Main illustration: Jason Yim
As product-first businesses evolve, so do their product marketing needs. We talk to Ali Biggs, Jasmine Jaume and Christine Sotelo-Dag about product marketing and how we do it at Intercom.
At a product-first company like Intercom, our product marketing team has always had a crucial role – and over the years, we have often discussed how we approach product marketing.
Of course, not all companies go about product marketing in the same way. Some product marketing managers focus on the pre-launch strategy, others on the go-to-market strategy and marketing campaigns for nearly finished products,
At Intercom, however, our approach is what we call full-stack product marketing. We’re there from start to finish – from the early stages of development to roadmap strategy, launching to market and beyond.
And as we’ve matured and begun to cater to new segments, a wider range of use cases, and upmarket customers, product marketing’s role has evolved and expanded. In this episode, our very own PMMs Ali Biggs, Jasmine Jaume and Christine Sotelo-Dag tell me all about product marketing and how we do it here at Intercom.
If you’re short on time, here are a few quick takeaways:
- When a business ships very fast, overmessaging customers becomes a real concern. A tiering framework for launches helps to determine how much attention to give each new feature and which particular set of customers should hear about it.
- One way to facilitate the relationship between product and product marketing is structuring the product marketing team in a way that mirrors the product team – each PMM owns a specific part and is partnered with the respective product managers, bringing deep domain knowledge with them.
- However, there is no one-size-fits-all org structure between PMs and PMMs. It can be one-to-one, but it can also work in plenty of other ways. As long as everyone knows who the point person is on product marketing, it usually works out.
- Marketing and product marketing aren’t interchangeable. During launches, it’s often best if each team focuses on what they do best – product marketing with the positioning and go-to-market strategy and other parts of the marketing team taking ownership of the higher-level narrative and integrated marketing campaigns.
- It’s important to create growth paths for both managers and individual contributors, even when those growth paths don’t develop organically.
If you enjoy our discussion, check out more episodes of our podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes, stream on Spotify or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the episode.
Every step of the way
Liam Geraghty: Hi there. I’m Liam Geraghty and welcome to Inside Intercom. In this episode, we’re diving into product marketing and how we do it here at Intercom. So who better to talk to than our very own PMM superstars, Ali Biggs, Jasmine Jaume, and Christine Sotelo-Dag.
Ali Biggs: Our PMM team mission at Intercom is to bring to life the voice of the market internally and the product externally, so new and existing customers can discover, adopt and get value from Intercom.
Liam: As a product-first company, new product launches are a core part of Intercom’s DNA. And over the years, our product marketing has evolved as we’ve matured as a company and moved upmarket.
“They’re working very closely with the product team to define what we should be building and what the roadmap and strategy should be, all the way to launching to market and beyond”
Jasmine Jaume: I’m Jasmine Jaume. I’m a director of product marketing at Intercom, and I look after the product marketing teams focused on our support solution and our platform part of the product – partners, apps, and our data platform. PMM at Intercom is what some people call full-stack product marketing, which is a bit of a jargony term, but essentially it means that PMMs here are there from the very beginning of the development of a product or feature. They’re working very closely with the product team to define what we should be building and what the roadmap and strategy should be, all the way to launching to market and beyond, and helping increase adoption and uptake of those features as well.
While at some companies you will have PMMs who specialize on one side or the other – they might be pre-launch PMMs who are focused on that strategy aspect, or they might be go-to-market PMMs who are focused more on launches –, PMMs at Intercom do the whole gamut, from the start to the end and beyond.
Liam: So, the whole shebang.
Jasmine: Yes, indeed.
Liam: We ship so much at Intercom, so aligning the stories we want to tell with what we’re building can be a challenge.
Jasmine: Yeah. It’s a tricky challenge in a company like Intercom, where it is a very product-driven company. We ship very fast, and we also have solutions for multiple different use cases and audiences. And so, we have to try and balance all that to make sure that the stories we’re telling to the market and to our customers make sense, that we’re not over messaging them, but also making sure they know about all this great stuff we’re shipping.
“We want to get really targeted and make sure we’re telling that story in a cohesive way to the people who will actually care about it”
There are various ways we’ve tried to evolve that over the years. One is creating a pretty robust tiering framework for launches so that we understand how much attention we should give to a thing, what types of activities we should do for it based on the expected impact, whether it’s going to disrupt customers’ workflows, whether this is something we think is going to expand current customers or help with other commercial goals that we’re targeting.
