Last week's post on The Most Frequent Mishire in Startups generated the most comments on a post this year. In particular, it was this section. Though the startup may have achieved product market fit, the company may not understand the fit. Who is using the product and why? How does the buyer journey evolve with time? How do buyers describe the product amongst each other? Few early stage companies can answer those questions accurately.
Why is this? Early in the life of a business, the product manager (often a founder) plays both the role of the PM and the PMM. Over time, the startup's growth demands a more specialized role.
Many times, the PM builds the product as quickly as possible to establish product/market fit. In contrast, the PMM answers critical questions about the company, product and market to ensure the product sells.
What are these critical questions? I found an excellent list in Kotler on Marketing that I adapted for startups. How many of these questions can you answer about your business?
- What is our company's story? What is our pitch?
- Which market segment should we pursue?
- How do we differentiate our product from competition?
- What is the best way to assure a successful new product launch?
- How should we respond when customers ask for discounts?
- How much customization do we offer?
- How can we reduce or maintain cost of customer acquisition?
- How can we retain our customers for longer?
- Which of our customers are the most important?
- What are the best ways to improve salesforce productivity?
- What are our payback periods on each of our marketing efforts?
- How can the business develop multiple channels of customer acquisition and avoid channel conflict?
- How can we orient the entire business to be more customer oriented?
These questions are also excellent interviewing questions. When evaluating candidates, use structured interviews and work projects to maximize chances of success.
Structured interviews are the best predictive factor of job success with 28% correlation. Work projects, (a presentation that answers a key question about the business like a 60/90/120 day plan) explain 26% of variance. The unstructured interview (let's have a conversation!) correlates at 14%. See Laszlo Bock's Work Rules for a deeper dive into these interviewing concepts.
The role of the PMM may be one of the most frequently misunderstood in Startupland. But it's worth understanding the role and finding a great one. PMMs answers some of the thorniest questions about a business and so that everyone can work more efficiently. With the answers to the questions above, a startup can scale with greater success by eliminating unnecessary experimentation.