Explore a Career in Product Marketing in Tech - Discussion with George Zeng, Product Marketing Manager at Facebook (Meta)
George Zeng, Product Marketing Manager at Facebook, describes what is involved in working as a Product Marketing Manager and what you can do to excel in this role.
With an undergrad from Princeton, and grad from UPenn, and a highly diverse work experience ranging from Investment Banking at Goldman Sachs, to running Sales for Groupon for Souther China, to starting and selling his healthcare startup, George shares a number of clear, actionable advice not just for people interested in this role but advice for anyone looking for simple tips that could help you excel in your career.
Some of the things we touch upon in this episode include:
1. What is Product Marketing Management
2. Two broad components of this role
3. Typical and atypical ways of doing this job - and how the atypical ways can help you achieve exceptional results
4. Type of projects someone would work on in this role
5. How the PMM role at Facebook might differ from other companies
6. Interesting and challenging aspects of this job
7. Common misconceptions about this role
8. Qualities in a person who would enjoy this role
9. Useful resources for interested candidates
10. Tips for anyone interested in this role
11. General tips for career greatness! :)
Detailed transcript of the discussion:
George Zeng: Hey Sonali!
SM: Hey George, how are you?
GZ: I’m doing really well. Just packing before going to Mexico for a wedding.
SM: It’s 10 pm, when are you leaving for your wedding?
GZ: I’m leaving for the wedding tomorrow, it’s a 7 am flight.
SM: This thing is going to take a while, you know that right? :)
GZ: I do and I will try to be as helpful as I can and push packing off as long as I can.
SM: I think a good place to start would be telling us about yourself and your career path so far.
GZ: Sure. I think you did a good summary. But I feel that for some people, they figure out pretty early on what they want to do. For me, it was a process of trial and error. So like you mentioned, I worked in finance, consulting but I found a good fit for me in this sweet spot of entrepreneurship and technology. I realized I enjoyed building products, building organizations and building teams. My experiences at Groupon, Facebook and entrepreneurship very much fit into that space. This is what I love doing and had a lot of fun doing in the last few years.
SM: We met each other in Wharton. Were you clear about this interest in entrepreneurship and technology then? Before that, your background was more traditional rather than non-traditional- it’s been consulting, finance or that sort of thing.
GZ: Yeah, I knew I wanted to move further from analyzing businesses and actually be closer to building businesses and building products. So that was a process that took me many years to figure out. So when I worked in investment banking, it was very much an analyzing kind of job. When I went over to the investment side, I wanted to get closer to management and how they make businesses succeed. So TPG, as some of you may know, is not only a hedge fund but also a private equity fund. So I wanted to get an experience of both private and public investing processes and from that I realized that moving into consulting was one step closer to running businesses and working with people. For me the real jump in technological entrepreneurship came when I and this other guy Howard, actually ran Groupon in Southern China. That was such a good time, Howard was a good friend and we had an amazing run. That was when I realized that I wanted to spend more time on this in the intersectionality of technology and entrepreneurship, building products, building teams and building relationships. While as a full time student, I built a product called AirCare, a healthcare innovation. And while still a student, ran the company, did a full time …………… and took the company up for success till the time we graduated from business school. I did it for another year and then sold it. Another thing I did during business school is I interned at Facebook. So after selling AirCare, I went back to Facebook. So that’s kind of how I ended up here right now.
SM: And when you were interning at Facebook, was AirCare already there at that point?
GZ: It was not. When I interned in Facebook, I had half-done ideas and business projects but I hadn’t committed to any single one at that point of time. I was working on different projects with different people. It took a little bit longer to figure that out.
SM: So you joined Facebook after selling AirCare. So can you tell us specifically what attracted you to product marketing management?
GZ: Yeah, so it’s kind of interesting for me to be in this technology and entrepreneurial position because I like the intersectionality of both business and engineering of product. And not having been trained as an engineer by education. When I was in Princeton undergrad, I got a degree on Economics and Financial Studies. So it was a bunch of humanities stuff. All the coding and technology stuff was self-taught. Like during business school, I went to engineering process at Penn. I also did this program, General Assembly it was called, that had Bootcamps. Like literally, one day in a week, it was a bootcamp for coding, Python, PHP- I literally did everything. So over the course of a year, I went up to New York for probably dozens of times, and took every single of the weekend bootcamps or evening bootcamps they had. In addition to that, I started hacking on my own. So not coming from a traditional engineering background and largely self taught, means I am very comfortable building my websites, web apps but I don’t have the engineering background to do very technical backend work.