That helps us get alignment with the product team, “Okay, this is a tier four launch, which means we’ll put it in the change log and maybe message a smaller group of customers.” And something else might be a tier one, which is the full gamut of activities, including going out into the market with press and events and things like that. And that’s been really key to making sure we don’t just message all of our customers about everything all the time because that would be very frustrating for them.
And also, as we’ve moved upmarket and matured as a company, we have lots of different segments of customers. We don’t want to message a segment of customers who don’t care about a particular feature. We want to get really targeted and make sure we’re telling that story in a cohesive way to the people who will actually care about it.
Improving cross-team collaboration
Liam: Because PMMs at Intercom have this full-stack remiss, the relationship with the product team is really key.
Jasmine: This is a classic tension for product marketing teams, wanting to have that seat at the table with the product team, and actually be able to input and strategy, and not just have it that the product team builds something and then chucks it over the fence for PMM to launch. And so that relationship is really, really key. One of the ways we help facilitate that is that we structure our PMM team in a way that mirrors the product team. Each PMM will own a specific part of our product or segment and then be partnered directly with two to three PMs who work in that same area. That allows them to build really deep domain knowledge in that specific part of the product or that segment of customers. And therefore, they can provide really great value to the PM team.
“PMMs need to make sure they understand the product’s goals and that PMs understand our goals, as well”
The other piece is just making sure that PMs and PMMs understand their roles together. PMMs need to make sure they understand the product’s goals and that PMs understand our goals, as well, so we get that alignment and have them involved right from the very start. I love that, at Intercom, product and product marketing work so close together because that’s not always the case. But I think it means that we ultimately build a better product and do better launches.
Liam: Christine Sotelo-Dag is a group product marketing manager at Intercom. Christine says the role of launches at Intercom has changed over the last decade.
Christine Sotelo-Dag: I think this has shifted in parallel with Intercom shifting. When I joined six years ago, we were very much a product-led company. And so, the goal of product launches was to bring people to the top of the funnel and move them through and get them to start a trial. Now Intercom shifts to being more of a sales-led business. The role of launches is still to fill that funnel and work with the other marketing teams to do that in a very cohesive way, but also how do we enable sales to go out and sell what we’re building and really bring these new features and products to life through the sales motion?
Liam: Christine says working with marketing on launches has also evolved.
“Working with marketing now is enabling them with the positioning and messaging and go-to-market strategy, and let the owners of those channels really work their magic”
Christine: A few years ago, it felt like product marketing wasn’t just putting together the launches, but they were also writing the blog posts and sending out the email messages. Now, we’re lucky to have a pretty robust marketing team that’s thinking about launches as it ladders up to our higher-level narrative and how it expands into our integrated marketing campaigns. Working with marketing now is really enabling them with the positioning and messaging and go-to-market strategy, and let the owners of those channels and functions really work their magic as they’re the experts. It’s really cool because you work together in this cohesive way but also fire off all the different cylinders on your own.
Liam: What’s one of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?
Christine: A few years ago, I got pulled into this project kind of ad hoc around updating our purchase flow, and so I was working with a new team. It was this tiger team of sorts that got put together to rethink our pricing metrics and redo our purchase flow. We had a product manager, a product designer, an engineer, a researcher, and product marketing. It was just this core group. And we were in lockstep, we didn’t focus on anything else for a 16-week sprint. And I loved it. It was a really cool experience getting to work really closely with some person that you might have never worked with before. And we were all sitting in the same office, which feels so foreign now. Traditionally, Intercom is split between San Francisco and Dublin. So it was really nice to come into the office every day and just be with this tight-knit group of people. I think fondly on that, although nobody thinks fondly of pricing and packaging. It’s controversial.
A path for everyone
Liam: Something unique to the PMM team is the need to be a functional area expert, as Intercom senior director of product marketing, Ali Biggs, explains.
Ali Biggs: This is something we think about a lot. It takes product marketers a little bit of time to get ramped up anytime they are asked to become a functional area expert on a product line, a feature, a buyer, a customer segment, et cetera. That takes time. So, you don’t want to be too casual with decisions around changing those areas of focus. You need to be intentional because it will lead to additional ramp times, which simply means that it may take longer to start to see output and results from any shifts in that area of ownership.
Liam: In terms of team structure and culture and PMM, balancing near-term business needs with long-term growth paths for individuals is something Ali says they think about a lot.
