saas product marketing manager

How to assess a great B2B SaaS product marketing manager

Stijn Hendrikse
Mar 1, 2021

Product marketing is one of the most important roles in a B2B SaaS Marketing team. It’s also the least well defined, and hardest to hire for. 

In this blog, you’ll learn everything to look for in a great tech product marketing manager, in addition to how to find and review good candidates for your SaaS company.

But first? Let’s kick things off with the basics of product marketing. 

What is SaaS product marketing? 

The answer to this question depends on the person you ask.

Sometimes, product management and product marketing mean the same thing, and sometimes they are different roles. Here are a few different examples of this: 

  • A product leader for your B2B SaaS company might lean towards product planning, market research, user experiments and providing product specs to your engineering team.
  • Your CMO might focus on driving product launches, creating sales enablement materials with product content, producing videos, or delivering webinars and online training.
  • Your CEO might think of positioning, pricing strategy and product strategy as the key duties of a product marketing manager. 

The reality is that all these answers are correct, and that’s why it’s critical to identify what you’re looking for before you start screening and interviewing candidates.

Why every SaaS company needs a product marketing manager

An effective B2B tech product marketing manager offers essential benefits to your organization, including:

  • Increasing revenue and profitability
  • Delivering customer-centric products
  • Developing customer trust (which results in referrals)
  • Creating product strategies that own the long-term markets

B2B tech product marketing managers have to fulfill an important leadership role for the marketing team and the rest of the organization. Their contagious enthusiasm for the product, and a commitment to excellence in turning it into a businesses success make this a pivotal role. They understand all aspects of the business and are responsible for the success or failure of products and services. 

Dedicated product managers bring products and services to market with the goal of satisfying customers. Their expertise in all areas regarding products, customers, technology, competitors, marketing trends and analysis helps drive profits for the company. 

As Kalungi works with smaller software companies, we believe that the first product marketing manager for your B2B SaaS company should include:

  • A comprehensive understanding of marketing that can anticipate what marketing campaigns are needed, and use your product roadmap to inform future marketing decisions and product launches.
  • The ability to optimize your Product-Market Fit (PMF) by studying your competition, your customers and your own solution(s). 
  • Someone who looks ahead of the technology curve and anticipating your company’s strategic needs, like pricing and positioning updates.
  • Customer resonance and ability to meet KPIs, including growth of your SaaS company’s “Engaged Advocates” (people who like using and sharing content about your product, and who buy more driving SaaS ARPU up.)

At the end of the day, your product marketing manager is there to drive awareness, excitement and engagement with your software with strategic marketing initiatives, building positive relationships with your customers and anticipating trends in your technological environment.

Now that we’ve identified who your product marketing manager should be and why you need one, let’s cover what their day-to-day lives might look like.  

Responsibilities of a product marketing manager

An effective product marketing manager wears many hats, with ‘superpowers’ that cover customer insight generation, product road mapping and competitive analysis, marketing promotions and upsell campaigns, and executing product launches. 

Still, an effective software product marketing manager’s daily responsibilities should include the following four concepts: 

  1. Insights and application: A product marketing manager owns product strategy grounded in market insight and customer feedback. She studies the competition, our customers and ourselves to optimize our Product-Market Fit.
  2. Strategy and execution: Of all team members, the PM takes the most strategic view and looks around the corner and anticipates what we need to be ready for. How to create a pricing and positioning strategy that satisfies current growth needs (share?) and future ambitions (revenue? profitability?)
  3. Program management: Your PM is the circus master of impressive product launches. While a “launch” may not be a single moment in time anymore, you own creating a rolling thunder of excitement and anticipation. You’re the anchor for the rest of the team to develop great content, PR, demand gen, and customer loyalty.
  4. Customer-centricity: You have the pulse on the finger of our customers, users, and other product stakeholders. Your work is joined at the hip with the product management team, and you run with the marketing pieces like messaging, promotions, campaigns, branding and pricing.