So being at the intersectionality leverages my entrepreneurship skills, but still be …….. in product and engineering which I enjoy, product marketing and product management are both good at the intersection of these two disciplines.
SM: Maybe you can describe for us then, what is product marketing?
GZ: Product marketing is actually different from company to company. What I can do is describe what product marketing is like at Facebook and there are slight variations that I can talk to you about, which exist in other companies. Product marketing in Facebook comprises of two broad pieces of work. One is "inbound marketing" that is basically going out and figuring what the market requirements of the product are. So for example I work on Ads, in inbound projects it would be going out and figuring what advertisers really want and need to sell their products. This work would include market sizing, segmentation and it could also include lots of interviews with advertisers to know what their true needs are because sometimes, they don’t know what their needs really are. Sometimes it is very much a discovery process that an inbound product marketing person has to figure out. And when that piece of work is done, product marketing person will work with the product manager and the engineering team to spec out the requirements of the product. And when the product has been built, the second piece of a product marketing person's work is, at least at Facebook, called "outbound process". And that’s making sure the product is going out and is as widely adopted as possible to make it successful. No matter how well you build a product, if people don’t use it, then it has no impact. So the outbound piece is making sure that the product is used and it has the impact it was supposed to have.
SM: So the inbound process, at a very high level, is to understand the different requirements to be built into the product. So why were you speaking with advertiser?
GZ: Yeah, so I need to clarify that what I was mentioning was the typical ways of doing product marketing. To do anything successfully, what you need to think about is not the typical ways of doing it but the atypical ways. So there is step 1 and then step 2 in inbound processes. But to answer your question about talking to advertisers, there is this whole process of customer development. It is a discipline of entrepreneurship. If you Google it, you’ll see different examples. But to explain it in a nutshell, it means interviewing people and asking questions to tease out their true needs that they themselves might not know. So a good example of it is when Henry Ford said- if I asked them what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. But what they truly wanted was a faster, easier and efficient way for getting from point A to point B. it doesn’t have to be a horse but when you ask people, they can only talk in existing paradigms or experiences they have had before. And truly good inbound processes identifies the problem and comes up with out of the box solutions which are different from the existing paradigm. And that is the purpose of the interview- to identify the problem to solve and not only solving it in an existing way but perhaps entirely new different ways of solving it.
SM: I would like to have an example of this process where you have figured an immediate need of the advertisers but it was obvious. Also, I need to clarify, advertisers were your customers?
GZ: Yes. So the products that I used to work in at Facebook and am continuing doing so, are advertiser’s products. So these are products that advertisers use and consumers see. So the immediate users of the products are advertisers but consumers are the final users of the product.
SM: So I think it would be very helpful if you could share an example of the kinds of things you may have uncovered in your interviews with advertisers which was very insightful and led to something very different in the product.
GZ: Yeah. So let me give you an example which might be very general due to privacy concerns. So one of the things I discovered in my conversations with advertisers was having good creatives was a big problem. What that means is that the pictures and the text and the description of the ad has a very big share of the return on the actual investment of the ad. And prior to this, how people improved their creative is a very manual process of talking to agencies or maybe using professionals to help you improve the quality of your picture. So one of the ways I realized there’s probably a way to productize this or maybe we can, very thoughtfully, use machines to figure out which creatives are good and which creatives are bad. And use that to systematically improve the quality of the creatives. So that led to a whole different product part that is wholly automated process.
SM: you mentioned this interesting thing that in any job, not just in product marketing- there is a typical way of doing things and there is an atypical way of doing things. So within product management, what are the typical things that you see everyone in product management doing and what are the atypical things?
