3 Step Playbook: Hiring PMMs

There’s a great moment that will happen a few times in your career when you’re a manager of a product marketing team. A year after you hire someone, you’re sitting in a meeting she’s leading, she’s driving an engaged discussion, telling great stories, getting customers to tell their stories, and changing how people perceive and frame the situation. And you say to yourself: “Wow. That’s the best hire we’ve ever made.”

How do you get there? 3-Step PMM Hiring Playbook

I’ve hired 82 product marketers in the last 15 years, and have developed a playbook I now use every time to maximize success. I’ve had to learn this the hard way with a few hires that turned out not to be a good fit. After these few painful hires and a ton of great ones, I’ve gotten to a consistently-high success rate (that wonderful moment above) by using this playbook.

1) Phone screen for Integrity, Mental Flexibility, and Critical Thinking 

Most things can be learned, but other things rarely are:

  • Integrity is almost always modeled and taught by family/peers before we’re 20
  • Mental flexibility is learned in one’s childhood/school environment
  • Critical thinking is learned so early that you will hear it or not in a phone screen

How: integrity is revealed by asking for examples of whom your candidate loved working with and not – and why, in what situations. Mental flexibility and critical thinking are revealed in how she answers even basic questions and how she’s behaved when needing to solve a problem/challenge. What questions she asks about your questions. Bonus for how she talks about something she got wrong.

2) Interview in person for Storytelling and Curiosity

The heart and art of product marketing is telling stories. An interview is the product marketing of yourself, and if she doesn’t tell good stories about herself, she’s probably not a storyteller. Storytelling can be learned, and the skill can and should be constantly improved over time, but your success rate will be a lot greater if your hires tell stories by default.

Curiosity is funny. Some people just feel good and get turned on by encountering novel situations and figuring them out. Other people like other things. What we spend most of our time on as product marketers is figuring out new things and how to tell stories about them. If that’s fun and feels good for your candidate, she’ll be more successful.

How: Open the interview with “Tell me your story” and then shut your mouth. Ask candidates what questions they have about you, your company, your products, your customers. Give a candidate openings during the interview to interrupt to ask questions. Does she do so?

3) Select for Team Fit and Situation Fit

Once you’ve got a short list of great candidates who are high-integrity, high-IQ, curious and critical-thinking storytellers, you need to select based on match to your team and your situation. 

Team fit: a team of only iconoclastic cerebralists and dreamers doesn’t get much done. A team of all collaborative brainstormers tends not to challenge itself as much and thus usually innovates less. A gang of yeomanlike execution machines get **it done, but needs a lot more hands-on guidance from you and from executives. No one of these types is ‘better’ — but you get to design a team with a mix of diverse minds if you want to win.

Situational fit can seem more tactical, but has a big impact. You’ll do better with some pre-existing market knowledge on your team, but having all people from similar companies can leave you hidebound and static. Similarly, you probably want some people who are great with customers, sales people, and executives, but others whose #1 skill is working with peers, and even some who are soloists. Design the team that’s right for your situation. It’s under your control.

How: Have the team design discussion with your full team. With your manager. Encourage debate. The more the whole team has been involved in designing itself, the harder it will work to make every hire successful.

Coda: Hiring PMMs is Hard

The demand for great product marketers is about 5 times larger than the supply. It’s hard. Low percentage. Time consuming. But if you get the team right, the team will get everything else right while you work on your stuff, on hiring and developing the team, and getting them all big raises and promotions. 

Happy Hiring!

The Front Porch
Moss Beach, California

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