Keeping the market in mind: What makes product marketing successful at Intercom?

Main illustration: Christopher Gale

At Intercom, we believe the best products are built with the market in mind. That’s why some of Intercom’s first marketing hires were product marketers and why we’ve had a “seat at the table” from the early days of the company. 

This isn’t always the case across the industry. Product marketing looks different in every company, but one common trend is that many product marketing managers (PMMs) feel undervalued. In fact, only 4% of PMMs think other teams in their company fully understand what they do. 

More and more, I see startups hiring PMMs as their first marketer

Luckily, we’re seeing some shifts in the industry. More and more, I see startups hiring PMMs as their first marketer – understanding the value they bring when it comes to nailing your positioning and product-market fit from the start.

When I joined Intercom five years ago, I was thrilled with how closely PMM partnered with the product and sales teams. As Intercom has grown and evolved over the years, so has the way we work – under the leadership of Ali Biggs and alongside colleagues like Christine Sotelo, we have carefully expanded the size of the team and our remit. But we’ve always maintained, and even improved, those close partnerships.

This means better outcomes for everyone: from the teams we work with to, more importantly, our customers. Now, as Intercom turns 10 years old, we’re sharing four learnings we’ve found to be key to a successful (and happy!) product marketing team.

1. Involve PMM in the entire product process (or: it’s not all about launches)

Product marketing is often thought of as the “product launch” department because that’s often our most visible function. But while launches are a lot of fun, there’s so much more to product marketing at Intercom. 

“It’s up to us to know everything about our customers – who they are, where they hang out, and what pain points we can solve for them”

Our team’s mission is to bring the voice of the market to life within the company, and the voice of the product to life externally, so that customers can find, adopt and get value from our products. It’s up to us to know everything about our customers – who they are, what they do, and what pain points we can solve for them. Our approach is typically what’s known as “full-stack” product marketing, which essentially means we’re involved from the very start of product development, all the way to launch and beyond.

This covers four general areas.

  • Customer and marketing insight: Know our customers, competition, and market inside out and represent the voice of the market internally
  • Product strategy: Partner closely with product to influence the product strategy and roadmap, closing gaps and capitalizing on opportunities.
  • Positioning and messaging: Develop effective positioning and messaging that resonates with and converts Intercom’s target customer segments.
  • Go-to-market strategy: Define strategy for marketing new and existing products, collaborating with sales and marketing to execute.

We partner closely with the product team to influence our product strategy and roadmap based on customer and market insights. From there, PMM helps prioritize features, inputs on scope, works with other marketing teams to launch those features to the market, and then drives their uptake through sales and marketing enablement. 

Our customer and market insights inform what we build to ensure we’re telling a cohesive story that resonates with our customers, as well as influencing feature adoption and uptake well beyond launch. Ultimately, it helps us to deliver better products and marketing.

It can be a challenge not to spend all your time on launches – especially at a product-focused company like Intercom with an R&D team that ships fast and often. But as Intercom has grown, we’ve evolved our team to maintain a balance between launch work and non-launch activities like go-to-market (GTM) strategies, deep positioning work, and customer advisory boards. 

It’s important to us that our PMMs have the time and resources to dive into impactful, strategic work that affects our team and product roadmap, as well as our overall marketing strategy

This makes our roles more satisfying. I love the excitement of a big launch, but most PMMs don’t want to spend all their time doing one type of work. It’s important to us that our PMMs have the time and resources to dive into impactful, strategic work that affects our team and product roadmap, as well as our overall marketing strategy.

2. Relationships are key

It’s a little clichéd, but relationships really are the foundation of good product marketing. Our involvement in every stage of the product process means cross-team relationships are crucial. 

Our PMM team structure largely mirrors that of our Product Management team. Each PMM is focused on a specific part or segment of our product, and partners with two or three Product Managers (PMs) who work in that area. This enables close inter-team relationships between product marketing and product management, and allows PMMs to build deep domain knowledge in their specific area.

The result is a knowledgeable team of autonomous experts who are always willing to help each other, or others in the company, with their experience and insight.

We also work very closely with our GTM teams. We coordinate with the wider marketing team to ensure our narratives and messaging are consistent across marketing activities and campaigns, and with the sales team to provide the resources and information they need to offer the best service to Intercom’s customers. We’ve stepped up that relationship in recent years with the creation of a dedicated sales enablement function to meet the needs of the team more quickly and effectively. 

3. Nurture your team

Every Intercom marketer you talk to will applaud the same thing: the expertise of their colleagues. We’ve been lucky to build a team of dedicated, experienced, and ambitious marketers who are keen to help out wherever they’re needed. There’s a diverse range of experiences and perspectives across the team, and I learn so much everyday. We meet regularly as a team – both for meetings and for virtual happy hours where we play games or just chat. 

“Providing clear paths for career progression is something that’s always top of mind”

Ali Biggs, our Senior Director of Product Marketing, reflects, “I feel incredibly lucky in that when I stepped into this role, I inherited a team of incredibly smart, hardworking, empathetic, and often very funny individuals… 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. That’s my favorite thing about leading this team.”

We want to nurture that talent and ambition, so providing clear paths for career progression is something that’s always top of mind. Many ambitious marketers find that their only chance to move ahead in their company is to move into management. At Intercom, we strive to create opportunities for those who want to manage and those who want to stay on an IC track and work towards a Principal role. 

As Ali says, “You always want to be thinking about what this person’s progression path looks like both here at Intercom, and longer-term as well. 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.”

4. Evolution is essential

Intercom is growing fast. As we’ve scaled and matured, our customer segmentation has become more sophisticated and our audience has evolved. From targeting larger businesses to expanding into vertical-specific marketing, we’ve had to consistently develop our messaging as well as change how we go to market; everything from the channels we use, to how we tier launches, to the stories we tell our audiences. 

As the R&D and marketing teams have grown, PMM’s role in activities like product launches has changed. 

Christine Sotelo, our Group Product Marketing Manager, reflects, “A few years ago, it felt like Product Marketing wasn’t just putting together the launches, but also writing the blog posts and sending out the emails. Now, we’re lucky to have a pretty robust marketing team that thinks about launches as they ladder up to our higher-level narrative, and how they expand into our integrated marketing campaigns. Working with marketing now is about enabling them with the positioning, messaging, and some of that go-to-market strategy, and letting the owners of those channels and functions really work their magic as they’re the experts.”

“Our marketing has had to become more nuanced, targeted, and imaginative as we speak to people across different segments, audiences, and verticals”

This means more time to focus on strategic work, and more opportunities to try new things. Overall, our marketing has had to become more nuanced, targeted, and imaginative as we speak to people across different segments, audiences, and verticals. It’s been so exciting to see our messaging evolve from its early form and branch out into more comprehensive and curated solutions tailored to each of our customers. As a marketer, it’s been an incredible journey – and there are lots more opportunities to come.  

Does this sound exciting?

If you’re an ambitious product marketer and like the sound of PMM at Intercom, we want to hear from you! Our team is growing and we’re hiring PMMs at all levels in San Francisco – take a look at our open roles here. Have questions? Feel free to message me.

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