GZ: Yeah, let me give you a small example of this. A typical way of doing inbound work is maybe market sizing, doing analysis like market research, it would involve reading research reports, speaking with advertisers, customer segmentation which is segmenting the types of advertisers that use your product based on some external party search. And that is all good and important. But one of the things in my head is that to obtain unusual results, you will have to do unusual things or the usual things in an unusual way. I know it’s a little wordy but if you think about the inverse of what I just said, in order to obtain usual results, you do the usual things in a usual way. And anytime I see anyone doing the usual thing in a usual way for a really long time, I start questioning if we are really being thoughtful and innovative. So I constantly push myself to break the paradigm when I catch myself in that pattern. So one of the ways of doing that, in one of the products I worked on, I actually went out and found entrepreneurs who are building products in that space, sat them down, really understood how they built products in the past, recruited engineers and product managers who were knee deep in the aspects of the product, invited them for lunch with our team and went really at it from a technical perspective. And I feel by doing that, we were able to foresee a bunch of problems of related products that have launched in the market or related startups, and use that to seize 6 months/2 years ahead and make sure that we don’t work on a product or technical problem that other people have encountered before.
SM: This was something you did completely on your own?
GZ: I basically went through my network, my Princeton alum, my entrepreneurship network from when I was an entrepreneur, I pinged other people in LinkedIn- so used a bunch of different methods.
SM: And this is something you would not find most PMM’s doing as such?
GZ: I don’t think I have heard people systematically doing this, at least during my time in Facebook.
SM: So let’s go on the outbound side then. Once the product is ready, you have to get it on the most number of customer hands as possible. How do you go about it? I think you could talk about the typical and atypical things.
GZ: So typical outbound things include preparing blogs, preparing message points which are basically talking points for sales and other people who would sell the product. I believe there is a very typical process for Facebook and other companies to have templates and what many folks do is those templates with information about value proposition of the product, about who it’s built for, about why you would use it, etc. And that's typically the outbound process. Now I know I mentioned that you don’t want to do the usual thing the usual way. You think about unusual things you want to do and unusual way to do things to obtain unusually good results. It’s truly an important part of doing outstanding work.
In this outbound process, I worked on ads products for developers. So the team I worked with in Facebook most closely at the ads API- that's part platform. So there the teams I built, API’s and buying tools for Facebook’s ad products you’d built and they would be responsible for basically ad buying on Facebook. So because many of our products are to be used by developers, you can’t just do pure blogs and messaging for cells. Things I have done include, I helped create an insulator modeled off Y Combinator, TechStars, my start up went through an insulator called Dreamit- so I created one just for ad developers. It worked for the cross functional team to really help a lot of ad developers in a way that they can be successful.
Another thing I did is I work with one of our social engineering teams to create a marketing developer website. A website that includes things like sample codes or an open source version of an app that the ………. API has as well as marketing API programme accelerator as well. So those are some of the atypical things that I believe I haven’t heard anyone from product marketing do before.
SM: That's very interesting. So can you talk a little bit of more about the accelerators? What is an accelerator and what did it mean in the context of what you were doing for developers?
GZ: Sure. So Y Combinator, TechStars agreement basically have a program as a mode of accelerating growth of the product. So the one that went through the NY scene of TechStars is they give you some money say 50,000 dollars or 100,000 dollars, they take an equity ownership of the company maybe like 8%. And for the course of a few months they will provide mentorship, office space and connections. And the goal is you have a lot of progress done in very short amount time maybe the work of 2-3 years in 3-4 months. At the end of the accelerator, you typically have a demo day where you pitch species for funding where hopefully you get funding for your startup and you go your merry way. Now we had a bit of a model on the mobile accelerator programme called FbStart for mobile apps on Facebook but there is nothing on it for apps. So combined with all I saw as well as FbStart and my experience with Dreamit- to basically create something where ads developers could apply to accelerator and entry to………………… where they could grow and receive a combination of ad credits, leadership mentorship and they received technical support to build their products. And they received marketing help. By the way I would clarify that by no means was I the only person responsible for creating the accelerator or the market developer website. To get anything done you need a strong cross functional group of people from marketing, engineering and partnerships. These are the more critical programs. But what is really cool is having been a part of the genesis and the creation of the idea was really fascinating from a product marketing perspective.
SM: So I was going to ask you what was in it for the developers but it sounds like there were clear incentives that the developers received and they got to work with the Facebook team for a while.
GZ: Yes! So they were three tracks- ………. was really to learn how to use the API, included things like AMA’s modelled after Reddit’s AMA where people from our solutions and partnership team joined a facegroup team and answered questions from developers for an hour on a regular basis. It included ad credits, access to groups where they can ask a series of personal questions, the build track enabled people to have one-one on engineering issues with Facebook people and the growth track enabled them to have marketing support to really grow their businesses.
