It’s happened half a dozen times in my dozen-plus years of PMM: someone transitions jobs from Sales to product marketing.
People in Sales have a front-row seat to buyers, problems, objections and solutions. Gaining this perspective makes them naturals for crafting the value narrative from product to market. And that, in a (sorely deficient) nutshell, is the key role of product marketing.
But why would they want the job?
One way to find out why someone would move from sales to product marketing is to learn what characteristics make some people go into Sales in the first place.
This is what I’ve seen in B2B sales colleagues throughout my product marketing career:
Sales folks typically possess a much higher risk-reward threshold than people in other departments.
On the reward side of the formula, an effective Sales pro can achieve theoretically 100% of the entire available market in their territory, and a correspondingly rich compensation.
But the risk side for Sales is incredibly daunting, not even to mention the obvious logical impossibility of attaining 100% success.
- They need to rely on making, cultivating, and perpetually maintaining strong relationships — not just to ensure their social well-being like the rest of us, but to ensure their actual livelihoods, the food on their family’s table and the roof over their heads.
- Their people skills must far outweigh nearly any other skillset, and if they’re really proficient in this area, it means adapting their demeanor to each customer, even up to tens of calls/visits/communications a day. (And no, this doesn’t mean tricks like recalling customer details through inappropriate mnemonic devices à la Michael Scott at Dunder Mifflin.)
- The quarterly goals and annual quotas they are saddled with can be, frankly and sadly, worse than unreasonable. Sales quotas often appear irrational, forced, and made up in desperation, seemingly to make a board presentation look good or make up for a shortcoming elsewhere in the company. (I did say seemingly. The actual reasons are, of course, more complicated.)
- Because of a systemic lack of Sales and Marketing alignment, when Marketing ratchets up its goals (possibly with the same arbitrary-seeming rationale they were given from above – more leads! More leads! More leads!), Sales needs to tolerate both the burden and their resentment of the outward pressure.
- They have to possess the intestinal fortitude to hear “no” all. day. long.
What’s more, that list is just the price of admission for the kind of person Sales pros are required to be—before they ever start selling.
We love to think that Product Marketing makes the buying experience so frictionless that of course customers will choose our products and Sales is practically superfluous. But that’s obviously not true.
Remember the CEB data (the folks that originated The Challenger Sale, whose company is now owned by advisory firm Gartner) that showed more than half of customer loyalty from executive buyers is based on the sales experience? A greater percentage than brand, greater than product and service, greater even than price? But hey, no pressure, Sales guys.
Product Marketing — when done exceptionally well — is responsible for creating the ideal conditions for Sales and customer success.
This amounts to carving out the industry segments of opportunity, capturing the needs of and documenting the target buyers, articulating and communicating explicit value in the terms most contextual to those buyers’ pains, and equipping Sales with the relevant knowledge and tools to identify customer problems (and navigate the discussions to address them with buyers).
Incredibly, in Product Marketing we get to do this in service of the ones who willingly put themselves in pressure cooker situations every day — the Sales reps.
But we can’t value-proposition our way into eliminating the market realities of human buyers, long-term relationships, boards of directors, sales quotas, on-the-ground opportunities, and high-stakes conversations that can turn on a word, a concession, or a handshake.
So why would someone move from Sales to Product Marketing?