“You don’t want a totally flat org full of really ambitious individual contributors who don’t have a growth path in front of them”
Ali: Not just in terms of what the business needs today, but also to make sure that we’re not over-indexing on a near-term gain that will come to the detriment of individuals’ growth opportunities long-term. You don’t want a totally flat org full of really ambitious individual contributors who don’t have a growth path in front of them.
Sometimes you need to be thinking proactively about leveling, and of course, you always want to be thinking about what this person’s progression path looks like, both here at Intercom but longer-term as well. And how can we make sure that this is always beneficial to Intercom as a business, but also to these product marketers, and making sure that they’re gathering the experience and the specific skills that will ultimately serve them well long-term? So we’re constantly thinking about those growth paths, talking about them as a leadership team, and making sure that folks feel good about where they’re heading with us.
“A lot of people think that the path to their future is to become a people manager when they’re actually a killer individual contributor”
Liam: Is that challenging?
Ali: Yes. It can be. I will say, a lot of times people’s growth paths come rather organically. But sometimes, you are navigating a situation where someone’s stated growth path is a little bit different than maybe their skillset or their interests.
A lot of people think that the path to their future is to become a people manager when they’re actually a killer individual contributor. And when you really dig around on what they enjoy spending their time on, it’s leading individual projects and working cross-functionally with different individuals, either at their peer level, maybe one level above, one level below. It’s not always as straightforward as, “Hey, if I’m going to be a successful marketer, I need to get into management.” Sometimes, it’s all about just really digging in with that person and figuring out, “What do you really want to work on?” It’s important to have growth paths for both people managers and for those who want to be on the IC track long-term.
Designing the team structure
Liam: Ali says that when designing an org structure, we look to how our partner teams are structured in product and sales. But we also acknowledge that PMM doesn’t have to align one-to-one in order to be effective.
Ali: This is an often debated topic within product marketing. When I was interviewing at Intercom, I was asked to put together some potential org structure options. And when you Google PMM org structure, there is no one recommended structure. There are just so many ways you can do this. What ultimately happens a lot of times is that the simplest way to align product marketing to product is what you end up seeing. There’s a one-to-one alignment, either at the individual PM to PMM level or at the group PM to senior manager product marketing level. But there are so many ways you can align in complementary ways that don’t have to be one-to-one.
In those cases where, for example, you align your product marketing team to solutions, your product team is aligned to features or product groups, and your sales team just wants to sell whatever they can, it’s most important to very clearly document and communicate how our product marketing team is going to support and align with those groups. Sometimes it’s going to actually be a two-to-one relationship of product marketers to product areas. Sometimes, it’s the other way around – there’s one single point of contact in product marketing for multiple individuals or teams on the product side. Same for sales. But as long as they know who that point person is on product marketing, it tends to work out just fine.
Earlier this year, we realigned. Reorg can be a little bit of a dirty word, so I use it very sparingly. But we realigned the product marketing group to better align to our business priorities that have shifted in the last few years. So, for example, we separated our solutions group into individual solutions. Now we have a group focused on support and a group focused on customer engagement, which is really our marketing buyer. That’s a result of the last few years where we went from, “Hey, we sometimes think about solutions, but we mostly lead with the product,” to the inverse.
“We went from, “Hey, we sometimes think about solutions, but we mostly lead with the product,” to the inverse”
We’ve also built out proper sales enablement team functions. We found a permanent home for that, and we’re building out a group there. And very importantly, we’re looking at growth paths for a lot of our senior managers and our high-performing individual contributors that over the last one, two, even three years have voiced interest in getting into people management. I’m proud to say we were able to carve out some of those opportunities for folks. And that has put them all on paths they’re really happy with, given that they put in the time, they performed at the IC level, and now we’re coaching them up into these people manager positions.
I feel incredibly lucky. When I stepped into this role, I inherited a team of incredibly smart, hardworking, empathetic, and often very funny individuals. And it’s unfortunate that over the last year and a half, we haven’t gotten to spend as much time face-to-face together. But in general, there’s low ego. There’s so much ambition. And there’s just a lot of really skilled product marketers. They’ve been doing this for a long time, and I feel like I’m constantly learning from both my leaders and my individual contributors, and that’s my favorite thing about leading this team.
Liam: Jasmine Jaume, Christine Sotelo-Dag, and Ali Biggs from Intercom’s PMM team. We are actually hiring several positions on the PMM team right now. Go to intercom.com/careers for the details. If you enjoyed the show, why not leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, or give us a shout-out on social? It really helps like-minded people discover the show. See you next week.