SM: All of these things like whether it's sitting down with startups and inviting them for lunch or setting up an accelerator. It sounds like a very resource intensive activity. So how did you go about convincing people that this was a worthwhile investment?
GZ: Yeah. This is like a very interesting question since there's a bunch of different ways you can do it. So for each of the different ways it is important for reaching out to the entrepreneurs. One of the things I very strongly believe- my basic form is I would try to do a hundred units of work in fifty units of time. So something that would take 100 hours or ……… day, I would do it in fifty units of time. And then I would maybe spend 10-15 units of time to make it really good and I would spend the remaining 35-40 units of time in coming up with new ways to move the ball forward in unexpected ways. For example to reach out to these entrepreneurs, I came up with these bunch of hacks. Each of them would increase in a 1-2% in productivity but once you layered over them, allowed you to become twice or thrice as productive as the average person. And that opens a lot of time to experiment with different ideas and it's during this experimentation time that would go out to do different things like reach out to my network and speak to different people or set up lunch with our engineering team with people who have built interesting products before. So that answers the first piece of your question.
And the second piece on the accelerator is based on the experience I have had before, the reading I had done before combined with some additional experimentation time I created for myself. And after the progress or traction, it becomes easier for people to get on with an idea that has legs. There is a quote that “Victory has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan”. But what I found is when you are able to come up with a good idea and get some initial traction on it, you can sell it to other people. And then the more people you get on board the project, the further you can take it. There is also this saying I believe in, “go fast, go alone; go far, go together”
SM: Basically what you're saying is it's not like you just put together a bunch of slides on just an idea and tried to convince people. You actually started working on the idea, developed it to some extent, got people on board and once others saw that traction then you built it out.
GZ: Exactly. Because I don’t think you can ever get things taken really far especially the bigger companies, without buying support from cross sectional partners. Like for one, all these things that happened, happened because other people were very supportive and helped a lot. By no means can I claim full credit for all of these initiatives. There is a lot of hard work done by a lot of good people to really make these things happen.
SM: Can you share any example of a productivity hack which allowed you to create all this time for experimentation?
GZ: I can maybe give you five or six and you can sort of see how they stack against each other. One is during my time in investment banking and consulting, I literally learned short cuts for every single Office products. What I found is that it dramatically improved my speed. For example when I used to Power Points at McKinsey, before learning the shortcut keys I might have taken 5 hours to PowerPoint. But after learning the short cut keys, it’s taken me 2 hours. So it doubled my productivity. Another example is, I used both PC and a Mac. I use PC for creation of power points, for excel, outlook and email. But I use the Mac for all my coding. Another example is I have Macros that automate processes for me and excel and powerpoint. I set up a cascading series of rules that automatically categories all my email so I spend very little time on it. Some of them may be very small, some of them may be big, but when you stack them upon each other, they make you dramatically more productive.
SM: You are someone who believes in doing not just the usual things but the unusual things to have unusual results. So is this something that you always had or did you develop it?
GZ: Yeah I think a little bit of both. What's been interesting to me is that it took us a while. Personally I think it is very important of a person to really understand himself very well. For me, I am a very entrepreneurial person. But to realize that took the first 20 years of my life. I am always looking for entrepreneurial things to do. I started an investment fund during college. During business school, I hacked my classes. I did all the entire work of the semester in the first week. And then I was working on startups, traveling to different countries and having fun with friends.
SM: How did you finish the work of an entire semester in one week?
GZ: You and I both know some people crammed the entire semester’s work the week before finals.
SM: That’s true, but you did that at the beginning.
GZ: I just time shifted to the beginning.
SM: I'm guessing at some point in time you realized that you always had an entrepreneurial spirit in you?
GZ: And it took me a while to realize I had it and it’s different from how other people think. Personally this is where knowing yourself really matters. I realized that the way my mind works, I try to hack everything. Like I always like efficiency hacks, growth hacks, innovative ways of solving problems and that’s always been a part of who I am. And I try to use my natural tendencies to great effect in my work.
SM: All right so let's get back to a product marketing. Can you maybe share an example off projects? I would love to understand projects from beginning to end. How does it start and then the different stages and the kind of activities you would engage in and the other roles that you would interface throughout the project?