Hard and soft skills of a successful product manager 

Successful product managers use a variety of hard and soft skills. Hard skills are the technical skills needed to be effective in the position, related to education and experience, like working with software, technology, spreadsheets and time management.

Soft skills relate to behavior and the ability to develop positive relationships with the others in your business. These skills require the ability to communicate with co-workers and customers with respect and valuable information.

Collaboration and interpersonal skills

A product marketing manager usually sits between product technology, marketing, sales and customer success to help manage the product roadmap and to internal and external communications related to new feature releases. 

Essentially, a product manager is there to ensure that new features are well-researched and represent strong benefits for your target personas, or ideal customer profile (ICP). Once complete, the benefits of the new features must be communicated widely (both internally and externally) or else the product enhancements and features will be untouched and unappreciated by your customer base. Depending on release cycles, product managers may need to update content and collateral frequently. 

Product affinity

Your product marketing manager needs to thoroughly understand the Product or Service. Whether your business is a start-up, small, medium or large organization, product managers should understand your offering. 

Since the role of a product manager is the strategic planning and execution of new and existing products, it's necessary to have a thorough knowledge about what the company offers. A product manager is expected to be the hub of expertise for the entire company regarding the products and services.

Market research

Remarkable software product marketing managers have the ability to evaluate and research the SaaS industry, the market, and the competition. By doing this, they create a sustainable vision of how to meet the needs of the market and satisfy customers. They also realize when to modify products to meet the needs of the market.

Customer intimacy

Expect your product marketing manager to know your customers' needs and to develop an actionable plan that keeps your products relevant and profitable. The PM should be willing to interact with your sales, marketing, research, and finance people to gain knowledge about your customers and their influencers. 

Knowledge of the customer journey and user experience is paramount for success, as well as being the voice of the customer. In this way, all pieces of your B2B tech business fit together into effective product marketing for today and tomorrow.

Dynamic leadership qualities

A remarkable product manager wins over the audience by responding to their concerns and convincing them of the values of the PMs product vision. Strong product managers must be empathetic yet analytical, looking for areas of improvement and ways to meet customer needs. 

Your product manager should maintain transparency and honesty with your co-workers, but also customers. Being a dynamic leader means realizing the strengths of people in other departments and delegating appropriate tasks to become as efficient and productive as possible. 

Lastly, a strong candidate for product marketing can communicate and inspire enthusiasm for products and services that impacts your bottom line. 

Strong decision-making skills

Product managers must make forward-looking decisions every day based on current data, and weigh the risks and rewards throughout this decision-making process. 

Additionally, the best SaaS product marketing managers can anticipate problems and forge a path to solve these roadblocks. One attribute of a successful product manager has the mental toughness and tenacity to pursue a problem until it's solved. Whether dealing with complex or simple issues, product managers use analytical skills to break down and solve the problem. 

SaaS product marketing KPIs

Product marketing success means product revenue for your B2B SaaS company. 

An effective SaaS product marketing manager will lead to more purchases from customers, increased customer retention, and happy users that understand your product’s value proposition by deploying guerilla marketing tactics that were needed to get the word out and to challenge the status quo.

But how can you actually quantify how successful your product marketing manager’s efforts are? Key performance indicators (KPIs) you should use include: 

  • Product revenue: benchmark your monthly or annual recurring revenue before and after your PM is onboarded. 
  • Customer product satisfaction: this can be attained through a NPS score, customer calls, or more simple feedback surveys sent out following any employee-facing interaction.
  • Average revenue per user (ARPU): while there’s no optimal ARPU, it’s important to benchmark how many customers you need to reach your revenue goals.
  • Churn: this varies depending on your ICP -- for SaaS companies serving enterprises, this should be below 10%. However, if you’re serving SMEs, this can be as high as 50%. Learn more about how to lower your SaaS product’s churn. 

