HubSpot’s Meghan Keaney on the Right Time to Build Out Your Product Marketing Team

February 10, 2016

Determining when your startup should start building out its product marketing team can be tricky business. Should you hire team members early or later in your growth? Will these hires add more value upfront or later on?

According to Meghan Keaney, VP of Marketing at HubSpot, product marketers should almost always be later stage hires.

“You should have a good content engine going by the time you hire a product marketer,” Keaney recently told an audience at OpenView’s marketing forum. “There’s a pivot point that happens when companies hire a product marketer that requires a couple of people on staff first. Key to the team’s build out,” she added, “is a product manager.”

Product Marketing, Meet Product Management

When it comes time to build out your product marketing team, Keaney says to locate or embed (if possible) that team next to / within product management. “The teams should have a one-to-one relationship.” Keaney prefers her product managers and marketers to be close, not just in proximity, but personally.

In fact, Keaney said, companies should do “anything they can to forge and develop stronger relationships between the two teams. Otherwise the marketing aspect of product becomes an afterthought.”

Even if product marketing and product management can’t be seated in close proximity (they might not work in the same office or on the same coast), it’s vital the two teams maintain ongoing contact. Keaney suggests a tool like Slack to keep the lines of communication open. This way, the product manager and product marketer can figure out their go-to-market strategies together.

Traits to Look for in Your First Product Marketer

When you’re ready to start searching for your very first product marketer, Keaney lists curiosity as her number one criterion. “You don’t need to know how to code to be a product marketer, but you have to have a fascination with the engineers and the things they’re building,” she said.

Keaney says a profile for a product marketer is very different than one for a content marketer or demand generation specialist. Your product marketer should have the same instincts and drive as an investigative journalist. It’s not just enough to report on stories, they should have the drive and hunger to find the really meaty information both within your organization and from customers and prospects.

“Look for somebody who has five years of experience, who has really good writing chops and a really strong interest in technology,” said Keaney.

But it’s not just about hiring a curious writer. At HubSpot, Keaney says their product marketers also need to be analytical. “We do a lot of segmentation, a lot of cohort analysis and so forth, so the ability to look at a cohort report and figure out what’s doing well and what’s not is crucial.”

For your own company, this may mean knowing how to collect and analyze data, define segments and buyer personas or track and report on the performance of different pieces of content within your product, promotional materials or on your website (or all of the above).

Whatever your specific criteria may be, Keaney warned the audience not to jump head first into finding a product marketer before both your broader marketing team is established and your product team has made some headway.