GZ: Again I can’t be so specific and it’s not like I’m dodging the question because some of the projects that I worked on, some of it has launched but some of its in progress. So as an example, let's say as in product marketing, I work with the product team and we figure out a list of stuff that we want to build in the next half. : Right let's say I work with product management, engineering, data science, design research and there is a list of products that are needed to be built in the next half. What typically happens is, you know you start off with just going out and I would read a lot of research. I think the easiest way to gain more information is to read the most sufficiently. It is the best way to understand the problem space as well. After I feel like I have a good hand of the space and the problem, I would go and talk to as many people as I can. So both within Facebook as well as outside Facebook. So let’s say I worked on a product related to lead generation, I would talk to the teams that worked on some kind of products to really understand the problem and to see how problems in the space have been resolved in the past.
Then, I’ll probably go external. I have a pretty broad entrepreneurial network having been one before. I’ll talk to my friend who solved a problem before or entrepreneurs I met or alumni’s from Wharton or Princeton. Then after finishing the talking to people phase, I’ll go through this process of estimating the market size from both the data I’ve collected as well the anecdotal insights. I will try to segment the users of the product to get a sense of who would be using it and why are they using it. Again, an input in the market size in terms of how much money this product can generate, again from the outside. Then based on that I would work with the team in putting together a plan on how to proceed forward with the product. There would be things along the way like reviews with the leadership both in terms of the opportunity, in terms of how we ……. in the product and hopefully we'll culminate these process into getting agreement from product marketing and product management, from engineering, data science, design and research to actually build the product. And this process is not just product marketing, product management is intimately involved. Usually engineers are intimately involved for the data science and analytics, the data science team will be involved too. And it is this very string cross functional group that is pushing this forward.
For the products I work on there's two additional teams that matter a lot. One is partnerships because a lot of our external developers that build our API’s are actual partners. And then solutions, which often times is the sales facing the engineering team. Which has a lot of annual total feedback in terms of advertisers and developers for the product. So those two groups would be involved. And after we put together the marketing requirements, product requirements, we would get signed it from leadership in terms of the value of the product as well as how we go about building it. And then we go through a process, depending on the product, of a couple of weeks or months of actually building a product. During the building phase, the products rests on collective feedback, talking to people, out for beta testing a product with real customers, advertisers or developers to see their reactions. And when we have something pretty good, we go to a market plan to see how exactly we will go about getting adoption. So do you go through existing sales teams, do you go through SMB account managers? Do you want to come up with something creative like an accelerator? There is a very specific set of steps or tools that you take for most ad products- mostly rely on sales to drive adoption. And then at that point in time after putting together a very comprehensive document we call MPD (Master Product Document), we would actually go through a road show of training and educating people in sales, there should be account managers or whoever the people who would be key stakeholders, who need to be on board to get adopted, we educate them on the product and its value. And after that process, we launch the product and really …………..as much adoptions as we can.
SM: If you were to think about your time, end to end throughout this project, how would you spend your time amongst various activities? And by activities I mean time spent on research and then time spent talking to customers, etc.
GZ: Yeah so this is like something that is actually very different dramatically from PMM to PMM. There tends to be more product focusing product marketing managers than marketing focused product marketing managers and there is no wrong or right way to do the job. Product focused PMM’s tend to focus more on the product, the inbound piece and the marketing focused PMM’s tend to focus more on the outbound or marketing piece. What matter’s more than even your preference is the phase of the product and type of the product. For example, the beginning of the product is all inbound. It’s doing the market sizing segmentation, doing the interviews with people. At that point of time, analysis will be 30% of your day, discussions with different people would be 40% of your day and additional 30% would be ongoing meetings with your close partner teams. But let’s say that you finished the building process and you are about to launch a product. At that point of time, its 30% of your day not spent on analytics but on writing the master product document, the blog post, education materials. Then the next 40% of the day is spent of talking to sales and the rest of the 30% of the day is spent on ongoing cross cultural meetings. So your time is actually shifted dramatically depending on what stage of the product you are in.
SM: Okay and are there any KPIs that are used to measure the success of a product marketing manager.
GZ: I think that that varies dramatically from product to product, group to group and from product marketing manager to product marketing manager. The KPI’s that matter for a PMM is the KPI’s of your product. So for example for ad products its often revenue, adoption- as in what percentage of advertisers use your product. But there is no absolute value. It’s not like you need 30% adoption to be successful. Interface product that's rolled out everyone has a higher bar for adoption than say a very niche developer focused ad product.
