, who it's for, and how it fits into the world. To do this, you need to talk to people.

Talking to potential customers about their wants and needs is, of course, a way better way to find your product champions and build trust within your community than growth hacks like Airbnb's infiltration of Craigslist, or Uber's price slashing.

In fact, many diehard growth hackers are turning to positioning now as the way forward.  The man who coined the term "Growth Hacking," Sean Ellis, is one of the creators of the product market fit survey - a popular tool used famously by Superhuman to find millions of fans for its email product.

We use a version of the PMF survey at Slite too. All new users are asked to fill out the optional survey when they sign into their new accounts for the first time, and then we read the surveys, analyze results, and often respond to questions and concerns directly. It's a slow but rewarding process for finding out who potential champions could be, and what we need to improve on.

What to look for in a great product marketer

Even though product marketing is a specialty, a product marketer has to balance many different jobs at once. Some of the responsibilities of a product marketer include:

  • customer and market research
  • debating and challenging leadership
  • communicating new features to current customers
  • getting familiar with the competitive landscape
  • suggesting changes to the product roadmap
  • measuring the success of user education initiatives

So look out for a candidate with the following qualities or experiences on their résumé:

  • minimum 2-3 years experience in your industry or niche
  • passion for and hands-on knowledge of your product
  • experience working in management or leadership
  • has an established network within your industry or niche
  • experience working in a cross-functional capacity (with designers, PMs, engineers, and other marketers)

If you're working remotely, the following qualities are especially important:

  • They are a driver - someone committed to initiating and following through on their own projects.
  • They have strong written and visual communication skills - experience with documentation, design tools, and email marketing a plus

A product marketer is close to both product and people, and someone who can deftly balance technical knowledge with empathetic intuition is a huge competitive advantage.

Final thoughts

In large companies, product marketers and product managers are truly equals - we can only see this role growing in importance in the future.

Our marketing team is growing — if you're interested, check out our careers page at https://slite.com/jobs.

Bring your team on the same page.
Discover Slite