When tracking your product marketing KPIs, use an excel spreadsheet or another tracking tool to benchmark and analyze your efforts. This will help you refine your long-term marketing allocation, in addition to short- and long-term insight into what’s working (and what’s not) at your software company.

Now that you’re a pro with SaaS product management, how do you actually vet out the best product marketing manager for your company? 

7 interview questions to qualify a strong SaaS product marketing manager candidate

As someone who has interviewed many marketing candidates over the years, I've included some key questions to use within your interviews (and what to look for).

1. Describe each of the products at your previous company.

A question like this is a great way to start an interview. It gets the candidate talking about something they know (hopefully) and let’s you see how well they articulate the story of their product out loud.

What to listen for: Is their description clear and concise? Can you easily understand it? Do you feel persuaded to use the product? If not, your customers probably won’t either.

2. We’re releasing X feature. How would you launch it?

Walking through a product launch evaluates their familiarity with the process. It also allows them to show their creativity and any new strategies they could bring to your company.

What to listen for: Real anecdotes. Dig in on the real things they’ve done. Make sure they’re hitting some of the key steps (see How to Launch a New Product) and are keeping customers at the heart of every decision. Also note if they’re walking through the processes you already use, or if they’re bringing anything new to the table. You should leave the room with 2-3 new ideas. 

3. Name a good product that’s marketed poorly. What would you do differently?

Product Marketers should always be looking for ways to improve adoption. This question let’s a candidate show that they know what good marketing looks like. If they do, it won’t take them long to think of one. This will help you dig into if the candidate understands the nuances between product marketing & product management.

What to listen for: While the hope is that they’re ready to go with an awesome marketing overhaul, this is another instance where you want to make sure they’re keeping the customer in mind with every recommendation.

4. We’re increasing the price of one of our features. How would you communicate this to our customers?

Not an easy message, which means it needs to be handled carefully to mitigate negative reactions and churn.

What to listen for: Where do they start? Are they thinking through process, or through possible customer reactions? Empathy and an understanding of the customer is crucial in crafting these messages.

5. How would you fix onboarding?

A good product marketer makes decisions that are driven by data and customer feedback. Max Freiert, Director of Product at LovePop Cards uses this question to see if candidates take the easy route of diving into a solution, or start by asking questions to come to a data-driven solution.

What to listen for: Questions about things like current issues with the process, conversion rates, and where customers are dropping off.

6. We sent a notification asking customers to update their software. 60% updated. How would you get the remaining 40% to update?

Take launch questions one step further. Asking about next steps lets you see if they can iterate to further drive adoption. This would also be a great question to ask a growth marketing candidate.

Things to listen for: Big changes in messaging or delivery. Doing the same thing again won’t get you any closer. Asking questions about customers is a great sign here, as well.

7. How did you deal with churn, or what channels got you the most leads in your previous position?

This is to test their marketing knowledge in respect with their most recent stint or the business you are trying to hire them for. Marketing as a discipline is universal, but the execution can be insular depending on which domain your business operates on, at what stage is your product, what’s your competitive field, and so on. This question should be tweaked to bring out the candidate’s knowledge pertaining to the job requirement.

For example, ask them how they handle “churn” and “onboarding” in their previous company if you are in SaaS business. If you are an up-and-coming business, you should have your product marketing interview questions designed to test the applicant’s knowledge on “lead generation” and “nurturing”. 

Likewise, if you are looking to create a buzz around your business that is already gaining some traction, you should check if they know enough about “branded content”, “earned media”, or “guest posting” so that they can amplify your co-marketing efforts to the next level.

Jargons are not always bad — they are actually helpful if you want to gauge a job applicant’s conceptual knowledge.

The right product marketing fit takes time

And sometimes, B2B SaaS companies looking for T2D3 growth need an instant-on solution.

If you’re looking for an effective SaaS product manager right now, contact us. Our interim CMOs are certified in product marketing by the Product Marketing Alliance, and have supported over 30 SaaS companies scale and profit with our proven B2B SaaS marketing playbook.  

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