SM: But you would own these metrics with your product manager and your engineers everyone combined.
GZ: So you may as a PMM have slightly different variations of that metric than your PM or your engineers. But the overall metrics should be more or less the same.
SM: I think in one way or the other you're basically describe really well the whole world as well as what your day to day looks like. I mean it sounds like if I were to run into you on a typical day, for the most part you would either be talking to people either your account department within Facebook or customers or spending time doing research and analysis that sort of thing.
GZ: Also preparing education materials, blog posts and documentation as well.
SM: How would you describe this job in terms of working hours?
GZ: I think it's very flexible. It depends on the company and you particular product and your relationship with your team and manager person. Personally I had a good relationship with my manager and I found I had absolute flexibility with my time. I can come when I want, I can leave when I want as long as the work was good. I had impact, I was given a lot of freedom. Personally I’m more of an early bird so I would probably come in like sometime between 7 and 8 typically and I would leave around 7-ish or so at an average.
SM: So at a tech company, I'm guessing you were pretty much by yourself at seven. I mean, not a lot of people come in at that time.
GZ: I would say the average at least at Facebook was nine to ten. That’s when people came in.
SM: Because you were doing a lot of these atypical things that you described, you may have been spending more time than maybe some of the other PMM's.
GZ: Definitely and in addition to that, we need to do technical documentation and like building API's for fun, going to the gym, learning to play bridge, etc.
SM: Taking advantage of a large company like Facebook.
SM: So in your opinion, what do you think are the most interesting aspects of working as a product marketing manager?
GZ: I'd say its being able to be at the intersection of business and engineering, it’s fascinating. It’s being able to be strategic. The difference between a product market manager and a product manager oftentimes, is product marketing manager has a higher percentage of their time being strategic or cross functional whereas a product manager has a higher percentage of their time on the nitty-gritty engineering and execution. And that's a meaningful difference.
SM: What made you switch from product marketing management do product management?
GZ: Yeah. I've noticed that personally I've been more of a product person in PMM world. And my own conclusion was that one of the biggest ways I could have an impact is in magnified impact in the product. For example Facebook has a user account of like one point five/six billion people. And you can speck to one or two people but to influence hundreds to billions of people through product, I’ve always found that to be the most interesting and effective way of having an impact in the world.
SM: What are the challenging aspect of this role?
GZ: I think you have to be a person that really enjoys people. Like a very large percentage of the time is spent interacting with people as you probably noticed. I think also what you'll see in any companies there are natural tensions that should be set up in the company to have a healthy dynamic. For example should there be a natural tension between engineering and legal, product and legal. Product should in many different ways push the boundaries of what’s being built in any company and legal should be the brakes to make sure that we are reducing the risk we expose ourselves to. That healthy sort of relationship includes the tension between the two different groups and that's normal and that's okay. So being able to enjoy people and also to work through conflicting issues with people is a very critical part of the job. And if you don’t enjoy people and working through these issues and you don’t have a bias for positive intent, then it can be actually pretty difficult to do that.
SM: Enjoying working with people is different from being an extrovert.
GZ: Yeah so I mean extrovert is according to definition, getting energy from people. You can enjoy working with people and still need time to watch TV and read books everyday on your own. And that’s okay.
SM: Are there any aspect of this job that you just do not like?
GZ: I really enjoyed my work as a PMM and as a PM. I think maybe for me the most tedious part of the job writing blog posts, etc. Which is fine I mean it has to be done and you know I was cool with writing blog posts and being published by a lot of people but I always felt the most skilled way of having impact is still on product and engineering.
SM: So can you share any stressful situations in this job or tough situations?
GZ: Oh yeah I mean there are natural tensions that I mentioned which are normal and they definitely happen because different groups are incentivized differently right. One of my mentors said something interesting to me because at this point many people may say that one of the most annoying things of working in a company is politics. One of the directors at my company said anytime you see the word politics recognize it is probably misaligned incentives or misaligned communication. And when I look at it through those lens, I realize that what most people report as politics are truly misaligned incentives or misaligned communication.
SM: Can you share an example of the sort of misaligned incentives you might have run into?
GZ: Sure. For example, something I've seen is 2 teams might be incentivized for revenue and there is only so much revenue to be had so those 2 teams might be set against each other and that might just be misaligned incentives. Maybe the metric or the KPI used to measure those two teams shouldn't be either individual team’s revenues but the overall group’s revenues. Right and doing so, maybe those teams will actually collaborate instead of competing into each other.
SM: And as a product marketing manager how would you figure or resolve that situation?
GZ: I think certain things are not your job to resolve. Certain things you should flag for leadership, elevate the discussion and have a broader organizational discussion- have them resolve it. Trying to resolve another group's incentives or KPIs is probably not a good use of our time and is probably very stressful. But if you raise this to your boss and they have a frank discussion or a review with people that maybe these are the wrong KPI or the metrics for the success for the team, a couple of special things can happen. One, you are really interested in the best solution for the company or the user of the product, not for yourself or the group. That’s very special I think. Two is when you elevate this discussion, you can actually solve the problem instead of wallowing in misery at the misalignment of different groups. And third is that I think people who not look for their own interests but for the general good, it does a lot for your reputation as well as your career.
SM: So in your opinion, what kind of person would really enjoy working as a product marketing manager?
GZ: I think a person who really likes products and engineering and business. It really is the intersection of those. Now there's a real question in terms of how far you go on product and how far on marketing, sales and you need to be successful in other ways right. Like product marketing and product are disciplines with very varied backgrounds. You have to be successful with a variety of different backgrounds. I don't think it has to be a certain kind of background like just off the top of my head, people I've seen successful on both product marketing and product management comes from various backgrounds like engineering, design, marketing, sales, entrepreneurship, and operations. It’s really very varied.
SM: Are there any qualities that most of them tend to have? If someone who listens to this podcast and is like “Hey I think this sounds really interesting and I want explore it”. Is there a way for them to assess whether they would enjoy this role full time or not.
GZ: Think about the components of the job. Either think about your past experiences and if you think those are things you haven't tried, then try testing out these components of the job before going to the job. For example, let’s say that you haven't done market sizing before. Describe and see the market size for product for Instagram, for Line, for WhatsApp, for whatever other product you have. Try doing the market size it. Is there something that you think should be done, then research it and how to do it. You either think you are going to enjoy or after going through the process, did you enjoy it or not? Think about your own experience talking with people on a daily basis. Would you really enjoy doing that for 30-40% of your day? Think about conflict resolution. Is that something that would be interesting to debug or is that something that really annoys you?
SM: That's a great idea so I mean if you were to think about five key components that someone could test vis-à-vis product marketing management, what would that be?
GZ: I would say think about testing on the market sizing segmentation piece which is very much similar to consulting job. To think about that cross functional piece which is I guess similar to sales or marketing or negotiations. Test out the outbound piece which is really a combination of creating PR, blogs as well as doing presentations in teaching people. And think about, after the tests and those different pieces, if that's like a combination of activities that would really interest you.
SM: Do you think that there are any common misconceptions that are held about this role?
GZ: So I think the common misconceptions are that people may think product marketing is only outbound or inbound. And frankly in some companies they do. Like what a product marketing manager is, is very undefined. For some companies the inbound piece might be product management.
And it's just varies so much from company to company. So what I would do is before embarking on into a job at a certain company make sure you understand the subset of activities that we discuss. What subset is the subset that you would be doing in a PMM position at a company?
SM: If you’re considering working as a PMM, as you said you should think about that what components you like and to align yourself with those companies. But at a slightly broader level how would you compare this rule at a startup versus a larger company like Facebook.
GZ: You know I don't think product marketing exists at very early stage startups. I think you brought this up but I think this is correct and this is a position that tends to work at a middle and larger sized company. Because at the startup, product marketing functions are probably being done by the product manager, the engineer and other members of the team and not by a specific person.
SM: I'm guessing that in mid to large sized companies that this role is pretty similar of course with these variations of outbound and inbound.
What is a good way to apply?
GZ: You know that's a good question. There’s no personalized or tailored way of getting a job at PMM. Obviously the best way is to go on the website and apply. Again, if you apply to the free market and in order to obtain unusual results, do unusual things or the usual things in an unusual way. Applying for jobs on the website is the usual thing in a usual way. Like what I would do if I was in …………… thinking of applying, I would go through the connections I have at the company. So if you’re applying for a product marketing position for Google or Facebook, look for friends that work at Google or Facebook. Go through your network. That is one of the easiest way if you actually know people who work in the industry, or work in the company or in the position. If you don’t, then it probably becomes more difficult. Go one degree out of your immediate network maybe, do cold calls, cold email and try to find people that way.
SM: Essentially you have to try and get a referral.
GZ: Referral I think but also getting someone to help you with the interview or the interview process is also super helpful.
SM: I see. So you know, just general preparation. And what are the interviews like for product marketing management?
GZ: It varies a lot company to company. I think it also probably varies person to person because people have their own spins on the interview style. I think consistently probably the things that people would test for be your ability to think about products in a thoughtful way. They would test your ability to work well with other people, test your ability to handle challenging situations with different incentives. They would test your ability to build relationships with other people, to test your ability to communicate, write well and present well. Those are all things that matter.
SM: And have you found any resources that are helpful both to prepare for interviews as well as to just learn more about this field.
GZ: Yeah sure again since the job itself is built of very different components, I think each component action has very different preparation tracks. So for the market sizing segmentation, it's basically very similar to consulting. So preparation with books like Case In Point would probably be helpful. For conflict resolution you can read books for conflict resolution and non-negotiations. For building relationships, that's probably a soft skill that you largely acquire but you can read book about it. But as far as I think it is also partially driven by your ability of working with people and building relationships with people. But the best holistic way of getting the job is probably going to resources like Quora and just looking up product marketing and see what you can find.
SM: You've had a very diverse career and you've done very well throughout your career. So what things, and it could be people, books or videos and articles, have had a lot of influence on it professional career?
GZ: This is probably a set of macro habits or themes that I have in my head which I think are critical for success. One which I already mentioned is in order to obtain unusual results, do unusual things or the usual things in an unusual way. You can’t have unusually good results without doing that I believe.
Second it is very critical to be a learning machine. One thing I've noticed in my life in my career and with very successful people, all of them are reading monsters. They read incredible amounts. They are able to input incredible amount of information because if you don’t have those inputs then you don’t have good outputs. Personally I hold myself to the standard of reading three books a week. And I have this algorithm of how do I learn new things that consist of reading incredible amounts, speaking to people, essentially testing things out, of reflecting and teaching. And then I basically loop that. It's an erudite process and I repeat that process to go deeper and deeper into topics that I try to become knowledgeable about.
SM: I want to go one level deeper into this. Which three books did you read last week?
GZ: I read this book on the new biography of Ali Baba, Jack Ma. I read a book on machine learning. And I read a book on marketing called Marketing for CEO’s: Death or Glory in the Digital Age.
SM: That's really impressive because these are not like thin 10 page books.
GZ: Yeah but I don't read production books. Like last week I read a book on bridge called Bridge for Dummies. I read a book on the amazing Stanford neurosurgeon who passed away called When Breath becomes Air. And I read a book on algorithmic high frequency trading like a finance book. So it varies from week to week.
SM: You're right I mean if you don’t have great inputs, how can you expect a great output? Right let’s go go back to the theme, so one is do unusual things for unusual output, read a lot and what else?
GZ: I mean there's so many. It's almost like a life philosophy. One particular thing one I think you have to do is you have to design your life according to the output you want to achieve. So for example some people view their job as something they do from 9 to 5 or something. I don’t believe that. I believe that all the aspects of your life affect all the other aspects of your life. So I believe that keeping your body in tiptop shape is equivalent of having world class hardware. And you can accomplish very much. You need to have good hardware and software integration. Yeah so like I do bio hacking which is like I come up with all kinds of ways to optimize my nutrition supplements. I try to like doing all kinds of exercises. I work standing and I try to make sure that my days full of movements so I don’t suffer from things like soft tissue injury. I do yoga and acupuncture, things to make sure that I keep the hardware in my body very …………...
SM: This is so cool George. Have you heard the Tim Ferris podcast or read his books?
GZ: Tim Ferris is actually a couple of years above me in Princeton. I occasionally wander through his blogs but I haven't sort of really listened to a podcast.
SM: I think you would really like it because he talks in a very similar way about hacking through everything to achieve the most efficient to great output. So do check it out, that would be my recommendation you.
SM: Thank you so much, this is amazing very helpful. Is there anything else you would like to share with our listeners, any parting piece of advice?
GZ: No, I mean I think we covered a lot. So hopefully that's been helpful.
SM: Yes it was. Thank you so much and I hope you sleep but I know you have a lot of packing to do.
GZ: That sounds good. Bye!